Wednesday, December 21, 2011

COD is delighted someone is taking up Archbishop Rowan on his suggestion to come up with a better solution than the current Anglican Covenant. In his recent plea to the Communion to adopt the Covenant masquerading as an Advent letter, the Archbishop opined “I continue to ask what alternatives there are if we want to agree on ways of limiting damage, managing conflict and facing with honesty the actual effects of greater disunity. In the absence of such alternatives, I must continue to commend the Covenant as strongly as I can to all who are considering its future.”

There is an inherent problem with the Archbishop’s request, however; it is difficult for him to intone the needy for honesty when every foretaste of what a Communion with a Covenant would look like is shrouded with nothing even closely resembling honesty.

Take a (relatively) recent season letter by the Archbishop, his Pentecost letter of 2010 when he announced the removal of representatives of the Episcopal Church from international ecumenical dialogues, citing the violation of moratoria agreed to as part of the Windsor Process. Some are concerned about the centralisation of authority in the Archbishop, likening this to the fear of a new kind of curia, headed by a Dumbledore-without-the-redeeming-qualities-pope (I am indebted to Jon Stewart for the Dumbledore parallel). There is another, perhaps better parallel, which draws not from the Papacy nor Hogwarts but from a figure disparaged by the Archbishop himself: King Henry VIII.

In one of his lectures, the Archbishop raised eyebrows by publicly wondering whether King Henry was in hell for his actions, a clear sign of disapproval of the King's heavy-handedness – though also implying that he himself was a a fit judge to speculate on who was damned and who was not. Yet despite his disdain of Henry, in his Pentecost letter to the Anglican Communion the Archbishop seems to be drawing on a routine tactic used by those in authority in England against their enemies: the bill of attainder. Now, COD is no lawyer but does know a little bit about our past.

The bill of attainder was a common way to crush dissent, enact revenge, or simply dispose of those who caused trouble. Passed by Parliament, at the urging of the monarch or of those in authority, bills of attainder were legislative actions that deprived a person of life, liberty, or property by a simple vote, without benefit of trial. In the 18th Century, they were such capricious and arbitrary perversions that the Constitution of the United States specifically forbade them in Article I, Section 9.

How does this relate to Rowan's Pentecost letter? It’s really very simple: with the word “formally.” The Archbishop referenced those provinces that have

"formally [emphasis in original] through their Synod or House of Bishops, adopted policies that breach any of the moratoria requested by the Instruments of Communion and recently reaffirmed by the Standing Committee and the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order – should not be participants in the ecumenical dialogues in which the Communion is formally engaged."


As a reminder to any soul who has wandered into this and somehow gotten this far, those three moratoria are:

Q. What are the agreements that have been broken? A. As far back as 2004, the Anglican Communion leadership agreed to three moratoria: 1) No authorisation of blessings services for same-sex unions; 2) No consecrations of bishops living in same-sex relationships; 3) No cross-border interventions (no bishop authorising any ministry within the diocese of another bishop without explicit permission). These have been affirmed repeatedly in subsequent years at the highest levels of the Communion.


The Q&A is itself from the Anglican Communion website, with the Archbishop’s prose clarified by his own website (often necessary in his case, though without attribution as to whose gloss this is). The rub is in the “formally.” This is meant to include the Episcopal Church, and, apparerently, only for its actions of consenting to the election of Mary Glasspool as bishop suffragan of Los Angeles. How so? The election, consent, and approval to Gene Robinson's election occurred before the formal request for moratoria, before the Windsor Process, and before the Covenant process. Furthermore, It would be hard to construe actions from the 2009 General Convention as giving “formal” adoption of a policy of authorising same sex blessings. The letter speaks of “events of recent months” and actions by “official bodies”, but the only event of recent months mentioned specifically is the consecration of the Rt. Rev. Mary Glasspool. This begs the questions as to what “official bodies” were involved in this – presumably Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdictions. Though those are official bodies, they act individually, not corporately. There is the impression in this letter that the Episcopal Church acts uniformly corporately, with the only diversity in noting the “Communion Partners.”

This is, by the way, another aspect of attainder: writing a bill that narrowly applies to only one instance (the most recent example some cite is the situation surrounding the case of Terry Schiavo in 2005, when the Congress of the United States passed a bill transferring her case from state to federal courts). While masquerading as an even-handed document that applies to all who have “broken” the moratoria, we can see how the Archbishop has in reality done nothing more than draft a bill of attainder behind closed door to punish the Episcopal Church solely.

This points to inherent failures in the Archbishop’s letter: The first is the fabrication that this is meant to be a measured, Solomon-like dispensation of justice to all of those in violation of the three moratoria. “Formally” indicates that the Archbishop is dipping into the tradition of the kings of England and is crafting his own, unique bill of attainder. This injunction will not apply to the Anglican Church of Canada, as their own Primate noted in his address to their General Synod, even though more than a few dioceses in that province have authorised same sex blessings. Apparently Canada is spared because neither their House of Bishops nor their Synod has authorized any of these actions. In his letter of June 7, Kearon noted that the the Province of the Southern Cone was asked “for clarification as to the current state of his interventions into other provinces." Further Kearon states that another matter needing clarification is “to ask the question” (by whom? Himself personally is the indication) whether “whether maintaining within the fellowship of one’s Provincial House of Bishops, a bishop who is exercising episcopal ministry in another province without the expressed permission of that province or the local bishop, constitutes an intervention and is therefore a breach of the third moratorium.” This is in reference to the Anglican Mission in America, operating within the territorial boundaries of The Episcopal Church since 2000 and recently clarified by their own legislative action as being structurally part of the Church of Rwanda. It refers as well to the schismatic Anglican franchises established by Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, and other provinces. The fallacy here is evident: no further question or clarification is needed from the Episcopal Church -- the Archbishop was free to define our own actions without any need to discussion or consultation -- but for actions taken by other provinces, in some cases for more than a decade, there is the need for further discussion.

