June 30, 2011

New WDUQ Schedule

WDUQ-FMTomorrow, Essential Public Media takes over the management of WDUQ-FM. On July 1, 2011, most jazz disappears from 90.5 FM. (Until the FCC actually approves the sale of the station by Duquesne University, the station call letters will remain WDUQ, but they will be mentioned as little as possible and will eventually change.) The new schedule is now available.

Given that the new schedule is mostly one of news and information, it looks promising. Nearly all the programs that have been airing on WDUQ show up in the new schedule, though programs have been moved around a bit. Commonwealth Club, for example, has been moved from 6 AM Saturday to 6 AM Sunday. Too bad it will not be broadcast at a more civil hour. A repeat of Fresh Air at 10 PM weeknights is a welcome addition; not everyone can listen at 3 PM.

I have two serious disappointments. The quirky but fascinating Radiolab has not been picked up, nor has Riverwalk, Live from the Landing. I was hoping to see the latter, though, as a jazz program—one both entertaining and educational—I didn’t really expect it to make the cut. On the other hand, I was just as happy not to see The Diane Rehm Show in the lineup. Sad to say, Diane Rehm has become very hard to listen to.

I am, of course, pleased to see Rhythm Sweet and Hot with my friend Mike Plaskett and sidekick Dale Abraham in the schedule, even if the program keeps moving earlier and earlier on Saturday night. (A few years ago, I used to be able to listen to the end of the program after I went to bed.)

Finally, although I find Indian music about as hard to listen to as whatever it is they play on WYEP, I think it was a good decision to retain Music from India. If jazz is hard to find on the radio, Indian music is nearly nonexistent.

Update, 7/1/2011: The Web site for the revamped station can be found at http://www.essentialpublicradio.org/.

Third Congregation Settles with Episcopal Diocese

Yesterday’s e-mail newsletter from the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh carried the story that the congregation of St. James, Penn Hills, was leaving its Frankstown Road building and would begin using space at nearby Faith Community Church. The headline “St. James Church Makes Historic Move” made this sound like a wonderful development. A few paragraphs down, however, it became apparent that the move was not completely voluntary: “Written statements by the local Episcopal Church diocese of Pittsburgh expressing its expectations led us to believe that it was time to move on.”

In fact, St. James, Penn Hills, becomes the third congregation in Bob Duncan’s Pittsburgh diocese to settle with the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh and the first to vacate its building voluntarily. Since the Board of Trustees of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh holds title to the building, the congregation was not in a good negotiating position.

A story in today’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette offers a more balanced view of what is happening in Penn Hills. (The Web site of the Episcopal Diocese has not yet run a story on this topic.) The Ann Rodgers story begins
Members of an Anglican parish in Penn Hills have quietly handed over their building to the rival Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, saying they couldn't accept the ground rules for property negotiation and believed it was better to rent space in a different church nearby.
The story quotes St. James’ priest, the Rev. Doug Sherman, as explaining that the claims of the Dennis Canon and the insistence that “the value of all property and assets of the parish must be considered” meant that the congregation simply could not afford to stay in the building. In any case, the Episcopal diocese did not ask the congregation to leave.

The departing congregation will begin worshiping in its new quarters this Sunday. The Frankstown Road building will also see worship Sunday, as the Rev. Vicente Santiago will lead an Episcopal service for whoever shows up. The hope is that an Episcopal Church congregation can be re-established in Penn Hills.

On April 22, 2008, the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, under Bob Duncan, published “Frequently Asked Questions about Realignment.” One of the questions dealt with was what the immediate effects would be on parishes. This was answered as followed:
There would be few immediate consequences for parishes. No property would immediately change hands. Expected lawsuits would largely target the Diocese.
All this was true. For the congregation of St. James, Penn Hills, however, such reassurances may seem less comforting now than they did three years ago.

June 27, 2011

Analysis of the Report from the Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons

It is good that the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church reversed its previous position and released the February 15, 2011, report from the Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons (SCCC). That untitled report was characterized in an Episcopal News Service story as “outlining the changes that would be needed if the General Convention decided to sign on to the covenant.(See “Report Released.”)

Now that the report has been made public, those calling for its release have enjoyed their victory, and Executive Council has celebrated its new-found transparency, it is incumbent on those who wanted to see the SCCC report to try to make sense of it. In what follows, I will try to do just that.

General Comments

At the outset, it should be said that the SCCC report does not claim to represent a legal evaluation of the Covenant as a whole. The SCCC states in its opening paragraph, “We have been asked to focus on Section 4 of the draft Covenant.” This stands in contrast to the recently released report prepared for the Anglican Church of Canada, which, although concentrating on Section 4 and its consequences for the Canadian church, deals with other issues as well, such as the imprecision of the terms used in the Covenant. On the other hand, the SCCC suggests, as almost no one else has, that the Introduction, which is declared not to be part of the Covenant, potentially has significant implications.

One cannot read the SCCC report without being struck by its reluctance to make categorical statements. The word “may” (as in “this may be seen” or “it may be of concern”) occurs frequently in the report, suggesting either that not everyone on the SCCC could agree on the implications of certain provisions of the Covenant or that the Covenant is so vague that a definitive interpretation is simply impossible.

The SCCC report refrains from offering value judgements. For example, the report declares that
adoption of the current draft Anglican Covenant has the potential to change the constitutional and canonical framework of TEC, particularly with respect to the autonomy of our Church, and the constitutional authority of our General Convention, bishops and dioceses.
It does not suggest whether such changes would be a good or a bad thing, though I suspect that the authors of the report anticipated that most Episcopalian readers would be distressed by this conclusion.

The main message of the report is that the commitments embedded in the Covenant would compromise the autonomy of The Episcopal Church and would require substantial changes to the church’s constitution and canons in order to assure that those commitments could be kept. Like the Canadian report, however, the Episcopal Church report does not suggest specific changes to accommodate Covenant acceptance.

Because the report refers to provisions in the Covenant without quoting them in full, it is helpful to have a copy of the Covenant at hand when reading the SCCC report.

The Report in Detail

The report is divided into five sections, which are unnumbered:
  1. Background, which might better have been titled Introduction
  2. Provisions of the Introduction and Preamble; Potential Concerns for Constitutional Autonomy
  3. Particular Issues in Section 4
  4. The Constitution and Canons of TEC, which, in fact, deals only with the church’s constitution
  5. Applicable Canonical Provisions
Brackground. This section explains the charge to the Commission and offers the conclusion that adoption of the Covenant could require significant changes in church polity.

Provisions of the Introduction and Preamble; Potential Concerns for Constitutional Autonomy. Given that the SCCC was asked to evaluate the implications of Section 4 of the Covenant, it is surprising that the first section of substance in its report concerns the Preamble and the Introduction to the Anglican Covenant. In the previous section, the SCCC makes this statement:
A close reading of the Covenant, and especially Section 4.4.1, makes it clear that the text of the Preamble and of the Introduction to the Covenant must be considered as part of the Covenant itself, despite some confusing language to the contrary.
That “confusing language” that is Section 4.4.1 states
The Covenant consists of the text set out in this document in the Preamble, Sections One to Four and the Declaration. The Introduction to the Covenant Text, which shall always be annexed to the Covenant text, is not part of the Covenant, but shall be accorded authority in understanding the purpose of the Covenant.
The recognition that the Introduction might have significant bearing on the meaning of the Covenant is perhaps the greatest contribution of the SCCC to the Covenant debate. That Introduction has received little attention, and what little it has has emphasized its incoherence and dubious theology (See my post “Clatworthy Trashes Covenant Introduction.”)

The report accuses the framers of the Covenant of conflating communion in Jesus Christ with communion among Anglican Communion churches:
The implication may be that the continuation of our communion in Jesus Christ requires accession to the particular ordering of the church described in the draft Covenant, or which may be described from time to time by various elements of the Anglican Communion (e.g., “Instruments of Communion”).
The SCCC is too polite to suggest that the confusion in the Introduction is an intentional effort to shame churches into adopting the Covenant, but I will certainly do so. The report suggests that elevating the importance of the Anglican Communion puts its concerns on a higher plane than the governing documents of particular churches. It expresses the concern of the Commission rather delicately in these words:
The thrust of the Covenant, that, under certain circumstances, new expression by a constituent member of its understanding of faith and order may be subject to the judgment (and assent) of other members of the Communion, may challenge the authority of the General Convention, under the provisions of our Constitution and Canons, in identifying and articulating new understandings of our faith and doctrine.
Here is one of those occurrences of “may,” meaning, of course, “will, as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow.”

