Monday, December 6, 2010

Yet More on the Anglican Covenant

Last week the General Synod of the Church of England voted by overwhelming majorities in each order to refer the Anglican Covenant to the dioceses for consideration before being returned to the Synod for final action, probably in 2012. For those of us who are convinced that the Anglican Covenant is Not A Good Idea, this is a disappointment. It should perhaps be noted that the approval and referral of the Covenant was due not so much to widespread enthusiasm for it — in the debate a number of members expressed their reservations about it — as to a desire to be loyal and supportive to the Archbishop of Canterbury, who has put significant personal investment into it. It is possible that in the diocesan synods, when more people have actually studied the document, there will be a greater resistance to it, and it is certainly possible that a majority of the dioceses will not recommend its final passage. I, however, am not sanguine about this. I think it is likely that the dioceses will say “Yes” for +Rowan’s sake, and that the General Synod will then say, “Well, you see? We’re all in favor of it!”

In the meantime, of course, as we know, the GAFCON folks (the Primates’ Council of the Global Anglican Future Conference/Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans) released their Oxford Statement from their October meeting, in which they said, “For the sake of Christ and of His Gospel we can no longer maintain the illusion of normalcy and so we join with other Primates from the Global South in declaring that we will not be present at the next Primates’ meeting to be held in Ireland. And while we acknowledge that the efforts to heal our brokenness through the introduction of an Anglican Covenant were well intentioned we have come to the conclusion the current text is fatally flawed and so support for this initiative is no longer appropriate.” It is thus fairly clear that whatever the hopes of Archbishop Williams and others for the Covenant may be, it isn’t going to work. (Actually, some of the GAFCON Primates had previously indicated their support for the Covenant; so we’ll see how that plays out.)

It remains to be seen what The Episcopal Church will do about the Anglican Covenant at the next General Convention in 2012. (One of the influencing factors may be whether the C of E General Synod takes action before our GC, and if so, what.) There are strong voices in opposition to the Covenant (with whom I identify myself), but also strong voices in its favor. I know no reason not to think that, at least in The Episcopal Church, these are all thoughtful people acting in conscience, who care about the integrity of The Episcopal Church and of the Anglican Communion. So, as I said, it remains to be seen.

Is the Anglican Communion dead in the water? Some are saying this. I don’t think so. Will the Anglican Communion be different in the future from what it has been? Yes, clearly. It already is. But it also seems clear to me that a large proportion of the Churches want to remain in communion with others, including with us. There are now, and there may be in the future, issues that Churches want to discuss, and should discuss, with each other. “Indaba” was a good idea, and it can happen wherever and whenever Churches want to make it happen. There will be a Communion of Churches who share a common heritage and work together in mission and ministry in the world. Will it be “a” or “the” Anglican Communion? It seems to me that this is up to Archbishop Williams. Despite the claimed titles of a large collection of schismatic churches over the years, and the self-assertion of a number of invaders at the present, “Anglican” is a franchise that belongs to the Archbishop of Canterbury, as first Primate of Ecclesia Anglicana (The Church of England). Although in the last half-century the Anglican Communion has acquired a good bit of bureaucratic clutter (some of it worthwhile, some of it not so much), the bottom line, it seems to me, is that a Church is a member of the Anglican Communion if its Bishops are invited by Canterbury to the Lambeth Conference. So it’s +Rowan’s call. (I consider being disinvited from bureaucratic meetings to be insulting and annoying, but in the long run irrelevant; the mission and ministry that needs to be done can be done anyway.)

In any case, I believe that The Episcopal Church should and must take the high road. I suggest adopting some basic positions.

1. We will not break, or suspend, or impair, or whine about, communion with any other Churches of the Anglican Communion. If any other Church chooses to break communion with us, that’s their decision, for which they are responsible. We are very sorry about it, but we will not be codependent. All will always be welcome at our altars and in shared mission and ministry.

2. We will always be willing to discuss, in an “indaba” or other format, any issues or concerns that other Churches may have with us, or we with them.

3. The Churches and Dioceses of the Anglican Communion, and their Primates and Bishops, will always be in our prayers, through the Anglican Cycle of Prayer or other appropriate means.

4. We will continue to strive to support and share in the mission and ministry of the Gospel of Christ anywhere in the world to the extent that we are able and are invited to do so. It is our wish to maintain and to expand our large network of Companion Dioceses.

