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Responding to the Study Guide
Lionel E. Deimel
May 21, 2007
 

Anglican Communion compass roseAs explained in an April 16, 2007, story from Episcopal News Service, a subcommittee of the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church has released “A Short Study Guide to Aid The Episcopal Church in Responding to the Draft Anglican Covenant as Prepared by the Covenant Design Group.” The “Draft Anglican Covenant” itself appears in a report presented at February’s meeting of the Anglican Primates. The draft covenant has been submitted to the member churches of the Anglican Communion for comment.

Although the church was essentially asking all Episcopalians to offer their opinion of the proposed covenant, it didn’t take much study of the Study Guide to realize that actually doing that would be a daunting task. In fact, the Study Guide seems more like an exam than it does a Draft Anglican Covenant for Dummies. It posits 14 quite specific questions about the covenant, none of which can be answered with “yes,” “no,” “I like it,” or “I don’t like it.” The Guide does not so much help you study the draft covenant as it make you do it.

I have spent a good deal of time over the past week or two helping to create tools for Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh (PEP) designed to make it easier for Episcopalians to respond to the request from the Executive Council. This effort resulted in PEP’s issuing a Microsoft Word worksheet to help people formulate and submit their evaluations, and “Evaluating the Draft Covenant,” a collection containing the Study Guide, covenant report, and background documents. The collection also includes a helpfully annotated version of the covenant report by PEP president Joan Gundersen.

Eventually, I had to use the materials I had been working on to formulate my own considered reaction to the draft covenant. Rather than simply sending my thoughts to The Episcopal Church, I decided that it might be helpful to post them here. Whereas others—most notably, Marshall Scott, who seems to be working his way through the 14 Study Guide questions on his blog one question at a time—have reflected on the Study Guide questions, I thought I could be the first person to answer all 14 questions on-line. (If I have missed achieving this distinction, I will be happy to acknowledge whoever was first to the Web with his or her answers if someone will identify that person.) In any case, The Episcopal Church requested answers by June 4, which is only two weeks away. Perhaps others can benefit from my responses or, at the very least, be goaded into action by them.

For good or ill, my answers to the 14 questions are listed below in a format derived from the PEP worksheet. To clearly distinguish my answers from the questions, I have put my answers in a different font and in a different color. As always, comments are welcome.
 


RESPONSE TO
A SHORT STUDY GUIDE
TO AID THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH IN RESPONDING TO
THE DRAFT ANGLICAN COVENANT
AS PREPARED BY THE COVENANT DESIGN GROUP
 

Date:  

 May 21, 2007

Name: 

 Lionel Deimel

Address: 

 828 Rockwood Avenue
 Pittsburgh, PA 15234-1213

Telephone: 

 (412) 343-5337

E-mail: 

 lionel@deimel.org

Parish: 

 St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Mt. Lebanon, Pa.

Diocese: 

 Pittsburgh

 

 (1)      [Report introduction] 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?

Let’s begin by looking at the term “interdependent.” The churches of the communion have traditionally been described as “autonomous,” which means subject to one’s own laws only, not subject to control from outside. “Interdependent” suggests something quite different. Section 5 describes the provinces as “autonomous,” but speaks of living in “mutual loyalty and service.” Section 6 then makes it quite clear that provinces are to be greatly constrained in their autonomy. This section is particularly disingenuous, in that it denies that provinces are surrendering their independence while making it quit clear that they are. The apparent duplicity in the current draft should alone be sufficient to justify rejecting it categorically.

This is not to say that provinces can or should disregard one another. A fact of the modern world is that no one and no institution is unaffected by other people and organizations. But, whereas, say, China and the U.S. are, in many respects, interdependent, they are nevertheless autonomous nations. The “interdependence” this covenant would establish is of a different character; it would make the application of the word “autonomous” inappropriate when applied to Anglican provinces.   

