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Is the Anglican Covenant Non-Anglican?
Posted: 06 January 2010 05:42 PM   [ Ignore ]  
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On December 18, 2009, the long-awaited Anglican Covenant was sent to the Anglican Communion’s 38 provinces for formal consideration.  The Joint Standing Committee of the Primates and the Anglican Consultative Council—now self-denominated as the “Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion” has now approved a revised Section Four.


The question on many people’s minds is, “Do we need a covenant?


Some have said that we do not. They complain, “It’s not Anglican!” What they mean, I believe, is that the whole notion of a covenant uniting and binding the whole Communion is contrary to classical Anglican ecclesiology.  The argument goes something like this: the provinces of the Anglican Communion have always been independent and self-governing. Any attempt to impose a covenant that would aim to limit that independence and autonomy is simply contrary to the expansiveness and freedom of self-governance that has traditionally been characteristic of Anglicanism.

Ah, but is that a fair reading of our history? I believe not. 

 

In this paper I will summarize the arguments in favor of calling the churches of the Anglican Communion to adopt a Covenant.  Then I will address the argument that requiring the churches in the Communion to sign on to the Covenant is not in keeping with our tradition of how we order our common life as Anglicans.  A fair reading of the history of the Anglican Communion will show that the aims of the proposed Covenant are in keeping with how the Communion has historically dealt with major disagreements.

 

The Beginning Point: Why do we need a Covenant?

 

Why do we need a Covenant?  Here is the logical sequence.

 

1.    First, we need a Covenant, because, in approving and actually consecrating as bishop of one who is living in an openly sexual relationship outside the bonds of traditional Holy Matrimony the Episcopal Church has unilaterally changed its teaching on sexual ethics and commended this manner of life to the worldwide Church. Dr. Rowan Williams has written that “[f]or most (though not all) Anglicans, questions about sexual ethics belonged in that category of teaching that was not up for negotiation as a result of cultural variation or social development.” (The Tablet, “Why the Anglican Communion Matters,” February 23, 2007) Dr. Williams stated a further concern that one segment of the Church really had no right to alter this part of the Christian tradition without talking to other worldwide Christian bodies.


2.    Second, we need a Covenant because, as Dr. Williams wrote the Primates in his Advent 2007 letter, the Anglican Communion is held together, not by Canon Law, but by “the ability of each part of the family to recognise that other local churches have received the same faith from the apostles and are faithfully holding to it in loyalty to the One Lord incarnate who speaks in Scripture and bestows his grace in the sacraments.” In short, so that each part of the family can know and affirm that they with the others “continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship”.


3.    Third, the Anglican Communion is currently splintering over this unilateral action by one segment of the Church. Several Provinces have declared broken or impaired communion with the Episcopal Church while some have affirmed or even applauded the American Province. In 2003, the Primates meeting at Lambeth Palace predicted this very state of affairs, saying, “This will tear the fabric of our Communion at its deepest level, and may lead to further division on this and further issues as provinces have to decide in consequence whether they can remain in communion with provinces that choose not to break communion with the Episcopal Church (USA)”. The CAPA Primates wrote in 2007, “The Anglican Communion Covenant is the one way for us to uphold our common heritage of faith while at the same time holding each one of us accountable to those teachings that have defined our life together and also guide us into the future.”


4.    Fourth, what could not be known in 2003, or even 2007, was that further tears would develop even in the Episcopal Church. At present four dioceses in the American Church have left. In addition numerous other churches have separated themselves from their parent dioceses. These dioceses and congregations were constituent members of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion before the consecration of Gene Robinson. Further splintering is in the offing as the Episcopal Church has recently elected an openly practicing homosexual woman as suffragan bishop for the Diocese of Los Angeles and as “border crossings” continue unabated. Some means needs to be made to allow these former “Anglicans in good standing” to be recognizably and organically Anglican again. That means is the proposed Covenant.


5.    Finally, we need a Covenant that allows our ecumenical partners—most notably the Roman Catholics and Orthodox—to be able to know who is actually authorized to speak on behalf of Anglicanism in ecumenical conversation.  How can any trustworthy ecumenical agreements be had with representatives of the Anglican Communion if there is no Communion-wide consensus as to whether a certain individual or individuals actually shares the covenanted concerns of the Communion in such as way as is recognizable and accepted by all other parts of the Anglican Communion. (This is not a new concern of the present Archbishop of Canterbury; Archbishop Michael Ramsey raised this concern following his meeting with Pope Paul VI when he asked himself upon what basis did he, as Archbishop of Canterbury, represent a branch of the Church with a theology.) 


But, is it consistent with traditional Anglicanism ecclesiology to have a Covenant that all churches must sign onto?


Just because the Anglican Communion may need a Covenant does not mean that calling the various churches of the Anglican Communion to adopt a Covenant is consonant with the traditional ecclesiology of Anglicanism.  The Covenant could be necessary for Anglicanism, could be a workable solution, but it could also be so inconsistent with the way the Anglican Communion has traditionally ordered its common life that for the Anglican Communion to adopt the Covenant could do more damage to Anglicanism than the harm the Covenant is intended to remedy.


Anglicanism has traditionally adopted a minimalist approach to the way it governs its common life.  Former Archbishop Desmond Tutu quipped about this minimalist nature of Anglican ecclesiology.  Asked once what makes us Anglicans, he replied, “We meet.”  He was obviously referring to the decennial meeting of the Lambeth Conference.