5. We will continue to seek closer cooperation and, as appropriate, full communion with non-Anglican Churches.

We presently are in full communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and with the Moravian Church in North America. Discussions toward full communion are underway with the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA). Like Anglican Churches generally, we are in full communion with the Old Catholic Churches in Europe (the Union of Utrecht), the Mar Thoma Syrian Church of India, and the Philippine Independent Church. (We grieve that we are no longer in communion with the Polish National Catholic Church in the United States; this was terminated in 1978 by the PNCC over the ordination of women to the priesthood.) The Episcopal Church is not a signatory to the Porvoo Agreement, which establishes communion between the Anglican Churches in the Atlantic Isles and in the Iberian Peninsula, and most Lutheran Churches in the Baltic Sea area and Iceland; we were not invited to do so, as Porvoo is a geographically regional Communion limited to (mostly) northern Europe. (Should the Porvoo Communion wish to expand across the Atlantic, I am sure we would consider it.)

I trust that it is clear that my previous post, “The Anglican Communion — Another Approach,” was seriously tongue-in-cheek!

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Anglican Covenant -- Another Approach

As highly-recommended prior reading, I suggest Jim Naughton’s article on The Lead at the Episcopal CafĂ©:

It’s also always worthwhile to check out Thinking Anglicans, which is keeping good track of what’s going on:

So let’s try another approach to the Anglican Covenant. Let’s just sign the damn thing!

Having done so, then let’s send a delegation to show up first thing the next morning for Matins at Lambeth Chapel and present a list of questions to Archbishop Rowan, or Canon Kenneth, or whoever we can find up and about. (Yes, I know that they aren’t really the people to whom this would need to go, but they are closer at hand than the InquiSCACion, and it would serve as notice.)

As a covenanting Church, we would have the right and the duty to raise questions about the compatibility of an action by another covenanting Church with the Covenant. (4.2.3)

(1) The Church of Uganda appears to support, perhaps weakly, perhaps not so weakly, proposals by the Ugandan Government to strengthen criminal liability for consensual adult homosexual activities, even to the point of a capital offense. It is not suggested that the Church of Uganda should legitimize or bless same-sex unions, which Lambeth 1998.I.10.e cannot advise (n.b.), but tolerating without protest the gross violation of human civil rights appears to be contrary to Lambeth 1998.I.10.c&d. Is this compatible with the Covenant?

(2) The Churches of Uganda (as above), Rwanda, and Nigeria appear to endorse and encourage hatefulness and discrimination against persons with homosexual orientation, and a refusal to “listen to their experience.” Does not appeal to Lambeth 1998 I.10.e entail acceptance and compliance with I.10.c&d? Is this compatible with the Covenant?

(3) The Churches of Uganda, Rwanda, Nigeria, and the Southern Cone of the Americas have been active in fomenting schism within The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. Is this compatible with the Covenant 3.1.2?

(4) The Primates of a number of Churches, including (I believe) Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, and Uganda have refused to receive Communion at the same Eucharist with Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori and Archbishop Hiltz. We understand that the Archbishop of the Province of the Indian Ocean has suggested that Primates may wish to absent themselves from any Primates meeting attended by Bishop Jefferts Schori or Archbishop Hiltz. Is this compatible with the Covenant 3.1.2 and 3.2.6?

(5) The Anglican Church of Australia is apparently tolerating a significant breach of Catholic Order by the Diocese of Sydney, regarding who may be authorized to preside at the Eucharist. Is this compatible with the Covenant 1.1.2 and 1.2.1? (To this the Anglican Church of Australia might well respond, “Sydney is our problem, not yours! We’ll deal with it! Bug off, Yanks!” To which we might well reply, “Point taken. Question withdrawn. Apologies.”)

(6) The Church of England is making a great fool of itself over the issue of admitting women to election/appointment/consecration to the episcopate. It is arguable that there may be some cultures in which Churches of the Anglican Communion minister in which the priesthood or the episcopate would not yet be an appropriate ministry for women. England is not one of them. (Neither is Uruguay, which may represent a related but somewhat different issue.) Is this compatible with the Covenant 2.2.2.d?

(7) Somewhat related to (6): It has been noted that women bishops from other Churches in the Anglican Communion are not permitted to exercise their episcopal ministry in the Church of England. (This has come to be referred to as “carrying your hat in your hand.”) First of all, it is clear that no bishop, priest, or deacon may exercise his or her ministry in another Church (and strictly speaking, even in another Diocese) without the permission of the local ordinary. Specifically, no bishop may exercise episcopal functions (e.g., confirmation and ordination) in another diocese without the specific permission, and at the specific request, of the diocesan bishop. However, in the past this has not been a major problem in the Church of England regarding visiting male bishops. Is this compatible with the Covenant 3.1.2 and 2.2.2.d?

