The Anglican Primates at their meeting in Swords, Co Dublin, last week (Photograph: Orla Ryan/ACNS, 2011)
The Church of Ireland Theological Institute
MTh Year II
EM8825: Anglican Studies in an Irish context:
Thursdays: 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., The Hartin Room.
Thursday, 3 February 2011
2.2: The challenges facing the communion of global Anglicanism today, including the Anglican Covenant.
Part 1: The present challenges:
Paul Avis, in his recent book, The Identity of Anglicanism, concludes his chapter on ‘Anglican Ecclesiology in the Twenty-first Century’ with this assessment of the state of Anglicanism today:
“Anglicanism does indeed attempt to hold together elements that are opposed in other traditions – though not without strains. It defines itself as catholic and reformed; orthodox in doctrine yet open to change in its application. Its polity is both episcopal (and its bishops have real authority) and synodical – an unusual combination in a church that has maintained the historic episcopate. It acknowledges an ecumenical council as the highest authority in the Church, but is not opposed in principle to a universal primacy and virtually never has been. It confesses the paramount authority of Scripture, but reveres tradition and harkens to the voice of culture and science. It tries to be neither centralized nor fragmented, neither authoritarian nor anarchic. It is comprehensive without being relativistic. This interesting experiment has endured and evolved for nearly five centuries; in spite of the present difficulties, I believe it is worth persevering with.” [Paul Avis, The Identity of Anglicanism: Essentials of Anglican Ecclesiology (London: T&T Clark, 2007), pp. 168-169.]
But given the present difficulties, can Anglicanism persevere?
Indeed, we might ask, can it survive?
And what is holding Anglicanism together at this present moment?
Two weeks ago, we looked at the present state of the Anglican Communion, and outlined the four “Instruments of Communion”:
Traditionally there have been four instruments of unity, now known as the “Instruments of Communion”:
● The Archbishop of Canterbury, who calls and convenes the Lambeth Conference and the Primates’ meetings, and presides at the meetings of the Anglican Consultative Council – although the ACC has its own chair and vice-chair. He is often referred to as a “focus of unity.”
● The Lambeth Conference, first called in 1867 and now meeting every 10 years – the last meeting was in Canterbury in 2008.
● The Anglican Consultative Council, formed in 1968. Its last meeting, ACC-14, was held in Kingston, Jamaica, in 2009. The Church of Ireland members are the Revd Dr Maurice Elliott (Director of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute) and Mr Wilf Baker (Cork).
● The Primates’ Meetings, which take place every two or three years. The last four meetings were in Dromantine, near Newry (2006), Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (February 2007), Alexandria, Egypt (February 2009), and last week in the Emmaus Retreat Centre in Swords, Co Dublin.
Let us look at each of these instruments of communion, and see what are the challenges facing the communion of global Anglicanism today, and then discuss the Anglican Covenant.
At their meeting in Swords last week, the Anglican primates issued a number of statements or open letters expressing concerns about the situations in Zimbabwe, the Middle East, Egypt, Haiti and the Korean peninsula, and about global warming, the circumstances surrounding the murder of a gay activist in Uganda, gender-based violence, and other issues.
Many external matters received serious consideration at that meeting. But it is often internal matters, the question marks that hang over the future of the Anglican Communion, that draw the most attention, and these include the following:
● The role of the Archbishop of Canterbury as the focus of unity for the Anglican Communion.
● Whether the Anglican Communion needs a central, structured institution.
● The future of the Lambeth Conference as a purely Episcopal gathering.
● The status, role or authority of the resolutions passed at the Lambeth Conferences.
● The tension between maintaining theological diversity and unity in communion.
● The possibility of a future Anglican Congress that is representative of the laity.
● Whether the future of the Anglican Communion is as some looser form of alliance or federation, what the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, described once as a World Alliance of Anglican Churches?
The tensions within the Anglican Communion, and the questions over its future shape or survival, are also created, to a large degree, by new demographic realities.
In many ways, the Church of England and the Episcopal Church (TEC) appear to dominate the agenda, the budgets and the ethos of the Anglican Communion. But, as Professor Alister McGrath pointed out at a conference in Oxford on the “Future of Anglicanism”: “On any given Sunday there are more Anglicans attending church in the west African state of Nigeria than in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada and Australia, taken together.”
