May 22, 2007

New York GC Deputation on the Draft Covenant

from the Deputies to the General Convention from the Episcopal Diocese of New York

the following was unanimously adopted by the deputation

General Response to the Report

1. Do you think an Anglican Covenant is necessary and/or will help to strengthen the interdependent life of the Anglican Communion? Why or why not?

It would be helpful at this point in time for the Anglican Communion to make up its mind whether the needs of the world and the mission of the church in response to those needs will be better served by a more strictly and centrally regulated structure, or by a more open model deployed for ministry. We favor the latter as more in keeping with Christ’s commission to the church, which is focused not on itself and its structures but on the proclamation of the saving message to a wounded world. It appears that the more we attempt to secure our inner agreements the more we focus on the things that divide us. The Anglican Communion has been known until recently as a body governed not by statute but by bonds of affection, and a Covenant, if needed, should, unlike the present proposal, focus on the affection rather than the bondage. Such a Covenant would be tolerant of diversity and encourage bilateral cooperation in meeting local and global needs through partnerships rather than promoting more complex and rigid structures, as the present proposal seems to advise.

The Introduction to the Draft

2. How closely does this view of communion accord with our understanding of the development and vocation of the Anglican Communion?

The introduction to the Draft Covenant accurately reflects the nature of our concerns as a communion, and flags some important truths; most particularly that communion is based in the person of Christ, and the work of the church in the mission of Christ.

However, the introduction (and the Draft itself) avoid or ignore these truths, and focus on the institutional or political aspect of the Communion as a global body, as if the mere existence of a unified ecclesiastical body were sufficient to recognize the reality of communion and to effect its goals. The Draft gives unity in Christ through Baptism lip-service, while emphasizing institutional unity. It pays little attention to the fact that institutional structures that bind the work of the church too closely can limit its effectiveness in meeting local needs; and it is good to remember that all ministry is, ultimately, local; this reflects the reality of the Incarnation which has global effect precisely because of the scandal of particularity by which God chose to act in a specific time and place. The global witness of a global church is only salvific when its work and witness advance God’s kingdom in particular places, meeting particular needs. There are many global movements in the world, and not all of them advance God’s kingdom; and there are many evangelical efforts that are very effective with no global involvement at all. There is, in short, no particular virtue in being part of a global community unless that global community is ordered towards making Christ known in every particular time and place, and actually effective in doing so.

It may well be the special gift of the Anglican Communion to remain as it has been in carrying out God’s mission: a fellowship of autonomous churches, rather than a “global church.” There are other “global churches” (such as the Roman Catholic Church) which function as an institutionally unified body, and the unspoken questions suggested in the approach taken by the Draft must be, “Why abandon one of the distinctive marks of Anglicanism in order to be more like other global churches?” Are we, in doing this, seeking to mimic a structure that has its own manifest flaws and faults, rather than accepting and working with and through the difficulties inherent in our own?

The Preamble

3. Is this a sufficient rationale for entering into a Covenant? Why or why not?

The Preamble would present a sufficient rationale for a Covenant if there were any evidence that the proposal actually could achieve the goal of helping the particular and national churches “to proclaim more effectively in our different contexts the Grace of God revealed in the Gospel.” This is by no means evident, and the recent disagreements and tensions experienced in the Communion appear to indicate the contrary. Teachings on some issues supported by a majority of the Communion may, at any given time, work contrary to the advance of the Gospel in particular parts of the world. An examination of the history of Lambeth statements on such matters as polygamy and birth control are exemplary of this unfortunate tendency for global decisions to impede rather than further local evangelism.

The church must be able to proclaim the eternal and unchanging Gospel in different social and cultural contexts, and in doing so recognize that the Gospel itself emerges from and was originally presented to particular cultures and societies. The testimony of the early church shows that while the core beliefs concerning Christ and his saving acts were not subject to cultural accommodation, there were other beliefs and customs on which a range of accepted positions was tolerable, and that it is dangerous to confuse the two.

The present tensions concern matters that are not core teachings of the Gospel and Creeds; and such differences of opinion on moral discipline have long been acknowledged in the larger Christian community. A monolithic position on a social or moral issue, without the capacity to adapt it or depart from it in order to meet local needs, will not serve the mission of the church. It may well lead to a church with a heart of stone, sure of its own rightness and perhaps deaf to the Spirit speaking through the people of God.

