Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Anglican Covenant: Adopt It! Sort of!

Crusty Old Dean was doing his duty as an informed Episcopalian when he clicked on the link to "A Message from Executive Council," and was lulled, as he usually is, by the koan-like opening sections these disptaches usually take. COD hopes deep down in his heart they will one day model one of these summaries on "Message to the Grassroots", but, alas, this has not occurred yet. There is still time.

COD noted with interest the report from Executive Council on the Anglican Covenant, with a proposed recommendation to the 2012 General Convention. COD duly clicked through, reading the report while waiting for his plane to Traverse City, MI. COD found himself split:

Endorsing wholeheartedly the content of the report of Executive Council on the proposed Anglican Covenant.

Disagreeing with the recommendation not to adopt the Covenant.

COD agrees with the accompanying Report, that there is little objectionable in Sections 1 and 2 of the Covenant (leaving aside the question as to why this appendix to the 2004 Windsor Report had taken on a life of its own and many, many other recommendations of the Windsor Report have been ignored or forgotten), a couple of concerns with Section 3, with the concerns in Section 4 being legion ( almost literally: COD came up with over 40).

This concern, in COD's opinion, is rightly placed. Indeed, we have already had a mini-trial run of how the Covenant might work -- namely, the removal of ecumenical representatives from the Episcopal Church on the international dialogues and commissions run by the Anglican Communion Office. The definition of a "moratorium violation" was defined by an as yet undefined small group of persons and written narrowly to apply only to the Episcopal Church: violation of the moratoria outlined in the Windsor Report was deemed to have occurred by actions of a member church taken in their national synod, thus exempting Canada (diocesan, not national Synods, approving same sex blessings) and a host of provinces which have intervened in the USA (with various explanations given that these were taken by individual bishops or primates, not Synods, or were no longer occurring).

COD informed persons within the Anglican Communion that even this writ of attainder designed to apply solely to the Episcopal Church was flawed: episcopal consents are not given by bishops acting in synod, but by bishops functioning in their capacity as diocesans. Consents are not given at a usual gathering of the House of Bishops, where retired, suffragan, assisting, coadjutor, diocesans, and other bishops such as those serving as seminary deans (disclaimer: COD is not one of those deans) all have votes and are considered members of that Synod. Likewise lay and clerical assent was given by Standing Committees acting individually and not collectively in a synod. Thus despite their best efforts, even their definition of a moratorium violation was incorrect. COD was informed he was perhaps parsing a little too much; he replied simply, "Pot kettle black." COD, after all, didn't start the fire. After much cajoling by many parties, however, the representative from the Province of the Southern Cone was also removed from international dialogues.

So this little incident filled COD with concern about the, "Trust us, we'll figure out the disciplinary thing and all the undefined aspects of how it will actually work," that more or less pervades Section 4.

Despite all of this, COD still disagrees with the recommendation not to adopt the Covenant, for several reasons.

The first is political: flat out refusing to adopt the Covenant will allow the spin machines to ramp up their usual, "arrogant unilateralist Episcopal Church" engines. All of the excellent points made in the accompanying report will be summarily ignored, and this will facilitate and expedite those who simply want the Episcopal Church to go away and let the Anglican Communion return to its morass of ecclesiology and human sexuality, to the days when everything was fine, when we knew there was no clear ecclesiological definition of what the Communion was but we could ignore it when gay people just stayed in the closet like they should.

Another reason is that churches which are in process of adopting the Covenant, as the noted in Section 4, may still participate in helping to sort out, design, and implement the processes mentioned in Section 4. Simply by not adopting the Covenant removes us from the discussion, and will permit the designing of a process even more blatantly developed to exclude the Episcopal Church than the kangaroo court which ousted our ecumenical representatives.

Other provinces have taken a similar tack: the Church of Ireland, for instance, formally "subscribed" to the Covenant, and in doing so also stated that the Covenant was "under" the Preamble and Constitution of the Church of Ireland. The Scottish Episcopal Church is in the process of gradually responding to, and endorsing, individual sections of the Covenant -- with an annual Synod, this gives them that kind of flexibility. Either way, COD thinks these decisions allow the Church of Ireland and Scottish Episcopal Church to stay engaged in the Covenant discussions. It's also entirely possible the instruments of Communion will accept the dodges dreamed up by Ireland and Scotland but reject any proposed by the Episcopal Church -- because, again, this process has been used in the past to misrepresent the facts and only apply to the Episcopal Church.