Anglican Churches are thriving and growing in many parts of Africa and Asia. But Anglicanism appears to be in decline, numerically, in the traditional Anglican heartlands such as England, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
In the US, the decline of Anglicanism or Episcopalianism is in sharp contrast to the rise in membership of Pentecostal and Evangelical churches. As Alister McGrath claims: “The implications for the future direction of Anglicanism are momentous.”
Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury … hopes for “a church that is honest about its diversity – even when that diversity seems at first embarrassing and unwelcome”
1, The Archbishop of Canterbury:
You may agree with Paul Avis that “in spite of the present difficulties,” Anglicanism “is worth persevering with.” I certainly hope you do! In his presidential address to the General Synod of the Church of England in London a year ago (9 February 2010), the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, set out plans to introduce multiple levels within the Anglican Communion to cope with the current divisions and disputes, which are mainly expressed through the debates about women bishops, gay clergy and same-gender marriages.
He said the covenant could be approached as a way of creating divisions but avoiding schism: “It may be that the Covenant creates a situation in which there are different levels of relationship between those claiming the name of Anglican. I don’t at all want or relish this, but suspect that, without a major change of heart all round, it may be an unavoidable aspect of limiting the damage we are already doing to ourselves.” [The Church Times, 12.2.2010, pp 20-21; The Tablet, 13.2.2010, pp 6-7, 37.]
Three years ago, at the General Synod of the Church of England, Archbishop Williams expressed the hope that as Anglicans we “want to be part of a family still. And that means some dreams of purity and clarity are not going to be realised. Both [sides] have turned their backs on the fantasy of a church that is pure in their own terms, in favour of a church that is honest about its diversity – even when that diversity seems at first embarrassing and unwelcome.” [The Guardian, 11.2.2008.]
Some years ago, in an interview with Paul Handley [The Church Times, 6.12.2002, pp 14-15], Archbishop Williams was asked about future Lambeth Conferences, and spoke about the need for an Anglican Congress, which would include lay people as well.
Asked about the future of the Anglican Communion, and whether it needs “a stronger pull at the centre, that it has been too diffused and disorganised,” he answered: “I don’t think it [the Anglican Communion] needs to have a more centralised executive. That would be a mistake; it would be following a model that, on the whole, in Anglican history, we have not followed. We have seen ourselves as a federation of essentially local churches.”
He conceded that this raises questions about the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and whether it would be downgraded. Dr Williams went on to say: “We are now faced with an unprecedented challenge about how much of a Communion we want to be.” And he asked: “If, in ten years’ time, we were the World Alliance of Anglican Churches – an assemblage of local bodies that didn’t acknowledge these different theologies, priorities, policies – would that be a loss? And what to do about it?”
“In ten years’ time ...” Where do you think we will be then in 2012, next year?
Canterbury Cathedral .... the Lambeth Conferences are called by the Archbishop of Canterbury
2, The Lambeth Conference:
Over the generations, bishops at the Lambeth Conferences have debated many of the real social and pressing issues of the day, often issuing radical statements, for example on Socialism in the Victorian age, or on war at the height of the Vietnam war. They were able to change their views, for example on contraception and family planning, moving from an outright disapproval of contraception to openly encouraging planned parenthood.
The Lambeth Conference is a gathering of bishops, meeting every 10 years under the presidency of the Archbishop of Canterbury. There have been 13 conferences to date, between 1867 and 2008. Until 1978, the conferences were for bishops only, but in 1988 the full membership of the Anglican Consultative Council was invited too, as well as representative bishops of the Churches in Communion (the Churches of Bangladesh, North and South India, and Pakistan) joined with the bishops in the discussions, as did bishops of the Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht.
But Lambeth Conferences remain essentially gatherings of bishops only, they are deliberative and, while they claim teaching authority, they were without canonical authority and their composition does not reflect the synodical structures of individual Anglican churches or provinces.
From the beginning, Lambeth Conferences have been marked by tensions and divisions. The first Lambeth Conference was called because of crisis and division among Anglicans in Southern Africa, the Province of York refused to take part in the first conference, Dean Stanley refused to make Westminster Abbey available for the first conference, and there were later divisions over, for example, the ordination of women to the priesthood, the consecration of women bishops, and, in 1998 and again in 2008, sexuality and more particularly homosexuality.
