Friday, August 18, 2006

We Don't Need an Anglican Covenant

We Don't Need an Anglican Covenant (by the Rev. William R. Coats)

Author's Prologue: The English who now have assumed the major role in establishing a future Anglican Covenant have a long standing rhetorical trait drawn from and honed by her long imperial history. It is a two tiered discourse. One level consists of a formal presentation of high principle backed by intellectual reasons; on another level, and rather camouflaged by the first, is the exercise of raw political (and in the case of the empire military) power.

The proponents of an Anglican Covenant continue to talk in terms of how such a device will strengthen the Anglican Communion and draw out its wondrous capacities. Theological sources are adverted to in order to make this exalted case. A rude question remains unexamined: Just who really has demanded such a covenant and why? The original call came from The Windsor Report. But who before the consecration of Gene Robinson wanted any such Covenant, who thought Anglicanism needed such a radical revamping? Nobody. The call came as a result of political forces determined, not in principle to have a covenant, but to find the means to hamstring, corral and demean the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. Indeed, who will really be effected by such a Covenant? Actually no one, save the American and Canadian churches. Thus the use of raw political power is at the heart of the matter and – try as the English will to mask this – the truth remains: this is a political attack on the American and Canadian churches.

Ever since Gene Robinson was consecrated Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003, the Anglican Communion has been in an uproar. Immediately following his consecration, a number of forces at home and overseas rose in fury to object. It should be noted that, in consecrating Bishop Robinson, the Episcopal Church asked no one overseas to agree with the action nor mandated its duplication in their national churches. Even at home no one was forced either to agree or comply with the action. Most of us treated it as we had been the ordination of women: as a prophetic act by a national church, about which there would be disagreement. Nonetheless, those objecting announced that a "crisis" faced the Anglican Communion.
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At this point everyone in the Communion had before them a set of choices: (1) They could have accepted the act as it was intended. (2) They could have agreed to disagree with the action. (3) They could have set in motion a system of dialogue concerning the action. (In a sense, the most traditional way that Anglicans have handled serious conflict is by discussion, living in tension while matters are digested). Or (4) they could have reacted with fury and attack the Episcopal Church (and the Canadian Diocese of New Westminster).

A great many Primates, as well as a small minority in the United States, chose the latter course and, in doing so, engendered "the crisis" they now claim is upon us.

The road of dialogue and exchange of views in an atmosphere of mutual trust and understanding - the traditional Anglican way - was not chosen. Instead – in an atmosphere of attacks and accusations – two fateful decisions were made, principally by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. First, Dr. Williams early presented the issue not as one around the theological status of homosexuality, but one of church unity. He suggested the unity of the church had been threatened, that actions had been taken without previous conferrals, and that there were consequences when those actions were taken. This established from the outset a particular discourse, a rigid rhetorical description. Secondly, this discourse implied that the approach to the "crisis" would not be that of dialogue but that of action taken to restore the unity of the church. This approach coincided with the views of the conservative coalition quickly forming against the U.S. and Canadian churches. They eschewed discussion and demanded punitive actions against the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. In a very short time, most of the conservative forces refused even to speak with the Americans, making the possibility of dialogue moot.

It should be noted, however, that there still remain eminent voices in favor of "the road not taken."

As reported in a July 2006 press release, Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane (Anglican Church of Southern Africa) wrote to his fellow primates in Capetown and argued "that the best means of finding such a solution [to current differences within the Anglican Communion] is to proceed in a characteristically Anglican way: in a spirit of tolerance, trust and charity, and through the existing structures of the Communion."

The bishops of the Church of Wales stated: “For some time, we have recognised that there are honest and legitimate differences on this subject. The church needs to engage prayerfully in this debate with humility, generosity of spirit, reflection on biblical witness, mature thought and careful listening. The harsh and condemnatory tone, which at times has coloured this debate, is unacceptable."

The Welsh Bishops went on to say: “The challenge and call of our discipleship is to live, worship and work together in all our diversity. Rejecting all forms of stigmatisation we commit ourselves to listening to people whose sexual orientation may be different from our own.”

The Primus of the Scottish church, the Most Rev. Bruce Cameron said on February 24, 2005, after a meeting with the Anglican primates: "We did not solve all our differences on the issues of sexuality but did find a way which respected the integrities of both sides of the argument and set in motion a process that will allow us to keep talking together. Despite our differences we were able to affirm the place of homosexual people within the life of the Church and it is my hope that the Scottish Episcopal Church will continue to be open and inclusive to all those who want to follow Christ. I very much hope that the Scottish Episcopal Church will continue to be a listening and welcoming church to people who have differing opinions."