The last paragraph in this section concerns the Covenant’s Preamble. There is a typographical error in this paragraph; there should be a closing double quotation mark at the end of the first sentence. The SCCC points out here the tension inherent between pursuing mission “in our different contexts” while we “maintain the unity of the Spirit.” This, of course, is the essence of what the Covenant is about, namely, changing the current balance between provincial autonomy and enforced uniformity in favor of the latter.

Not surprisingly, given the charge to the SCCC, Particular Issues in Section 4 is the longest section of the report. It begins with a rather tedious paragraph about the differing opinions held in the Communion about the status of the Windsor Report and the relative importance of its recommendations. The Commission should have simply declared the obvious—the Windsor Report is merely an un-adopted report with no special authority, and its recommendation of an Anglican Covenant is the only recommendation left that has not failed utterly. Tobias Haller has the right idea here—we should reject explicitly Lambeth I.10 and the Windsor Report as authoritative statements for the Communion. (See “How to Approach the Covenant.”)

The report goes on to point out, albeit in its own tentative, Anglican way, the disingenuousness of the Covenant’s treatment of provincial autonomy:
Some may view as contradictory the charge of the Covenant for each covenanting church to take the steps to implement the stated principles and procedures and the Covenant’s claim that it does not intentionally alter “any provision of the Constitution and Canons of any church of the Communion, or to limit its autonomy of governance.”
The Covenant, indeed, does not change the polity of any church directly, but adopting the Covenant will necessarily require changes in the governance of The Episcopal Church and, likely, all other churches of the Communion. (“Some,” in the above quotation, means “every literate person with half a brain.”) The report declares
If the adoption of a Covenant creates a limited governance authority in the Instruments, our Constitution would need to be amended to acknowledge accession to that authority.
Surely the Covenant does create such an authority, and this is the basis of observations about our constitution and canons that occur later in the report.

The report includes this garbled sentence:
It is necessary, before embracing any Communion-wide structure, to resolve the issue of how being in the Communion itself informs or changes our Church’s ability to receive the doctrine and practice of the Christian faith?
I think the question mark in this sentence was intended to be a period. Without analyzing the remainder of this section in detail, it is fair to say that the SCCC sees the Covenent as doing what it explicitly states it is not doing, namely changing the polity of constituent churches and limiting their ability to “innovate.” That, after all, is the purpose of the Covenant, all the Anglican fudge frosting notwithstanding.

Like the Canadian report, the SCCC document finds ambiguity and unfairness (such as the lack of ability to appeal decisions of the Communion) in Section 4. The question (or statement) cited above is answered (or underlined) clearly in this sentence:
Accordingly, the constitutional autonomy of the Episcopal Church in its future articulation of doctrine or practice could be compromised by this provision [Section 4.2.4].
This section of the report concludes with this chilling paragraph:
Section 4.2 would require substantial Constitutional and canonical action on the part of the Episcopal Church. It would purport to require the Episcopal Church to put into place “mechanisms, agencies, or institutions,” necessary to assure the compliance with the Covenant of all levels of the Church and respective dioceses. It further implies an expectation that the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church be amended to empower the Presiding Bishop to become the Anglican Communion de facto compliance officer for the Episcopal Church, which would clearly exceed her present constitutional and canonical authority.
This realization is the analogy of what was concluded by the Governance Working Group in the Canadian report. Neither The Episcopal Church nor the Anglican Church of Canada is governed exclusively from the top; although their respective polities include central decision-making bodies, authority is dispersed. If each church in the Communion must avoid giving offense to other churches and assure compliance with decisions made by the Communion as a whole, then the behavior of all decision-making units of each church—dioceses, for example—must be tightly constrained. This is a problem for any church not governed in an authoritarian manner; it is a particularly difficult problem for The Episcopal Church.

The next section of the SCCC report is The Constitution and Canons of TEC, which, as noted earlier, does not address church canons at all. The Anglican Communion is mentioned only once in the Episcopal Church constitution, and that, as the report observes, is in the Preamble. That mention neither restricts the operation of the church nor grants any power over the church to the Anglican Communion. (See my post “A Preamble Proposal” from a year ago.)

After dispensing with the somewhat meaningless reference to the Anglican Communion in the Preamble, the SCCC cites five articles of the constitution that do not, but, under the Covenant, presumably should, include some provision for allowing Communion influence over decision making within The Episcopal Church: Articles V, VIII, IX, X, and XII. Article X, for example, treats the Book of Common Prayer and revisions thereof. Clearly, prayer book revision could run afoul of decisions made by the Anglican Communion as a body or could place the church in a position where another Anglican church could “raise a question” about a prayer book change. (Imagine a change to the marriage liturgy that allows for both principals to be of the same sex, for example.) The report neither explains the logic behind the need to change these articles nor suggests how they might be changed to accommodate compliance with the Covenant. That the Commission believes that nearly half of the articles in our most basic governing document would need to be modified should the church adopt the Covenant should give General Convention deputies pause, however.

The final section of the report—interestingly, the report includes no section of conclusions—is titled Applicable Canonical Provisions. As it happens, the Anglican Communion or other Anglican bodies are seldom mentioned in our canons. What mentions there are involve designating representatives to Anglican bodies (for example, to the Anglican Consultative Council in Canon 4.2 of Title I), territorial issues (for example, Canon 11.4 of Title I on non-overlapping episcopal jurisdictions), and competence of clergy coming from other churches (Canon 10.3 of Title III regarding examining candidates’ knowledge of things Anglican).

This section takes note of nearly every Anglican reference in our canons, though it misses the reference to the Standing Commission on Anglican and International Peace with Justice Concerns in Canon 1.2 of Title I and the aforementioned Anglican references of Title III’s Canon 10.3.

In the 13 paragraphs of the report, the SCCC mostly highlights parts of canons lacking any provision for consent or approval by the Communion. These observations are not justified in the report, and no means to “correct” them are proposed. For example, the report notes
Title I, Canons 9.2 and 10, describe the process for approving new dioceses, with no accession to or approval by the Anglican Communion.
Some explanation would be helpful here. Our canons generally do not allow overlapping jurisdictions with churches with which we are in communion, so it is not clear to me why any approval process by the Communion is necessary in these canons. Also, since a new diocese must declare unqualified accession to the constitution and canons of The Episcopal Church, changing the constitution and canons of the church to conform to the Covenant would seem to be all that is necessary here. The Commission should have been more helpful.

Of course, this raises the question about the meaning of communion, impaired communion, and so forth. These are issues that require additional examination. Although The Episcopal Church has not declared that it is not in communion with any other Anglican church, the analogous claim cannot be made of other church relative to ours. What do our canons mean when “some Church in communion with this Church” refers to a church of the Communion that claims not to be in communion with us? How do things work if we do not adopt the Covenant or if we adopt it and are sanctioned by “relational consequences”?

It seems unnecessary to remark on all the canons that the SCCC believes might need to be modified, though I do want to say something about Canon 2.4 of Title I regarding the role of the Presiding Bishop. About this, the report says the following:
In Title I, Canon 2.4, the role of the Presiding Bishop as chief pastor and primate is described, with no express duty or authority regarding our participation in the Anglican Communion.
I believe we must tread very carefully here. We can require the Presiding Bishop to participate in the Communion, but we cannot assure that the Communion will always permit this. In particular, we do not want to grant the Presiding Bishop to make decisions binding The Episcopal Church and encroaching on the proper powers of the General Convention. It is not clear to me that, as the SCCC asserts, the Presiding Bishop must “become the Anglican Communion de facto compliance officer for the Episcopal Church.”