The 14th Lambeth Conference took place from 16 July to 4 August 2008 at the Canterbury campus of the University of Kent. Before the conference, Archbishop Williams issued a pastoral letter to the 38 Primates of the Anglican Communion and Moderators of the United Churches, indicating that the emphasis should be on training, “for really effective, truthful and prayerful mission.” He ruled out (for the time being) re-opening the debate on Resolution 1.10 on human sexuality from the 1998 Lambeth Conference, but emphasised the so-called “listening process” which was to encourage diverse views and experiences of human sexuality being collected and collated under the terms of that resolution, and he said it “will be important to allow time for this to be presented and reflected upon in 2008.”
The traditional plenary sessions and resolutions were reduced, with a bigger number of more focused groups.
Attendance at the Lambeth Conference is by invitation from the Archbishop of Canterbury. When he sent out his invitations to Lambeth 2008, Archbishop Williams reminded bishops: “the Lambeth Conference has no ‘constitution’ or formal powers; it is not a formal Synod or Council of the bishops of the Communion.”
More than 880 bishops were invited to the 2008 Conference. Those notably absent from the invitation list were Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire and Bishop Martyn Minns, now a bishop in the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA).
Bishop Gene Robinson … not invited to Lambeth 2008 (Photograph: Donald Vish)
Bishop Robinson is the first Anglican bishop to exercise the office of diocesan bishop while in an acknowledged same-sex relationship. Many see him as being at the heart of the current controversy in the Anglican Communion.
Martyn Minns is a former rector of Truro Episcopal Church in Fairfax, Virginia, became the leader of the “Convocation of Anglicans in North America,” a splinter group of American Episcopalians. On the other hand, the (Anglican) Church of Nigeria saw him as its own missionary bishop to the US, despite protests from Canterbury and TEC.
Six (out of the total of 38) Anglican Primates decided not to attend the 2008 Lambeth Conference because of their opposition to TEC actions in relation to homosexual clergy and same sex unions. Those Primates represent the Anglican provinces of Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, the Southern Cone of the Americas, Uganda and West Africa. In addition, Archbishop Peter Jensen of Sydney, who is talking about the end of the Anglican Communion, and the other bishops in Sydney in Australia, stayed away. However, the bishops of Uganda insisted that they remain part of the Anglican Communion.
The Global Anglican Future Conference, a meeting of conservative bishops, took place in Jerusalem in June 2008, a month before the Lambeth Conference. Some observers saw this as an “alternative Lambeth” for those who opposed to the consecration of Gene Robinson.
The GAFCON conference primarily attracted Anglican leaders who say they are in impaired communion with much of Anglicanism, including Archbishop Jensen, Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria and other bishops who saw themselves as in “impaired communion” with TEC and the Archbishop of Canterbury, including Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi of Kenya, Archbishop Donald Mtetemela of Tanzania, Presiding Bishop Greg Venables of the Southern Cone, Bishop Don Harvey from Canada, Bishop Bob Duncan of Pittsburgh (now the ACNA Archbishop) and Bishop Martyn Minns from the US, as well as Canon Dr Vinay Samuel of India; and Canon Dr Chris Sugden of England. No bishop from the Church of Ireland attended, although the late Ian Smith of CMS Ireland was there.
The Church leaders who identified with GAFCON claim to represent 30 million of the 55 million “active” Anglicans in the Anglican Communion. However, this figure assumes the support of all Anglicans in central sub-Saharan Africa, and it is calculated on a low estimate of the numbers of Anglicans in the rest of the world. The official figure for Anglicans worldwide is 80 million.
Archbishop Williams said GAFCON did not signal disloyalty, but also said the meeting “would not have any official status as far as the [Anglican] Communion is concerned.”
The conference received significant criticism, even from some conservatives. The former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, said: “If the Jerusalem conference is an alternative to the Lambeth Conference, which I perceive it is, then I think it is regrettable. The irony is that all they are going to do is weaken the Lambeth Conference. They are going to give the liberals a more powerful voice because they are absent and they are going to act as if they are schismatics.”
