I studied the Draft Anglican Covenant for several weeks, and submitted this response to the General Secretary of the Episcopal Church Center as we all were invited to do, earlier this year. I began by calling attention to some responses of others, with which I generally agree, which I found helpful, and which have been widely read.
Mr. Lionel Deimel (St. Paul’s, Lebanon, Pennsylvania);
The Rev. Marshall Scott (Diocese of West Missouri; posted on his blog Episcopal Chaplain at the Bedside);
The Deputies from the Diocese of New York to the 2006 General Convention (posted by the Rev. Tobias Haller BSG, a member of the Deputation, on his blog In A Godward Direction)
I would also like to call attention to a subsequent response by my friend and colleague the Rev. Canon Ronald Osborne regarding the Instruments of Unity, which is posted on A Guy In The Pew, the blog of Chuck Blanchard of Phoenix, Arizona: http://aguyinthepew.blogspot.com/2007/08/rev-canon-ronald-osborne-on-instruments.html
My own comments about the Covenant follow:
(1) Do you think an Anglican Covenant is necessary and/or will help to strengthen the interdependent life of the Anglican Communion? Why or why not?
I do not think an “Anglican Covenant” is necessary. Mutual responsibility and interdependence in the Anglican Communion is best strengthened, and has been strengthened in the past, by sharing in ministry by provinces, dioceses, and parishes; through companion diocese relationships; through conferences like TEAM (Toward Effective Anglican Mission) and TEAC (Theological Education for the Anglican Communion), etc. Anglicans need to know each other better through sharing worship and prayer, service and mission, personal communication and reflection. It is not clear to me what gain there would be by composing a document that I fear would simply create potential and actual seeds of dissension.
“An Introduction to a Draft Text for an Anglican Covenant”
(2) How closely does this view of communion accord with your understanding of the development and vocation of the Anglican Communion?
I am not really very clear what view of communion this Introduction is putting forth. I wholeheartedly believe that the Anglican Communion is a gift to us from God, but I am not sure what the Introduction means by our “special charism and identity.” I believe that as Anglicans we do have a special charism and identity, but this Introduction does not define these. On the contrary, my understanding includes an openness to the Spirit of truth, a willingness to listen to one another, and a reluctance toward ecclesiastical authoritarianism that I am not sure I detect in this draft covenant.
“An Anglican Covenant Draft”
(3) Is this a sufficient rationale for entering into a Covenant? Why or why not?
This Preamble is unexceptional enough, I suppose, but I don’t see it as a sufficient rationale for imposing (let’s be candid) a covenant. We are certainly all called to grow up together to the full stature of Christ, but I’m not sure what is meant by “a worldwide Communion” and whether that might include an unnecessary agenda.
2. The Life we Share
(4) Do these six affirmations adequately describe The Episcopal Church’s understanding of “common catholicity, apostolicity, and confession of faith”? Why or why not?
I am inclined to think that these affirmations are both deficient and excessive. I think the description of our understanding of our common catholicity, apostolicity, and confession of faith are most appropriately expressed by the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral 1886/1888, including the specific reference to the Historic Episcopate. I don’t think anything further is required. “Participation in the apostolic mission of the whole people of God” — well, yes, certainly, but what exactly is that supposed to mean?
(5) The Thirty-nine Articles of Religion and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (of the Church of England) are not currently authoritative documents for The Episcopal Church. Do you think they should be? Why or why not?
In a word, No. I actually rather like the Articles of Religion, mostly, but even in revised form we declined to make them “authoritative” in 1801. We might also note that the first two Anglican churches beyond the Church of England, namely, the Scottish Episcopal Church and the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, did not authorize the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. The 1662 Book is certainly appropriate to include among our historical documents, as is also the 1549 Book, along with numerous other subsequent Anglican Books including the English Proposed Book of 1928 which the Convocations and the Church Assembly approved but Parliament rejected. Regarding Paragraph (5) of this section: Let’s not go there.
3. Our Commitment to Confession of Faith
(6) Is each of these commitments clear and understandable with respect to what is being asked of the member churches and are they consistent with statements and actions made by the Episcopal Church in the General Convention? Why or why not?
