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
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
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.
A SHORT STUDY GUIDE
TO AID THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH IN RESPONDING TO
THE DRAFT ANGLICAN COVENANT
AS PREPARED BY THE COVENANT DESIGN GROUP
May 21, 2007
828 Rockwood Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15234-1213
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Mt.
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
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
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
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
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
text introduction] How closely does this view of communion accord
with your understanding of the development and vocation of the Anglican
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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?
(2) and (4) seem reasonably clear and unobjectionable.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
[Covenant draft: 6 Unity of the Communion]
What does the phrase “a common mind about matters of essential concern…” mean
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.
[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.
[Covenant draft: 7 Our Declaration] What do
you think are the consequences of signing such a Covenant as proposed in the
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.
[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.
[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
— LED, 5/23/2007, corrected 6/5/2007