At the same time, Archbishop Carey once again called on the House of Bishops of TEC to commit itself to the Windsor Report, which sought a moratorium on the consecration of homosexual bishops and blessing of same-sex unions.
The Bishop of Jerusalem, Bishop Suheil Dawani, in whose see the conference was held, said: “I am deeply troubled that this meeting, of which we had no prior knowledge, will import inter-Anglican conflict into our diocese, which seeks to be a place of welcome for all Anglicans. It could also have serious consequences for our on-going ministry of reconciliation in this divided land. Indeed, it could further inflame tensions here. We who minister here know only too well what happens when two sides cease talking to each other. We do not want to see any further dividing walls!”
The Provincial Primate, the Bishop of Cairo, Dr Mouneer Hanna Anis, was concerned about GAFCON taking place in a diocese in his province. He advised the organisers that it was not the right time or place for such a meeting, but his advice was ignored.
Ahead of the meeting, Bishop Suheil Dawani of Jerusalem met the GAFCON organisers, including Archbishop Jensen and Archbishop Akinola, and explained his objections to the conference taking place in his diocese, and his fear for the damage it would do to his local ministry of welcome and reconciliation in the Holy Land. He insisted that the Lambeth Conference was the correct venue for internal discussions. As an alternative, he proposed, “for the sake of making progress in this discussion,” that GAFCON should meet in Cyprus, followed by a “pure pilgrimage” to the Holy Land. Despite those requests, the conference went ahead. And, while the House of Bishops of TEC had apologised in 2007 for their part in the current divisions within Anglicanism, it was evident from the principal participants in GAFCON, and even from the structure of Archbishop George Carey’s remarks, that this apology was not good enough for many conservatives.
To continue the work of GAFCON, many of those involved in it or who supported in set up the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans.
Meanwhile, the number of bodies set up to mediate within the Anglican Communion continues to confound outside observers; parishes and dioceses within TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada continue to secede and to ask for Episcopal oversight from other Anglican Churches, including the Southern Cone, Uganda, Kenya and Nigeria. In England, the Church Society – whose Vice-President is the Irish-born Bishop of Lewes, Wallace Benn, has written to the “Global South” Primates calling on them to break fellowship with the Archbishop of Canterbury because of what they see as his false teaching on homosexuality.
At the end of 2008, theological conservatives estranged from TEC and the Anglican Church in Canada formed a separate province, the Anglican Church in North America. The bishops involved in setting up this new church included Martyn Minns and Robert Duncan.
3, The Anglican Consultative Council:
The Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) is an international assembly of the Anglican Communion, bringing together bishops, priests, deacons and lay members to work on common concerns.
The ACC was formed following a resolution of the 1968 Lambeth Conference which discerned the need for more frequent and more representative contact among the member churches than was possible through a once-a-decade conference of bishops. The constitution of the council was accepted by the general synods or conventions of all the member churches of the Anglican Communion.
The council came into being in 1969, and it is the only one of three collective instruments of communion to have a legal identity and constitution. But is remains consultative, it has no canonical authority, and at times there have been tensions with the other instruments, as when the primates suggested the TEC and Canadian members should absent themselves from the ACC
The Archbishop of Armagh is part of the primates’ meeting, but not the Archbishop of Dublin
4, The Primates’ Meeting:
The Primates (the senior archbishop or presiding bishop) of the autonomous Churches of the Anglican Communion have been meeting every two or three years since 1979 in consultation on theological, social, and international issues, for fellowship and for prayer.
They do not include all archbishops, and they have no constitution. Their meeting is called by the Archbishop of Canterbury for consultation, and there is no consensus yet among the primates about the nature and exercise of primacy.
The fact that the primates at their meetings have no canonical authority to act collectively on decisions may explain the frustrations that contributed to seven primates not attending the latest meeting (2011).
Patrick Comerford with the Archbishop of Canterbury at the Primates’ meeting in Dublin
Part 3: The Anglican Covenant
Ridley Hall Cambridge ... the Ridley Cambridge Draft of the Anglican Covenant was finalised there in April 2009 (Photograph: Sir Cam)
The idea of an Anglican covenant was first put forward in the Windsor Report (pars 113-120), which prosed a Covenant that would become “foundational for the life of the Anglican Communion.” Signatories would agree that “recognition of, and fidelity to, the text of this Covenant, enables mutual recognition and communion.”