Final Thoughts

The SCCC report is certainly helpful and should make it clear to all that, should we adopt the Covenant with integrity, our polity must be forever changed. I believe that the required changes would not be for the better. One could have wished that the Commission would have been clearer about why certain provisions of our governing documents need to be changed and just what those changes might look like. If we are considering seriously adoption of the Covenant, we need to discuss specific changes in our governance.

There are other related topics not treated in the SCCC report. One could argue that these topics were beyond its charge, but they do need to be considered.

What effect would Covenant adoption have on property litigation? The church has been able to argue that The Episcopal Church is beholden to no authority above the General Convention and that pronouncements from the Anglican Communion have no relevance to property litigation. Under the Covenant, it is not clear that we can continue to assert that position, particularly given the authority some attribute to the Windsor Report.

The SCCC report does not suggest what the consequences might be of rejecting the Covenant. The Canadian report opined that the consequences would be few and minor. If that is so, one could argue that, given the consequence of Covenant adoption, the conservative path would be to reject the Covenant outright. (This is certainly my preference.)

Finally, the report failed to consider facts on the ground that could cause problems for The Episcopal Church as soon as the Covenant is adopted. For example, we now have two active, un-closeted homosexual partnered bishops in the church. Knowing that consecrating such persons is anathema to many, perhaps even most, of the churches in the Communion, would the church need to depose Gene Robinson and Mary Glasspool as part of the Covenant-adoption process? I would like to know; they would like to know.

Despite the limitations of the SCCC report, its content only adds to the growing list of reasons not to adopt the Anglican Covenant. The changes the Covenant would effect in The Episcopal Church do not weigh favorably on Covenant adoption.

My view of the Covenant, of course, is well known. Let me simply close by saying that I wore my Integrity button to church yesterday. It well articulates what our church’s position should be going forward.

No turning back!

June 25, 2011


One of the joys of summer is making and eating gazpacho, that cold Spanish soup that is a kind of semi-liquid salad. I usually get a craving for this dish out of the blue, and, when I do, I have to go to the supermarket, collect the necessary ingredients, and throw them together as quickly as possible. One summer, I discovered that the local T.G.I. Friday’s served gazpacho, and I spent summer afternoons reading at one of its outdoor tables while eating gazpacho and drinking gin and tonic. The last time I stopped by T.G.I. Friday’s, however, no one on the staff had ever heard of gazpacho, and it was certainly not on the menu.

Thus, when I experienced my annual need for a gazpacho fix a few days ago, I knew I was on my own. I didn’t even take the time to track down my usual recipe; I went to the Web, found some tasty-sounding instructions, and ran off to the store. The resulting soup was chunkier than usual but was especially delectable. The recipe yielded a lot of gazpacho.

Unfortunately, the warm summer weather I usually associate with the dish is not now in evidence. It has been cool and occasionally raining in Pittsburgh over the past few days. Nonetheless, I had gazpacho and a glass of iced tea for lunch today, and I ate outside on the deck. The temperature was only in the high 60s, but lunch was very satisfying.


Report Released

Yesterday, the report from the Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons offering the commission’s views on the canonical changes that will be necessary if The Episcopal Church adopts the Anglican Covenant was released by the church’s Executive Council. I believe it was first posted at The Lead. Episcopal News Service later published a story about the release that included a link to a PDF version of the report.

As one who urged that the report be released, I want to express my gratitude to members of Executive Council for changing their decision not to release the report immediately. I understand there may be some ambivalence about releasing the report—read Mark Harris’s thoughts on his blog—but I do believe that making the report public now was the right thing to do.

Although some people suggested that Executive Council had acted out of less-than-commendable motives, I suspect that (1) release of the report was simply not on Executive Council’s to-do list, and (2) a we’ve-always-done-it-that-way attitude, rooted in pre-Internet procedures, had some influence over the initial decision. It is to be hoped that this incident will result in greater transparency in the governance of The Episcopal Church in the future.

As for the report itself, I have only skimmed it so far. I will have more to say about its substance after I have spent more time reading it and digesting its contents. Meanwhile, I will be thinking kind thoughts about the members of Executive Council.

Report released

June 23, 2011

The Anglican Mission in England

GAFCON logoToday, GAFCON announced yesterday’s advent of the Anglican Mission in England (AMIE). Its origin was explained this way:
The AMIE has been encouraged in this development by the Primates’ Council of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (GAFCON) who said in a communiqué from Nairobi in May 2011: “We remain convinced that from within the Provinces which we represent there are creative ways by which we can support those who have been alienated so that they can remain within the Anglican family.”
Does this sound familiar? Within The Episcopal Church, the American Anglican Council and the Network of Anglican Dioceses and Parishes (NACDAP) expressed similar goals.

The press release continues:
The AMIE is determined to remain within the Church of England. The desire of those who identify with the society is to have an effective structure which enables them to remain in the Church of England and work as closely as possible with its institutions. Churches or individuals may join or affiliate themselves with the AMIE for a variety of reasons. Some may be churches in impaired communion with their diocesan bishop who require oversight. Others may be in good relations with their bishop but wish to identify with and support others.
Does this really sound helpful, or is AMIE simply subverting the local church? I thought the Church of England was the Anglican Mission in England.

In the U.S., of course, NACDAP morphed into the Anglican Church in North American, poaching congregations, liberating property from The Episcopal Church, and declaring itself to be an Anglican Communion “province in formation.”

More history is offered in this paragraph:
The launch of AMIE follows four and a half years of discussions with senior Anglican leaders in England about ways in which those who are genuinely in need of effective orthodox oversight in the Church of England can receive it.
Need I point out that Bob Duncan and his merry men were encouraged in their nefarious enterprise by none other than Rowan Williams?

I welcome AMIE. Perhaps it will awaken the somnambulant Church of England to the dangerous game it and its leaders have been playing. Rowan Williams has yielded all too readily to the extortion of Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics at home and abroad. He has been blind to the damage he has caused elsewhere. Perhaps when the damage is done to his own church—that damage will come soon enough—he will open his eyes to the colossal errors he has made. It will, of course, be too late.

June 22, 2011

Clatworthy Trashes Covenant Introduction

I have offered my thoughts about most of the parts of the Anglican Covenant. I have tried to wrap my mind around the complexities of Section 4 in “Section 4 Decoded,” and I have pointed out problems in Section 1 (“A Critique of Sections 1, 2, and 3 of the Anglican Covenant - Part 1”) and Sections 2 and 3 (“A Critique of Sections 1, 2, and 3 of the Anglican Covenant - Part 2”). In “Why No Anglican Covenant: Part 1 ” and in “Why No Anglican Covenant: Part 2,” I dealt with the Covenant as a whole, though not definitively. I have also suggested the sort of covenant that might be truly useful in “The Covenant We Do Need.”

I have said little about the Introduction to the Anglican Covenant, however, that odd piece of text that is declared not to be part of the Covenant but must always be printed with it. I have not discussed the Introduction because, to me at least, it seems to be theological gobbledegook. I have read it repeatedly without being able to follow its logic. Not being a theologian myself, I assumed that I was simply not learned enough to understand it. Mind you, even if it makes sense to the biblical scholar, it is a decided flaw that the Covenant is introduced by an essay that is impenetrable to ordinary Anglicans.

Happily, someone has finally offered analysis of the Introduction. The Lead quotes Jonathan Clatworthy on the Introduction in “The other troubling parts of the Covenant.” Clatworthy’s remarks are very reassuring; maybe I’m not so dumb or ignorant as I had feared.

“The Introduction centres round a string of biblical texts interpreted in a ‘conservative evangelical’ manner which no reputable biblical scholar would approve of,” Clatworthy asserts. He also sees outright contradictions in the Introduction. For example, here is his take on paragraph 5:
Pompous cant. this text contradicts itself. The covenant is ‘not intended to change the character’ of Anglicanism, but it is intended to reaffirm and intensify the bonds of affection. Reaffirm okay, but intensify means change.
Read the whole post at The Lead for yourself. It is brief but devastating.

No Anglican Covenant

Get your No Anglican Covenant merchandise at the Farrago Gift Shop.