Some have argued that the whole Covenant process is invasive of this minimalist way of governing the Communion. They further argue that to require provinces or dioceses to sign onto the Covenant in order to be recognized as Anglican is something that we as Anglicans have never required and that now is not the time to introduce this non-Anglican innovation.


However, the reason the Anglican Communion has never resorted to a Covenant is because it has never had to. Conflicts that have threatened to destroy the unity of the Communion have been rare.  And the three times before the present conflict revealed the Communion finding a way to maintain its unity by self-submission by the individual members of the Communion to the counsel of the whole.


Autonomy in Communion


The Anglican Communion has historically ordered its common life under a mantle of grace, what the Windsor Report calls “autonomy in communion.”  The Windsor Report says that we are autonomous only in relation to others (within the Communion). Historically, the Anglican Communion has balanced the freedom of an individual province to govern itself with the need to be in mutual relationship with each other. When conflict has arisen between member churches of the Communion that threatened the unity of the Communion, the individual provinces have surrendered their autonomy for the sake of the unity of the Communion. Or, to put it another and probably more accurate way, the autonomy of the individual provinces was limited by the need for unity of the whole Communion.


We will now explore these previous occurrences of conflict in the life of the Communion to illustrate this principle of autonomy in communion at work.  We will then show how the mutual restraint present in these first three instances has been absent in the current conflict and how the proposed Anglican Covenant provides a framework for dealing with such conflicts in a way that is in keeping with the process of mutual restraint of the various member churches of the Anglican Communion which was present in these first two challenges to the unity of the Communion.


There have been only four times in the history of the Anglican Communion when issues have threatened to disrupt or even destroy the unity of the Anglican Communion: (1) the formation of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America and the first American Book of Common Prayer; (2) the Colenso Affair and the calling of the First Lambeth Conference; (3) the ordination to the priesthood of Florence Li Tim-Oi in the Diocese of Hong Kong and Macao; and (4) the consecration of V. Gene Robinson as bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire.


(1) The Formation of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America and the First American Book of Common Prayer


With the expansion of the British Empire came the extension of the Church of England on foreign soil.  The first extension of the Church of England outside the British Isles occurred in the American colonies.


The first challenge to the faith and unity of the Church of England and the nascent Anglican Communion came with the adoption of the first American Book of Common Prayer.  The War for Independence signaled the end of the authority of the Church of England over the formerly Anglican churches in the United States of America. Church leaders from the various states set about the process of organizing these Anglican churches into a new national church in conformity with the faith and church order of the Church of England but without the oath of allegiance to and prayers for the English monarch.


With the consecration of Samuel Seabury as bishop of Connecticut, the American church was able to ordain clergy for the Anglican churches in the United States. However, in accordance with historic Christian practice, the self-perpetuation of the episcopate for this church in this new country required three bishops to consecrate more bishops.  With Seabury the American church had only one bishop. 


At the same time, it was necessary to develop a prayer book for use in these American churches, as well as formally to establish this new American Anglican Church.


The draft version of the original American Book of Common Prayer, prepared in 1785, called for some major changes from the 1662 version of the English prayer book upon which it was modeled.  Among other changes, the proposed American version called for the deletion of the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds, the removal of the phrase concerning Christ’s descent into Hell from the Apostles’ Creed, as well as alterations to the baptismal service, matrimonial office, and other similar changes. 


How did bishops in England respond?  Richard Peters of Philadelphia met with the archbishop of Canterbury and filed this report:
I find that we can have no Bishop till we let the prelates see what Church we have made.  I think it would be prudent in our Church, to put off any material alterations till we have Bishops consecrated; if we make any substantial alterations they will be carped at by those who will make the Bishops uneasy, and so, to keep peace at home, they will refuse to meddle abroad [that is, to consecrate bishops of the church in America]. The Making of the First American Book of Common Prayer, Marion Hatchett, p. 65.


These English bishops refused to consecrate any bishops for the Church in America until the American church remedied these errors in their proposed prayer book. In effect, upon the objections of the Archbishop of Canterbury and other English bishops, all of the major revisions were abandoned in favor of conformity with the English prayer book, except for the continued omission of the Athanasian Creed. 


The aim of the first drafters of the first American Book of Common Prayer was to establish a church that preserved the unity of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America with the Church of England. The words of the Preface to this prayer book state this intent: “this Church is far from intending to depart from the Church of England in any essential point of doctrine, discipline, or worship . . .”


Here we have the beginnings of what it means to be a transoceanic and worldwide Communion: the proposed innovations of the Americans to their Book of Common Prayer so departed from the English bishops’ understanding of the faith that the latter could not in good conscience consecrate bishops for the American expression of the Church of England.  Because these proposed revisions would have shaped a church ostensibly consonant with the Church of England but actually departing from her in some “essential point of doctrine, discipline, or worship,” the English bishops refused to consecrate American bishops until the American church came into conformity.  To use the Windsor Report language: Autonomy submitted itself to Communion.


Note Bishop Samuel Seabury’s response to some of the proposed revisions:
If we new model [revise] the government [of the Church], why not the sacraments, creeds, and doctrines of the Church?  But then it would not be Christ’s Church, but our Church; and it would remain so, call it by what name we please.” One, Catholic, and Apostolic, Paul Marshall, p. 73.


I doubt that the English bishops who consecrated William White and Samuel Provoost, thus providing for the self-perpetuating succession of the episcopate in America, had any notion that they were thereby establishing the Anglican Communion. They did, however, recognize that they were doing something that was inextricably connected with the Church of England.  They had withheld their consent to consecrate White and Provoost as bishops until the American Church agreed to change their proposed prayer book in order to maintain the unity of the Church.