The church must also be prepared to recognize its own errors and missteps (Articles XIX and XXI), and be aware that a rigid or authoritarian structure may impede openness to the critique offered not only by the members of the body, but from those not yet part of it. The need for the church to repent from its past sins against indigenous peoples, from the easy equivalence the church made between native cultures and native religions, leading to the cultural equivalent of genocide, lies before us. To confuse the culture of first-century Palestine with the Gospel is as bad as confusing the culture of 16th- or 19th-century Europe with the Gospel. The church must be aware that while there is a danger of deformation by culture, there are times when the church is blind to its own accommodations to past or regional cultures, and more importantly that there are times when the culture can be a corrective to the church.

An example of this is how the church gradually realized its error in supporting slavery, which had been a cultural reality accepted as the norm in the first century world — indeed, to a large extent the single most important institution in first-century global society — and which to our shame remained acceptable into the modern era. The movement to end slavery came as much from the secular Enlightenment as from the leadership of the church; and the Christian influences against slavery were often more vocal in the nonconformist groups than in those with more “global” institutional or established structure.

The Life we Share

4. Do these six affirmations adequately describe The Episcopal Church’s understanding of “common catholicity, apostolicity, and confession of faith? Why or why not?

The affirmations are to a large extent unobjectionable, as they are for the most part slight expansions of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. However, as with any such general statements, it is in the particular application that problems will arise, as they have in recent times.

5. The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (of the Church of England) are not currently authoritative documents for The Episcopal Church. Do you think they should be? Why or why not?

The greatest difficulty with the Draft Covenant’s citation of the Articles of Religion lies in the extent to which the Draft Covenant itself is in conflict with them. One of the characteristic marks of Anglicanism is the autonomy of national or particular churches, with a clear and absolute rejection of any and all episcopal authority from outside. (Article XXXVII, and ordination Oath of the 1662 BCP.) This is a formative element in the creation of the Church of England, and The Episcopal Church, whose ecclesiastical independence from its Mother Church was seen as “necessary” at the time of the American Revolution, as stated in the Preface to the First American Book of Common Prayer.

That first American prayerbook is markedly different from the 1662 version in many and important aspects. The Eucharistic liturgy derives not from the 1662 version, but from the older Edwardian forms preserved and expanded in the Scottish tradition. Many liturgical scholars would say that the Eucharistic rite of 1662 is seriously deficient on many grounds. To offer another example relevant to our present discussion, the marriage rite of the American book is almost completely rewritten from the English version, and significantly amends the theological rationale for marriage embodied in the English rite.

In short, this section of the Draft Covenant would be relatively unobjectionable if the reference to the 1662 Book of Common Prayer were excised, and the remainder of the Covenant brought into line with the Articles. However, there then might well be little of the Draft remaining, as so much of it, with its focus on authority, tends away from national autonomy and Scriptural sufficiency.

Our Commitment to Confession of Faith

6. Is each of these commitments clear and understandable with respect to what is being asked of the member churches and are they consistent with statements and actions made by The Episcopal Church in the General Convention? Why or why not?

A number of the commitments appear to be vague platitudes capable of a very wide degree of interpretation. For example, what are “biblically derived moral values”? As noted above, one can easily derive a biblical moral value for slavery, so long as slave-holders treat their slaves well. And what is the “vision of humanity received by and developed in the communion of member churches”? Human anthropology and its theological significance are highly variable from culture to culture, the variety perhaps nowhere so clearly evident as in the role of women in various parts of the world, and consequently the Communion. It is not abundantly clear that a common vision of humanity exists among the various members.

Point three also contains the seeds of cultural pride referred to above, that the Scripture, as interpreted and applied by the church (especially in its teaching office, which according to the Ordinal resides in the presbyterate, not the episcopate) be a source of illumination, challenge, and transformation to human cultures and systems. While this may be true, the church has often shown itself to be blind to the good inherent in human cultures, and the capacity of culture and its structures to illuminate our understanding of Scripture.

The Life we Share with Others

7. Is the mission vision offered here helpful in advancing a common life of the Anglican Communion and does this need to be a part of the Draft Covenant? Why or why not?