June 21, 2011

Release the Report

A story from Episcopal News Service at the end of last week’s meeting of the Executive Council has caused something of an insurrection among politically active Episcopalians. As I mentioned in my post “Canadian Report Proves Text of Covenant Sucks,” Executive Council has chosen to sit on a report from the Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons (SCCC) until it is published in the Blue Book in October. The report offers the commission’s view on what changes to our constitution and canons might be necessary were The Episcopal Church to adopt the Anglican Covenant. The ostensible reason for not releasing the report is that “some people may assume that decisions have already been made.”

I think it fair to say that the average Episcopalian that cares about the polity of our church is capable of understanding that the SCCC report deals in hypotheticals, which, after all, is necessary for evaluating possible future action by the church. Presumably, the report offers decision makers useful data to use in deciding what the 2012 General Convention should do with the Anglican Covenant. Is waiting four months to get this data going to help deputies make better decisions? I cannot imagine how.

Meanwhile, the failure to release the report is causing a good deal of conversation among deputies and other interested folk, both in The Episcopal Church and elsewhere in the Communion. Jim Naughton, who last week railed against Executive Council’s not making the SCCC report public, wrote another post on The Lead yesterday calling for the report’s immediate release:
The information in that report—which the sub-committee received several months ago—is of great interest and importance to members of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. It needs to be released to the wider public. We hope the Executive Council will publish the document immediately. We are happy to help.
To date, neither the report nor an explanation for its being withheld that is more logical and less paternalistic than what we have heard so far has been forthcoming from the Executive Council. I realize that Council members will need to consult with one another before the report can be released. I hope they do so quickly and do the right thing. Meanwhile, the rest of us should be putting pressure on Council members in any way we can to convince them to make the SCCC report public.

Release the Report

June 20, 2011

Pittsburgh Diocese Unexcited by Covenant

A number of dioceses of The Episcopal Church have publicized statements concerning the Anglican Communion that were submitted to the Executive Council. The latest, for example, came from the Episcopal Diocese of Central New York and can be read on The Lead. These statements have generally come from General Convention deputations, consisting of those people who will be called upon to vote on any resolutions relating to the Anglican Covenant on behalf of the church.

The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh took a broader approach to giving feedback on the covenant. On behalf of the diocese, the Rev. Jeff Murph, chair of a task force appointed by Bishop Ken Price, wrote a one-page report of discussions concerning the Covenant. The report offers no advice to the church about the Covenant nor suggests how Pittsburgh deputies might be inclined to vote in the 2012 General Convention.

As explained in the report, the Task Force on the Study of the Anglican Covenant led a discussion of the Covenant at a fall 2010 clergy conference. Parishes were asked to conduct programs on the Covenant and to report to the task force, but only 20% of the parishes (and none of the three largest in the diocese, including my own) actually did so. Despite the fact that Murph characterized the clergy conference discussion as “lively,” few Pittsburgh clergy seem to have been energized enough by the Covenant issue to bring it to the attention of their parishes. In fact, of the five task force members, only Murph is associated with a parish that reported studying the Covenant.

The six parishes whose discussions are described in the report structured consideration of the Covenant in various ways. Generally, the whole congregation was invited to participate, though one discussion was carried on only by the parish vestry.

A few excerpts from the report will give some sense of what was said in discussions of the Covenant:
Some of the questions that surfaced during the studies were: What happens if we don’t sign it? Is this the only way to move forward? Who would benefit the most? Is the Covenant active or passive? Why are we doing this now? Will it actually do or change anything? How do we balance autonomy and interdependence?

Uniformly, all parishes reported positive reactions to the first three sections of the Covenant as an accurate and helpful description of Anglican belief.

In the question of how most people were inclined to feel toward the Covenant, five of the six parishes reporting indicated ambivalence leaning toward a guarded hopefulness (though with more skeptical minorities). One parish reported negative attitudes toward the Covenant. One parish vestry unanimously endorsed the Covenant.

Most parish responses indicated generally low enthusiasm for the whole enterprise, often related to the perceived esoteric nature of the text and terminological difficulties in understanding it as well as an uncertainty as to what effect it might have on the Episcopal Church.
It would not surprise me to learn that the attitudes in Pittsburgh are not that different from those in other dioceses. That is disappointing here, however, since there is a direct connection from the Covenant to the episcopate of deposed bishop Robert Duncan, from whose depredations the diocese is still suffering. It is also disappointing that Sections 1–3 of the Covenant consistently receive high marks from those studying the Covenant. (The Central New York was as accepting of those sections as were Pittsburgh Episcopalians.) As I have argued earlier (here and here), Sections 1–3 exist primarily to allow the operation of the nearly universally condemned Section 4.

The full Pittsburgh report can be read here.

Let the Mystery Be

I was reading Dave Walker’s The Cartoon Blog the other day. I usually do this in search of funny cartoons about the church, and I was surprised to find a brief post with a YouTube video of singer Iris DeMent. I had heard of DeMent but had never heard her sing, so the video was of interest irrespective of the song being sung. As it happens, DeMent’s song was decidedly interesting, however, and not just from a musical perspective.

I was a regular churchgoer as a teenager and was unusually interested in theology. In fact, I was searching for the correct, perfect, and true theology. This preoccupation could have turned me into a religious zealot had not my mathematically oriented mind convinced me eventually of the futility of the enterprise. This resulted in my being not very religious for a very long period—until I discovered The Episcopal Church, in fact.

As fate would have it, I have since spent a good deal of time dealing with—some would say fighting—people who had found the religious certainty to which I once aspired. It remains a mystery to me how people can be so sure of propositions for which there is so little evidence, even in the Bible. Yet such religious certainty has been the source of much conflict over the years, some of it deadly.

Such insights were the inspiration for my poem “Christian Unity,” which I wrote in 2002:

Around the table gathered, we
Are one in sweet community,
For Christ has ransomed one and all
Who answer to his loving call.

We worship God in many ways;
We celebrate on different days;
But Jesus is the guiding star
For Christians near and Christians far.

God’s plan for us is seldom clear;
We may a different drummer hear;
Yet, if we study and we pray,
The kingdom will be ours some day.

So let us vow to never fight
About who’s wrong and who is right
Concerning truths we cannot know
That turn our Christian friend to foe.

And let our worship fit our needs;
Let us unite in Christian deeds;
May we God’s love and mercy show
To those who don’t the Savior know.

This brings us back to Iris DeMent. The song in the video is “Let the Mystery Be,” and the message is that the singer is not going to trouble herself with religious concepts whose validity cannot be established. I certainly resonate to that message. Listen and see if you don’t also.

June 17, 2011

Canadian Report Proves Text of Covenant Sucks

I have written a number of posts about the defects of the Anglican Covenant. (I won’t try to list them all here. See the Table of Contents for my blog.) Others have done the same. (See, for example, the commentaries listed on the No Anglican Covenant Web site.) Somehow, however, neither my essays nor those of people whose work I much admire, have really succeeded in making a definitive case for rejecting the Anglican Covenant.

Today, however, the Anglican Church of Canada released a document that, although it does not draw the obvious conclusion that the Covenant should be rejected because it is incompetently written, most definitely establishes that it is incompetently written. One cannot, in fact, read “Legal and Constitutional Issues Presented to the Canadian Church by the Proposed Anglican Covenant” without concluding that the text of the Covenant is a train wreck.

The report is the product of the Governance Working Group of the Canadian church. The same body also issued an Executive Summary that provides, in two pages, a good sense of the conclusions contained in the full 33-page report. “Legal and Constitutional Issues” has four main sections. (These are numbered 1 through 4 in the Executive Summary but A through D in the report.) They are
  1. Lack of Definitional Clarity. Many of the terms used in the Covenant are undefined and are often used in different contexts or with clearly different meanings. This makes it virtually impossible to say definitively what the text means. (Examples: “communion,” “a shared mind,” “relational consequences”)
  2. Procedural Concerns. The unnamed authors of the report find myriad problems with Section 4. The procedures described are not defined with any precision, institutionalize conflicts of interest, and fail to incorporate basic fairness principles. Criteria on which actions are based are unspecified, as is the significance of situations likely to arise.
  3. Constitutional Issues for the Canadian Church. I do not pretend to understand the full discussion here, which involves a church polity that seems more complex than that of The Episcopal Church. Nevertheless, certain questions raised in this section of the report are clearly relevant for any Anglican Church. (Examples: Is the Covenant “doctrine”? How does the Covenant relate to fundamental documents such as a church’s constitution and canons?)
  4. Consequences of Non-Adoption. The discussion about what would happen if the Anglican Church of Canada failed to adopt the Covenant is especially interesting. The conclusion: virtually nothing. The authors conclude that the only significant result of rejecting the covenant would be the inability to participate in disciplining other churches. On the other hand, the Canadian church would thereby be free from prosecution under the Covenant. Actually, this section may be unduly sanguine.
I urge you to read the full report. Except for the third section—for non-Canadians anyway—it is an easy and enlightening read. It is difficult for me to imagine a rational person reading “Legal and Constitutional Issues” and not concluding that the Covenant is so poorly written that it is foolhardy to consider its adoption.