COD proposes that we find language similar to the Church of Ireland and a process similar to the Scottish Episcopal Church. Provisionally accept the Covenant, pending discussion in the Anglican Consultative Council on concerns about Section 4. Offer to hold a Special General Convention, so they cannot used the argument that they can't wait until 2015. There is the comment in the Executive Council report that we are asked to adopt the Covenant more or less as a whole; but since when do we do what the Anglican Communion has asked us to do? Why start now? Besides, Ireland and Scotland have already developed processes in adopting the Covenant which do not fulfill that request, why should we be held to a different standard?

We must stay engaged, and we must not provide easy opportunities for our voices not to be heard. The Windsor Report achieved what little authority it has because it was adopted by the Anglican Consultative Council, in a narrow vote, because we "voluntarily" withdrew our representatives from voting. Thus excluding ourselves created some of the mess we are in. We cannot continue to do so with a summary rejection of the Covenant. If we are going to be excluded, make the forces in the Communion seeking to silence, marginalize, and exclude us have to do so intentionally. This will show them for who they are. Don't give them the opportunity.

Otherwise, we will be at the mercy of the Archbishop of Canterbury's Star Chamber. We know how well that will go: after all, as the great poet Pink Floyd once put it, "Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way."


  1. Why is it important that we be a "full member" of the Anglican Communion? Such a stance seems to be the assumption of most commentary on this topic, but I'd be truly interested in fleshing out that assumption more.

  2. From an outside perspective, would it be because being a member of the Anglican Communion adds a certain recognition and legitimacy to a church? It defines "the" Anglican church for a geographical area. Is there fear that if the Episcopal Church is no longer a full member of the Anglican Communion, then they won't be "the" Anglican church in American anymore?

  3. Most other denominations don't have a geographical monopoly on their tradition. there used to be dozens of Lutheran churches, and there are still at least 4 for example. Episcopalians, it seems to me, still harbor deep in their collective psyche, a desire to be THE established church. But it seems to me that a religious "free market" would actually make us stronger, along the same idea that the best place to open a coffee shop is right next to a Starbuck's because they've already created the demand. Similarly, I think that a little Anglican competitiveness will make us a nimbler and more focused church better equipped to do Christ's work and share the good news rather than a church driving itself to irrelevancy by focusing its energy on protecting its franchise and position of privilege.

  4. Even though Lutherans have had and still have more than one expression, membership in the LWF still requires altar and pulpit fellowship with other LWF members. This is why LCMS, WELS, and others are not LWF members because they will not have altar and pulpit fellowship with the ELCA, let alone WELS having altar and pulpit fellowship with anyone. If non-Episcopal Church Anglican bodies would be willing to have the Anglican equivalent of altar and pulpit fellowship, that would change the nature of the discussion in many ways.

    It's also not a question of geography, for instance the British Virgin Islands and US Virgin islands are parts of two separate countries but one diocese of the Episcopal Church. The Episcopal Church has congregations in Europe which overlap with the Diocese of Gibraltar of the Church of England. The residual impulse of "establishment" is a pernicious one, but this is not a place where I see that manifesting itself.

    The reasons to be a full member are plenteous. We have been shaped by the history and traditions of the broader Anglican world. We are bound together by a common ministry, liturgical traditions, and ecclesiology. We are engaged in a lot of mission work with other provinces and with the structures of the Anglican Communion.

    One member of the body cannot say they don't need one another -- there are people in my family with whom I disagree but I haven't left my family.

  5. Are there other Anglican communions besides "the" Anglican Communion? You metioned Lutherans and the LWF, but I don't perceive the LWF functioning on the same level as the AC, even though full communion between members is (ostensibly) a requirement for membership. The LWF is the largest global Lutheran communion, but it's not the only--the LCMS is part of the 30+ member International Lutheran Council and the WELS is part of the 20+ member Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference. The idea of the AC has always fascinated me in the same way that the relationships between Orthodox churches fascinate me, because I've never had that as part of my religious experience--whether that is for good or bad.

  6. Oh, to be sure. There's the Traditional Anglican Communion, the Anglican Communion Network, GAFCON, Anglican Catholic Church, and others. The vast majority of Lutherans belong to the LWF (about 3.5 million in ILC, LWF over 70 million), and the vast majority of Anglicans belong to the Anglican Communion.


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