The mission vision laid out in the Draft is the most valuable part of the Covenant. It recognizes the call to transform unjust structures of society, and not all structures simply. This section, by focusing on what the church is for rather than on how it is structured might well constitute the whole of a Covenant. This section should be the touchstone by which the Communion functions; that is, if a given action or structure is not demonstrably enhancing the mission as described here, it had best not be undertaken or established. On that ground, it is not self-evident that the Draft Covenant as a whole will be of any benefit whatever in fulfilling the intent of this section; and will almost certainly lead to paralysis and loss of capacity to witness, as voices for creative dissent are stifled by the need to conform.

Our Unity and Common Life

8. Does this section adequately describe your understanding of the history and respective roles of the “Four Instruments of Communion”? Why or why not?

This section contains many inconsistencies and omissions. The undue focus on the episcopate is evident from the beginning, and not only overlooks the crucial role of the laity, but also of the other orders of ministry. While the ordinal confers the task of preserving unity on the bishop, the teaching office resides with the presbyter; in addition, the task of mission is primarily diaconal, and the whole people of God give their consent and their support. The Covenant ignores this balance.

Equally problematical is the affirmation that the four Instruments of Communion serve “to discern our common mind.” If there truly is a common mind, rather than merely a majority opinion, surely it need not be discerned, since it will be obvious. And while this passage verbally eschews the creation of a juridical central legislative or executive authority, the Covenant itself later goes on to recommend that the Primates Meeting essentially exercise that function. The Holy Spirit is not limited to or discerned by the Instruments of Communion, but is free to move where it wills.

Most importantly, the reduction of the Anglican Consultative Council — the only one of the four Instruments to have a clear constitutional basis and a representation from all orders of ministry — to a merely co-ordinating role (albeit in the most important aspect of our common life: mission) reveals the backwards-telescope reductionism that underlies the whole Covenant.

Finally, in discerning effectiveness, one is challenged to look to the fruits of the Spirit. These fruits are not at all evident in the past or recent work of Lambeth or the Primates, and the Archbishop of Canterbury has been tasked almost beyond his capacity in what appears to be a monastery full of novices with a reluctant abbot. One might observe that without Lambeth 1998 we might not be in the position in which we find ourselves, and reflect that had Lambeth never met at all the world would scarcely have been changed for the worse. Only the Anglican Consultative Council appears to be able to show a record of actual accomplishment for the good of the church and the world in the exercise of mission. It might be that the best course to take at present would be to rely on the already existing constitution of the ACC as the basis for any Covenant (if one is desired) rather than creating one as flawed as this present novel offering.

Unity of the Communion

9. Do you think there needs to be an executive or judicial body for resolving disagreements or disputes in the Anglican Communion? If so, do you think it should be the Primates Meeting as recommended by the Draft Covenant? Explain.

Disagreements can be settled by any number of means. The simplest remedy is to give those who are disagreeable no forum in which to air or enforce their disagreement, and merely to continue to disagree with each other until another generation arises, for whom the former dispute may be irrelevant. Seeking an authoritative solution, however, forces the issue to judgment, and judgment implies winners and losers. The Anglican Communion, from the foundation of Lambeth on, does not have a spectacular track record at settling disputes; yet most of them are forgotten over time.

Settling the authority for resolving disputes with the Primates is the worst possible solution to the dilemma faced by the Communion. Our unity is not based upon our agreement, but upon our Baptism into Christ. He is the head of the body, and the substitution of an oligarchy, whether constituted of Primates or bishops alone, or even of a more representative entity, is a form of submission to an authority which Christ forbade to his apostles, when he said, “The kings of the gentiles exercise authority over them... But with you it shall not be so; rather let the greatest among you become like the youngest.” (Luke 22:25-26) The image that comes to mind with the Draft’s proposal to commit judicial or executive authority (with the capacity to exercise discipline) to the Primates, is that of the servant who was rewarded with a position he then abused, by mistreating and lording his power over the other servants. (Luke 12:45-46) The punishment exacted upon this servant is precisely and literally division. Judgment (even — perhaps especially — when cloaked as “discernment”) will always divide; it will always create a unity of some over against others, at its worst giving in to the utilitarian notion that the peace of the many is to be achieved at the expense of the few.