We are, as Christians, subject to the call of Christ, as we are given by the Holy Spirit to understand that call. We should not surrender our loyalty to our Savior in exchange for loyalty to the Anglican Communion, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primates’ Meeting, or anything else. As members of our own church, of course, we have a voice in its direction. We have no such voice in the Anglican Communion.

It is therefore an inappropriate goal that we should seek “interdependence” of  the churches of the Communion. We know, or should know, that the purpose of this covenant is the imposition of a theology and sensibility that is a reactionary response to the Enlightenment on those provinces seeking to minister to their own time and place in the Western world. To choose ignorance over knowledge and traditionalism over wisdom is to deny the work of the Holy Spirit and to denigrate the gift of human intelligence.

Do I think a covenant is necessary? Yes, but a covenant designed to protect us from what the current draft is trying to implement. We need a covenant that facilitates mission as each church understands it; we need a covenant that keeps churches from undermining other churches by diverting them from mission and invading their territory; we need a covenant that affirms laity, women, and oppressed minorities, rather than institutionalizing their subjugation; we need a covenant that re-establishes an Anglican Communion that serves its members, rather than the reverse. Such a covenant would energize our church; adoption of the current draft will discourage those Episcopalians who actually love their church.

There is much irony in the first section of the Covenant Design Group (CDG) report. It speaks of the urgency of restoring trust, but this is the trust of some provinces that other provinces will not choose to live in the 21st century, rather than the 17th (or the 4th, or whatever). The report is unconcerned that Episcopalians have every reason to distrust those who would impose a tyranny of ignorance and superstition over their church. Why should we trust those who have proven themselves so untrustworthy?

Then there is the assertion that the covenant draft introduces nothing “new” into the life of the Communion. This is nothing short of an attempt at outright deception, in support of which assertion, I offer Section 6. There is also an attempt here to convince everyone that agreeing to a covenant is so urgent that we must agree in principle to a draft now and clean up the details later. If a covenant is so important, surely we need to be sure that we do not commit ourselves too quickly, only to find that we have somehow painted ourselves into a corner from which there is no escape. That the CDG is chaired by a primate who has been most outspoken in his desire to constrain The Episcopal Church through such an agreement, and that the current draft was assembled quickly and in the absence of some of the more moderate members of the CDG, should cause The Episcopal Church to exercise extreme caution in accepting anything in the CDG report at face value.

 (2)      [Draft text introduction] How closely does this view of communion accord with your understanding of the development and vocation of the Anglican Communion?

Speaking of the Anglican Communion as a gift from God, as does the Windsor Report (and the draft covenant, in Section 4), attempts to intimidate our church into devaluing its own essential character. Does this “gift from God” locution suggest that the Communion is somehow “better” than the Roman Catholic or Orthodox churches? Are we more Christian than the Baptists or the Presbyterians? Is, indeed, the Anglican Communion more holy than The Episcopal Church? I think not. This covenant is about the exercise of power. It is, in fact, an attempt to establish a tyranny of primates, and to minimize the role of ordinary clergy and laity in the church. This surely is not a more godly way of governing the church than that which is established in The Episcopal Church.

The ultimate effect of the proposed covenant—if not immediately, then eventually—would be to transform a voluntary fellowship into a unitary, hierarchical, and undemocratically governed worldwide church.

Anglicanism has traditionally been a national-church movement unified by liturgical, not doctrinal uniformity. This covenant draft has come from those of quite opposite sensibilities. It is ironic that those who are most insistent on wrapping themselves in the mantle of Anglicanism seem to have the least understanding of Anglicanism’s contributions to Christian thought.

 (3)      [Covenant draft: 1 Preamble] Is this a sufficient rationale for entering into a Covenant? Why or why not?

Most of the Preamble is just fine, although, in and of itself, it is hardly a justification for anything in particular. The ending of this short introduction is worrisome, however. What does it mean “to grow up together as a worldwide Communion to the full stature of Christ”? There is an implicit goal here, namely, to establish a very un-Anglican uniformity within the Communion, a goal that our church should reject as unrealistic and manipulative.