(2) The Colenso Affair and the Calling of the First Lambeth Conference


By 1865 there were 45 English overseas dioceses and 34 American dioceses who considered themselves Anglican.  In addition there were five independent provinces with enough bishops to continue their own succession.  It was in this year that the Canadian bishops called for a meeting of all Anglican bishops throughout the world.


Why did they issue their call for this unprecedented meeting of bishops from all these dioceses?  The presenting issue was what has come to be known as the Colenso Affair. Bishop John William Colenso, the first bishop in Southern Africa, held liberal views on polygamy, the baptism of children; he held more liberal views on sacramental theology than that held historically by Anglicans, and he wrote a commentary denying the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch.


Without going into the details here, Bishop Colenso was not invited to this first Lambeth Conference, and the discipline of Colenso by the Archbishop of Capetown was affirmed. 
What came out of the first Lambeth Conference?  First, a commitment to a long-term solution to challenges posed by such as the Colenso Affair by means of a strong endorsement of the synodical way of governing the Church for the sake of good order.  Secondly, concern for the faith and unity of the whole Communion over the autonomy of individual bishops and churches to depart from the faith and order of the larger Communion.  When the faith and unity of the Anglican Communion is at risk, those bishops, by their actions, declared that it is incumbent on the bishops, by virtue of their Office, to take whatever measures are necessary to guard the faith and unity of the Communion.


(3) The Ordination to the Priesthood of Florence Li Tim-Oi in the Diocese of Hong Kong


The Windsor Report cites the challenge to the unity of the Communion brought about by the ordination of the first woman to the priesthood, Florence Li Tim-Oi in the Diocese of Hong Kong as a clear example of the principle of autonomy in communion as a core value in the Anglican Communion.


Florence Li Tim-Oi was ordained a priest in 1944.  Controversy over the ordination erupted, and Forence surrendered her license to officiate as a priest in 1946.  In 1968, the Diocese of Hong Kong and Macao brought the question of women’s ordination to the priesthood to the Lambeth Conference. In Resolution 34, the Conference recommended that before any province made a final decision to ordain women to the priesthood that they should consult with and follow the advice of the Anglican Consultative Council. This was, in fact, done, and the ACC did advise that the Bishop of Hong Kong and Macao could proceed with the ordination of women in his diocese and encouraged all provinces of the Anglican Communion to continue in communion with that diocese. When Hong Kong ordained two women priests in 1971, they were officially recognized as priests of that diocese.


The Windsor Report proceeds to review the process of recognizing the consecration of women to the episcopate as another example of autonomy in communion and the cooperative nature of decision-making in the Communion.  Their summary of the significance of that process for the Communion is important for our purposes:
Anglicans can understand from this story that decision-making in the Communion on serious and contentious issues has been, and can be, carried out without division, despite a measure of impairment. We need to note that the Instruments of Unity, i.e. the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meeting, were all involved in the decision-making process. Provincial autonomy was framed by Anglican interdependence on matters of deep theological concern to the whole Communion.  (Windsor Report, §21)


(4) The consecration of V. Gene Robinson as Bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire


The Anglican Communion, for much of its history, has been dominated by the Church of England and the First World provinces of the Communion.  In short, the whites were the powerful and the Third World Anglicans, the non-whites, were generally silent participants and a distinct minority in the Communion.  This imbalance changed with the indigenization of the Church in Africa in the mid-20th Century.


The Lambeth Conference of 1978 was the last conference of the hegemony with the whites leading the Anglican Communion.  The Lambeth Conference of 1988 saw the emergence of the African provinces recognizing their numerical strength.  Realizing that parts of the First World provinces of the Communion were moving beyond the traditional views of marriage and sexuality that had been historically held by the Church catholic, the bishops reported that they viewed the issues surrounding human sexuality as being “complex.” There was a need, they said, “for theological study of sexuality in such a way as to relate sexual relationships to that wholeness of human life which itself derives from God, who is the source of masculinity and femininity.” In particular, they “reaffirm[ed] heterosexuality as the scriptural norm,” and called for dispassionate study of the issue.


The Lambeth Conference of 1998 saw the attempted resolution of this conflict.  It was decided, by a vote of 526-70, to pass a resolution (1.10) calling for a “listening process” but stating that “homosexual practice” is “incompatible with Scripture”.


The Episcopal Church put this mind of the Communion to the test.  In 2003 it approved the consecration of Gene Robinson, who was living in a sexual relationship with a man, as bishop of New Hampshire. A hailstorm erupted throughout the Anglican Communion. 


In response, Rowan Williams, the then recently enthroned Archbishop of Canterbury, called for a Commission to make recommendations that would guide the Anglican Communion to resolve the conflict brought about as a result of this consecration.


Before the consecration of Bishop Robinson, the Primates, meeting in October 2003 stated,
if his consecration proceeds, we recognise that we have reached a crucial and critical point in the life of the Anglican communion and we have had to conclude that the future of the communion itself will be put in jeopardy. In this case, the ministry of this one bishop will not be recognised by most of the Anglican world, and many provinces are likely to consider themselves to be out of communion with the Episcopal Church (USA). This will tear the fabric of our communion at its deepest level, and may lead to further division on this and further issues as provinces have to decide in consequence whether they can remain in communion with provinces that choose not to break communion with the Episcopal Church (USA).


In 2010, over six years after the consecration of Gene Robinson, this issue remains unresolved.  Four dioceses of the Episcopal Church have left TEC.  They have been joined by the Anglican Mission in America, established by the Anglican Church in Rwanda; and collections of churches overseen by bishops consecrated by the archbishops of Kenya, Uganda, The Southern Cone, and Nigeria; along with a number of “continuing churches” who have formed The Anglican Church in North America.