Rather, if there is to be a Covenant, it should reflect the openness and freedom granted to the children of the God through the Gospel, which is not a spirit of bondage, but of charity and generosity towards those with whom one disagrees, recognizing them as members of the one Body not by virtue of their proclamation but through the blood of the Cross and the waters of Baptism. If Christ is the head, let not the members contend one with another. Christ will speak through his whole body in time, as matters of dissension cease to be divisive, in a natural and organic process. In the meantime, a comprehension of diversity within a willingly unified structure that will not allow itself to be divided, should be the goal of any covenant worthy of the name.

Moreover, this political solution with its focus on the Primates embodies a polity foreign to that of The Episcopal Church. In our church, at each level from parish to the highest synodical body, the laity are involved in leadership and custodianship of the work of the church, in concert with ordained leaders. We realize that this polity seems difficult to those who come from churches in which the episcopate is the font of all leadership. However, we note that the Anglican Consultative Council does replicate this structure at an international level, and commend this body as the primary working group for the communion.

10. What does the phrase “a common mind about matter of essential concern...” mean to you?

The use of essential brings up another conflict with the Articles of Religion, at least if essential is held to be synonymous with necessary. Article XX states that nothing can be deemed necessary for salvation if it cannot clearly be proved from Scripture. This does not mean that the church may not institute or even practice things not proved from Scripture, though it cannot require them, and it dare not require something that is not commendable to Scripture: examples from the Articles themselves are infant baptism (XXVII) and vernacular liturgy (XXIV). Anglicanism has generally held that all that is essential concerning the faith is addressed in the Creeds, and that the church is at liberty in matters of rites and ceremonies. The church’s authority in moral questions is balanced by its own tendencies to err or to fail to distinguish between that which is in Scripture from that which is truly of Scripture.

In our present divisions we are dealing with questions of pastoral theology. Decisions have been made in parts of the Communion that those parts believe to be in accord with Scripture. Those provinces that have made such decisions have done so locally, and with no suggestion that they must be required of all.

The church as a whole has taken advantage of a great deal of leeway concerning pastoral teaching. One of the most troubling phrases in this Covenant, noted above, is “biblically derived moral values” in section 3.1. The church has “derived” many and various moral values from Scripture throughout its long course, some of which few would defend as “moral” — perhaps the most egregious examples are slavery and its later cousin apartheid, which were defended by leaders of the church on biblical grounds. The “common mind” of the church can be in grave error concerning faith and morals, as the Articles attest. Ultimately, we are not saved by our morals or our works; however important they may be, they are not essential; we are saved by faith — and even this is not our fallible and imperfect faith in Christ, but the eternal and unshakeable faith of Christ: his blood, his sacrifice, his work — not ours — in which we participate vicariously, and imperfectly, as “unworthy servants.”

Our Declaration

11. Can you affirm the “fundamental shape” of the Draft Covenant? Why or why not?

The fundamental shape of the Draft does not represent the ideal of comprehension for the sake of truth, and not even compromise for the sake of peace, but rather a less than forthright institution of a substantially judicial procedure explicitly directed, not towards the discernment of agreement or the toleration of diversity, but to the exclusion of dissent based on the considerations of a conciliar entity. This “covenant” is in the form of a weak contract; not a marriage of commitment, but a pre-nuptial agreement containing the seeds of its own dissolution.

12. What do you think are the consequences of signing such a Covenant as proposed in this Draft?

The Covenant could be a benign tool for good or a means to the collapse of the Communion depending on how it is applied. On the whole, it seems to be framed to meet a need some appear to have for a degree of intolerance and rigidity. It represents such a departure from our traditions in polity, and is at such odds even in itself, that it would seem little good could come of it.

Concluding Questions

13. Having read the Draft Covenant as a whole do you agree with the CDG’s assertion that “nothing which is commended in the draft text of the Covenant can be said to be ‘new’”? Why or why not?

