May 31, 2011

A Critique of Sections 1, 2, and 3 of the Anglican Covenant - Part 1

This is the first of two parts of an analysis of Sections 1, 2, and 3 of the Anglican Covenant. Today, I introduce my critique and discuss Section 1. In the concluding post tomorrow, I will discuss Sections 2 and 3 and offer some concluding remarks.
Although much has been said and written about the Anglican Covenant, critics have been superficial and generous in their evaluation of its first three sections. Section 4 has been a lightning rod for criticism, which has both diverted attention from the rest of the Covenant and encouraged charity toward it so as not to be seen as uncoöperative. The devil, it is often said, hides in the details, however, and the exact wording of Sections 1, 2, and 3 is important. Churches considering adoption of the Covenant need to understand just what they are being asked to sign on to, so that they can evaluate the likelihood of their being subjected to “relational consequences” for their actions past, present, or future.

I have long thought the first three sections of the Covenant misleading and dangerous, but I have resisted the daunting task of making a systematic argument to that effect. In what follows, however, I offer a critique of Sections 1, 2, and 3 in the hope that doing so will encourage more thorough and honest discussion of those parts of the Covenant.

I undertake this task as a defender of the integrity of my church and with my skills as a technical editor, one who seeks clarity in a text and who is obliged to raise questions wherever clarity is lacking. In this instance, unfortunately, I cannot go back to the author and suggest rewording, since we have been told that the text to which churches are being asked to subscribe is the “final text.” I cannot, therefore, always provide a definitive explication of the meaning of the Covenant, but I can suggest what, in practice, it might mean. This is the best anyone can do.

I will not attempt to analyze the Introduction, which, according to §4.4.1 is not actually part of the Covenant. The Introduction is a page and a half of impenetrable gobbledegook intended to lend an air of religiosity to the Covenant and to discourage serious reading of what follows. Likewise, I will ignore Section 4 for now, which is of an entirely different character.

My observations will be of greatest interest to members of The Episcopal Church, and especially to deputies to the 2012 General Convention who will likely determine the fate of the Covenant in relation to The Episcopal Church. I trust that other Anglicans will also find my remarks helpful.


Let me begin with the Preamble of the Covenant. Here and in what follows, I will quote the Covenant text sparingly. Readers should read my comments with the Covenant text itself readily available in order to follow my remarks.

The Preamble seems reasonably straightforward. I do find the citation of Revelation 7:9 to be both pretentious and irrelevant, but this is only a stylistic issue.

Section One: Our Inheritance of Faith

This section includes assertions that “each church affirms.”

Section 1.1.1 is certainly unobjectionable.

Section 1.1.2 is a bit problematic. What, exactly does it mean to affirm that
The historic formularies of the Church of England, forged in the context of the European Reformation and acknowledged and appropriated in various ways in the Anglican Communion, bear authentic witness to this faith.
A footnote explains that what is being referred to here are “The Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordering of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons.” The significance of the “historic formularies” has been downplayed somewhat in this draft over earlier ones. The Episcopal Church, of course, never used the 1662 prayer book, and I think that Episcopalians would not accept the Articles of Religion as a valid statement of their Anglican faith. Can The Episcopal Church “affirm” §1.1.2 in good conscience? I suspect not.

I cannot accept, and believe that The Episcopal Church cannot accept, the characterization, in §1.1.3, of the Old and New Testaments “as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith.” This formulation has tended to earn a bye by virtue of being attributed, in a footnote, to the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. Significantly, however, this particular wording appeared in the wording adopted by the 1888 Lambeth Conference. It was not part of the resolution adopted in Chicago by Episcopal bishops in 1886 and never formally adopted by the General Convention of The Episcopal Church. The wording of §1.1.3 seems to elevate Scripture over tradition and reason and could be—and almost certainly will be by some Anglican churches—seen as an assertion of sola scriptura.

Section 1.1.4 is also derived from the Chicago and Lambeth Quadrilaterals, but, again, the Covenant favors the Lambeth articulation. What, exactly, does it mean to affirm the Apostles’ Creed “as the baptismal symbol”? This seems to make no sense. And what of The Episcopal Church’s Baptismal Covenant in the 1979 BCP? Is it somehow incompatible with §1.1.4?

Section 1.1.5 also derives from the Chicago and Lambeth Quadrilaterals. What is the significance of “and of the elements ordained by him”? If wine is unavailable and grape juice is used, is this a violation of the Covenant? Perhaps this section is too specific.

I see no problems in §1.1.6.

Section 1.1.7 is clearly asserting that our churches are liturgical and, in one way or another, derive our liturgies from the first Book of Common Prayer. The phrase “shared patterns of our common prayer and liturgy” suggests a uniformity that does not exist, however. The wording is circumspect, perhaps in recognition that a distressing amount of Anglican worship is not based on the local prayer book.

