April 27, 2012

No Anglican Covenant Coalition Offers Model Covenant Resolution for General Convention

The No Anglican Covenant Coalition, of which I am the Episcopal Church convenor, has released a model resolution for the 2012 General Convention on the subject of the Anglican Covenant. The resolution has been posted on the Coalition’s blog. To facilitate deputies’ ability to sponsor this or similar resolutions, the text is also available both as a Microsoft Word file and a PDF file.

The model resolution is the following:

Title: Relation to the Anglican Communion

Resolved, the House of _______ concurring, That the 77th General Convention give thanks to all who have worked to increase understanding and strengthen relationships among the churches of the Anglican Communion, and be it further

Resolved, That the General Convention reaffirm the commitment of this church to the fellowship of autonomous national and regional churches that is the Anglican Communion; and be it further

Resolved, That the General Convention believe that sister churches of the Anglican Communion are properly drawn together by bonds of affection, by participation in the common mission of the gospel, and by consultation without coercion or intimidation; and be it further

Resolved, That the General Convention, having prayerfully considered the merits of the Anglican Communion Covenant and believing said agreement to be contrary to Anglican ecclesiology and tradition and to the best interests of the Anglican Communion, respectfully decline to adopt the same; and be it further

Resolved, That the General Convention call upon the leaders of The Episcopal Church at every level to seek opportunities to reach out to strengthen and restore relationships between this church and sister churches of the Communion.
______

Explanation: Churches of the Anglican Communion have been asked to adopt the so-called Anglican Communion Covenant. The suggestion for such an agreement was made in the 2004 Windsor Report, which proposed “the adoption by the churches of the Communion of a common Anglican Covenant which would make explicit and forceful the loyalty and bonds of affection which govern the relationships between the churches of the Communion.”

The Windsor Report was produced at the request of Primates upset with the impending consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire and the promulgation of a liturgy for the blessing of same-sex unions by the Diocese of New Westminster in the Anglican Church of Canada.

Archbishop Drexel Gomez, of the Anglican Province of the West Indies, was entrusted with leading the development of the first draft of a covenant. This same Archbishop Gomez was one of the editors of To Mend the Net, a collection of essays dating from 2001 and advocating enhancing the power of the Anglican Primates to deter, inter alia, the ordination of women and “active homosexuals,” as well as the blessing of same-sex unions. Archbishop Gomez’s punitive agenda remains evident in the final draft of the proposed Covenant.

Despite protestations to the contrary, the Anglican Communion Covenant attempts to create a centralized authority that would constrain the self-governance of The Episcopal Church and other churches of the Communion. This unacceptably inhibits Communion churches from pursuing the gospel mission as they discern it.

The Church of England has already declined to adopt the Anglican Communion Covenant. The House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines has indicated that they will not support the Covenant, and the rejection of the Covenant by the Tikanga Maori of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia renders it virtually certain that those churches will also reject the Covenant. A number of Global South churches have indicated that they will decline to adopt the Covenant.

The deficiencies of the Covenant are legion, and the Anglican Communion faces the prospect of becoming a fellowship not united but divided by the Covenant. It is essential to reject the Anglican Communion Covenant in order to avoid the Communion’s permanent, institutionalized division.

To date, three resolutions on the Anglican Covenant have been proposed, none of which is completely satisfactory. (Although colleagues in the Coalition will agree with much of what I say in this post, the opinions expressed should be considered my own and not that of the Coalition.) This, of course, is why the Coalition is offering its own resolution.

It is important to reject the Covenant categorically. It is difficult to say with confidence that no conceivable covenant would be acceptable, since the notion of a covenant is itself flexible. (I even proposed provisions for a covenant in my essay “The Covenant We Do Need.”) But I believe it is necessary to make it as clear as possible that the covenant currently on offer is simply unacceptable, now and forever. There will be, I fear, a movement among bishops to somehow preserve the fiction that we are “still in the process of adoption,” a state which the Covenant, like so many other concepts, fails to define with any usable precision. Any suggestion that we still might adopt the Covenant will only prolong the agony to which the covenant process has subjected the Communion. What might we have accomplished had we actually talked to one another about the issues that divide our churches, rather than performing an elaborate kabuki dance, pretending that it would lead to a framework that would magically unite us?