Contrary to the CDG’s assertion, this Covenant represents a significant departure in polity and governance for the Anglican Communion. Although language from the Anglican tradition is scattered throughout, the significance given to this language, and the emphasis on its employment has shifted from autonomous provincial government with joint cooperation and consultation, to a global body with central authority for leadership (and with an implied power of exclusion), placed in the hands of a body that had no formal existence as such prior to 1978, and has thus existed for a single generation. The elevation of “biblical morality” (as discerned by that authority) to the level of “essential,” is also a novel development.

The Draft Covenant thus seems to be a new patch put on the shabby and worn but still serviceable old cloak of the Anglican Communion; and the implied threat of schism (or exile) will create a worse tear than might happen if we were to exercise patience and charity instead of judgment.

14. In general, what is your response to the Draft Covenant taken as a whole? What is helpful in the draft? What is not-helpful? What is missing? Additional comments?

Our general response to the Draft Covenant is that it is unnecessary. The Anglican Consultative Council already has a workable Constitution for the governance of the international affairs of the Communion, and individual provinces have the right to restrict their interaction with other member provinces when and as they see fit, without undoing the whole structure. It is better to allow such temporary bilateral divisions on an ad hoc basis than to legislate division at a larger scale.

The section on Mission is a clear articulation of the purpose and direction of the church. That this is a product of the Anglican Consultative Council argues for the wisdom of emphasizing the scope of this body rather than the Primates or Lambeth.

The general tone of the Draft is unhelpful in that it appears to be less than honest in naming the real problems we face, and by seeking a solution based on bondage rather than freedom. It also fails to take adequate consideration of the importance of our baptismal unity, in spite of giving it lip-service. By focusing on implicit disunity at its conclusion, the Draft contains a poison pill.

The Draft fails to give adequate recognition to the ministries of laity, deacons and priests as distinctive participants in the governance of the church. The Draft appears willing to sacrifice those who dissent from a majority view on the altar of unity, thereby taking a view more akin to that of Caiaphas than Gamaliel; a view more punitive than paschal, willing to sacrifice others instead of exercising patience in the humble realization that the church’s process of reception demonstrably takes many generations. This document has grown out of impatience, haste, and a rush to judgment; from those ready to speak, but slow to listen.

The closing paragraph of section 7 refers to “the substance of the covenant” but places the interpretation of what that substance is in the hands of the Instruments of Communion. From our perspective, the substance appears to consist of an agreement never to disagree, but to excise the disagreeable. It is evident that this represents an essentially protestant approach, in which the church seeks to purify itself of minority views, and hence divides again and again. This is not how the church catholic has functioned at its best, when change has taken place locally, and these changes have been received (or not) throughout the larger church. Surely we have noticed that at least two major issues of division from the time of the Reformation have now been adopted by the very church that refused to allow them: the vernacular liturgy and the common cup. Change may take time, and patience is a virtue.

We referred to novices above, and the nature of the novitiate is that it requires practice and action in order properly to discern if a proposed way is right or not. It is no use simply studying patterns and taking measurements. Ultimately one must put on the clothing and see if it fits. These matters cannot be settled academically, but only by trial, and trial on a local level is the most effective (and safest) way to determine utility, rather than imposing change on the whole all at once. In this, experience is not a mere addition to the so-called Anglican way; it is an unavoidable teacher in that way. To a very real extent this Covenant stifles the possibilities for novelty through its own novel proposal for a central authority. It will quench the Spirit in order to serve the institution.

Members of the Deputation

The Rev. Gerald Keucher
Diane B. Pollard, Deputation Chair
The Rev Theodora Brooks
Michael J. McPherson
The Rev.Tobias Haller BSG
Nell B. Gibson
The Rev. James Burns
James A. Forde


Anonymous said...

Hallelujah! Now there's a well-reasoned set of objections to it, everything I thought of but could never express with such lucidity.

Anonymous said...

This is a devastating critique of the draft covenant, rightly (albeit implicitly) identifying it as an attempt to enforce a rigid Anglican conformity by overthrowing the very nature of Anglicanism.

I particularly liked the line:

"The Draft appears willing to sacrifice those who dissent from a majority view on the altar of unity, thereby taking a view more akin to that of Caiaphas than Gamaliel; a view more punitive than paschal, willing to sacrifice others instead of exercising patience in the humble realization that the church’s process of reception demonstrably takes many generations. This document has grown out of impatience, haste, and a rush to judgment; from those ready to speak, but slow to listen."