What, exactly, is the “apostolic mission” referred to in §1.1.8? Do all Anglican churches understand this mission the same way?

In general, §1.1 gets into trouble by being too specific. It thereby encourages disputes regarding whether churches might be acting in a way that is incompatible with the Covenant. Doing anything to encourage such debates is not going to advance the reputed goal of keeping the Anglican Communion together.

Section 1.2 enumerates commitments of signatories of the Covenant. It is quite reactionary, although this has not been widely noted. The Covenant has a strong prejudice against change.

That prejudice is immediately apparent in §1.2.1. Churches commit
to teach and act in continuity and consonance with Scripture and the catholic and apostolic faith, order and tradition, as received by the Churches of the Anglican Communion, mindful of the common councils of the Communion and our ecumenical agreements.
When did the “Churches of the Anglican Communion” receive the faith they are supposed to uphold? Did the Church of England receive it before The Episcopal Church did? Did each receive the same faith? What about the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil? What are the “common councils of the Communion”? The Lambeth Conference? The Primates’ Meeting? Whose “ecumenical agreements”? Does the Anglican Communion have any ecumenical agreements? (I don’t think so.) Does The Episcopal Church have to be “mindful” of the relationship of the Church of England and the Church of Sweden, since those churches are members of the Porvoo Communion? Does the Church of Nigeria (Anglican) somehow have to be respectful of The Episcopal Church’s relationship to the Moravian Church in North America? Does anyone really know—can anyone really know—what §1.2.1 allows and what it prohibits?

Section 1.2.2 may seem innocuous on first reading, but the reality is that the Communion has many conflicting ideas about what is “the teaching of Holy Scripture,” and many would argue that that teaching has been and is now in conflict with “the catholic tradition.” End of the three-legged stoolUltimately, this section will mean whatever the Standing Committee says it means. That is unlikely to be what The Episcopal Church thinks it should mean.

It is significant (and disturbing) that neither §1.2.1 nor §1.2.2 acknowledges reason as a source of authority for the Communion. Apparently, Richard Hooker is not going to be the quintessential theologian of the Anglican Communion that will be created by the Anglican Covenant. The omission again illustrates the profound prejudice the Covenant has for forever keeping things as they are, since neither tradition nor a literal reading of Scripture allows latitude for change.

As far as I can see, §1.2.3 is complete gobbledegook. I have no idea what it means. It asserts that churches commit
to witness, in this [theological and moral] reasoning, to the renewal of humanity and the whole created order through the death and resurrection of Christ, and to reflect the holiness that in consequence God gives to, and requires from, his people.
I suggest that statements like this are not helpful if a layperson like myself can make so little sense of it. This section will endear Episcopalians neither to the Covenant nor to the Anglican Communion. This is the sort of statement that gives theology a bad name.

Section 1.2.4 overall seems reasonable, but it has some worrisome eccentricities. The “communal reading of … the Scriptures” seems to suggest that we all must interpret Scripture the same way. Surely, this is unacceptable. (Section 3.2.3 elaborates this theme.) I have no idea what to do with “and costly witness to.” Is this about martyrdom or what?

Section 1.2.5, concerning the handling of Scripture, is not, in itself, objectionable. The problem, of course, is that one person’s faithful, respectful, comprehensive, and coherent interpretation of Scripture is another person’s misreading. Provisions such as §1.2.1 lead me to believe that sincerity in interpretation will not be a defense for any interpretation deemed non-traditional.

Section 1.2.6 is just fine. It is perhaps the only provision in the entire Covenant that could be viewed as “liberal.”

Section 1.2.7 is another provision whose meaning is obscure. What does it mean to act “in accordance with existing canonical disciplines”? The Anglican Communion itself has no canons, so what canons are being invoked here? What does it mean “to nurture and sustain eucharistic communion”? I suspect this means that no church should do anything that would cause another church to declare broken or impaired communion. If so, it is another instance of a prejudice against any church’s rocking the Anglican Communion boat.

The final clause of §1.2.8 sounds lovely. But the notion of pursuing “a common pilgrimage with the whole Body of Christ” is another instance of the Covenant insisting that no church can do anything novel unless the whole Communion goes along. Here, in fact, there is a suggestion that all Christians, not just all Anglicans must agree. Thank you, no, I prefer a church that’s alive to one that’s preserved in formaldehyde.
Part 2 can be found here.

May 27, 2011

Getting the National Anthem Right

The Pirates are playing the Cubs at Wrigley Field this afternoon, and I just heard the national anthem sung before the start of the game.