The failure of “formally” is laid bare : if these actions on the local level, by dioceses acting individually, are not considered a “formal” provincial action (as in the case of Canada), then how can the actions of individual diocesan standing committees and bishops with jurisdiction in The Episcopal Church consenting to Bishop-elect Glasspool be considered “formal”? By its own defintion of "formally", the letter falls apart. No "Synod" consented to the election of Bishop Glasspool, it was done by individual Standing Committees. The House of Bishops did not consent; bishops with jurisdiction acting individually did; the House includes assistant, suffragan, retired, and bishops in other ministries granted vote. On the basis of the very definitions laid out, the Episcopal Church did not violate the moratoria by action of Synod or House of Bishops. Showing their continued incompetence, they couldn't even craft a well written bill of attainder.

But, of course, none it matters. The Archbishop would like this to be about the Episcopal Church refusing to listen: “However, when some part of that fellowship speaks in ways that others find hard to recognise, and that point in a significantly different direction from what others are saying, we cannot pretend there is no problem.”

This is simply a smokescreen, which points to a second failure in this Archbishop’s letter. Rather than being a discussion about ecclesiology, or about human sexuality, or about cultural diversity, or about scriptural interpretation, or about any of the issues which are actually at stake, it is in reality no more than appeasement, obfuscation, and hypocrisy, as this punitive decision is couched in terms of “process.” You can almost hear the Archbishop wringing his hands and declaiming, “If ONLY the Episcopal Church had been willing to live in the realm of don’t ask-don’t tell, if only they had kept this at the local and diocesan level, if only American Episcopalians had the decency not to discuss matters which are at the core level of how they understand humanity, creation, and being made in the image of God, if only their openly gay clergy were all celibate like those in other provinces – well, then, we wouldn’t be in this situation, would we?" The Archbishop is doing nothing more than demanding the rest of the Communion live with the cognitive dissonance that the Church of England does.

The Archbishop claims that the proposed Covenant is “a tool for mission” and “not an instrument of control.” Yet he has resurrected one of the most capricious and self-serving aspects of the British Empire: the bill of attainder. He issued this on his own authority to apply to a church that dares to cross the line – all without benefit of trial or discussion or consultation. Perhaps as a historian in his previous life he can learn from another parallel. The Archbishop notes that the structures of the Anglican Communion are in need of “refreshing.” He is wrong in this. An institution that seeks to represent a diverse global communion, but that is headed by an unelected primate who by law must be a citizen of an established, state church is not something which needs refreshing. This Pentecost Letter was his Suez Crisis of 1956, an ecclesial version of that final, pathetic paroxysm of imperial projection, and one which failed utterly.

Because this Pentecost letter failed utterly. Shocking, perhaps, only to the Archbishop, removing Episcopalians from international dialogues of the Anglican Communion did not result in a magical healing of the bonds of communion. Representatives from other provinces continue to absent themselves from international Anglican gatherings. The decisions of June 2010 only worsened relations with the Episcopal Church and did absolutely, positively, nothing to deepen the Communion as a whole. The Covenant process will be no different: Rowan with desperately marginalize those churches that may not adopt it, and in doing so only hasten the demise of an already broken Communion.

The time for pedantry and obfuscation is past. Indeed, meetings will be as endless as the Archbishop notes when real issues are not discussed. The Archbishop is aiding, abetting, and promoting the notion that it is the Episcopal Church vs. the rest of Anglican Christendom, when anyone with integrity knows that this is simply not the case. There are wide swaths of the Communion in sympathy with the Episcopal Church, and diversity of opinion even within provinces which are absenting themselves from inter-Anglican gatherings. There are other provinces which express their solidarity in various ways. Yet despite assurances in private, in the councils of the church we see this play acted out over and over, in which the Americans take the sole role of patsy for these much broader issues.

So COD welcomes the article from Jonathan Clatworthy taking the Archbishop up on his request; and, indeed, all the other voices in the Communion who have argued similarly. In the end, of course, it is all futile and predetermined, as the kabuki theater of the Covenant process ably demonstrates.

Our turn is coming to play our part in this farce. In 2012, the Episcopal Church will consider whether to adopt the proposed Anglican Covenant. COD has, in other places, argued that we should accept it -- because whether we accept it or not, the result is the same. If we don’t accept it, we will be marginalized for non acceptance. If we accept it, the Archbishop will craft another bill of attainder behind closed doors and condemn us to second-place status in the Communion.
Let’s go down swinging, and not give the cowards the easy way out.

We will go into exile, which the Scriptures have shown us to be times of powerful transformation. And we when the appeasers have wound up themselves being marginalized, we will join hands with those who want to stand up proudly for a vision of Anglicanism which embraces breadth and inclusion, truly living into our incarantional faith.

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