Does this means that Provinces that do not sign the Covenant no longer count as part of the Communion? Until now, “mutual recognition and communion” have applied across all Anglican provinces. Would the Covenant mean withdrawing recognition and communion from non-signatories? And, if so, would the Anglican Communion would cease to consist of the 38 provinces and instead consist of the new international structure, composed only of the Provinces that sign the Covenant.
The Anglican Covenant was first proposed by the Windsor Report after the
Diocese of New Hampshire in the US elected an openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson, and the Diocese of new Westminster in Canada approved a same-sex blessing.
Opponents had no legal way to expel TEC or the Canadians. The subsequent debates led to the Windsor Report and eventually to the Anglican Covenant, which is now being debated by Anglican Provinces. The debate raises questions about whether the Covenant can achieve Anglican unity or is redefining the Anglican Communion.
The Windsor Report was produced by a commission chaired by the then Archbishop Robin Eames, was published in October 2004, and was a major topic at the meeting of the Anglican Primates in Dromantine, Co Armagh, six years ago (2005).
The Windsor Report:
● Censured TEC for proceeding with the consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003.
● Censured the Diocese of New Westminster for sanctioning same-sex blessing.
● Criticised bishops in provinces such as Uganda and the Southern Cone for intervening in US dioceses during the crisis.
● Recommended new procedures for dealing with disagreements, including an agreed covenant to restrain unilateral decision-making.
● Recommended the arbitration of disputes by the Archbishop of Canterbury and an advisory panel.
In the responses, it was said the Windsor Report:
● Represented worldwide Anglican consensus, “rooted in scripture, engaging with tradition, while facing new challenges, thought through with as much reason as our collective and prayerful wits could muster” (Bishop Tom Wright in the General Synod of the Church of England, February 2005).
● Relied “too much on law as a solution to our problems. It would mean any province of the Anglican Communion could veto anything [the Church of England General] Synod wanted to do” (Professor David McClean).
● “Is part of a pilgrimage towards healing and reconciliation.” (Archbishop Eames).
The Joint Standing Committee of the Primates and of the Anglican Consultative Council commissioned a study paper on the idea in 2005, Towards an Anglican Covenant.
At its meeting in 2006, the Joint Standing Committee asked the Archbishop of Canterbury to establish a Covenant Design Group to further the project. This group presented its preliminary report to the Primates in Dar es Salaam in 2007.
In Dar es Salaam in Tanzania in 2007, the primates continued this process. Seven primates there were unhappy with what they saw as the failure to censure TEC or even force its withdrawal from the Anglican Communion. On the other hand, there were those within the Anglican Communion who are unhappy with the terms of the invitation issued to the TEC primus. In 2007, the Primates produced a draft covenant for the Anglican Communion – the Nassau Draft – and initial consultations took place in 2007.
A second report – the Saint Andrew’s Draft – took into account many of the submissions to the group. That draft was then sent to the member churches for further reflection, ahead of last year’s Lambeth Conference.
The Saint Andrew’s Draft, drawn up by the Covenant Design Group, proposed that the Archbishop of Canterbury would oversee a mediation process between provinces that disagree on issues such as homosexuality. It suggested that if mediation failed, contentious matters would be referred to the ACC, which would then have the power to expel a province whose policies might threaten a schism. This proposal gave the ACC more prominence in resolving disputes than the Primates, a move which has been opposed by some groups.
The draft was discussed at the Lambeth Conference in 2008 and then sent to the member Churches of the Anglican Communion.
When the Anglican primates met two years ago (2009) in Alexandria, they discussed the draft covenant, and abandoned proposals for the primates to be ex-officio members of the ACC. Interestingly, five African primates who had boycotted Lambeth 2008 were present, and both the Presiding Bishop of TEC and the Primate of Uganda shared a platform with three other primates as they contributed reflections.
The primates also asked the Archbishop of Canterbury to initiate early mediation and talks with all the disaffected Anglican represented in the Common Cause Partnership aimed at seeking reconciliation. When they discussed the draft covenant, the primates reportedly came to “a realisation of what a covenant can and can’t do about sanctions and ‘teeth’.” They agreed that punitive action was less appropriate than a framework with a clear emphasis on koinonia, and a Church’s agreement to accept limitations on its self-autonomy.
