Monday, March 12, 2007

The Draft Anglican Covenant: A Radical Departure From Anglicanism

Revised and updated (again) Tuesday afternoon, March 13, 2007.

This is one of two posts on the subject of the Communique, the Draft Covenant and the Key Recommendations. The second one follows.

During my absence from the blogosphere, I have, among many other things, been considering alone and with others the outcomes of the Primates Meeting in Dar es Salaam and what's ahead for the upcoming House of Bishops Meeting. While many have focused on The Key Recommendations of the Primates, which will be the presenting issue at this, and probably the next, House of Bishops meeting.

I have read been looking over the Draft Anglican Covenant proposed by the Covenant Design Group in January, 2007. I think it is important to start here because this document was the heart of the design of the Key Recommendations, while the Recommendations reference not the Draft Covenant, but the Camp Allen Principles. The Principles were drawn up before the Covenant, and one might be tempted to think that the Bishops who signed the Camp Allen document were thinking of the Covenant, when, in fact, the Covenant was still an idea. The Recommendations are based more on the Covenant, and it is to me dishonest to assume that the people who signed on to the process suggested in the Windsor Report necessarily agree with the assumptions and direction reflected in the Draft Covenant.

Many of the ideas in the Covenant have been floating around for years. Still it represents a radical departure from classical Anglicanism and, if accepted as presented, would mean an end to Anglicanism as we know it. If the Covenant is approved in the current form, then the both the nature of the Communion and the Churches within it would be drastically altered to the detriment of all the Provinces within the Communion.

Here are some of the difficulties with the Draft Covenant as I see it:

1. It changes the nature of Anglicanism by changing the definition of what it means to be in Communion from the terms set out in the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilatteral to a doctrinal basis enforced by the Primates.
2. It demeans the role of the creeds in favor of role of a particular view of Scripture. The use of the Scriptural passages assumes that these are the only passages that speak to the matters at hand, that these passages all point to the same conclusion and the Scripture always speaks with one voice.
3. The Draft Covenant claims to place Scripture first in the hierarchy of authority, but the practice suggested by the Draft Covenant places the Primates over everything in authority. So how we use Scripture gets to be defined by the filter the Primates impose on the members of the Communion.
4. The Draft Covenant raises the 39 Articles and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer to a level of authority previously unknown. It also adds these two documents to the foundational definition of what makes for an Anglican identity. This is problematic for those members of the Communion that have lived and grown without this edition of the Prayer Book and the Articles for longer than when they had them. Neither The Episcopal Church nor the Scottish Episcopal Church have been formed nor shaped by the 1662 BCP. It is hard to imagine that they will, at this late date, begin to be formed by it now. The American Church chose not to go with the 1662 BCP nor the English Ordinal, so it hard to imagine that these can be a doctrinal reference point, let alone a source of unity, for us and I don't think other members of the Communion would find this useful.
Further, the footnote that tips the hat to other Prayer Books and Ordinals, does not solve the issues raised in paragraph 2.5. Why did they not choose an earlier edition that we could all claim to share? 1549 perhaps or maybe the Wee Bookies?
5. The Covenant demeans the role of the laity to the level of supporting the ministry of the clergy and carrying out programmatic ends (section 5, last paragraph). Instead, the role of the Primates is increased.
6. The Covenant seeks to constrain the constitutions and polities of the members of the Communion by putting every action under the scrutiny of all the other Primates. In 6.4, it is clear that no one has to vote on this to sign on; in 6.3, the Covenant would trump the canons, "standards of faith" and more to the whole Communion. The "common mind" of the Communion would countervale local practice in a way out of keeping with the Quadrilateral and very new to our experience as Anglicans to date. The "common mind" would be decided by the gathered Primates. (Would Archbishop Akinola acquiesce to the common mind of the Communion if it meant speaking against the ant-gay laws now before his countries legislature?)
7. The Anglican Consultative Council would no longer consult but simply carry out the programmatic whims of the Primates Meeting who would now be in charge and, unlike the ACC not be accountable to the synods and conventions of the Member Churches.
8. Membership in the Anglican Communion would no longer be a matter of being apart of a Communion of Communions but a matter of obedience to the larger structure envisioned by the Draft Covenant. 6.5 and 6.6 change the terms of the Communion from a fellowship into a relationship of obedience and enforcement.
Still, I cannot imagine that this process will actually working. Following the exercise suggested last summer in my conversation with the Archbishop of York, I cannot imagine that the processes laid in these two section would bring a Province that undertook, say, lay presidency of the Eucharist into line. The exercise envisioned imagines not so much a way of either disciplining nor reconciling so much as a way of formally excluding a Communion member deviating from the norms set down by the Primates.

The Draft Anglican Covenant is not a Covenant of equals, but a Covenant imposed on others by political victors promoting ecclesiastical unity through the use of power, threat and exclusion. While the document claims to elevate the place of Scriptural authority, it actually raises dramatically the role of the gathered Primates so that even the interpretation of Scripture lies under their pervue, to the detriment of the member Provinces.
The Draft Covenant defines Communion in entirely institutional terms and leaves no room for the Provinces to creatively minister to the experiences, contexts and understanding of the nations and cultures they are in.
Finally, the Draft Covenant seeks to diminish the role of the Baptized into a band of blind followers following the whims of a committee of 38 (mostly) men who are far away from their daily experiences of faith.


Ann said...

Thanks for this careful examination of the Covenant. I hope it changes into something more helpful for relationships before finalizing.

*Christopher said...

I've been saying this for over a year, we'll end up with conciliar infallibilism in all but acknowledgement of that fact coupled with an evangelical fundamentalist theology. The worst of Rome and Geneva.