I don’t pretend to be a trained theologian, a biblical scholar, or a church historian. I don’t pretend to be an original thinker. However, for the past 50 years I have been a member of St. Mary’s, an Episcopal Church that has stood since 1823 on a site in the historic village of Manhattanville on a street that predates Alexander Hamilton’s rectangular grid plan for the streets and avenues of Manhattan. This past Sunday, Low Sunday, we at St. Mary’s spent a full day in reflecting together on the state and future of our parish. What I have to say in the rest of this post is informed by that experience.
There were three interesting developments on Monday that I want to respond to. One was a talk given by Archbishop Rowan Williams in Toronto on reading the bible. The second was a press conference in which the said archbishop announced he would be meeting with the US House of Bishops in September. The third was a study guide released by Executive Council on the draft Anglican Covenant. The study guide includes 14 questions. I am going to make a stab at answering them here.
N.B.: What follows is admittedly sketchy. For one thing, I am referring to but not quoting the Draft Covenant itself, nor have I provided any links. I expect to flesh this out in coming days.
“The Report of the Covenant Design Group”
(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?
My immediate answer is that I do not think an Anglican Covenant is necessary nor would it help to strengthen the interdependent life of the Anglican Communion. The closing paragraph of the Report of the Covenant Design Group contains the giveaway statement, “What is to be offered in the Covenant is not the invention of a new way of being Anglican, but a fresh restatement of the faith which we as Anglicans have received.” Of course it’s an invention of a new way of being Anglican. For specifics, see the answers to questions 8, 9, and 10.
“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?
Except for the reference to a “need for mutual discipline,” this section, although it does not reflect historical realities, presents a pretty good statement of where we are now, or at least where we ought to be. If there is to be a covenant at all, this statement should suffice.
“An Anglican Covenant Draft”
(3) Is this a sufficient rationale for entering into a Covenant? Why or why not?
Perhaps it would be, except that we don't need a covenant of this kind.
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?
There are several tendentious words and phrases in these six points that should be omitted. For example in the first affirmation, the word “true” is unnecessary.
The second affirmation omits the role of tradition and traditional interpretation. The catholic creeds, for example, do not merely repeat what is set forth in scripture, but are the result of a long process of discernment. The word “uniquely” is tendentious and problematic. The expression “rule and ultimate standard of faith” is susceptible of an interpretation that I thought Richard Hooker had laid to rest for Anglicans long age.
The reference to the elements in the third affirmation is needlessly tendentious.
The references to the Thirty-nine Articles and the 1662 Prayer Book in the fifth affirmation are tendentious and unhistorical.
For these and perhaps other reasons, these six affirmations do not adequately describe the Episcopal Church’s understanding of “common catholicity, apostolicity and confession of faith.”
(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?
They should not be authoritative because they never have been. Massey Hamilton Shepherd, Jr. reports in The Oxford American Prayer Book Commentary the judgement of Bishop William White who “reported the sentiments of the various members of the House of Bishops at the 1792 convention.” Bishop Seabury “considered that ‘all necessary doctrine should be comprehended in the Liturgy,’” and Bishop White “considered that ‘the doctrines of the Gospel may be expressed more satisfactorily' than they are in the Articles, and that there is no reason to ‘arrogate to them perpetuity.’” White concluded that the church needed to be “more stable and unified in its beliefs and in its reputation” before taking on the Articles or an attmpte to revise them.
But perhaps we could have a new version of Article XIX which explicitly acknowledges that Lambeth and Primates Meetings (and, of course, even General Convention) are as susceptible to error as the “Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch.”
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?
As long as the expression “bishops and synods” is taken to include our General Convention, these commitments are consistent with statements and actions of the Episcopal Church.
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 have a feeling that the word “interdependent” is tendentious. The five commitments are on target.
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?
In paragraph one, the “central role of bishops as custodians of faith” seems tendentious.
In paragraph two, “described as automonous” should be simply “autonomous.”
The Lambeth Conference does not historically have the function of guarding the faith and unity of the communion. The whole notion of guarding begs the question of guarding against what threat and from whom.
The description of the Primates’ Meeting as working in “doctrinal, moral and pastoral matters” is innovative at best.
The restriction of the Anglican Consultative Council to “ecumenical and mission work” is a blatant power grab by the Primates.
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.
Reading the five commitments together, it is clear that the contemplated resolution of disagreements excludes the best possibility which is “agreeing to disagree.” There is no need for a judicial body to help reach that agreement.
(10) What does the phrase “a common mind about matters of essential concern. . .” mean to you?
It appears to me that there are four (or five and possibly six) major areas of concern in the Communion – and that to reach a common mind on all of them will take years.
First, the place of women in the ministry of the church, including Holy Orders.
Second, the matter of human sexuality, including but not limited to the place of LBGT persons in the ministry of the church, including Holy Orders and the blessing of same-sex unions.
Third, the authority and interpretation of scripture, especially in areas of disputed interpretations.
Fourth, the question of overlapping jurisdictions and boundary crossing.
Fifth, which of the four preceding areas of concern are “essential.”
Sixth, how to proceed when there is not agreement on these matters.
Uniformity of opinion is not historically a characteristic of Anglicanism,
7. Our Declaration
(11) Can you affirm the “fundamental shape” of the Draft Covenant? Why or why not?
No. The shape of the Draft Covenant is inextricably bound up with parts of it the are innovative and, to me at least, unAnglican.
(12) What do you think are the consequences of signing such a Covenant as proposed in the Draft?
We would be taking a step in the direction of setting up a world wide church with centralized authority along the lines of the Roman Catholic Church. It would be the end of Anglicanism as we know it.
(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?
No. I have pointed out many new things above. The two most important are the notion that a uniformity of interpretation should replace diversity and that there should be a centralized authority with disciplinary powers.
(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?
It is unAnglican, at least as I perceive Anglicanism. It is a step backwards from a diversity that is as old as 1690 when the Scottish Episcopal Church was differentiated from the Church of Scotland.
Some of the generalities might be helpful
2nd N.B. In the next part, I will deal with the Archbishop of Canterbury's talk on scripture and with his announced visit to TEC's House of Bishops.
Right now, I have to go to Binghamton again to see my mother. Well, I don't actually have to, but I would feel terrible if I didn't.
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