Ridley Hall, Cambridge … the Covenant Design Group met there in 2009 and finalised the Anglican Covenant now being debated throughout the Anglican Communion
The Covenant Design Group, which included Archbishop John Neill of Dublin, met again in April 2009 in Ridley Hall, Cambridge, and sent another draft, An Anglican Covenant - Ridley Cambridge Draft Text, for review to the ACC at its meeting in Jamaica that year. The ACC then sent that version of the Covenant to the provinces for their adoption. I expect it will be discussed at the General Synod of the Church of Ireland in Dublin this year (2011), but it may be some years before the General Convention of TEC debates it.
The covenant gives the “Joint Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council and of the Primates’ Meeting, or any body that succeeds it,” the responsibility of overseeing the functioning of the Covenant in the life of the Anglican Communion (4.2.1).
The Joint Standing Committee may make ask any covenanting Church to defer a planned course of action (4.2.2). If a member church refuses to defer a controversial action, the Joint Standing Committee may recommend consequences such as a provisional limitation of participation in, or suspension from, one of the Instruments of Communion (4.2.3).
The committee may suggest that the decision of a covenanting Church continues with an action that is “incompatible with the Covenant” that this impairs or limits the communion between that Church and the other Churches of the Anglican Communion, with consequences for participation in the life of the Anglican Communion and the Instruments of Communion (4.2.5).
Each Church should put into place mechanisms, agencies or institutions to oversee the maintenance of the affirmations and commitments of the Covenant in the life of that Church, and to relate to the Instruments of Communion on matters pertinent to the Covenant (4.2.6).
Any covenanting Church may withdraw from the Covenant. Although withdrawing would not imply an automatic withdrawal from the Instruments of Communion or a repudiation of its Anglican character, it raises questions about the meaning of the Covenant, and of compatibility with its principles (4.3.1).
Last year, Archbishop Williams admitted the covenant is seen in some quarters as trying to create an Anglican executive and “for seeking to create means of exclusion. This is wholly mistaken. There is no supreme court envisaged, and the constitutional liberties of each province are explicitly safeguarded,” he said.
The debate about the Covenant:
But many questions still remain:
Will any intervention by the Joint Standing Committee, now known as the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion, help heal the divisions or simply delay them?
Is the Standing Committee likely to become a new ‘Instrument of Communion’ within the Anglican Communion?
Will we end up with a more-closely bound Anglican Communion or a looser Anglican Federation?
Or will we end up with a two-tier Anglican Communion with two categories of membership?
When Inclusive Church and Modern Church together placed a large advertisement in the Church Times and the Church of England Newspaper, the Revd Dr Andrew Goddard replied with a lengthy defence of the Anglican Covenant, “How and Why IC & MCU Mislead Us On the Anglican Covenant” – running to 15,000 words.
Dr Goddard writes: “The IC/MCU statement ... pays little or no attention to the text of the covenant itself.”
Critics say they judge the covenant in the light of its potential and how it could be used once it was in place.
The most obvious disagreement is whether provinces will be subordinated to the international authorities and threatened with punishment if they do not obey.
Goddard considers this a “highly implausible spin,” although he does not say why. The Windsor Report said it was a stated aim was that a covenant “would make explicit and forceful the loyalty and bonds of affection which govern the relationships between the churches of the Communion” (para 118).
But how can we enforce true “loyalty and bonds of affection.”
Whether or not the text of the Covenant claims to be punitive, whether its framers intend it to be, or whether it can be used in a punitive manner, a province that rejects recommendations can be excluded from the Covenant’s “enhanced” relationship with other provinces and international committees. Is this enhanced relationship not the relationship most provinces already have with each other? Will there be a third tier for the truly disobedient provinces, those nearly, but not quite beyond the pale?
Does the Covenant redefine Anglicanism? Would the Covenant make Anglican Churches more inward-looking?
Every time the Standing Committee upholds an objection it will establish a new ruling, another doctrine Anglicans are expected to believe. Over time, Anglicanism may become less inclusive and more dogmatic.