A word needs to be said about the enormous quantity of scripture cited in this draft. The citation of scripture serves two purposes. It is intended, on one hand, to attest to the holiness of those who have offered this covenant. It also attests to a particular theology, not only in what it cites, but in its need to cite particular passages at all. In the first instance, the draft is both pretentious and, at times, silly. (Do we really need an entire page of scripture to justify Section 7?) In the second instance, it is important to recognize that this covenant is a political document intended to advance a particular and very un-Anglican theological viewpoint. As such, it might be more appropriate that it cite Machiavelli and Hobbs, rather than Ezekiel and John.

 (4)     [Covenant draft: 2 The Life We Share] Do these six affirmations adequately describe The Episcopal Church’s understanding of “common catholicity, apostolicity, and confession of faith”? Why or why not?

No. This section is a subtle expansion (or restriction) of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, which, it must be pointed out, is not itself accepted as a definitive statement of the understanding of The Episcopal Church, nor was it intended to be.

Several specific phrases are troublesome here. What, exactly, does “uniquely revealed” mean, for example? The phrase occurs in the Church of England’s Alternative Services Book of 1980, but it is not a phrase familiar to Episcopalians, who might want clarification of what this phrase entails and does not entail. More troubling is the description of the Bible as “the rule and ultimate standard of faith,” a formulation The Episcopal Church has certainly never accepted and which one might imagine the General Convention could fight over for years if it did not reject it summarily. However inspired, holy, or useful scripture might be, it is highly flawed as a “rule and ultimate standard of faith,” as it is vague, contradictory, and, at times, provably false. It is impossible to establish definitive texts for the books of the Bible, and notoriously difficult to know what they meant when written or what they should mean to us now. Much of scripture most concerned with establishing rules was deemed irrelevant by the early Church, a decision neither The Episcopal Church not the rest of Christendom has seen fit to revisit.

This section appears to commit signatories to the acceptance of documents included only by reference—and that not always clearly—that have never been a part of our Episcopalian tradition. Do the “catholic creeds” include that of St. Athanasius, for instance?

 (5)     [Covenant draft: 2 The Life We Share] 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 CDG seems to have used the Church of England as a model for what Anglicanism is or should be, and it has ignored the diverse history and practice of the various provinces. In any case, The Episcopal Church has been conscientious to a fault in choosing the wording of our prayer book, and it is inconceivable that we should submit to some blanket adoption of 16th and 17th-century formularies without substantial study.

I think it fair to say that the General Convention is not really ready to adopt the Articles of Religion, an idiosyncratic statement of doctrine intended to deal with another ecclesiastical crisis in the early history of the Church of England. It would be an embarrassment to have to proclaim the tenants of the Articles of Religion to 21st-century Americans, however.

It is not even clear that it is desirable for us precisely to “describe The Episcopal Church’s understanding of ‘common catholicity, apostolicity, and confession of faith.’” One might argue that to do so is to establish a test of conformity that is, in some fundamental way, antithetical to the Anglican ethos, which is to bring people together in worship, not obsessively to separate heretics from the orthodox.

 (6)     [Covenant draft: 3 Our Commitment to Confession of the Faith] 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?

Paragraph (1) is unacceptable. What are “biblically derived moral values”? Do they include polygamy, slavery, the subjugation of women, and the keeping of Jewish dietary laws?

Paragraphs (2) and (4) seem reasonably clear and unobjectionable.

Paragraph (3) is not completely clear and may be problematic. Does handling “biblical texts … respectfully” mean that it is inappropriate to question their accuracy, interpretation, or relevance? It is unclear what this provision is intended to allow and what it is intended to prevent. Such ambiguity is common in this draft.

Likewise, paragraph (5) is unacceptable, though it is at the heart of this document, which views uniformity as a necessary element of unity. The overall sense of this draft covenant is that no church may go where all churches have not chosen to go together in lockstep. This is a formula for fossilizing the Communion and making it increasingly irrelevant to a world that insists on moving faster than the Church seems capable of moving.