That said, I’m sure there are supporters of the Covenant who will be unmoved by the Canadian analysis. These people mostly fall into one of two groups. The first group—the bishops of South East Asia are in this group—see the Covenant as a weapon against heresy. That it is an imperfect weapon is irrelevant; a poor weapon is better than no weapon at all to these folks. The second group—I suspect that many English bishops are in this group—are of the why-can’t-we-all-just-get-along school. For these supporters, the Covenant is an article of faith—God will somehow make it all work out in the end. Personally, I have more respect for the first group.

I find the Canadian report devastating. Regular readers of this blog are likely to as well.

South of the Border

Meanwhile, there was an interesting Covenant-related development in The Episcopal Church. Executive Council ended its three-day meeting in Maryland today, and Episcopal News Service ran a story about the meeting. The article included this interesting item:
[The Executive Council] heard a report from Rosalie Ballentine, council member and chair of its Anglican Covenant Task Force. She said that there were “a few” among the 64 responses the group received from a request for comment on the final draft of the covenant who would approve the covenant in full. “Almost all” respondents objected to Section 4, which contained a disciplinary process, she said. Ballentine also said that the group will not yet release a report it requested from the Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons outlining the changes that would be needed if the General Convention decided to sign on to the covenant. “We’re reluctant to have it out there” because some people may assume that decisions have already been made, she said. The report will eventually be appended to the task force report to General Convention. Council will receive a draft of the Blue Book report in October, according to Ballentine.
Ballentine also said that the group will not yet release a report it requested from the Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons outlining the changes that would be needed if the General Convention decided to sign on to the covenant. “We’re reluctant to have it out there” because some people may assume that decisions have already been made, she said. You have got to be kidding!

Jim Naughton, who has a talent for getting to the heart of any matter at hand, commented on The Lead that the Anglican Church of Canada “apparently regards its members as adults,” the implication being that Ms. Ballentine (or Executive Council) does not so regard ordinary Episcopalians. What possible reason is there for withholding the report from the Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons? When it does become available, it will be interesting to compare the Episcopal Church report to the Canadian one. Will the American report be as scary as its Canadian counterpart, or will it be a whitewash? Inquiring minds want to know. NOW!

No Anglican Covenant

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Repaving of Rockwood Avenue

Road Closed sign at south end of reconstructionI received a letter from Mt. Lebanon a week or two ago alerting me to the fact that part of my street, Rockwood Avenue, is being repaved. In front of my house, Rockwood is brick, but just beyond my house, Rockwood is paved with asphalt that is in bad repair. That portion of the street has been repeatedly patched but is now going to get a serious rebuilding.

A couple of days ago, utility lines were marked and other markings were laid down in the area to be reconstructed. Construction—demolition, actually—began today.

I have begun a photo album of the project, which you can see here. I will update the album as work proceeds. (The album is on Facebook, so you have to log in to Facebook to see the album. Sorry.)

When leaving home by car, I have been able to go north (more or less) to Hoodridge Drive or south to Willow Avenue. For now, I will have to be taking the Hoodridge Drive route.

The township did not indicate how long the project would take.

June 14, 2011

Compact Fluorescent Lifetimes

Compact fluorescent light bulbs are supposed to last a long time, one of the reputed benefits that justifies their high prices compared to conventional incandescent bulbs. My experience is not encouraging, however. I have only been using compact fluorescents for a few years, yet I have replaced at least three of them, the latest of which can be seen below. (Click on the picture for a larger image.)

Burned out compact fluorescent bulb
This particular bulb is a 23W Sylvania product used in a fixture that includes a ceiling fan. In the fixture, the bulb pointed down at about a 45-degree angle and was surrounded by an open-ended globe. Almost certainly, heat buildup was at least in part responsible for the failure of the lamp. Notice how he housing is melted in the picture.

I don’t have the packaging from this particular compact fluorescent, but I think the lifetime claims for most such lamps are similar: 6 years or 10,000 hours. That comes to about 4.5 hours/day. I’m pretty certain this bulb did not last 10,000 hours.

Flag Day Thoughts

Today is Flag Day in the U.S. (and, as it happens, my son’s anniversary). The Stars and Stripes, with many fewer stars, of course, was adopted 234 years ago today.

Thinking of the flag invariably brings to mind the Pledge of Allegiance, which generations of schoolchildren have recited every day in school. Seven years ago, when litigation was attempting to remove the words “under God” from the pledge, I wrote an essay about the Pledge on my Web site. In that essay, I proposed what I thought was an improved pledge:
I promise to be faithful to the United States of America and to preserve, protect, and defend its Constitution, the foundation of our Republic: one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
I still think that this pledge (or promise) is an improvement. You can read why in my essay “The Pledge of Allegiance Revisited.”


I received a news item from Anglican Communion News Service (ACNS) this morning titled “Archbishop of Canterbury’s statement on South Kordofan, Sudan.” The body of the release was the following:
From Lambeth Palace

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has released the following statement regarding recent violence in South Kordofan, Sudan:

“Along with the Christian leaders represented in the Sudan Ecumenical Forum and Council of Churches and many more throughout the world, we deplore the mounting level of aggression and bloodshed in South Kordofan State and the indiscriminate violence on the part of government troops against civilians. Numerous villages have been bombed. More than 53,000 people have been driven from their homes. The new Anglican cathedral in Kadugli has been burned down. UN personnel in the capital, Kadugli, are confined to their compound and are unable to protect civilians; the city has been overrun by the army, and heavy force is being used by government troops to subdue militias in the area, with dire results for local people. Many brutal killings are being reported.

This violence is a major threat to the stability of Sudan just as the new state of South Sudan is coming into being. The humanitarian challenge is already great, and the risk of another Darfur situation, with civilian populations at the mercy of government-supported terror, is a real one.

International awareness of this situation is essential. The UN Security Council, the EU, the Arab League and the African Union need to co-operate in guaranteeing humanitarian access and safety for citizens, and we hope that our own government, which has declared its commitment to a peaceful future for Sudan, will play an important part in this.”
As I read this, I asked myself the question, who is “we” (“we deplore”)? Is the archbishop using the royal we because he is a monarch of the church? Is he speaking for the Anglican Communion? For the Church of England? For Rowan Williams?

Near the end of the statement, I encountered the final instance of “we”: “we hope that our own government … will play an important part in this.” Presumably, “our own government” is that of the UK. Is the archbishop speaking as a subject, as head of the Church of England, or, perhaps, as a member of the government? In any case, he doesn’t seem to be speaking for the Anglican Communion. I don’t think he should, of course, but why is this statement being distributed by ACNS? Probably to enhance Rowan’s stature.

Yes, it must be the royal we.

June 9, 2011

Hope Fulfilled? Maybe Not

When it was announced that Pittsburgh’s WDUQ-FM had been sold to Essential Public Media, it was clear that WDUQ would remain a nonprofit public radio station. (See “Hope Fulfilled?”) The announcement by the WYEP/Public Media Company consortium, however, was vague about the format of the station when it changed hands.

Pittsburghers eventually learned that programming on the new WDUQ would be virtually all news and information. Jazz would be available for six hours on Saturday and all day on an HD channel. (The station already has a 24-hour all jazz HD channel, so this is not an innovation.) There is much consternation among local jazz fans, and a new group, Jazz Lives in Pittsburgh, has even filed an informal complaint with the FCC about the format change.