The College of Bishops of the Scottish Church issued a later statement in which it affirmed "its commitment to the task set before the whole Communion – to engage openly and prayerfully with the full range of issues and material which are now part of this debate. The College invites the Province to share in this process, listening to each other and to voices from other Provinces with that same spirit of generosity as has characterised our own debate so far."

A press release on March 23, 2005, from the Scottish College of Bishops went on to note "the Bishops commit themselves to facilitating discussion ‘across difference’, recognising that within the Scottish Episcopal Church there are both those of gay and lesbian orientation and those whose theology and stance would be critical of attitudes to sexuality other than abstinence outside marriage. The Bishops ‘rejoice in both’ and express the hope that the energy of both groups can be harnessed to serve the Church and the proclamation of the gospel.”

The Bishops of the Church of Ireland wrote in 2005: "As a church we are confronted with major issues of diversity which have given and continue to give rise to issues of difference threatening division. We are attempting to develop patterns and approaches which enable us to express difference and to live with difference . . . by listening and dialogue. . . . [We] . . . favour . . . dialogue . . . to meet the challenges of sectarianism as a societal malaise. We believe that this approach is appropriate and has something to offer to the Anglican Communion in the matter of dispute resolution and especially in discerning the will of the Spirit of God for His Church."

To address concerns over unity and what the Windsor Report would later refer to as "the crippling prospect of repeated worldwide inter-Anglican conflict such as that engendered by the current crisis," the Archbishop of Canterbury in 2003 appointed Archbishop Robin Eames of Ireland to head a commission to examine the matter with an eye to how the "crisis" had effected the unity of the Anglican Communion and how the Communion should react. The presenting matter of homosexuality would not be addressed by the committee, merely the "crisis" caused by consecrating as bishop a gay men living in partnership. Nineteen people drawn from only fourteen of the 38 provinces of the church were appointed. Only one was an American.

The 93-page Windsor Report, released in 2005, continually blamed the Episcopal Church for acting without consultation or before a consensus had been reached on the matter of sexuality and for threatening the unity of the church. The Episcopal Church was asked to express regret for its actions and impose a moratorium on further such consecrations or same-sex liturgies. The Report further outlined the need for the construction of an Anglican Covenant to which all national churches would have to agree, and it outlined a series of steps to restructure and strengthen central authority within Anglicanism so as to prevent any further crisis within the Communion.

While the document alluded to traditional aspects of Anglicanism - its non-juridical character, and its high degree of provincial autonomy - its main thrust was in the direction of establishing unity on the basis of new forms of authority. That is, the core emphasis in the document was on structure, unity, form. Indeed from the beginning this had been the guiding discourse of both the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Eames Commission.

The dominant discourse of form, authority and unity, quite naturally led to the exclusion of the central question of the theological status of homosexuality. On its face, this seemed a decision designed to free the commission from a contentious and possibly distracting debate. Its exclusion, however, necessarily led the commission to make a fateful assumption. The major question that should have been before the commission was whether the actions of the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of New Westminster had risen to the level demanding the radical restructuring of Anglicanism. This, after all, was actually central to the calling of the Commission in the first place. As a result the entire work of the commission would rest on an implicit and undebated assumption that the actions of the Americans and the Canadians in opening the sacraments to gay and lesbian persons had indeed been so theologically improper that only a revolutionary altering of Anglicanism would suffice.

This accounts for the bizarre assumption by the commission that matters of adiaphora (i.e., teachings and practices that are neither commanded nor forbidden in Scripture) have to do with those matters which may divide the church. As the Rev. Tobias S. Haller points out, historically adiaphora refers to matters having to do with salvation and not merely differences within the church.

It may be that a majority of the Anglican Communion disapproves of the consecration of a gay and partnered person, but it is by means certain that same majority believes that such an action threatens anyone's salvation. However, since the theology involved in homosexuality could not be debated by the Eames Commission – and a decision was taken early on against the strategy of ongoing dialogue and discussion throughout the Anglican Communion -- Bishop Robinson's consecration would thus be treated as a problem that had irritated the church. At the same time this meant that the matter would rest on the forces of power within the church raising the loudest objection. Indeed the loudest and most strident voices did prevail in the Windsor Report and these voices were determined that the matter at hand would not be a matter of discussion for the church. For even though the Windsor Report advised a process of "listening," by the time the Report would be released over one half the Anglican Communion provinces had declared themselves out of communion with the Episcopal Church, refused to share the altar with the her, and refused to talk with her.

