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?
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.”
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.
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