June Butler said...

Tobias, before I reached the end and saw the names of the deputies, I knew that you had a hand in this.


Anonymous said...

My deepest thanks to you and your colleagues for this masterly analysis.

The Anti-Gnostic said...

The logical conclusion from the Deputation's statement is that the primatial and diocesan hierarchies are superflous and expensive relics. If the only imperative of TEC is that we all can agree to disagree, then every Episcopal cleric above the level of rector is just a charity case and in good conscience, these clergy should resign to let their individual parishes determine for themselves how Christ's mission is to be fulfilled.

At this point, since we are no longer a Catholic or a catholic body, we should follow the lead of the other Protestant denominations and reform along congregational lines.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Reactionary, how is this "logical" unless you follow the "logic" that because many people get divorced no one should marry.

It is difficult to mark out the middle ground between congregationalism and curialism, but that is where we are: the highest synod is that of the national province; above that level bishops consult for the mission needs of the church. That may be difficult to maintain, but it shouldn't be difficult to understand, as it is what we Anglicans have had for some time now.

You might just as well say that because there is no authoritative international government (the UN being a body that works by persuasion and good intentions, not unlike the Anglican Communion in many ways) that all national governments should just dissolve and revert to city-states.

The lack of a world-church government doesn't necessarily imply a return to congregationalism.

The Anti-Gnostic said...


If, in fact, the bishop and presiding bishop are not there to lead their parishes on a common path, then they beg the question of what exactly the congregations outside their cathedrals are paying them to do. I can think of plenty of charitable uses for my parish's assessment other than for a bishop to fly to meetings with other bishops to "consult for the mission needs of the church." Since we are a Protestant as opposed to a Catholic body then, again, the primatial and diocesan hierarchies invite scrutiny as to whether they are worth the scarce dollars they are paid. The other Protestant denominations seem to get on quite well without primatial or diocesan hierarchies.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

It all depends on what you think "leadership on a common path" is about. My sense is that the role of the bishop is well spelled out in the ordination rites, and most of our bishops seem to do a decent job of it, and our present Presiding Bishops appears to be working out rather spectacularly.

On a matter of fact, you are mistaken about the "other" protestant churches; Methodist bishops have considerably more sway than our Episcopal bishops do, and the Lutherans also have an active episcopate. You may be correct about the Presbyterians and Baptists, but that is another matter, and even they have national hierarchies of one sort or another.

If you want to be a congregationalist, you are free to become one. I see continued utility in having an episcopate, however, which is why I am an Episcopalian. I think it is about much more than money.

Anonymous said...

"The Anglican Communion has been known until recently as a body governed not by statute but by bonds of affection"

The problem with this statement is that the reason the Covenant is proposed is because TECUSA has breached "the bonds of affection" in its actions of GC2003 and GC2006 and in its truculent adherence to the "new thing" that the Anglican Communion has, time and time again, declared to be contrary to the will of God as expressed in Holy Scripture.

It is precisely this breach in the bonds of affection that causes us to desire a covenant.

Phil Snyder

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

I understand that is your point of view, even while not acknowledging that TEC has actually broken any bonds of affection.

But for the sake of argument, let's say it has. How does a Covenant solve the problem? If folks are unwilling to abide by informal agreements, can they be expected to abide by a contract? The old idea that Philip Turner once advanced (vows empower people to keep them) is on the basis of prima facie evidence quite false. And speaking as a pastor, it would be unconscionable to advise an engaged couple who were having difficulties in their relationship to "go ahead and get married" -- as if that would solve, rather than multiply, their problems.

What our PB is appealing for at present, and what Rowan seems to be appealing for as well, is a time of restraint and conversation, rather than a rush to an institutional solution.

The Anti-Gnostic said...


According to the Rite, the bishop's primary task is to provide for the faith, unity and discipline of the Church. Now, if the faith can be any number of things depending on what different priests and congregants believe, then unity and discipline are pretty much out for anything short of criminal malfeasance. You can even write a book denying the Creeds and maintain your orders.

So, if there is no one faith and the only unity and discipline is that all must agree to disagree, again I ask, of what use a bishop much less a presiding bishop?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear Reactionary,
I think that to some extent you are calling for an ideal that is very hard to realize. The existence of law does not prevent crime. This is what I was getting at in my response to Phil concerning the utility of a covenant.