Again it must be noted that not all agreed that there was an impending crisis or that a revolutionary altering of Anglicanism was necessary.

The Most Rev. Bruce Cameron said on February 24, 2005: "I do not believe the Communion is now facing a serious split, as some are claiming."

In 2005, the Bishops in the Church of Ireland said: "Our over-riding concern is that if the recommendations and proposals of the report were to be implemented we should be replacing bonds of affection with the bondage of law. We are fearful that the refreshing, unpredictable and liberating wind of the Spirit may be inhibited through a seemingly inadequate appreciation of the way in which it appears to have influenced Anglicanism through past developments that have now received widespread acceptance. Provincial autonomy ought not to be idolized but it deserves to be cherished: it may be a gift we have to offer to the whole Church of God. As a Communion we should be prepared to explore the contribution of diversity as a component of the imperative of mission for the Church of God."

The Report was soon offered to the church for study. It could be debated but not altered. It had no legal standing, being merely the product of a commission formed by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Soon, however, in the frenzied political climate constantly whipped up by conservative forces in the church, the Windsor Report took on the status of a virtual constitution with semi-legal obligations laid upon the Episcopal Church. From 2004 onward the demand made not only by the coalition of conservatives, but by the Archbishop of Canterbury was for the American church to conform to the demands of the Windsor Report. These demands continued inexplicably to escalate. The demand to express "regret" was met by the American bishops in 2005 and on innumerable occasions by our Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold and by the 2006 General Convention. These were deemed insufficient because the church had not "repented." A moratorium on consecrating partnered gay men and lesbians was demanded.

Our bishops complied, and the 2006 General Convention passed a version of this. These, too, were rejected as inadequate. The Windsor Report had now become a weapon, an indiscriminate means used to punish and browbeat the Episcopal Church. Curiously, the Archbishop of Canterbury has remained silent in the face of these demeaning comments directed against our church.

Indeed, a short six days after our General Convention (and before meeting with our new Presiding Bishop-elect), the Archbishop issued a statement indicating the American response was inadequate. Once more the Windsor Report was lifted up as (by now) a form of fundamental law.

Plans for an Anglican Covenant, one of the central recommendations of the Windsor Report, moved right along. Since the Windsor Report could not be altered, all its recommendations now assumed virtual canonical standing - without any legal backing whatsoever, or for that matter any formal approval by sectors of the Communion. In fact it had assumed this constitutional standing as a result of the raw power of the conservative forces of the church, now marching in tandem with the Archbishop of Canterbury.

A Reception Reference Group was quickly formed by the Archbishop to further develop plans for an Anglican Covenant. The group suggested that the related issue of altering Anglican structures would simply come from the Covenant proposal. It met under the chairmanship of Archbishop Peter Kwong (of Hong Kong), and subsequently with Primus Bruce Cameron, between the publication of The Windsor Report and the meeting of the Primates in Dromantine, Northern Ireland, in February 2005.

We learn, in the words of the Working Group, that "a high measure of support for the idea" of the Anglican Covenant was shown by the primates. Astonishingly, however, that support, among a body as conservative as the primates, was not unanimous nor could it be said there was anything like a consensus, a concept beloved by Archbishop Williams. The Working Group said: "One third of those who responded to the proposal supported the covenant as set out in the Windsor Report. One third accepted the principle of a covenant, but offered significant reflections on the way in which such a covenant would have to be articulated in order to be effective. One third did not favour the idea of a covenant." Then with breathless abandon the Working Group concludes: "The Primates at Dromantine, reflecting on these findings, stated their welcome for the concept of a covenant."

The Working Group dryly announced that the Covenant should be drawn up by a small group of 10 members and – while there might be circulation of drafts – the final product will have to be received by the national churches on a "take it or leave it" basis. At no point in this paper is the fact of the overwhelming power of the African/Global South/English Conservative/American radicals’ alliance alluded to and the intention of this coalition to use this process to demean and hamstring the American church - the purpose of the Windsor Report in the first place. All such "formalities" are left unsaid, though it is not difficult to predict who will be on this committee and how the drafts will be received by the conservative coalition or that the Episcopal Church will be forced to "take it or leave it.” We are now in the midst of political charade masquerading as high ecclesiastical seriousness.

From the time of the Windsor Report to this present day no formal mechanism has been set up for a Communion-wide process of discernment as to the acceptability of an Anglican Covenant. This, however, tallies neatly with the two approaches we have seen from the beginning of this disagreement: (1) there will be no process involving dialogue, debate or exchange governed by tolerance, trust and charity as was urged by Archbishop Ndungane; and (2) the question posed by the dominant discourse, that of unity and authority, will be obtained by coercion from "above" – generally, by the Primates along with the Archbishop of Canterbury. This of course violates any form of conciliarism in church decision-making.

