Looking a bit more closely at the "mind of the house" resolutions and communication to the Episcopal Church released by the House of Bishops yesterday, it is apparent that these are very nuanced statements. The resolution addressed to the Executive Council reiterates a fundamental principle of our polity that "primatial authority" is finally vested in the General Convention and can not be abrogated or delegated by the Presiding Bishop. It is General Convention which interprets our Constitution and Canons, and any changes in the structure of our governance can only be enacted by the General Convention.
Thus, the bishops, in expressing their opposition to the Primates' "primatial vicar" plan direct their comments to Executive Council, recognizing that body as "General Convention" in between General Conventions, so to speak, while also acknowledging that what the Primates have proposed requires the action of a special General Convention. The Primates do not understand our polity very well and continue to act as if they have an authority which they have not been given; at least, not yet.
Thus, although the Primates did not ask the House of Bishops to consider the "primatial vicar" proposal, directing this "request" to the Presiding Bishop and the so-called "Windsor bishops," our bishops were right to remind the Primates, including our Presiding Bishop, that only General Convention could enact this proposal, and then only by changing beyond recognition our polity and understanding of Anglican tradition. Anglicanism rejected Rome and Geneva a long time ago, thank you. Why should we adopt the worst possible combination of Roman authoritarianism and Calvinist fundamentalism now?
The second resolution, addressed to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates' Standing Committee, says simply, "We've considered the requests you've made to us (regarding consent to gay or lesbian bishops-elect and the blessing of same-sex unions), and believe it is urgent that we talk face-to-face about these matters." That is it. No formal response has been made to these requests and, presumably, the bishops are hoping to meet with Rowan Cantaur and Company prior to the Primates' September 30 deadline.
So, nothing has really been decided yet. The "Communication to the Episcopal Church" doesn't really say anything new. It reiterates that we really, really, really want to remain part of the Anglican Communion and will meet fully our obligations as a constituent member Church, but not at the cost of our autonomy, tradition, and identity as an Anglican Church. It reiterates that gay and lesbian people are children of God and full and equal participants in the life of the Church. While that isn't true in practice by a long shot, it has been said before. It states that we are a "big tent" Church that will work mightily to accommodate minority opinion; but we will not allow the tail to wag the dog.
What is perhaps new is the degree of clarity with which the bishops have spoken, especially with regard to their understanding and commitment to the baptismal ecclessiology expressed in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer and exercised through our conciliar structures of governance inclusive of all four orders of ministry. The bishops have done a very good piece of work, and I am grateful for their honest, thoughtful, and calm contribution to the ongoing conversation about the life of the Anglican Communion.
It would, however, be premature to predict that the kingdom of God has arrived, or to get one's panties in a bunch, depending upon your take on what the bishops have said. I, for one, will continue to be alert and watchful - and hopeful.