Ironically, the Episcopal Church’s General Convention, in 1991, recognized the seriousness of unilateral action in this area of human sexuality, and through its Resolution B020, it mandated a “pan-Anglican and ecumenical” consultation precisely because they “should not be resolved by the Episcopal Church on its own.” One could only wonder what might have happened had this mandate had been followed as an instance of autonomy in communion!


In terms of Communion faith and unity, the issues can be stated: will the Anglican Communion devolve into a federation of provinces, each free to develop its own theology without reference to other provinces in the Communion; free to consecrate bishops within the geographical boundaries of already existing dioceses; free to plant churches, ordain priests and deacons, perform confirmations in those already existing dioceses; some dioceses recognized by some dioceses and not by others; some bishops of some provinces recognized by the Archbishop of Canterbury and some bishops of those same provinces not recognized by the Archbishop of Canterbury?  Or will the Anglican Communion be a Communion of provinces which exercise mutual submission to each other as it has throughout its history up until the present conflict?


What is different now is that the Episcopal Church, for the first time in the history of the Anglican Communion, has refused to submit itself to the counsel of the larger Communion. As long as all members of the Anglican Communion remained submitted to each other (autonomy in communion), there was no need for a Covenant. The whole Communion, through prayer, conversation, and counsel worked out its relationship cooperatively. The decision of the American Episcopal Church to proceed with the consecration of a bishop sexually active outside the bonds of holy matrimony and the cross jurisdictional consecrations and ordinations by several of the African and South American provinces have shown that parts of the Communion are no longer willing to be mutually submitted to one another when introducing innovations that threaten the faith and unity of the Communion.


The requested adoption of a Covenant for the Anglican Communion represents the mutual submission historically exhibited by the Communion in times of conflict.  It is fully in keeping with the minimalist approach to the way the Communion has governed itself.  In the three previous times of conflict, the party introducing the innovation submitted itself to the counsel of the larger Communion. By adopting the proposed Covenant, each church or province explicitly agrees ahead of time to life by this historic principle of mutual self-restraint for the sake of the unity of the Communion, that is, autonomy in communion.


The basic question being addressed is: what does it mean to be Anglican in such a way that the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Anglicanism is recognized throughout the Anglican Communion, as well as by our ecumenical partners?


Because there are now competing voices and conflicting opinions as to what it means to be Anglican, the Anglican Covenant has been developed, not as a way of defining doctrine, discipline, and worship rules, but by allowing the various members of the Communion to indicate their willingness to be mutually submitted to the mind of the Communion on issues that threaten the faith and unity of the Anglican Communion.  As such, the Covenant represents a minimalist approach to communion and relationship of the Anglican Communion. 


A Final Analogy: Grace Abused


Throughout its history, in times of conflict, the Anglican Communion has been held together by grace.  This principle is represented by Archbishop Tutu’s quip that what makes us Anglicans is that we meet. We have not been held together by judicial decree, by constitutional provisions, or by an overtly confessional conformity.  We have been held together by the grace of relationship.


With the consecration of Bishop Robinson, the grace of relationship was abused. The Episcopal Church was asked by the larger Communion to live by the grace of mutual self-restraint. The abuse of that grace has caused dioceses to separate themselves from The Episcopal Church; has caused lawsuits by churches in the United States against dioceses, TEC and dioceses to sue local Episcopal churches, and deacons, priests, and bishops to be deposed; and encouraged African and South American dioceses to cross jurisdictional boundaries. The normal grace-filled, mutually submissive way of ordering our common life in the Anglican Communion has failed to maintain the faith and unity of the Communion.


So, the question is, how can we as a Communion maintain our fellowship in times of conflict in a mutually submissive, grace-filled way?
Is the Covenant the best way forward for the Anglican Communion in the face of the Communion-breaking conflicts we are currently facing? Winston Churchill said of democracy, “democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”


So, I suppose we may say the same with respect to the Covenant as a way of preserving the faith and unity of the Anglican Communion. There may be a better way, but it has yet to be proposed. At this point, the alternative to the proposed Covenant process is for Anglicanism to splinter into a federation of provinces and dioceses where some bishops are recognized by some but not all, some provinces and dioceses will cooperate with some Anglican provinces and dioceses but not all, where to be Anglican has no real theological substance or consistency, just cultural artifacts of a bygone era in which, when a person is asked: “are you Anglican?” the response will be, “it depends on what you mean by ‘Anglican.’”


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Posted: 06 January 2010 07:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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First, I would like to say that this is a really, really excellent essay.  I am especially happy to see that the issue of the founding of the Episcopal Church (USA) is mentioned as a way of undercutting the idea of a historic autonomy and provincial independence.  Indeed, the story of the Episcopal Church’s own founding is perhaps the loudest witness against the current trend, among the majority of our province’s leadership, to assert a historic independence as the Anglican way. 

I would, however, like to offer a point of disagreement.  You write that “the Covenant represents a minimalist approach to communion and relationship of the Anglican Communion” - a fair enough point, I think, although it should be noted that a) the Covenant does not claim to be minimalist, and that b) the Covenant does not preclude the development of a maximalist interpretation, application, or further series of developments.  The reason for this affirmation on your part is your statement that, “Anglicanism has traditionally adopted a minimalist approach to the way it governs its common life.”  I recognize that many people believe this - Leander Harding, for example, has claimed the same in his recent commentary on the Covenant text - but I would like to propose that this simply isn’t true.  There is no Anglican tradition of canonical minimalism.