 (7)     [Covenant draft: 4 The Life We Share with Others] 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?

It is ironic that those elements of the Anglican Communion that decry American exceptionalism seem to have no trouble proclaiming an Anglican exceptionalism, as is done in the first paragraph of this section. This paragraph is sinfully self-congratulatory. The section is somewhat redeemed in the next two paragraphs. The phrase “mutual accountability” raises a red flag in the next paragraph, however. “Mutual accountability” is code for “those in power get to tell those not in power what to do.” There is much interest in the Anglican Communion in making The Episcopal Church accountable. There seems to be little concern for making the Church of Nigeria (Anglican) accountable for its relentless attempts to deny human rights to the LGBT population of Nigeria.

The final list in this section seems innocuous enough, although one might inquire into whether item (5) is a declaration of concern for the environment or whether it is intended to articulate a “pro-life” message that The Episcopal Church would not accept.

 (8)     [Covenant draft: 5 Our Unity and Common Life] Does this section adequately describe your understanding of the history and respective roles of the “Four Instruments of Communion”? Why or why not?

No. This is one of the places in the covenant where, contrary to the assertions of the CDG, innovations are being introduced.

Whereas bishops at one time may have needed to be “custodians of faith, leaders in mission, and … visible signs of unity,” the specificity at the end of the first paragraph seems to contradict the adaptability proclaimed at the beginning of it. In fact, bishops have been the instigators of most of the mischief we have seen in the Anglican world in the past four years (and earlier), and one might think that what is needed is a covenant that constrains bishops, rather than celebrates them and enhances their authority.

One has to ask whether, if none of the so-called Instruments of Communion were currently in place, we would invent them in the form set out in this section. Interestingly, in this formulation, the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury remains pretty much what it has been, which is to say, largely ceremonial. We now find that the Lambeth Conference is to be responsible for “guarding the faith and unity of the Communion.” This is actually a new role, and one for which, given its record in the past, it seems ill equipped. The Anglican Consultative Council, whose constitution gives it a long list of responsibilities, is here reduced to performing petty administrative functions.

The Episcopal Church has, I believe, been very accepting of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s and Lambeth Conference’s “authority” precisely because they have none. The CDG wants to change this, at least in the case of the Lambeth Conference.

It is clearly the Primates’ Meeting that is to be given the real power by this covenant. I believe that this group has become an unelected collection of petty despots that should simply be disbanded. If there is to be given a greater Communion-wide responsibility to any group, that group should be the ACC (or something very much like it), which is the most representative of Anglican bodies and which has a formal constitution, something by which the Primates’ Meeting is unconstrained.

 (9)     [Covenant draft: 6 Unity of the Communion] 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.

The way to resolve the present disputes within the communion is not to demand the capitulation of The Episcopal Church or the Anglican Church of Canada, but for other provinces to be more tolerant of diversity within the Communion that, by and large, does not affect their own provinces. The historical looseness of the Communion gives provinces such as Nigeria plausible deniability with respect to having any responsibility for what may or may not have been done by The Episcopal Church.

Churches should be allowed to leave the Communion, but they should not be able to exile or intimidate other churches within it. While a church is in the Communion, it should be required to be “in communion”—whatever  that is taken to mean—with all other churches in the Communion. Alas, it is becoming increasing clear that the Anglican Communion is divided, perhaps irreconcilably, into at least two theological camps. Attempts to draw these camps closer together will be the equivalent of locking fighting cocks together in a telephone booth. If mission is to be advanced, the two camps almost certainly must disengage, either within a single communion or into two separate communions.

The direct answer to the question, then, is no. Toleration is perhaps possible; reconciliation likely is not. Attempting to impose reconciliation judicially will not work long-term. In any case, there is no way that Episcopalians will tolerate an all-powerful, unelected body of foreign prelates to run their church. The Episcopal Church is now threatened with the departure of a disaffected right-wing representing 10% or so of the church. If Episcopalians find themselves ruled by the primates, it will be the other 90% that will consider leaving the church.