Once again we note that not all are agreed that an Anglican Covenant is such a good idea.

In their 2005 response to the Windsor Report, the bishops of the Church of Ireland state:


Paragraph 119 (of the Windsor Report) argues – with almost breathtaking
conviction - that the case for the adoption of an Anglican Covenant is
overwhelming. It goes on to declare that the Communion cannot again afford "the
crippling prospect of repeated worldwide inter-Anglican conflict such as that
engendered by the current crisis." We ask three questions:
1. "Will a Covenant solve the current crisis?" We answer, "No."
2. "Will it provide a mechanism for anticipating and helping to avoid future disputes?" We answer, "It may, but we should be aware of the risk of exaggerating future differences into crises." To be specific, it is hard at this stage to anticipate the helpfulness or otherwise of the Covenant in addressing the emerging issue of lay Eucharistic presidency.
3. "What would happen to Provinces that felt, in conscience, unable to adopt or sign the Covenant?" This question we are unable to answer.

The bishops of Ireland then concluded:
Our over-riding concern is that if the recommendations and proposals of the report were to be implemented we should be replacing bonds of affection with the bondage of law. We are fearful that the refreshing, unpredictable and liberating wind of the Spirit may be inhibited through a seemingly inadequate appreciation of the way in which it appears to have influenced Anglicanism through past developments that have now received widespread acceptance. Provincial autonomy ought not to be idolized but it deserves to be cherished: it may be a gift we have to offer to the whole Church of God. As a Communion we should be prepared to explore the contribution of diversity.
There is something curiously irrational about the sequence of events begun in 2003. Not only has the discourse been oppressive and imperial, narrow and stringent – something clearly at odds with what has been traditional Anglicanism – but also the heavy-handed use of power to effect a narrow agenda.

Clearly, the growth of conservative evangelicalism at home and abroad (especially in Africa) has played a large role in this "descent to the irrational." The political alliance between -- and the combined muscle of -- evangelical forces in Africa and the United States has also played an important role. A significant part has also been played by a number of conservative English bishops whose anti- American pronouncements are truly astonishing.

Ties between American evangelicals and Africans go back over a decade. While many of these relationships at first consisted of complaining about decisions by the Episcopal Church in a more liberal, social direction, it was on the matter of homosexuality that what had been merely cultural differences now were said to rise to the level of a theological divide. The conservative mantra should be carefully noted. Certain actions by the Episcopal Church were designated as unscriptural and thus anathema. In addition, certain liberal social policies were seen not only as unbiblical but as symptoms of apostasy and heresy. To be open and tolerant on the matter of homosexuality meant - in a surprising leap of logic - that the catholic faith, "the faith once delivered to the saints" had been betrayed. From the late 1990s the American church was branded in growing conservative circles as "apostate” and "heretical” as well as non-biblical. Moreover and perhaps most surprising, the usual Anglican way of handling these matters - open exchange and discussion, airing of differences with a circle of trust - were thrown aside as themselves evidence of apostasy and lack of faith.

To stand firm both for the actions the Episcopal Church has taken over the years and to stand firm in support of traditional Anglicanism will be an uphill fight. For many, separating from this "new Anglicanism" seems appropriate. Indeed, many of us are willing to "walk apart” from this innovative Anglicanism. But to be bullied and coerced, and to be accused of lack of faith in Jesus Christ, is for many of us too much. We want to fight back. And that means a fight against the new Anglican Covenant. We are called to an unrelenting struggle against and unqualified rejection of the so-called Anglican Covenant.

6 Comments:

Blogger J.J. said...

Lisa, I have to respectfully disagree with you that the covenant was not talked about before +VGR. In fact, it had been very much discussed by +Rowan, the other primates, Bishops, and cannon lawyers, for years. It is well documented that it was already in the works. It just didn't get the attention and it wasn't on the fast track until now. I don't think that the English have much of an agenda here. They are just recognizing the way things were already evolving. While I consider myself a progressive, I actually think that it might ultimately be in the best interestests of the Episcopal Majority and other progressive/moderates. I can't imagine that it could really be as bad as many predict. How could they get the c of e to sign on to something confessional?

8/19/2006 7:30 PM  
Blogger Bill said...

"ndeed, who will really be effected by such a Covenant? Actually no one, save the American and Canadian churches"

Actually about one third of the CofE , the CofScotland and many other churches will be affected.
I think the CofE faces the same crisis the Episcopal Church faces.