I am personally conflicted about the change. My expectation is that many of my favorite programs will remain on the station—Morning Edition, Fresh Air, and All Things Considered. I am hopeful that I will still be able to hear On the Media, Car Talk, Riverwalk: Live From the Landing, and Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! I fear that the locally produced Rhythm Sweet & Hot, co-hosted by my friend Mike Plaskett, will disappear. I will, no doubt, be introduced to new shows from NPR, PRI, and other sources, and will become fond of them. I don’t disagree that Pittsburgh needs a full-time news and information public radio station.

But Pittsburgh, with its impressive jazz heritage and lively jazz present, needs jazz on the radio as well. Exiling jazz to the HD radio ghetto is not an acceptable solution. Like most folks, I don’t have an HD radio, and I certainly don’t have one in my car. (Does anyone?) I don’t expect to be hearing much jazz come July 1.

A few days ago, I began to listen to WYEP-FM, trying to get a sense of what music it plays. I have been unimpressed. The format is an eclectic mess for which I can find no ready characterization. The station does have its fans, I assume, but I am still waiting to hear anything on WYEP that seems worth listening to.

WYEP and WDUQ will soon share the same building and will, in a sense, be joined at the hip. So here’s an idea—swap some of the whatever-it-is-that-WYEP-plays and substitute a substantial amount of jazz. That could be a win for everyone. Pittsburgh would get the public information station it needs, jazz fans would lose only some of the jazz on the radio, and WYEP listeners would experience even more eclecticism. How about it, Essential Public Media?

WDUQ logo

June 8, 2011

All about Scott Lively

Scott Lively
Scott Lively
Before his name surfaced as having contributed to inciting homophobic frenzy in Uganda, I had never heard of Scott Lively. I wondered just who this person was. Political Research Associates, in its Spring 2011 issue of The Public Eye, has published a profile of Lively called “Lively’s Lies.” (Need I say that the profile is not what you would call sympathetic?) The article does a fine job of explaining who Lively is and what he has done, and I recommend it to anyone who wants to gain insight into what has been happening in Uganda or who wants to know more about Mr. Lively. You can read the article here.

To whet your appetite, here are a few excerpts:
What Lively “knows” and came to warn his Ugandan audience about is chilling. He told them that one of the most common causes of homosexuality is child molestation; that’s how gays recruit children into homosexuality, he said. He told them that European gays were flooding Uganda with money and gifts to recruit children. “They are very predatory,” he said.

Appearing on a public-access cable program in Salem, Oregon, he tied homosexuality to the Nazi Party. “It wasn’t just that homosexuals were involved in the Nazi Party,” Lively told the television audience. “Homosexuals created the Nazi Party, and everything that we think about when we think about Nazis actually comes from the minds and perverted ideas of homosexuals. When you think of the Nazi Party … you cannot help but understand that this organization was a machine constructed by militant, sadomasochistic, pedophilic homosexuals.”

Lively’s demagoguery took an even more dangerous turn when, in 2009, he traveled to Uganda to deliver his now-infamous talk at the Triangle Hotel. Two other U.S. evangelicals—Exodus International board member Don Schmierer and International Healing Foundation’s Caleb Lee Brundidge—joined him to deliver what Lively later called his “nuclear bomb against the gay agenda.” Lively threw everything he had into the talk: gays as child abusers, gays as insatiable sexual predators, gays bent on political domination, gays bent on the destruction of civilization, gays as Nazis. And a new one: gays as responsible for the Rwandan genocide.
There is, of course, more. The profile is well documented, so no one can claim it is a hatchet job. It is not, however, pleasant reading.

June 7, 2011

San Joaquin Authorizes Same-sex Blessings

I just received a press release from the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin titled “Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin Authorizes Blessing of Sacred Unions.” It says, in part:
The Rt. Rev. Chester Talton, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, has authorized the blessing of sacred unions by the clergy in the Diocese as of Sunday, June 12. Following consideration by the Equality Commission of the diocese, “the clergy in the Diocese of San Joaquin may perform blessings of same gender civil marriages, domestic partnerships, and relationships which are lifelong committed relationships characterized by ‘fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God.’”
The entire press release can be read here.

This development is one more step of The Episcopal Church down a road from which there is no return. The Episcopal Church is now one more step removed from ACNA, GAFCON, and their allies.

Barnett-Cowan, Covenant Advocate

The Rev. Dr. Alyson Barnett-Cowan, Director for Unity, Faith and Order in the Anglican Communion Office, has been a strong advocate for the adoption of the Anglican Covenant. For those of us opposed to the Covenant, she has also been a very annoying one. Last year, shortly before the Church of England’s General Synod was to take up the matter of the Covenant, Anglican Communion News Service published an essay by her titled “‘For a fair and accurate debate on the Covenant, read it first,’ says Unity, Faith and Order director.”

The director’s insinuation in her November 16, 2010, tract that Covenant opponents have not read the Covenant is, in itself, deeply offensive. It is because people have read the “final text” of the Covenant that they are so upset with it. Certainly, the fact that there is a whole Web site devoted to derailing the Covenant-adoption process suggests that a substantial number of Anglicans around the world have taken the time to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Covenant and, having done so, have suffered serious indigestion.

While disingenuously declaring agnosticism regarding the value of the Covenant, Barnett-Cowen proceeded to dispense half-truths and rosy views of how the Covenant will work in practice.

Barnett-Cowen continues to harp on the theme of the Covenant’s being defamed by ignorant critics. She recently spoke to the Church of England’s Diocese in Europe before its synod voted on whether to send the Covenant back to the General Synod for final approval. (As far as I can tell, no corresponding address was given by a Covenant opponent. See this story about the positive vote from The Living Church.) In a brief but telling audio interview just before the Diocese in Europe vote, Barnett-Cowen said this:
People are taken unaware by it [i.e., the Covenant], for one thing, so I have been trying to encourage people to see what it actually says instead of reacting to what they think it might say.
She then disclosed her real view of the Covenant, and it is not at all ambivalent:
If not this, what? It’s become quite clear that if we’re to be a global church, we need something that expresses how we live together as a family. It’s possible the Covenant could be improved, and we want to hear about that. But, at the moment, it’s the best thing we’ve got going for us.
The best thing we’ve got going for us if we’re to be a global church. Well, as an Episcopalian, I am quite content not be be a member of a global church, thank you very much! The beauty of the Anglican Communion as it has been in the past—something we could have “going for us” again if we chose—is that we acted like a global church when doing so was efficient and effective—providing disaster relief in faraway places, for example—and acted like a local church when dealing with liturgy and ethical norms in our individual and diverse societies.

In our fast-moving age, we should not be creating a global church with arcane procedures for deciding what is best for everyone by means of bodies that meet infrequently. Such a church will always be behind the times and the subject of ridicule, at least in some places. The need for uniformity across the Communion is doubtful; uniformity and irrelevance is deadly.

No doubt, Barnett-Cowan will continue to insult our intelligence by asserting that, if we will only read the Covenant, we will come round to seeing how wonderful it is. Likely not. If the good canon is so desirous of being a member of a global church, however, perhaps she should resign her current position and become a Roman Catholic. The Roman Catholic Church already is a global church.

No Anglican Covenant

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June 5, 2011

Covenant Musings

I was thinking today about the psychological overload that must be the initial reaction of Anglicans when they first visit the Resources page of the No Anglican Covenant Web site. With so much material referenced there, how does one know where to begin? (Of course, my recently added two-part analysis of Sections 1–3 of the Covenant would be a good place to start!) The Web site does have a page of background information, but it is of little help in deciding what is most useful to read to improve one’s understanding of the Covenant.

These musings led me to begin a mental list of arguments for and against the Covenant and where those arguments have been made. I did so, my area of concern expanded. Is the Covenant good or bad in the abstract? This depends on one’s conception of the Anglican Communion, its current challenges, and its possible future. Is it wise for a particular Anglican church to adopt the Covenant? This question is particularly sticky. Even the term “adopt” has become ambiguous. In any case, the adoption decision involves not only theological concerns (or at least ecclesiological ones), but also political considerations. How will a church’s decision affect the decision of others, and can that influence be seen as positive? Is delaying a decision a good strategic move?