What’s not to like? What’s not to commit to? Well, actually, what is meant by “biblically derived moral values” (1) and how and by whom are they determined? This is both vague and naïve. There are major portions of the Bible that are not places I would recommend for deriving moral values. We would like to assume that the communion of member Churches are receiving and developing a Godly vision of humanity (well, most of us probably do), but there have certainly been times in the past when we (including ourselves) have had a very defective vision. I think the solemn obligation to sustain Eucharistic communion (2) is essential and it would certainly be good if all the Primates would do it. Biblical texts certainly must be handled faithfully etc. (3), but “primarily through the teaching and initiative of bishops and synods”? Who wrote this — Ratzinger? I think each Church should commit itself to seeking to be faithful to God, and I think we are mostly doing that; this section is superfluous and potentially mischievous.
4. The Life we Share with Others
(7) Is the mission vision offered here helpful in advancing a common life of the Anglican Communion and does this need to be a part of the Draft Covenant? Why or why not?
I think this section is really pretty good. I’m not sure we need to make a Covenant out of it, but it’s a good statement.
5. Our Unity and Common Life
(8) Does this section adequately describe your understanding of the history and respective roles of the “Four Instruments of Communion”? Why or why not?
Well, it’s nice to see the Historic Episcopate finally make an appearance — better late than never! For most of the history of the Anglican Communion, two instruments of Communion (the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lambeth Conference) were entirely sufficient. In more recent decades, the Anglican Consultative Council has I think made a major contribution to the life and mission of the Communion. The ACC actually has a constitutional structure and is appropriately an additional Instrument of Communion. In this section, however, the ACC seems to be reduced to a co-ordination role, which I think is a serious error. Even more serious is the attempt to raise the Primates’ Meeting to Curial status. The Primates are appropriate members (perhaps even an “upper house”) of the Anglican Consultative Council, and maybe could meet additionally for mutual support, counsel, and discussion, much as the Houses of Bishops in the TEC and some other provinces do, but of course with no independent legislative authority. But “monitors global developments and works in full collaboration in doctrinal, moral and pastoral matters that have Communion-wide implications”? I don’t think so.
6. Unity of the Communion
(9) Do you think there needs to be an executive or judicial body for resolving disagreements or disputes in the Anglican Communion? If so, do you think it should be the Primates Meeting as recommended by the Draft Covenant? Explain.
No. The New York GC Deputation is right on target with their response to this point. And they are still right on target when they say that giving executive or judicial authority to the Primates is the worst possible solution. I’m sure that in the future, as in the past, Churches in the Anglican Communion will have disagreements or disputes about various matters. We will get over them.
(10) What does the phrase “a common mind about matters of essential concern. . .” mean to you?
I don’t know what it means to me; or, rather, I can make it mean a variety of different things to me. Who gets to decide what is a matter of “essential concern”? How much of a “common mind” is necessary? I think this item (3) is dangerous. It also seems to me to conflict with item (2), which is pretty good. In fact, if we all had followed the counsel of item (2) in recent years, we wouldn’t have this Covenant proposal before us at all. Items (4), (5), and (6) are unacceptable; they have to do with power, not with the Gospel of Christ.
7. Our Declaration
(11) Can you affirm the “fundamental shape” of the Draft Covenant? Why or why not?
I don’t think so. Although there are some good points in the Draft Covenant, there are also some points that are seriously off target, and at the end of the day it is not clear that the benefits outweigh the potential costs, or that purged of its authoritarianism and prelacy such a covenant would really be worth the bother.
(12) What do you think are the consequences of signing such a Covenant as proposed in the Draft?
I think there is a real possibility that signing such a Covenant, certainly in anything like its present form, would destroy the Anglican Communion. Well, the Communion would continue, but we might have to call it something else, depending on which direction +Rowan jumped. In any case, not a good outcome.
(13) Having read the Draft Covenant as a whole do you agree with the CDG’s assertion that “nothing which is commended in the draft text of the Covenant can be said to be ‘new’”? Why or why not?
I certainly do not agree. The draft text of the Covenant is full of all sorts of innovations, of which the attempt to seize power on behalf of the Primates is the most grievous.
(14) In general, what is your response to the Draft Covenant taken as a whole? What is helpful in the draft? What is not-helpful? What is missing? Additional comments?
In general, my response is that as a whole the Draft Covenant is pointless at best and faithless at worst. For all that the Covenant talks about being Anglican, it does not seem to understand Anglicanism very well. It is not that we do not value truth and orthodoxy, but that we discovered some time back that truth cannot be compelled (or even always discerned) by power, and the ultimate answer to bad theology is good theology — not heresy trials or ecclesiastical discipline.
The Rev. William S. J. Moorhead
Iowa City, Iowa