"The baptismal covenant prayed in this Church for more than 30 years calls us to respect the dignity of all other persons and charges us with ongoing labor toward a holy society of justice and peace. That fundamental understanding of Christian vocation underlies our hearing of the Spirit in this context and around these issues of human sexuality."
Here ++Katherine Jefferts Schori sets out an honest summary of the theology propelling the majority of TEC's bishops and standing committees to endorse the ordination of a same sex partnered person as bishop, as well as leading TEC's General Convention on a trajectory towards formal promulgation of liturgies for blessing same sex partnerships.
That is, an understanding of baptism as a covenanted call to Christian vocation in which is enshrined a recognition of the dignity of all persons and the refusal to discriminate on grounds of sexuality "underlies our hearing of the Spirit in this context and around these issues of human sexuality." Immediately notable here is the absence of reference to Scripture, and the way in which hearing the Spirit is shaped by the prior decision of the church to institute its particular understanding of baptism in relation to vocation.
To make these observations does not necessarily mean Scripture is irrelevant to TEC's understanding of baptism, nor that its decision some 30 years ago was not itself Spirit-led. But it is to observe that some important factors around persuading the middle ground of the Communion are absent.
In the argument presented here is no clear sense of Scriptural mandate to bless same-sex partnerships, nor is there a connection with other Anglican understandings of baptism in relation to vocation. I suggest that persuading the middle ground would be more likely through reference to Scripture, and through reference to a wider Anglican understanding of vocation (for example, that understanding that would distinguish one lifestyle from another in discerning vocation). In other words, if this letter is a road to persuasion there are some pot-holes in it. I think, in the end, the Archbishop's letter is unchallenged in its hold on the centre ground by the Presiding Bishop's letter. The course of the Communion will not be changed by a letter which fails to front up the challenge of demonstrating from Scripture that same sex partnerships may be blessed in God's name.
Further I suspect (and am not alone in this view, reading across the internet) that Presiding Bishop understands the weakness of her position in respect of leading the Communion on a course different to the one charted by the ABC. I say this because of her penultimate paragraph:
"As a Church of many nations, languages, and peoples, we will continue to seek every opportunity to increase our partnership in God's mission for a healed creation and holy community. We look forward to the ongoing growth in partnership possible in the Listening Process, Continuing Indaba, Bible in the Life of the Church, Theological Education in the Anglican Communion, and the myriad of less formal and more local partnerships across the Communion – efforts in mission and ministry that inform and transform individuals and communities toward the vision of the Gospel – a healed world, loving God and neighbor, in the love and friendship shown us in God Incarnate."
Here the option is kept open of TEC being more openly positioned in the world of Anglicans as 'a Church of many nations, languages, and peoples', a potential alternative Communion of Anglicans. The looking forward is not to resuming a full role in the spheres of the Anglican Communion in which they now have a lesser role. Rather the forward look is towards a variety of important Anglican networks and processes which to be blunt are not the 'top table' of Communion fellowship (cue outraged comments from those running the Continuing Indaba!?). In fact the key words may be these, "we will continue to seek every opportunity to increase our partnership in God's mission for a healed creation and holy community", which could be code for more effort put into those (non-Anglican) churches around the world which have made similar decisions to TEC.
In the future history of the Anglican Communion, this letter could be the decisive document indicating the emerging of a two-stage Communion, if not two Communions from the events of the first decade of the twenty-first century.