Actually, upon reflection, I don’t think this alternate approach is a very good one. Never mind.

Let’s just deep-six the Covenant instead.

(Are there parts of the Covenant that are okay? Yes, albeit probably superfluous. But Section Four is unacceptable and Section Three has real problems. Tobias Haller suggests that we throw out the Covenant itself and just keep the Introduction, which I think is a promising idea!)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Anglican Covenant, or, Haven’t We Been Here Before?

Although I bought the book a couple or three years ago, it has been sitting on my shelf until this week: Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by American historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. It’s an account of the men who were rivals for the Presidential nomination in 1860 and who became members of Lincoln’s cabinet during the Civil War: William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, and Edward Bates. (Incidentally, Chase was the nephew of the Right Rev. Philander Chase, who was Bishop of Ohio and then of Illinois during the second quarter of the nineteenth century, and whom The Episcopal Church commemorates on September 22. Goodwin refers to him in passing, but obviously doesn’t like him very much.) I’m still early in the book — I’ve just finished the chapter about the 1850s. What I found very interesting, and I hadn’t really been aware of it before, was how the issue of slavery dominated American politics in the antebellum years. We often pick up on Lincoln’s stated position early in his presidency: “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.” That is, the Civil War was, at least initially, really about preserving the Union and not primarily about slavery. But the years leading up to 1860 make very clear that, no, it really was all about slavery. The South had been threatening secession for many years, and slavery was the issue. The strengthening of the Fugitive Slave Law by the Compromise of 1850, and the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, made the Civil War inevitable.

“Gee,” I thought as I was reading these early chapters of Goodwin’s book, “this sounds a little familiar.” Are we not, in our Communion, dealing with issues of threatened secession over what we perceive as a major moral issue? Might we not think that +Rowan Williams is desperately trying to “save the Communion”? And would it be possible to save the Communion by moral compromise? (Whichever side of our current issue one may be on — and we might remember that there were self-proclaimed committed American Christians on both sides of the slavery issue in the nineteenth century.) Please let me be clear — I am not suggesting that there are any simple or immediate parallels between the United States in the middle of the nineteenth century and the Anglican Communion at the beginning of the twenty-first century. I am not comparing +Rowan Williams to Lincoln (though that might be an interesting exercise in “compare and contrast”!), nor do I know whether the Global South, or rather, more specifically the GAFCON gang, or on the other hand The Episcopal Church or the Anglican Church of Canada, can be identified in any respect with either the Northern or the Southern States. It seems to me much more complex than that. Nevertheless, from a wider perspective, I am caught by the notion, “haven’t we been here before?”

I think secession or schism is a very real possibility — in fact in many respects it already exists. (Though whatever one may think about The Episcopal Church, we have not broken communion with anybody.) I certainly don’t suggest that killing hundreds of thousands of young men on the battlefield is a way to resolve our current strife! What if the North had just let the South go? In fact, an agricultural economy (primarily cotton) based upon slave labor had no long-term future, and southern American slavery would eventually have died of its own crushing weight, though at the cost of much human misery and injustice in the meantime. I would also say that homophobia, misogyny, and fundamentalism have no long-term future in faithful Christianity, anywhere in the world. But I do think we need to ask the question: at what price must the Anglican Communion be saved?

Is a puzzlement. Just asking.

I'm Back....

Well, this poor blog has been sitting abandoned for a year. During that time I’m sure that the four or five readers I once had have long since gone off to more productive venues. But I’m going to try to re-fire it up, and perhaps a few folks will discover or rediscover it! I still won’t moderate comments, but if I think your comment is dumb, I will ignore it, and if it is really annoying, I may delete it. (“Dumb” and “annoying” does not simply mean “disagrees with me” — I’m perfectly happy, or at least willing, to be disagreed with.)

And yes, in the midst of ranting and raving about the Anglican Covenant, I may also put in some Live in HD Opera reviews. Good season so far. I liked Rheingold, even though I’m not really a Wagner fan. Very good production, although the set is a little bizarre. (But then, sets for the Ring always seem to be either bizarre or boring. Bizarre is better.) One should always prepare for a production of a Ring opera by listening again to Anna Russell, just for a reminder that the music is outstanding and the story is really dumb.

I had never seen Boris Godunov before. Very well done. I liked it. I wasn’t always quite sure exactly what the hell was going on, but….!

Nor had I seen Don Pasquale, though I had heard it. I thought it was splendid, and I enjoyed it a lot. Netrebko, whom we usually see in more “serious” roles, is a superb comic actress. One of the advantages of the Live in HD format is that we really get to see the singers’ faces, and most of them are very good.