Why is it that we often choose popular singers to sing our anthem at sporting events? More to the point, why do we choose people (1) who don’t seem U.S. flagto know or understand the words of “The Star Spangled Banner” and (2) who insist on augmenting the tune with ornamentation designed to show off, rather than to honor the nation? Why, in fact, do singers largely embarrass themselves when singing the national anthem, rather than taking the opportunity to enhance their reputations by displaying their competence, rather than their “originality”?

I raise these questions because the anthem was sung in Chicago today not by a soloist, but by a women’s chorus—not a girls’ chorus—of about 20 singers. (Unfortunately, the chorus was shown on television only briefly, so I neither caught the name of the group nor had time to count the singers.) The group used a straightforward choral arrangement whose only surprise was the last chord. The performance was, however, the most exciting rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” I have heard in a long time.

If you are responsible for selecting singers of the national anthem for a sporting event, please take note.

May 16, 2011

Growth of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh

In the Lent 2011 issue of Trinity, the newsletter of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh, includes a story titled “Seven Parishes Join Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh.” It describes the addition of new parishes to the diocese, mostly in Illinois, but one as far away as Minnesota.

Pittsburgh newspaper readers no doubt have the impression that, since the split of the diocese in October 2008, the Anglican diocese is thriving, but the Episcopal diocese is not. Certainly, that is the impression one might take away from reading the reported numbers of members or parishes in each diocese. But the Anglican diocese has grown largely by the absorption of parishes outside the traditional boundaries of the Southwestern Pennsylvania diocese.

Bob Duncan and his Anglican Church in North America can, as far as I am concerned, organize itself in any way it wants to, so long as it is not stealing property from The Episcopal Church. It is ironic, however, that a church whose rhetoric emphasizes its commitment to “traditional Anglicanism” is willing to develop non-contiguous dioceses. Tradition in the definition of dioceses is not really the issue, however, so much as are the pragmatics of being a real diocese. The Anglican Church of the Trinity, one of the new “Pittsburgh” parishes, is more than 850 miles by car from the office of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh. Can the clergy and laypeople of such a congregation participate meaningfully in the life and governance of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh? I doubt it.

May 15, 2011

The Bishop Search Comes to St. Paul’s

After the 10:30 service today, representatives from the diocesan Nomination Committee held a meeting in the undercroft of St. Paul’s, Mt. Lebanon, to solicit views of parishioners to help the committee develop a profile of what the diocese is seeking in a new bishop. The meeting was run by Dana Phillips, the committee’s chair and someone known to many at St. Paul’s. She was assisted by committee member Frank Yesko.

I had spent some time thinking about what I wanted to say to the committee, but I had no idea what the format of the meeting would be. In fact, the committee had developed a series of questions, and participants were asked to pair off and interview one another, recording responses to the questions on a form provided. The relevance of some of the questions was not immediately apparent to me, but I was pleased that the questions were general enough that I could say all that I wanted to say to the committee.

After participants were given about half an hour to complete their interviews, the forms were collected, and the floor was opened to questions and comments. Since people had already said much of what they wanted to say, the question period was brief, though several matters of interest were raised:
  1. Several people expressed the view that no candidates should come from our own diocese. Dana made it clear that the committee intended to consider all potential candidates on the basis of their qualifications, showing no preference as to sex, race, canonical residence, etc. (Personally, I think the committee should have a strong, if not absolute, prejudice against local candidates, who would necessarily elicit strong reactions, both pro and con, when their candidacy is announced.)
  2. I suggested that candidates should not be too young. (Dana noted that objections have been raised in other parishes both to very young and to very old candidates.)
  3. It was suggested that candidates should be “moderates.” (I, on the other hand, want to see candidates as liberal as we can get away with. I am tired of our diocese being on the fringes of The Episcopal Church. I want a bishop in the Episcopal Church mainstream, not the Pittsburgh mainstream—i.e., 20 years behind the times.)
  4. Concern was raised about the dangers of nominations from the floor. (Bob Duncan was nominated from the floor.) Dana assured the group that such nominations would not be allowed.
  5. The committee was warned to avoid candidates that seem too eager to be bishop.
For parishioners who could not attend the meeting, forms were left with the rector, so that those people could have their voices heard. Dana also indicated that the committee would post an on-line form on the diocesan Web site at some later time.

I found the program reassuring. The Nomination Committee seemed sincere in its soliciting the views of the people of the diocese. It will be interesting to see what kind of profile emerges from the data the committee is collecting. If the committee is truly committed to transparency, it will also release its raw data.