8/20/2006 12:02 AM  
Blogger J.J. said...

Just to briefly follow up on my comment above, the covenant idea has become one of the primary tools of the ecumenical movement to solidify ties between Churches. "The Called to Common Mission" between TEC and the ELCA is a good example of this. The idea of an Anglican Covenant was seriously considered at the Primates Meeting at Kanuga in 2001. At that meeting Prof. Norman Doe presented a paper on "Canon Law and Communion."

8/21/2006 1:19 PM  
Blogger Craig Goodrich said...

There is something curiously irrational about the sequence of events begun in 2003. Not only has the discourse been oppressive and imperial, narrow and stringent – something clearly at odds with what has been traditional Anglicanism – but also the heavy-handed use of power to effect a narrow agenda.

Exactly; I couldn't agree more.

The Episcopal Church was at Lambeth when the teaching of the Communion was stated clearly, unambiguously, and charitably. The Episcopal Church was warned repeatedly by various instruments of the Communion that proceeding in the direction it was moving would have serious ecclesiological consequences, and was completely at odds with all historical Anglican theology and conciliar tradition. The Episcopal Church paid no attention.

Three months before the 2003 General Convention, the Theology Committee of its own House of Bishops warned the Episcopal Church that proceeding in the direction it was moving would be likely to cause very serious controversy within the church. The Episcopal Church paid no attention.

Not long after the 2003 General Convention, which proved to be the culmination of a several-decade effort involving the use of political power to effect a narrow agenda, instruments of the Communion warned that proceeding with the actions begun at the General Convention would have extremely serious consequences for the relationship between the Episcopal Church and the Communion. The Episcopal Church paid no attention.

18 months before the 2006 General Convention, instruments of the Communion advised the Episcopal Church of actions it could take to remedy the damage it had caused to its relationship with the Communion, and repeated that advice several times over the next year. The Episcopal Church paid no attention, while several of its bishops engaged in a heavy-handed use of power to suppress those they regarded as inimical to their narrow agendas.

About a month before the 2006 General Convention, an emissary of the Archbishop of Canterbury pointed out in the strongest terms possible for a reserved Briton precisely what modifications were needed in plans for GC official actions in order to remedy the damage it had caused to its relationship with the Communion. The Episcopal Church paid no attention.

The opening day of the Convention, one of the Church of England's most respected theologians, a longtime colleague of the Archbishop of Canterbury, published an essay pointing out in extreme detail and uncharacteristically strong language the modifications needed in proposals to be presented to the General Convention in order to remedy the damage it had caused to its relationship with the Communion. The Episcopal Church paid no attention.

Now the instruments of the Communion are taking their own actions in response to the damage the Episcopal Church has caused to its relationship with the rest of the Communion. The Episcopal Church is finally paying attention. It is pointing fingers, calling names, and whining.

8/22/2006 11:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is one holy catholic and apostolic church. I am a high churchman of the Anglican Catholic tradition and have expressed that faith all my adult life within sphere of ECUSA. However, ECUSA is not the church, but an accounting organization for a province of the church through which I maintain affiliation as a catholic christian practicing the Anglican Rite. I will do so as long as it remains steadfastly commited to maintaining its ties to and traditions in accordance with the catholic tradition. Should it decide to establish its own religion outside the catholic faith as defined by the Nicene, Apostolic, and Athanasion creeds, I will do what is required to remain true to the catholic tradition whether that means a parish with adequate episcopal oversite from an Anglican bishop, moving to the Church of Rome, the Orthodox, or some other aspect of the true catholic tradition. I cannot at the same time prayer for the unity of the church and be a party to schism.

Christianus est, ergo sum catolicum.

1/20/2007 3:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is one holy catholic and apostolic church. I am a high churchman of the Anglican Catholic tradition and have expressed that faith all my adult life within sphere of ECUSA. However, ECUSA is not the church, but an accounting organization for a province of the church through which I maintain affiliation as a catholic christian practicing the Anglican Rite. I will do so as long as it remains steadfastly commited to maintaining its ties to and traditions in accordance with the catholic tradition. Should it decide to establish its own religion outside the catholic faith as defined by the Nicene, Apostolic, and Athanasion creeds, I will do what is required to remain true to the catholic tradition whether that means a parish with adequate episcopal oversite from an Anglican bishop, moving to the Church of Rome, the Orthodox, or some other aspect of the true catholic tradition. I cannot at the same time prayer for the unity of the church and be a party to schism.

Christianus est, ergo sum catolicum.

1/20/2007 3:55 PM  

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