By now, I had moved far afield from my original question and was thinking more about what I have been reading and hearing about whether The Episcopal Church should adopt the Covenant. Much of the current conversation is making me uncomfortable. For example, there is some expectation, both here and abroad, that the 2012 General Convention will decide what The Episcopal Church will do about the Covenant. Surely, the General Convention will discuss the matter, but some are counseling delay “to see what other churches will do.” No doubt, however, other churches are waiting to see what we will do, particularly because the action of The Episcopal Church was one of the casus belli of the ongoing Anglican wars.

The Episcopal Church, I am sorry to say, has largely been in reactive mode in its relations with the wider Communion. Then Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold attended the emergency meeting of the primates in October 2003 and failed to assert both his church’s right to make Gene Robinson a bishop and the Communion’s obligation to accept that fact, even if it made some Anglicans uneasy. Our church’s subsequent behavior might best be characterized as passive-aggressive, as we sought to mollify an angry Communion, even as we really wanted to tell the likes of Peter Akinola (and even Rowan Williams) to go to hell. I believe we turned a corner in the consecration of Mary Glasspool—see “Countdown”—and I hope that the next General Convention will see our past faux obsequiousness as being in error both theologically and politically.

In particular, the General Convention should not simply kick the Covenant-decision can down the street, waiting to see what others will do. The church should actually take a stand and lead—thank the Communion for its efforts but declare them anathema to both the Gospel and the spirit of Anglicanism. We should say an emphatic no to the Covenant and focus on saving Anglicanism and, if possible and not too costly, the Anglican Communion. (See my paper “Saving Anglicanism,” written in anticipation of the 2006 General Convention.)

Actual enthusiasm for the Covenant is in short supply within The Episcopal Church, but there are General Convention deputies offering various rationales for further appeasement of those who would Romanize the Communion. One argument goes like this: The radical orthodox have already rejected the Covenant, so the Covenant will become an agreement among the moderate and liberal churches, who will not wield it as a weapon against one another. Another argument is similar and goes like this: We need to be at the Anglican Communion table; we can adopt the Covenant and vote to amend it to make it more acceptable. Each of these arguments represents a self-deluding triumph of hope over experience and logic.

Consider the argument that the radical orthodox have vowed not to adopt the Covenant. Whereas it is true that the GAFCON Primates’ Council declared that the Covenant “is fatally flawed” and that “support for this initiative is no longer appropriate,” it is unclear that GAFCON provinces will, in fact, reject it. The Covenant is not quite what GAFCON wanted, but it does have a mechanism to punish churches that innovate. The more conservative churches might sign on with the intent of amending the Covenant to strengthen that mechanism while using whatever is available to fulfill their need for doctrinal uniformity. The “accession” by South East Asia is worrisome in this regard. If most “orthodox” provinces actually do reject the Covenant, how can the Covenant keep the Communion together, which, after all, is its stated goal?

Adopting the Covenant to retain a seat at the table that will allow us to amend it to be more to our liking is something of a crap shoot. The best possible outcome would be for the Covenant to enjoy an untimely death, a possibility that cannot yet be ruled out. Its adoption by The Episcopal Church, however, will not only encourage moderate churches to sign on, but it will also provide incentive for the most conservative churches to do so as well, since being in the “first tier” of the new Communion is necessary to use the Covenant against The Episcopal Church and Anglican Church of Canada. Evaluating the likelihood of being able to amend the Covenant is not straightforward, since it depends on which churches have adopted the Covenant. (It is worth pointing out that the votes of all churches are equal when voting on Covenant amendments, whereas The Episcopal Church has a vote advantage over many churches in the Anglican Consultative Council, where Communion decisions have been made in the past.) Despite stories of the adoption of the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution, I believe that, as the Covenant comes into effect, there is going to be a reluctance to amend it before it has had a chance to prove its worth. On the other hand, those upset over the consecration of homosexual bishops and the blessing of same-sex unions will continue to press the argument that there is a crisis in the Communion. Amendments will proceed slowly; witch hunts will progress quickly.

There is, in fact, only one argument for urging The Episcopal Church to adopt the Anglican Covenant, and that is the argument that the Covenant is actually a good thing as it stands. As I suggested early, hardly anyone in the church honestly believes that it is. I pray that the General Convention will exercise realpolitik, not simply naïve optimism and servile deference to the Archbishop of Canterbury, in deciding what to do with the Covenant. If we were inventing the Anglican Communion from scratch, would the present Covenant be our ideal founding document? I think not.

This brings me back to the Web site of the No Anglican Covenant Coalition. If you believe that the Anglican Communion is the gift of God, and the Holy Spirit, not Gregory Venables, Martyn Minns, Peter Akinola, or Rowan Williams, is the driving force behind the Anglican Covenant, then nothing on the No Anglican Covenant site will convince you that the proposed agreement should be rejected. On the other hand, if you believe in free will and the innate sinfulness of humanity, then you owe it to yourself to read at least some of the criticism offered by the Coalition.

I still don’t have a definitive reading list for the person who knows little of the Covenant but who wants to know more. A good way to start, however, would be to read the Background page, followed by the Covenant itself. Good overviews are provided by Modern Church and Church Times. After reading that, you’re on your own.

No Anglican Covenant

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June 1, 2011

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

This is the second of two parts of an analysis of Sections 1, 2, and 3 of the Anglican Covenant. (Part 1 can be found here.) In today’s installment, I discuss Sections 2 and 3 and offer some concluding remarks. A PDF version of the complete critique is available here.)

Section Two: The Life We Share with Others: Our Anglican Vocation

The second section of the Anglican Covenant begins with propositions that signatories affirm.

It is difficult to object to §2.1.1, but it is easy to be suspicious of it. What does it mean to assert that “communion is a gift of God?” If we believe that all things come of God, then surely communion does. But so do tsunamis, by that reasoning. (Christians have a tendency to attribute to God those things they like and to absolve God of responsibility for those things they don’t like. It is difficult to find a rational basis for such belief.) I think that the authors want readers to believe that the Anglican Communion is a gift of God. It is not clear just how good this particular gift is or why Anglicans, specifically, have been so blessed. In any case, arguing that the Anglican Communion is a gift of God could become an excuse for condemning any action that “tears the fabric of the Communion” as a rejection of God’s gift.

In §2.1.2, the Covenant begins to make the case for the new Anglican Communion the Archbishop of Canterbury is hoping we will all embrace, one that achieves “a more fully developed communion life.” There are many scales on which our communion life might be “more fully developed.” Churches could, for example, develop a communion life that is more tolerant, understanding, and mutually supportive. That is not the kind of development envisioned by the Covenant, however. Instead, the Covenant is luring signatories into “a worldwide family of interdependent churches,” as it is expressed in §2.1.4. “Interdependent,” of course, despite protestations in the Covenant to the contrary, means constrained, not independent, not autonomous.

The function of §2.1.3 is unclear, unless it is intended to make us feel guilty, so we will agree to adopt the Covenant.

Section 2.1.4 is not objectionable except insofar as it assumes that we desire to become “a worldwide family of interdependent churches.” I, for one, have no such desire.

Section 2.1.5 expresses the desire to see “full, visible unity of the Church,” since Jesus is reported by St. John to have prayed “that they all may be one” (John 17:21). “Being one” does not necessarily mean that all churches must unite. What would our world be like if all churches were the same, if going to one house of worship delivered the same experience as going to another? I suggest that such a world would minister to a minority of people, leaving most people outside the church. I, for one, do not lament our present diversity, either in the Anglican Communion or in the world at large. When all people have the same personality, education, ethnicity, and nationality, the Christian Church can fully unite. Until then, doing so is counterproductive.

On the basis of the assertions of §2.1, §2.2 lists commitments assumed by churches that adopt the Covenant.

In §2.2.1, signatories commit to evangelism “and, with mutual accountability, to share our God-given spiritual and material resources in this task.” What, exactly, is the “mutual accountability” called for here? Would The Episcopal Church be acting contrary to the Covenant if our evangelism doesn’t look like the evangelism of, say, the Church of Nigeria (Anglican)? Are we expected to help finance the Nigerian church’s evangelism?