Italicizing tradition is important for the following reasons.  First, a tradition is something long-standing, rather than of recent origin; it is self-consciously cultivated and maintained over time, and is not therefore a prolonged set of ad hoc arrangements.  If one were to look for a self-consciously maintained tradition of Anglican canonical minimalism, where would one find it?  Who, within the last ~500 years, has argued for it?  This, then, points to the second point: Anglican canon law is the product of a) English common law; b) Roman canon law; c) English canon law; and d) distinctly Anglican developments.  Ergo, talk about Anglican canon law cannot be restricted to only what has developed in the wake of the Anglican Communion.

More importantly - and, I think, more latent within assumptions about Anglican canonical minimalism - the history of Anglican canon law simply cannot be divorced from the history of the British Empire.  It seems to me that at present, there is a tendency to take the post-imperial status of the Anglican Communion, with all of its legal confusion, and project it back upon the whole history of Anglicanism.  Much of the Anglican Communion’s geographical territory has historically been coterminous with the British Empire (in either its first or second forms).  The well developed body of English law, with roots reaching back well into medieval times, has formed the backbone of Anglican existence for much of the Anglican Communion’s history.  In other words, the history of Anglican canon law cannot be understood apart from the history of English law more broadly.  Therefore, we can neither assume nor affirm any sort of canonical minimalism on the part of the Anglican Communion.  If we do, we are abstracting Anglican canon law from its material and imperial legal history - and such an abstraction not only results in historical misunderstanding, but such historical misunderstanding risks validating a perspective that only undermines both the validity and the viability of the Anglican Covenant.

Nonetheless, a good article.  Thank you for it.

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Posted: 07 January 2010 05:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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May I endorse Benjamin Guyer’s observation about the inseparability of much of Anglican Canon Law from its English and British Empire origins. This applies in Australia where (a) the Anglican Churches are incorporated under Acts of the various State Legislatures (no British precedent for that although there is in the USA) and (b) the Anglican Church of Australia has a powerful and effective Appellate Tribunal with powers modelled at least in part on State Supreme Courts. Diocesan Chancellors are often Judges of Supreme Court status in major dioceses and always practising lawyers in other cases. The way our Synods are conducted reflect British parliamentary practice. The Bishop-in-Council model of executive government in Australian Anglicanism models the Governor-in-Council models of our governments, although all members of the Governor-in-Council or State equivalent (or Executive Council at Federal level) are serving cabinet ministers and in the British tradition, also members of parliament. I thoroughly agree that when talking about Anglican jurisprudence the Anglican Communion and its apparatus is of minor importance. And I would emphasize that the adoption of the Anglican Covenant will NOT be a Communion matter other than in the abstract. It will rest almost totally on individual diocesan synods, at least in Australia, and on Provincial (State) and General Synod (Federal).

Ian Welch, Canberra

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Posted: 07 January 2010 06:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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Neal, thank you for this article. It covers the points, it is well organized, and it provides us with a clear picture of where we are in this whole process. I am particularly taken by your description of the situation as being a grace abused, that expresses the reality extremely well.

The point that I would make arises from conversations that I have had over the last few months with various people who have been closely related with the drawing up of the Covenant. It is that this is a clarification of Anglican theology, ecclesiology, and moral discipline that has drawn upon wisdom and insight from a global Communion rather than being the product of the western segment of Anglicanism. To refuse to accept the Anglican Covenant perhaps suggests a western (and dare I say it, colonial) superiority over the remainder of the Communion.

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Posted: 07 January 2010 08:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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Dear Benjamin and Ian,

I think we need to distinguish between internal ecclesiology—what the Americans continue to refer to as polity—and the practiced ecclesiology of the Anglican Communion among its parts. No doubt internally the Church of England, Anglican Church of Australia, and the American Episcopal Church are not minimalist at all, but when it comes to intra-Communion dealings, neither amber nor the Primates have ever made any reference to the English Canon Law. I may be wrong on this, but I simply don’t hear any of the Communion leadership referring to the English Canon Law as either binfing or even illustrative as a guide for how we as a Communion should govern ourselves. As a former practicing lawyer, I am not at all averse to citing and using the law, whether common or statutory, to help arbitrate our conflicts. I just don’t see any evidence of Lambeth or others so using it.

Might it be that there are assumptions about the way that the Brits and Australians do things that the Americans simply don’t accept? Is there a sort of tacit understanding about “the way we do things here” in Britain and Australia that the Americans have simply not bought into? Then we have the Canadians whose synodical form of governing the church seems to be more in line with England and Australia—help, I’m speaking out of my extreme ignorance.

Richard, it is interesting that the fault lines generally fall between those opposed to the human sexuality innovations and those in favor of it—except for those on the more conservative side who want a more confessional requirement to membership rather than relationship out of mutual submission.

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Posted: 07 January 2010 11:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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My own views on the importance of canon law here are due in large part to my recent reading of Norman Doe.  In addition to his fine book on the Anglican Covenant (reviewed by yours truly here at Covenant) and his book on Anglican Communion Canon Law (which I have not finished reading), he has an excellent piece about common principles of Anglican canon law in (an otherwise disappointing collection of essays by various Anglican figures, published in the run up to Lambeth 2008, entitled A Fallible Church).  The Doe article drew my attention to the Anglican Communion Legal Advisers Network, which has produced some pieces on Anglican canon law:

“Some Legal Considerations” at http://www.acclawnet.co.uk/about.php

and especially

“Principles of Canon Law common to the Anglican Communion” at http://www.acclawnet.co.uk/canon-law.php

Given Doe’s involvement with the creation of the Anglican Covenant, I have tended to think that some sort of broadly legal framework is a wholly acceptable hermeneutic for the Covenant.  And, if I recall correctly, have not the Primates consistently given their approval to the study of Anglican canon law in recent years?  In terms of intra-provincial Anglican dealings, yes, I see your point (and thank you for your clarification).  We have become wholly minimalist - a very bad thing, no?