One can only hope that a definitive rejection of the Covenant will be an inspiration to other churches to admit publicly that the Covenant emperor has no clothes. Our churches are already divided into three classes—arguably more when one considers the action of South East Asia, for example—covenanted, non-covenanted, and still-in-the-process-of adoption. This situation, which can only get worse, demands that we put the Covenant behind us. I had originally proposed that the final paragraph of the resolution call upon church to reject the Covenant if they have not acted on adoption and, if they have, to resign from the class of covenanted churches. Lest The Episcopal Church seem overbearing, however, we substituted the milder fifth provision seen above.

General Convention resolutions often begin by thanking someone for something, even if the church is going to reject whatever it is they were responsible for. This passes for politeness, but, in many cases, is really disingenuousness. The resolution offered by Executive Council, for example, resolves “That this 77th General Convention express its profound gratitude to those who so faithfully worked at producing the Anglican Covenant.” This is a bit like thanking the Queen at whose behest your head is about to be cut off. The model resolution preserves the conventional form but is rather nonspecific about the object of the church’s gratitude. (Hint: It is neither Rowan Williams nor Drexel Gomez.)

The second and third paragraphs of the resolution reaffirm the commitment of The Episcopal Church to the Anglican Communion. They also declare the nature of the Communion to which we are pledging our allegiance. It remains to be seen whether such an Anglican Communion is gone forever. If it is, we may not want to be a part of it. The important relationships of the Communion are bilateral ones between churches, dioceses, or individual parishes. Such relationships do not need a Lambeth Conference, Anglican Consultative Council, Primates’ Meeting, or, for that matter, an Archbishop of Canterbury.

Although the purpose of the resolution is to decline to adopt the Anglican Covenant, the explanation for the resolution says little about its actual provisions. In part, this is because it is reasonable to assume that the people who will vote on the resolution understand its general outlines. This may not be universally true, but one can hardly make the full case against the pact in a paragraph or two. Instead, the explanation tries to make the case that the true intent of the Covenant, at least in the minds of its early advocates, is less than benign.

The reference to the slim volume To Mend the Net, then, is very significant. The book sets out clearly the militant Evangelical view of the sickness besetting Anglicanism, and it proposes a cure that looks much like the Anglican Covenant presently up for adoption. Gomez, et al., wanted to put the power to punish in the hands of the primates. The first draft of the covenant did exactly that, but too many Anglicans found that unacceptable. Equivalent power was instead invested by the Covenant in the Standing Committee. Nonetheless, if you want to learn what “relational consequences” would look like, read To Mend the Net.

A brief excerpt from To Mend the Net will suggest why the “crisis” in the Anglican Communion had only incidentally to do with Gene Robinson. The “orthodox” plan to seize power in the Communion was in place years earlier. This seems a good place to end this essay. Here is Section 1.6 of To Mend the Net:
1.6 The gap that exists between the search for relevance in the North and physical survival in the South has a particular bearing upon two of the controversies that have threatened and are threatening to divide the Communion. The ordination of women may be seen as implicit in the Gospel of Christ or alien to it; something which in itself represents a serious dilemma. This ordination, though, becomes an intolerable problem for the Communion if it is imposed against conscience. Adoption of a new sexual ethic that places great emphasis on pleasure and individual fulfillment creates a crisis of conscience in the Communion whether this novelty is universally imposed or not. The new understanding of sexual ethics and the consequent practices of easy re-marriage and the ordination of active homosexuals and blessing of their partnerships have of course been promoted by the most influential section of the wealthiest of our member Churches. In particular, the ordination of active homosexuals and the blessing of their partnerships is opposed by Provinces with a less powerful voice and for whom the repercussions of such western trends add one more difficulty to witness in regions hostile to the Christian Faith. There has been some consultation about these matters at international level, some mutual concern, but as yet no way has appeared of halting these novel and unauthorized ordinations and blessings. This is the case even though such experiment is devoid of Scriptural or historic precedent, lacking in majority support in the Communion and with totally unforeseen consequences not least for those it is intended to benefit.

Yes to Communion; No to Covenant

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