May 14, 2011

Abortion Vulnerability

The political right seems much better at coining seductive phrases to promote its agenda than the political left. Consider the likes of “death tax,” “job-killing,” or “pro-life.” Heaven forbid that progressives should combine the inevitable death and taxes, should want to extinguish jobs, or be seen as opposing life itself. Yet each of these examples of right-wing rhetoric is manipulative and disingenuous.

The most recent issue of Trinity, the official publication of Bob Duncan’s Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh, has introduced me to yet another crafty neologism from the political (and religious) right—“abortion-vulnerable.”

The Lent 2011 issue contains a story titled “New Pro-life Non-Profit finds Support among Anglicans.” (I don’t know what style guide would permit both “Pro-life” and “Non-Profit,” but grammatical consistency is not really the subject of this essay.) The article promotes a “new Christian endeavor in the Pittsburgh area” Vision for Life logoto discourage women from choosing abortions. The effort is the product of a non-profit called Vision for Life–Pittsburgh.

Both the article and the organization’s Web site describe the effort to drive “abortion-vulnerable women” to “pregnancy medical centers,” where, it is hoped, sonograms will discourage them from having abortions.

Normally, we do not speak of “liposuction-vulnerable,” “Botox-vulnerable,” or “facelift-vulnerable” women. Nor do we speak of “massage-vulnerable,” “shave-vulnerable,” or “financial-advice-vulnerable” men. To do so is frankly demeaning. It suggests that the consumer of a service is not so much an independent actor as a hapless victim of providers or circumstances.

To suggest that women contemplating or seeking an abortion are “abortion-vulnerable” is to deny their personhood. They are not being acted upon by inscrutable forces over which they have no control. Such a woman is not a potential disaster victim, but someone in painful circumstances faced with making an intelligent, informed decision that is necessarily a fork in the road that is her life’s journey.

Having an abortion is never a happy event, but neither is it a denial of “life” or an act of God. Women (and men) can and should make their own choices for their lives and avoid simply being abortion-foe-vulnerable.


I hate doing laundry—not the washing or drying, but the folding, hanging up, and the occasional ironing. Especially, I hate matching socks.

For some reason, I resolved to really finish doing laundry this week. That means washing everything that needs washing, putting it all away, and not having anything left over that requires repair, ironing, or, in the case of socks, matching.

This has been a multi-day project. Perhaps everything could have been done in one 24-hour period, but my aversion to the whole laundry thing and my having some sort of life not Socksinvolved in doing laundry demanded that the project occasionally be interrupted for other matters such as eating, entertainment, or following the slow disintegration of the Anglican Communion.

But today has mostly been about socks. I determined that any unmatched socks or socks that were somehow defective were to be discarded. I construed as defective socks that were threadbare, had actual holes, were apparently embedded permanently with lint, or had tops that had lost elasticity. In the end, I discarded 48 socks, the equivalent of 24 pairs, though, of course, some socks were singletons.

It is those singletons that are most mysterious. Were some of their mates simply lost—left in washers or dryers, dropped on the floor, or forgotten under furniture? Perhaps they had been discarded for cause. Each unmatched sock represents a domestic mystery, usually a cold case with little remaining evidence.

I don’t like throwing socks away. It’s a little like saying goodbye to old friends. I’m sure that some of my discards today have been part of my life for decades, even if not intimate associates in recent years.

It was easier to dispose of a substantial number of white crew socks, including matched pairs, that were either quite worn or had virtually useless elastic. When buying replacements for such socks, I have usually not discarded older ones if they conceivably could be worn. Every few years, however, judicious culling is in order.

Somewhat to my surprise, when my matching and folding and discarding was through, I still had a full sock drawer, with its separate compartments for white and colored socks.

It has been a satisfying day.

Postscript. I spent a lot of time attempting to match socks. When will a sock vendor begin putting a unique serial number on each pair?

May 6, 2011


I just received my latest copy of Time. Unsurprisingly, Osama bin Laden’s face is on the cover—with a large red X painted over it. The cover bears the label: “SPECIAL REPORT THE END OF BIN LADEN.”

One of Time’s more imaginative stories reports reactions from three of the children—now teenagers—to whom President George Bush was reading The Pet Goat when he was first told of the attack on the World Trade Center. Unfortunately that story was introduced with one of the ugliest and hardest to read pages I can remember seeing in an issue of Time. I have reproduced it below. See what you think.

Page 62, May 20, 2011, issue

May 1, 2011

Bin Laden Dead

One has to be uncomfortable in celebrating the death of anyone. It is difficult not to be happy to learn that Osama bin Laden has been killed by U.S. forces in Pakistan, however. Celebrating this death seems to be in the same category as expressing satisfaction with the death of Adolph Hitler.

The President suggested that justice has been done. That is perhaps not true, but what would justice for bin Laden really look like?