There is almost nothing acceptable in Section 6, but a few points are especially ignominious. The idea, in paragraph (1), for example, that the provinces should “support the work of the Instruments of Communion” reverses the proper state of affairs. The so-called Instruments of Communion should be supporting the work of the member churches.

Of course, the greatest defect in this section is the completely new idea that it is ultimately the primates who will decide how disputes are to be resolved. It is not specified how such determinations are to be made. It is clear, however, that there is to be an enforcement procedure (see paragraph (6)), although its nature is something of a mystery. This whole section is what U.S. courts would call “unconstitutionally vague.” Clearly, it means whatever the primates want it to mean.

(10)     [Covenant draft: 6 Unity of the Communion] What does the phrase “a common mind about matters of essential concern…” mean to you?

I’m not sure I understand the intent of this question. In the content of Section 6, it appears to mean that the primates can enforce uniformity on any point they choose. There are no restrictions on the applicability of this principle and no constraints on the means by which the principle can be enforced. The paragraph in which the wording in question occurs (that is, (3)) does not seem to restrict itself to matters of doctrine. The primates could, it would seem, decide that there cannot be women bishops, that bishops cannot be elected, or that laypeople cannot take part in church governance. This section represents a complete surrender to the forces of reaction within Anglicanism. As such, it will destroy Anglicanism as a significant and distinct expression of Christianity.

(11)     [Covenant draft: 7 Our Declaration] Can you affirm the “fundamental shape” of the Draft Covenant? Why or why not?

No, because it is antithetical to everything I value in The Episcopal Church and in Anglicanism. That it might succeed in destroying the Anglican Communion, however, must be considered one of its virtues. I can no longer see the Anglican Communion as an instrument to advance the Kingdom of God. It is becoming an impediment to the Lord’s work.

(12)     [Covenant draft: 7 Our Declaration] What do you think are the consequences of signing such a Covenant as proposed in the Draft?

It would ultimately destroy The Episcopal Church. The right-wing zealots within The Episcopal Church will likely leave anyway, and they may succeed in taking their property, arguing that the leadership of The Episcopal Church is not the highest religious authority to which they owe allegiance. Many other Episcopalians will leave the church because it will have abandoned the theological and ecclesiastical principles that first drew them to it. In the end, the covenant will likely destroy the Anglican Communion as well.

(13)     [Covenant draft overall] 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?

Innovation pervades the covenant and is especially prominent in Section 6. It is impossible to believe that members of the CDG actually believe this totally incredible assertion.

(14)     [Covenant draft overall] 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?

To sign on to this draft or anything that could conceivably be derived from it would be to sell out The Episcopal Church and all those who love it. Nothing—absolutely nothing—in this draft is helpful. What is needed is a covenant that reëstablishes voluntary coöperation among the member churches and prevents them from interfering in one another’s affairs. Any church unwilling to agree to this should resign from the Communion.
 


Second Thoughts: The text above is what I actually sent to The Episcopal Church. Since I wrote it, I have read a few responses from others. None made me think that anything I said was fundamentally wrong, but one did give me second thoughts—thoughts of guilt, actually—about question 14. Whereas I do see the draft as a hopeless basis for further development, my declaration that “absolutely nothing” in the draft is helpful was an exaggeration. The last paragraph of Section 4 is worthwhile. There are additional acceptable nuggets scattered about the draft, but most are inextricably enmeshed with the unacceptable.

My hyperbole was the result of my wanting to leave no doubt in anyone’s mind that I found the proposed covenant loathsome. My mood as I began my answer was likely not helped by the presence of the hyphenated “not-helpful.” What is that? What’s wrong with “not helpful,” or even “unhelpful”?

— LED, 5/23/2007, corrected 6/5/2007

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