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Posted: 08 January 2010 03:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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As a priest of the American church who was ordained and is now licensed in the Church of England, I have to say that the canons do not figure in English church life to anywhere near the extent they do in the USA. I remember in 1976 being taken aback by just how important the Canons and Constitution were in Episcopal church life, and now back in England I am taken aback by how little people consider the Canons. Whereas in the American scene they are in the front row of the bleachers at the fifty yard line, on the English scene it is as if we know they are there somewhere up behind one of the goalposts and they might be able to get the goalie’s ear if they yell hard enough.

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Posted: 08 January 2010 05:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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I think canon law is growing in impact in the Australian Anglican scene as the Diocese of Sydney moves to different positions on many issues, including non-recognition of women priests (although accepting deacons), refusal to accept women bishops (although accepting their diaconal status), and various other issues.  I was surprised to learn, for example, that Sydney no longer requires a clergyman to wear a surplice when conducting public worship and that clerical dress has almost entirely disappeared. There are increasing appeals to the Appellate Tribunal over various issues. But on the whole, I agree with Richard Kew that as in the UK, few Australians (and probably a majority of clergy) are aware of or really interested in canon law.

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Posted: 09 January 2010 09:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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off topic: I hope that you will post your fine Living Church essay.

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Posted: 10 January 2010 04:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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Thank you for a good essay. I suppose the challenge I have with the whole discussion of the Anglican Communion Covenant is that I’m not sure how TEC affirming and adopting it will actually work in practice. Whether Bishop-elect Glasspool receives the necessary consents for consecration, the “gay consecration” bell has already been rung—it is highly unlikely that Bishop Robinson will renounce his Orders, much less be defrocked. So you will still have a validly ordained Anglican bishop living in a same-sex relationship. Moreover, TEC canons specifically prohibit refusing access to the ordination process because of sexual orientation, so the only way of continuing the “moratorium” would be for a majority of Diocesan Bishops and Standing Committees to refuse to consent to any and every such election. Which, of course, would still leave Gene Robinson as an Anglican/Episcopal bishop. Frankly, in the over 2,000 years that the church has been in existence, we’ve ordained as bishop people with far worse ethical problems than Bishop Robinson—and even in the Reformation, no one argued that they were not validly ordained! I’m also wondering if, in the interest of mutual submission, the other provinces of the Anglican Communion are willing to submit the names of all of their bishops-elect for TEC’s consent. Failing that, I’m not sure how valid such objections from elsewhere in the Communion are. Surely other provinces have ordained bishops that Bishops and Standing Committees in TEC would object to for a variety of reasons. Yet TEC has not asked for, much less insisted upon, veto power over those elections.

To a 41 year old Generation X priest like me, the fights within TEC and the Anglican Communion seem suspiciously like the divorce proceedings that the parents of many of my friends engaged in. Who gets the house (church)? Who gets custody of the children (parishioners)? It is complete with the vitriol that often accompanies such divorces—people saying essentially “you can’t kick me out, I’m leaving!” And, yes, it sounds as silly to me as it looks in print. I often feel like one of the people at a Thanksgiving meal at the children’s table, watching an animated and heated argument at the adult’s table that sometimes results in one of the participants standing up, storming out, and slamming the door behind him or her. It seems like much of TEC and the Anglican Communion are fighting over a church, confederation of churches, or way of being church that is slowly dying. Why would I want to even enter this fight?

Into all of this, I can’t help but read your article in the Living Church which deals only tangentially with such issues. I would submit that TEC is not declining because of sexuality, but because many of its members have lost (or never had) the ability to articulate a compelling Gospel story. The recognition of this malaise properly started with the “Decade of Evangelism” in which folks looked at each other with genuine puzzlement and said “What is evangelism and how and why would we go about doing it?” It seems to me that the sexuality debates are a terribly convenient excuse for attacking and vilifying fellow Christians in the face of a slow realization that the post-Reformation institutional church that has been built up over 500 years is a shadow of its former self and is slowly dying and few people know what to do with that information. I’ve heard many people talking and writing about the assertion that the sexuality debate is simply a symptom of TEC’s slide into heterodoxy and/or Unitarian Universalism. However, few people are talking about the “disease” and most would much rather talk about the “symptom”!

Perhaps a more profitable way of proceeding might be to simply say “issues of sexuality are largely cultural and thus the churches will disagree on them. So long as we are able to affirm the basic creeds (Nicene and Apostles), centrality of the Scriptures, primacy of Baptism and the Eucharist, and desirability of the threefold ministry of Bishop, Priest, and Deacon (in other words, the points of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral), let us continue to meet around the altar and break bread together.” I find it odd that some Primates are using Paul’s warning not to come to the Eucharist unworthily or unprepared to justify not coming to a Eucharist where they judge that someone else is unworthy or unprepared! I hope we can move beyond this and agree to disagree, but given the charged atmosphere, I’m not holding my breath.

