The Anglican Covenant and General Convention

The Anglican Covenant will be debated today at General Convention. Passions are running high on this and it will be interesting to follow the developments. While our own General Convention is meeting the General Synod of the Anglican Church in Aoteora, New Zealand, and Polynesia declined to adopt it. Instead, it affirmed the first three sections and added this resolution:

that this church affirms the commitment of the Church of Aoteora, New Zealand, and Polynesia to the life of the Anglican Communion, including the roles and responsibilities of the four Instruments of Communion as they currently operate.

Mark Harris on the background to the revised resolutions coming before General Convention and his own change of heart:

What we realized in the small group, and later in the whole of the Legislative Committee on World Mission, is that we are under no compulsion, save our own, to give an answer to the question of adopting the Covenant. Why, in particular, must we provide an answer now?  Now, when we are in the midst of massive efforts to re-structure and re-vision the life of this Church?  Why now when we do not need more division?  What we may want is definitive answers, what we may need is time to be together at the table.
Center Aisle’s reporting is here.
Malcolm French of The No Anglican Covenant coalition is not amused:
hird, this whole dynamic seems consistent with one of the major flaws of the Anglican Covenant.  It is a very “purple” document – concerned principally (and almost exclusively) with bishops.  It seems almost to envision a church which is both episcopally led and episcopally governed, where the concerns of bishops are the principle engine of decision-making and where the role of the laity is, as the old saw has it, “to pray, to pay and to obey.”  In the workings of the legislative subcommittee, we see a process that is driven, not by the heartfelt views of deputies, but by the combined anxieties and machinations of bishops.

If I might risk to make an outsider’s observation about process, it appears to me that the committee structure which exists in the Episcopal Church, while providing the appearance of collegial transparency in the development of legislation and resolutions may actually do just the opposite.  The subcommittee proceedings seem less a healthy exchange of views than a self-reinforcing echo chamber.  The Primus of the Episcopal Church of Scotland referred the other day to the “smoke-filled rooms” of the General Convention.  This allusion to the bad old days of political powerbrokers and machine politics should, perhaps, be a clarion call to reconsider the whole approach to “managing” the debates of the Church.

Dare I say, the Episcopal Church’s response to the Anglican Covenant should be determined by those who have been authorized to make decisions on behalf of the Church – the Deputies and the Bishops – and not by a cabal of apparatchiks, however well-intentioned.

The full text of the revised resolutions are here:
005, substitute:

Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, That the 77th General Convention express its gratitude to those who so faithfully worked at producing and responding to the proposed Anglican Covenant
(www.anglicancommunion.org/commission/covenant/final/text.cfm); and be it further
Resolved, That the 77th General Convention acknowledge that following extensive study and prayerful consideration of the Anglican Covenant there remain a wide variety of opinions and ecclesiological positions in The Episcopal Church; and be it further
Resolved, that as a pastoral response to The Episcopal Church, the General Convention decline to take a position on the Anglican Covenant at this convention; and be it further
Resolved, that the General Convention ask the Presiding Officers to appoint a task force of Executive Council (Blue Book, 637) to continue to monitor the ongoing developments with respect to the Anglican Covenant and how this church might continue its participation; and be it further
Resolved, that the Executive Council task force on the Anglican Covenant report its findings and recommendations to the 78th General Convention.
D008 Substitute:
Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring that The 77th General Convention express its profound gratitude to those who so faithfully work at encouraging dialogue within the diversity of the Anglican Communion, and be it further
Resolved, That we celebrate the great blessing of the Anglican Communion in its diversity within community as autonomous churches in relationship bound together in our differences in service to God’s mission, and be it further
Resolved, That we hold fast and reaffirm our historic commitment to and constituent membership in the Anglican Communion as expressed in the Preamble of the Constitution of The Episcopal Church, and be it further
Resolved, That The Episcopal Church maintain and reinforce strong links across the world-wide Anglican Communion committing itself to continued participation in the wider councils of the Anglican Communion, and be it further
Resolved, That The Episcopal Church deepen its involvement with Communion ministries and networks using where applicable the Continuing Indaba process: conversations across differences to strengthen relationships in God’s mission (http://www.anglicancommunion.org/ministry/continuingindaba and http://www.continuingindaba.com); and be it further
Resolved, That The 77th General Convention encourage dioceses, congregations and individual members of The Episcopal Church to educate themselves about the Communion as well as promote and support the Anglican Communion and its work.
Whatever happens in the House of Bishops, my sense is that there will be a lively debate in the House of Deputies, and that there will be little interest in passing a resolution even as weak as the proposed B005. There’s much talk already that it simply “kicks the can down the road.” Much of what’s being written and tweeted reflects the perspective French and is another example of a widespread distrust of the episcopacy.

Hooker, Covenant and No-Covenant: Or, the uses and abuses of history

For Anglicans and Episcopalians, the big news this morning wasn’t the election results in the USA but the announcement of a new coalition directed against the Anglican Covenant. Called noanglicancovenant, it has a website, a facebook page, press–at least among bloggers–and its own logo:

 

Thinking Anglicans announced:

International Campaign Seeks to Stop Anglican Covenant

It wasn’t a coincidence that the announcement came on November 3, the date of the commemoration of Richard Hooker in Anglican calendars:

Susan Russell wrote to members of the Anglican Resistance Movement’s facebook page,

It is no coincidence that today — November 3rd AKA the Feast of Richard Hooker — was chosen to launch an international campagin to oppose the proposed Anglican Covenant.

The new website — No Anglican Covenant: Anglicans for Comprehensive Unity — offers an impressive wealth of resources, background information and context to inform, empower and engage in the process of pushing back on this ill conceived proposal. And I am honored to listed among a truly amazing cloud of witnesses calling our communion to reclaim its foundational value of Anglican comprehensiveness.

Like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, the current proposal is coercion in covenant clothing. Scripture and tradition tell us to value the ideal of Covenant. Reason tells us to reject this proposal lest we throw out the baby of historic Anglican comprehensiveness with the bathwater of hysteric Anglican politics.
Tobias Haller chimed in: Richard Hooker’s Smiling
Don’t misunderstand me. My sympathies lie with the No-Anglican-Covenant group. I think it’s a bad idea on several levels. My problem is with the attempt to bring in Hooker to support it.
The church and the world in the twenty-first century are very different than they were in the 1590s when Hooker wrote The Laws of Ecclesiastical Piety. To appeal to him for support is misguided. Today scholars debate the extent to which Hooker was Reformed in theology and whether he can be seen as the architect of the via media or of what later came to be called Anglicanism.
What is certain is the immediate context in which he wrote The Laws. In 1593, Parliament was debating a series of laws that would increase penalties against Roman Catholics and introduce new restrictions on radical Calvinists. Hooker wrote The Laws in an attempt to convincing wavering members of the House of Commons that the restrictions against the Radical Protestants (later called Puritans) were necessary and legitimate. In other words, Hooker was writing in support of the Crown’s use of coercion to enforce uniformity.
That shouldn’t surprise anyone. The Church of England was the Established Church (it still is, of course) and Elizabeth demanded outward conformity to the Church from her subjects, while famously admitting that she couldn’t “see into men’s souls.”
We can debate Hooker’s contributions to Anglicanism; we can’t debate the fact that he wrote in support of forced outward conformity.