The 1998 Lambeth Conference declared homosexuality “incompatible with Scripture” and the Windsor Report, faced with threats of schism, took this to mean that there is an Anglican consensus on this matter. On the basis of this presumed “consensus,” it was declared that the North American churches were out of order in consecrating a gay bishop and permitting the blessing same-sex unions.
But Lambeth conference resolutions have never had legislating powers. Yet the Windsor Report treated Resolution 1.10 as binding on Anglicanism – in effect, another component part of Anglican belief to add to the Bible, the Creeds and the Thirty-Nine Articles.
A resolution and a report quickly came to be treated as dogma. Bishop Martin Barahona, the retired Primate of Central America, said: “The Windsor Report, it’s just a report. When did it become like The Bible. The Covenant. Why do we need another covenant? We have the Baptismal Covenant. We have the creeds. What else do we need?”
The bitter controversies of the last decade have indeed been most unfortunate. The presenting issues have been ethical and theological disagreement. Can they be resolved by patient, informed ethical and theological dialogue? Or do they need to be dealt with through what some see as “ecclesiastical politics and threats of exclusion”?
What would the Anglican Covenant do?
Opponents says the covenant would enable objectors to forbid new developments
Each of the 38 Provinces in the Anglican Communion is being asked to sign the Anglican Covenant. By signing the Covenant, a province undertakes not to introduce any new development if another Anglican province anywhere in the world opposes it – unless granted prior permission from a new international body, the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion.
It would redefine Anglicanism.
The Covenant does not mention either the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson or the decisions in the Diocese of New Westminster. But it imposes restrictions on any future church developments that another province opposes.
Would the Covenant establish an authoritarian leadership in the Anglican Communion?
What will happen if the Church of England signs or adopts the Covenant?
Would the Covenant subordinate once-autonomous provinces to a new international body?
The Covenant text states it affects only the relations provinces have with each other, without any effect on their internal governance. However, provinces would be to subordinate a province to the decisions of the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion
If the Covenant is approved, would this mean that every time the Standing Committee upholds an objection it will establish a new ruling, which then becomes another doctrine Anglicans are expected to accept and believe?
Is there a danger that over time Anglicanism will become less inclusive and more dogmatic?
What about those parishes and clergy who disagree, or who simply prefer a more open-minded approach?
Classical Anglican theology seeks to balance scripture, reason and tradition, and this balance allows for new developments. However, the Covenant reduces Anglicanism’s authorities to “the Scriptures, the common standards of faith, and the canon laws of our churches,” making it more difficult to justify changes.
The Covenant would oblige provinces “to act with diligence, care and caution in respect of any action which may provoke controversy, which by its intensity, substance or extent could threaten the unity of the Communion.”
Who would decide which decisions meet these criteria? Would it encourage opponents to exaggerate the strength of their objections?
Does the Covenant subordinate provincial decision-making to the new Standing Committee and the four Instruments of Communion?
Would it hinder mission? Think of how many people say they are put off the Church by our apparent reluctance to change and what they see as the Church’s backward-looking stance on many issues. If the covenant slows down change and development, would we have created an additional hindrance to mission?
Could local ecumenical initiatives become subject to objections from Anglicans in other places who do not know or understand the local situation?
If the Covenant goes ahead, provinces not signing up to it will govern themselves in the same way as now. But signatories may, at worst, no longer count them as part of the Anglican Communion, and at best as second-class members, they would be excluded from the Instruments of Communion, and they would become “Churches in association” with the Anglican Communion.
Opponents of the covenant say that if the Covenant had been there in the past, then over the centuries there have been few changes. Think of how e Church no longer approves of slavery, but does permit divorce and contraception. We have introduced new prayer books and liturgies, approved the ordination of women as priests and bishops, but some provinces still do not have women as priests and bishops. If the Covenant had been in force when these changes were introduced, other provinces would have objected.
Is there a better way to resolve disagreements?
Refusing to allow reason a role, disagreements have often led each side to accuse the other of not being true Christians.
But are disagreements within the Church always a threat to the unity of the Church?
Anglicans traditionally value the role of reason and expect to learn from other people. We have been better at staying united because we have debated our disagreements openly within the Church, without threatening schism, until a time when we reach consensus.
Can differences of opinion be freely and openly debated within the Church, in the interests of seeking truth, without invoking powers of censure or threats of schism?