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Posted: 10 January 2010 11:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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Tom, I agree with you that the deeper issue is the inability of American Episcopalians to articulate the Gospel in clear and compelling ways. I also believe that the Decade of Evangelism revealed this weakness. What conversation about the “disease” has amounted to many of the ACNA-relatd folks stating this, that is, the slide into heterodoxy, as their prmary reason for leaving and those in TEC claiming such slide is not, in fact occurring. There is an interesting conversation going on at Episcopal Cafe dealing with the issue of whether the +AbC likes the Canadians and dislikes the Americans because the Canadians are credally solid and the Americans are credally fuzzy.

When Bishop Schori was in Dallas she was asked whether she believed in the physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus. She responded that this was the testimony of those early disciples: Thomas who put his fingers in his side, etc, and that THEY believed they witnessed him bodily resurrected.

Was this heterodoxy? I don’t think so, but neither was it a clear affirmation of her personal belief in the physical bodily resurrection of our Lord. You can say that she is a scientist or a theologian, but that kind of response raises is illustrative of the fuzziness that the Brits reference.

Re: provinces submitting their bishops to TEC, that, I think, is not in the offing. As I pointed out in my article, for much of the history of the Communion, these communion-breaking issues have been few and far between. And, it is not simply one or two provinces that objected to Gene Robinson’s consecration, or Mary Glasspool’s. I think TEC had pretty advance notice of the objections to both elections, consent process, and consecrations. If the Covenant is adopted, I believe Section Four will only be invoked on “big ticket items” like these elections, border crossings, Lay presidency fo the Eucharist, and so on. What will amount to a “big ticket item?” That will be for the Communin to decide.

Lastly, I don’t think we can dismiss the “issues of sexuality” as “largely cultural.” As +Rowan has stated, too many large parts of the Communion, as well as our ecumenical partners, simply don’t see it that way. The majority of the bearers of the tradition simply don’t accept that.  And a part f the Church that chooses to view issues of sexuality as largely cultural will eventually do so on isolation from the rest of historically apostolic Christianity. If we choose to take an isolated stance on a position that the larger Church, namely, the majority of the Anglican Communion, Roman Catholics, and Orthodox, holds contrary to, we will be choosing to isolate ourselves.

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Posted: 11 January 2010 07:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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The last paragraph of Neal’s response to Tom Sramek points out the elephant in the living room—how the church relates to, imbibes, dissents from, speaking the Gospel into, allows the Gospel to be shaped by, etc., the prevailing culture.

Our Christianity is inevitably culturally flavored because our faith is incarnational, but in the west we have not really given ourselves seriously to doing the work necessary about being incarnational of Christ in a culture that is back-peddling as fast as it can on its historic roots in the Christian faith. We still tend to fall back into what has been rather than addressing what is emerging, and what will be.

Those within the apostolic, creedal stream of believing have tended not to explore the implications of what might be called sexual diversity in terms of the way the faith relates to it, but have been more prone to be condemnatory. Those on the other end of the spectrum have tended to allow themselves to be absorbed into and shaped by the culture as it evolves. I know these are huge generalizations, but there is enough truth in them to suggest that there are stand-offs all around.

Sexuality is my example, but we could look at any number of other components of being part of the sort of human culture that the west is in process of becoming. I would hope that something like the Anglican Covenant could be a tool for those of us in our tradition who want to be missionary in the culture in a manner that is effective for the Gospel rather than negates God’s grace and revelation.

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Posted: 11 January 2010 12:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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Richard, do you have examples of other issues besides sexuality which we could use to explore the incarnational nature of our faith to which you so eloquently point?  I am thinking here particularly of Tom’s personal example as a GenX’er in trying to make sense of statements and actions which seem tangential or even irrelevant (i.e. why such a big deal?).  Canon Michell has also touched on it, but it might help if we could find a serious example which isolates the cultural frame in a more neutral way than sexuality.  I often find historical examples to be suggestive, since they have, in some ways, been settled already and this allows us to appreciate both sides without as much emotional investment.  Thanks.

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Posted: 11 January 2010 03:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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If you want a tough cultural issue without the “heat” of sexuality, try consumerism. Plenty of conviction to go around on that score!

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Posted: 11 January 2010 03:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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Bob, this will sound terribly unoriginal, but the conflict with the Gnostics is likely to provide you with some good source material if you want to demonstrate the uniqueness of incarnational theology compared to other frames of reference.

There are a number of ways of looking at “incarnational” - I would put forth one of them, as resisting reductionary dualisms.

A quick & dirty description of gnostic ethics I googled up (much of our information until the last 50 years or so came from Irenaeus and other church fathers engaging in apologetics, and may at times have been less than accurate, and I’m not a specialist in the Gnostics - I know that it’s sometimes said that their accounts may have lacked in accuracy, or were overly general):

Gnostic ethics are rooted in gnostic theology, cosmology, and anthropology. The absolute cosmic dualism in which the purportedly true God is totally separate from the universe, which he neither created nor governs, is reflected in the nature of man. The gnostic pneumatic, in whom the true divine spirit has been “awakened” with knowledge (gnosis), thus relates to the world as either an ascetic or libertine. The ascetic gnostic expresses his possession of the true gnosis and freedom from the evil cosmos by abstention from the world; the libertine gnostic by indiscriminate abandonment to the world and the body. Both ethical attitudes are, although opposite in practice, expressive of the same gnostic anti-cosmic pattern of thought.

Gnosticism rejects the Judeo-Christian belief that this world and humanity is the result of a creative act of God. Rather the gnostic views the world as the result of chaos, and the true God (or divine principle, depending on the gnostic system being examined) is far removed from humanity ... [T]he heresies of the gnostics were characterized in two ways. On the one hand, there were ascetic tendencies that attempted to control natural bodily instincts, believed to be evil and in opposition to the divine inner self. The aim of the moral life was to be detached from this contaminated world. On the other hand, some gnostics had libertine attitudes that let human nature go its own direction without control. The inner self was detached through “knowledge” from the material body.”