I can find little to object to in §2.2.2, which is derived from the five Marks of Mission. (Other marks of mission have been suggested recently, however.) I don’t see the point of “as essential aspects of our mission in communion” in §2.2.2.e.

Section 2.2.3, 2.2.4, and 2.2.5 seem unobjectionable.

Section Three: Our Unity and Common Life

Section 3.1 enumerates more affirmations. It is here that the Covenant begins to reveal how it will transform the organization of the Communion.

Section 3.1.1 is unremarkable.

Section 3.1.2 begins with a resolution “to live in a Communion of Churches.” Perhaps you thought we were already doing that. We are not now living in the “Communion of Churches” outlined in the Covenant, however, which is living “in communion with autonomy and accountability,” arguably an oxymoron. There is a lot of gibberish here, but we can see in §3.1.2 the beginning of the institutionalization of the “Instruments of Communion” and an exalted role for bishops. (In general, the Covenant seems to see laypeople as chopped liver.) For example, §3.1.2 asserts that “[e]ach Church, with its bishops in synod, orders and regulates its own affairs and its local responsibility for mission through its own system of government and law ….” Arguably, this statement is not true of The Episcopal Church, as the House of Bishops only acts in concert with the House of Deputies in the General Convention to govern the church. Perhaps this form of governance is “incompatible with the Covenant.”

Section 3.1.3 again asserts “the central role of bishops” and speaks of “the historic threefold ministry of bishops, priests and deacons.” There is no role for laypeople here! By contrast, in the Catechism of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer (p. 855), the answer to the question of who are the ministers of the Church is: “The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons.”

It is §3.1.4 that fully establishes the four “Instruments of Communion” as permanent and essential elements of the Anglican Communion. I find this worrisome, as I believe that the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates’ Meeting have seriously abused their authority since 2003. (Actually, the Primates’ Meeting had no authority to abuse, so it simply attempted to appropriate authority. The primates seemed to repent of their arrogation of power at their most recent meeting in Dublin, but, when primates who stayed away from the meeting return, so may the primates’ meddling in the affairs of individual Anglican churches.) Moreover, certain primates and their allies have tried to elevate resolutions of the Lambeth Conference—well, one of them, anyway, Resolution I.10 of 1998—to the status of “the teaching of the Communion.” Given this history of abuse of power, why do we want to give more authority to these “instruments,” allowing them even more opportunity to become instruments of oppression? This section contains many phrases that reveal an intention to remake the Anglican Communion into an entity that acts in lockstep:
  • our shared faith and common life and mission
  • the common faith of the Church’s members
  • calls the Churches into mutual responsibility and interdependence
From the standpoint of what we might call Anglican Communion polity, I am particularly concerned about the position of the Archbishop of Canterbury. In practice, he has become more than simply the spiritual head of the Communion, more than primus inter pares. Americans especially should be wary of placing a single man—I surely do not expect to see a female Archbishop of Canterbury in my lifetime—at the center of all the “Instruments.” That man is not chosen by the Communion and is not even elected in any democratic sense from his own church! When the Standing Committee recommends “relational consequences” to the Primates’ Meeting or to the Anglican Consultative Council, as described in §4.2.5, it is a group of people who have to agree on the imposition of such consequences. Such a recommendation to the Archbishop of Canterbury is imposed or not based on the will of a single person from whose decision there is no appeal.

Finally, in Item IV of §3.1.4, we find this explanation:
In the Primates’ Meeting, the Primates and Moderators are called to work as representatives of their Provinces in collaboration with one another in mission and in doctrinal, moral and pastoral matters that have Communion-wide implications.
I am unclear as to what this passage means. What is it that results from the work of the primates? Is it more interference in the affairs of individual churches? We need less, not more of that. I don’t know if the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church is authorized to perform the work specified in §3.1.4.

Acknowledging the foregoing, §3.2 sets out additional commitments that signatories assume. Each of these commitments is designed to rein in the autonomy of Communion members.

Section 3.2.1 requires churches “to have regard for the common good of the Communion in the exercise of its autonomy,” i.e., to restrain the exercise of autonomy voluntarily. It also requires churches “to endeavour to accommodate their recommendations [i.e., those of the Instruments of Communion.]”

Section 3.2.2 is an excellent example of doubletalk. It commits churches
to respect the constitutional autonomy of all of the Churches of the Anglican Communion, while upholding our mutual responsibility and interdependence in the Body of Christ, and the responsibility of each to the Communion as a whole.
In other words, the autonomy of Anglican churches is to be respected except when it isn’t. This is not reassuring.

It gets worse. Ostensibly, §3.2.3 requires that Communion members remain at the table to discuss matters of importance. Given the way meetings have been boycotted in recent years and the way certain people have been banned from those same meetings, this is a welcome obligation. But this section also asserts that some issues “may prove to be distractions or even obstacles to the faith.” Presumably, the Communion reserves the right not to talk about these issues or to discuss them interminably without reaching resolution. (It is not hard to imagine what some of these issues might be.) “All such matters therefore,” we are told, “need to be tested by shared discernment in the life of the Church.” It is this shared discernment that churches are buying into when they adopt the Anglican Covenant. This means that, until there is substantial (or perhaps even universal) agreement about certain contentious matters, no church can move forward on them. If The Episcopal Church accedes to shared discernment in the Anglican Communion, it is a fair assumption that LGBT persons will achieve equality in our church at the second coming of Christ or when hell freezes over, whichever occurs last. (Section 4 provides a preview of what shared discernment will look like in practice.)

Section 3.2.4 extends the restrictions on autonomy to agreements with other churches.

Just in case churches have not yet understood that they are surrendering their independence in adopting the Covenant, §3.2.5 obligates them
to act with diligence, care and caution in respect of any action which may provoke controversy, which by its intensity, substance or extent could threaten the unity of the Communion and the effectiveness or credibility of its mission.
This provision establishes what Jim Naughton has called “governance by hurt feelings.” Churches are expected to intuit how others in the Communion will react to an action that may be not only justified, but even required by a reasonable interpretation of Scripture. Section 3.2.5 elevates politeness over truth.

The Covenant refers to conflicts that “could threaten the unity of the Communion and the effectiveness or credibility of its mission.” Does (or should) the Communion have a mission apart from supporting the individual churches in their missions? This is, I think, an important question. The Anglican Communion is not now a church itself, and I do not believe it should be. (I am opposed to the Communion’s negotiating ecumenical agreements, for example.) Individual Anglican churches have, in fact, painted themselves into a corner by claiming authority over and thereby taking responsibility for the actions of other Anglican churches, a responsibility that is not really theirs to assume. If Muslims try to embarrass an African church based on what, say, The Episcopal Church has done, that African church now has—if it chooses to invoke it—credible deniability. That is, the African church can assert that Anglican churches are autonomous and not subject to outside pressure or control. It is therefore not responsible for the actions of The Episcopal Church. This posture, which wisdom would have urged in the past, will not be an available option under the Anglican Covenant.

Section 3.2.6 forces churches to accept mediation in situations of conflict.

Section 3.2.7 is intended to intimidate churches into behaving as the Covenant intends them to behave.

Some Final Words

I hope that the foregoing will cause those who will be participating in the 2012 General Convention of The Episcopal Church to reconsider the notion that Sections 1, 2, and 3 of the Anglican Covenant are somehow innocuous. They are, in fact, pernicious. It is my sincerest hope that other Anglicans around the world will conclude this as well.

We should not allow Anglicans, in discussing the Covenant, to declare blithely that Sections 1–3 of the covenant are acceptable, without insisting that they explain why they believe this to be so. It is important that all Anglican churches consider the whole of the Covenant. Section 4, after all, exists to enforce what is set forth in Sections 1–3.

I hope that my critique will encourage discussion of the Covenant in greater detail. No doubt, I have minimized some threats to The Episcopal Church and to the Anglican Communion and failed to notice others. I believe that serious discussion among Episcopalians can only lead to the conclusion that the Anglican Covenant has little to recommend it.

The goal of the General Convention should be not only to defend The Episcopal Church against the depredations of an ill-advised Anglican Covenant, but also to encourage other Anglican churches to reject the Covenant as well.