Part 4: current theological developments
If there is too much emphasis on law and legalism, perhaps we could take a more optimistic approach to the future by suggesting the future of Anglicanism rests not only on these debates, but on the vitality of its worship, spirituality and theology.
There have been exciting developments in Anglican theology recently.
Some important, relevant, recent publications contributing to exciting new developments in Anglican theology include:
Duncan Dormor, Jack McDonald and Jeremy Caddick (eds), Anglicanism the Answer to Modernity (London: Continuum 2003) (right). Duncan Dormor is Dean of Saint John’s College, Cambridge, and this collection of essays is an attempt by eight Cambridge college deans and chaplains to tackle the questions of religious identity that they believe are central to the way that the 21st century unfolds, and they regard their book as a bold attempt to address the future of Anglicanism in a confident way.
Robert Hannaford (editor), The Future of Anglicanism (Canterbury Press/Gracewing, 1996). This is another collection of essays looking at the future of Anglicanism and the serious challenges facing our communion.
Paul Avis, The Identity of Anglicanism: Essentials of Anglican Ecclesiology (London: T&T Clark/Continuum, 2007). This is the most comprehensive contemporary study of Anglicanism today that is both rigorous and provocative, exploring and explaining the identity of Anglicanism.
Mark D. Chapman (editor), The Anglican Covenant: Unity and Diversity in the Anglican Communion (London: Mowbray/Continuum, 2008). This is a collection of essays from a wide range of perspectives on the proposed Anglican Covenant, with a clear examination of the structures of authority within Anglicanism.
Philip Groves (editor), The Anglican Communion and Homosexuality (London: SPCK, 2008). Canon Groves is the Facilitator for the Listening Process at the Anglican Communion Office. He has been a CMS mission partner in Tanzania and is on the council of Saint John’s College, Nottingham. In this book, bishops, clergy and lay people with a diversity of views discuss the topic that has become the focus of divisions within Anglicanism. The book was sent to all bishops ahead of last year’s Lambeth Conference.
Jonathan Clark, The Republic of Heaven (London: SPCK, 2008) ... the chair of Affirming Catholicism makes an honest assessment of his own tradition and challenges that Catholic tradition within the Church of England and within Anglicanism to face the future.
Some questions for discussion:
Alex Wright, in his Why Bother with Theology? (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 2002) – while making strong criticisms of current theology – offers positive criticism and hope for Anglicanism. He singles out, for example, what is known as Radical Orthodoxy. Are you familiar with any of these writers or schools of thinking?
Is the Church of Ireland vital at the moment?
Has the revision of the Book of Common Prayer helped to instil new vitality in parishes and congregations?
Is the current debate in Anglicanism about sexuality or about authority?
What is the appropriate balance between the competing claims for the authority of scripture, tradition and reason?
Do you have a vision for the future of Anglicanism and the Anglican Communion, and the place of the Church of Ireland within that?
Resources and supplemental reading:
The Anglican Communion Covenant - final text.
The Windsor Report.
Paul Avis, The Identity of Anglicanism: Essentials of Anglican Ecclesiology (London: T&T Clark/Continuum, 2007).
Mark D. Chapman (editor), The Anglican Covenant: Unity and Diversity in the Anglican Communion (London: Mowbray/Continuum, 2008).
Jonathan Clark, The Republic of Heaven (London: SPCK, 2008).
Norman Doe, N Anglican Covenant: theological and legal considerations for a global debate (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2008).
Duncan Dormor, Jack McDonald and Jeremy Caddick (eds), Anglicanism, the Answer to Modernity (London: Continuum 2003).
Philip Groves (editor), The Anglican Communion and Homosexuality (London: SPCK, 2008).
Robert Hannaford (editor), The Future of Anglicanism (Canterbury Press/Gracewing, 1996).
Bruce Kaye, An Introduction to World Anglicanism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).
Kevin Ward, A History of Global Anglicanism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).
3.1: State-sponsored reform of the English and Irish churches in the 16th century.
3.2: Contextual understandings (1): the emergence, role and authority of the Book of Common Prayer, the Homilies, Articles of Religion.
Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin. These notes were prepared for a seminar on 3 February 2011 was part of the MTh Year II course, EM8825: Anglican Studies in an Irish context
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