It’s a perennial temptation to divide things into neat bifurcations - “good” and “evil” as if they were separate substances or things which can be separated with a simplistic formula; in the case of the Gnostics, “material” and “spirit.”  This gave birth to many of their strange, unhealthy practices ... as well as to their esoteric ways and secret societies, allowing the “true knowledge” only to be taught to the Initiated.  Gnostic tendencies were already at work when John wrote his gospel, and some Gnostics later repudiated Paul, siding with the “Judaizers” and legalists which Paul condemns.

Christians however value this very flesh which God took upon Himself - and were therefore not prone to the escapist fantasies of the Gnostics, in either form.  God’s Word can’t simply be parsed out into a “spiritual” realm which is set in contrast to some “physical” one.  And while we live in tension of expectancy of something very different from what we commonly see on earth with all of its sin and oppression ... we do not partition off a “spiritual” part which is distinct from the “worldly” part in an attempt at living according the one and leaving the other.

Note the late Romantic / Victorian tendency of separating off a sphere of the “spiritual / cultural” from the “natural / physical.”  This had a great deal to do with the angst brought down upon culture by Darwin: “is it true we really come from apes? How then can we preserve our ethics, since much of what we largely thought came from a distinction between “human” and “beast”?  “Culture” was largely identified with a self-grounding, reflective, introspective “reason” - expected to provide a “safe excape” from the possible depredations of the natural and bestial realm.  Especially tempting was the posture of pietism - identifying inward, holy attitudes with God’s will - frequently at the expense of action and outward activity (especially in the political realm).  Romanticism meshed very conveniently with the hermeneutics of a well-known Pietist - Friedrich Schleirmacher - whose “pious” attitude went so far as detaching one’s attitude, and feeling about the meaning of things, from belief in actual, concrete things.  Thus the “miraculous” in general was simply described as ... a type of inner attitude of dependence on God, without any implications for the “out there” realm of the natural and physical.  This paved the way for much of what the Church teaches as faith - with an essential “out there” quality of transcendence - being reduced by later thinkers to a realm of pious attitudes and feelings, without any real cognitive component or connectedness to thought and action.  But such again is a type of incestuous, closed, “spiritual” realm which has been bifurcated from the rest of human life - from thought, will, and the material and natural (except for their pale reflections in the realm of feelings and pious attitudes).

“Social justice” oriented Christianity could be seen as a refusal of this improper dichotomy - as also the “confessional” movement of Bonhoeffer et al - which resisted the “Positive Christianity” of the National Socialists (which was designed to be an “everything nice about Christianity, without any of the not-nice stuff, like the creeds”).  It’s notable, though, that the non-confessional Christians of the time (still following Schleiermacherian hermeneutics with Bultmann) did indeed fall for the distinction of the day - a new notion of a more highly-evolved race with other evolutionary implications involving eugenics (it should be added - eugenics was a very popular notion amongst progressives during the first half of the 20th Century - it seemed to “naturally” follow from the “progressive / evolving” / “traditionalist” dichotomy).

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Posted: 13 January 2010 08:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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Sorry to be slow in replying, but life has been manic these last few days.

A generation ago Lamin Sanneh of Yale published his ground-breaking book “Translating the Message.” That book continues to be influential in missiological studies, and has recently been republished in a fuller second edition. The thesis behind Sanneh’s thinking is that Christianity is by its very nature an incarnational faith, and therefore the substance of the faith can be translated into different languages and cultures so those cultures my be encountered and changed by the Gospel.

The principle in Sanneh’s thinking, which I believe reflects the very substance of the historic Christian message and faith, is that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. God, as it were, translated himself into human form in order to save and redeem. The Bible is the Word written, and remains the inspired Word whatever tongue it has been translated into, and as language is one of the primary expressions of culture then the Word be communicated into the culture where we are seeking to bring in God’s reign with transformative grace. That Word, by the power of God’s Spirit, has the capacity to remake the culture when the people of that culture absorb its content in a manner that they can grasp, digest, understand, internalize, be altered by, and then pass on. This business of cultural transformation through the powerful infusion of the Word is something continual, on going, never completed this side of Glory.

However, when the church takes its cues more from the culture than the Word, we start getting into trouble—and this seems to be what has happened. Instead of enculturating the culture to the Gospel, the church has been enculturating itself to the values of the culture in the misguided belief that this will commend the Word to the world. This means, therefore, that every facet of being human within the context of our society needs to come under the scrutiny and the transforming power of the Word, whether we are talking family relationships, the manner in which we handle money and things, education, entertainment, politics, etc.

Because translating the message into a culture is not necessarily easy, there are likely to be missteps, misunderstandings, and so forth, but as we apply ourselves to being the people of the Word in the midst of the world with honesty, thoughtfully, and prayerfully, we will work our way forward constructively using failures of understanding as the steppingstones to greater fullness. The whole sexuality debate on all sides may be a record of such a thing.

What Sanneh challenges is the manner in which more authoritarian approaches to faith impose their viewpoint on a culture. Islam, for example, comes as part of a cultural package that is imposed rather than is translated and incarnated. The message of the Koran is only fully accessible in Arabic, in translation it ceases to be the Koran (Quran or however you want to spell it). There are varieties of Christianity that attempt to work in this way…

That was longer than I intended, but I hope that helps.

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