It is the task of the bishop to guard the faith and unity of the church; that doesn't mean any given bishop will always be entirely successful, or that there won't be the odd individual priest (or even bishop) going off the deep end. It happens even in churches with far stricter structures than ours! The fact that there are individual instances of error doesn't necessarily destroy the whole system; and more than, as I noted before, a large number of divorces implies we should do away with marriage.

I think it is indicative that you use the phrase "provide for" where the ordinal uses "guard"; the bishop "provides for" the due celebration of the sacraments. A bishop can indeed "provide for" the latter by scheduling time and seeing to it that sufficient priests and deacons are available; but cannot "provide for" faith or unity. The most a bishop can do in that department is to seek to correct error, see to it that the rules are followed, and try to keep people together. All of which, in my experience, most bishops try their best to do.

Anonymous said...


The covenant is designed to layout the limits of diversity. In the past, it had been understood that what affected all was to be decided by all. Now that is not the case. With typical American hubris, we determined that we can chart the course of the Anglican Communion regarding sexual morality without listening to the rest of the Communion. Refusing to say that we breached the bonds of affection is like being a husband that has serial affairs and refusing to say that his actions have hurt his wife. Another (perhaps better) anology might be to sit in the most delicate chair in a host's home after being asked not to sit in that chair and then blaming the chair or the host when the chair breaks. We were asked not to sit in the chair by our "hosts" - our brothers and sisters in the communion - and we did anyway. The least we can do is to apologize for breaking the chair and do our best to mend it.

If the ABC and the PB want restraint, then they can have restraint. Would you be willing to stop all blessings of same sex unions and to not elect, or consent to the election of a person as bishop who is sexually active outside the bonds of marriage (marriage being defined as one man and one woman)? (with the understanding that this restraint would be lifted if the communion comes to a different mind on the issue?) That is the restraint that the rest of the communion has asked for.

Phil Snyder

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear Phil,
I do understand your point of view, and also the intent of the covenant. I don't disagree, in fact, that there are limits on the autonomy of the various provinces. The problem is, where do we set the limits?

You cite the traditional standard that "what affects all is to be decided by all" --- a principal enunciated in the Windsor Report. However, this principle is not entirely applicable to the present situation, and the Windsor Report misrepresents it. I have written on this topic in two earlier posts and I commend them to you.

What Touches All

More on What Touches All

Here, let me just say that the principal involves (originally) water rights: people upstream can't simply do as they please with a river that passes through their territory because it affects others downstream. This is not applicable in the present situation for two reasons, involving each use of the word "all."

First, neither the ordination of Bishop Robinson nor the approval of same-sex blessings in New Westminster Canada need have any impact whatsoever outside of those limited spheres. These matters do not "touch all". It is well within Archbishop Rowan's capacity not to invite Bishop Robinson to Lambeth; and certainly Bishop Robinson has no right to exercise episcopal authority outside of his own diocese. The allegation of an impact to same-sex marriages is even less credible, as any given marriage need have no effect on anyone else.

Second, and more importantly, "all" did not "agree" that this is where the limits should be set, merely a majority of bishops gathered at Lambeth. As an abrogation of a right of a diocese to elect the person it chooses, this would have to be, under the legal principle "what touches all" agreed to unanimously.

While I understand your point of view, I hope you understand also that your analogies fail from my perspective because they beg the question of guilt or responsibility (TEC is the erring husband in your scenario, or the unruly guest.) On the contrary the people who are being unruly here are those who are making up rules as they go along and insisting that all abide by an action not agreed to by all!

I would use a different analogy, a scriptural one: the Episcopal Church is functioning like the generous employer who gave all of his employees the same wage --- and was critiqued by some of them who thought they deserved more. It really isn't their business.

Finally, it seems plain to me that the bonds of affection have not been broken by the Episcopal Church but by the Global South. Those who feel this way about the Episcopal Church represent about one quarter to one third of the Anglican Communion's provinces. Most of the other provinces either agree with us or have said that even though they do not approve of our actions they do not in any way see this as a cause for breaking communion. Those who break communion are the ones who need to take responsibility for their actions.