The pronouncements of the Synod of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican) grasping at an alternative worldwide meeting of Anglican bishops, compounding the various pronouncements of plea for alternative primatial oversight, a new province of the Episcopal Church, various disassociations, disgruntlements, and premature ejaculations concerning the thoughts of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the announcement of the election of a bishop for CANA, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Church of Nigeria, have led me to reconsider Alice’s evidence:
‘Let the jury consider their verdict,' the King said, for about the twentieth time that day.
`No, no!' said the Queen. `Sentence first--verdict afterwards.'
`Stuff and nonsense!' said Alice loudly. `The idea of having the sentence first!'
`Hold your tongue!' said the Queen, turning purple.
`I won't!' said Alice.
`Off with her head!' the Queen shouted at the top of her voice. Nobody moved.
`Who cares for you?' said Alice, (she had grown to her full size by this time.) `You're nothing but a pack of cards!'
From Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, CHAPTER XII, ALICE'S EVIDENCE
The Anglican Communion, “a Fellowship within the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, of those duly constituted Dioceses, Provinces, and regional Churches in communion with the See of Canterbury, upholding and propagating the historic Faith and Order as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer,” is a GOOD IDEA.
The Anglican Communion, as envisioned by this mob of dissemblers, pleading for unity but constantly disassociating themselves from so called revisionists, and thereby from The Episcopal Church as constituted in General Convention, becomes a Covenant. Anglicanism has never presented itself as a confessional community, and the Anglican Communion has understood itself not as a covenant community, but a fellowship of churches. The Anglican Communion as a covenanting community is A BAD IDEA.
And the threats that The Episcopal Church might not be invited to Lambeth, might not have a “seat at the table,” and might not be part of the Anglican Communion meeting at Lambeth or in Alexandria or Lagos, or wherever, are all the threats in an unreal dream, the dream of a demanding, commanding, organized judgmental agency of God’s will, mislabeled “The Anglican Communion.” And so it is time to say, with Alice, “You're nothing but a pack of cards!”
The notion of a covenant based communion, is prefigured in the Constitution of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican), where communion is among those duly constituted Dioceses, Provinces, and regional Churches “that hold and maintain the Historic Faith, Doctrine, Sacrament and Discipline of the one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church as the Lord has commanded in His holy word and as the same are received as taught in the Book of Common Prayer and the ordinal of 1662 and in the Thirty-Nine Article of Religion.” Other examples of such covenants include these elements and sometimes include other ideas - the reference to “God’s word plainly written,” or the “faith once delivered to the saints” favored by the realignment folk, the notion of “greater consensus” and “autonomy in communion” favored by some of the writers of the Windsor Report, and seemingly by Lambeth Palace, and even the notion, favored by almost everyone until they think about it, that because Jesus prayed for the unity of his followers we are commanded to place unity of the Anglican Communion above mission as member churches in the Anglican Communion.
But be assured, these various covenant schemes finally come to rest in a single reality: the covenants proposed are about churches, but will be made among, and mostly serve, heads of ecclesial state – Primates, Presiding Bishops, Archbishops and their retinues. They all rest their case on one basic premise: that unity among the churches morally trumps autonomy every time. And a covenant based communion structure will lead, without a shadow of doubt, to interference in the election of bishops, in the determination of the content of prayer books, in the ordination of persons in every order “whose manner of life” bothers some other part of the covenanted community, in the promulgation of rules, laws, codicils and patterns of behavior that will finally be destructive of provincial autonomy. This encroachment is already underway.
The Episcopal Church has been presented with the sentence first: that we must repent, cease and desist from various actions. The verdict was never reached, for the court was never in session. The Lambeth Commission was not such a court, the Primates are not such a court. It was at the Anglican Consultative Council meeting that The Episcopal Church was invited to give testimony. It did so in the form of the statement “To Set our Hope in Christ.” It was dismissed out of hand. But even that was not a court of verdict, for the ACC is precisely consultative. More recently a small advisory group to the Archbishop of Canterbury is weighing the efforts of the General Convention. We don’t know who these people are and can only trust that they have our interests at heart. But we will be judged by no peers, for in secret chambers there are no peers.
Now the Church of Nigeria has taken upon itself to proclaim the sentence, “off with their heads,” and like the Queen of Hearts, the list of potential decapitated grows longer and longer. Now it includes, “ECUSA, Canada, England and their allies.” But of course the Archbishop of Nigeria has no more power than any other foreign bishop, no more than say, the Archbishop of Canterbury. At least Canterbury understands this. All of this “off with their heads” business is meant to instill fear. And it almost succeeds. Certainly there was at General Convention some fear concerning being cast out into outer darkness, a fear closely related to decapitation.
Our Presiding Bishop Elect, Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, in her first sermon to General Convention called upon the Church to cast out such fear. She said,
“Our invitation, both in the last work of this Convention, and as we go out into the world, is to lay down our fear and love the world. Lay down our sword and shield, and seek out the image of God's beloved in the people we find it hardest to love. Lay down our narrow self-interest, and heal the hurting and fill the hungry and set the prisoners free. Lay down our need for power and control, and bow to the image of God's beloved in the weakest, the poorest, and the most excluded. We children can continue to squabble over the inheritance. Or we can claim our name and heritage as God's beloveds and share that name, beloved, with the whole world.”
Powerful words, more powerful than any I can make. I can only with Alice shout out to the stacked deck of accusers, “You're nothing but a pack of cards!” Still, it casts out fear to finally witness to name the players for what they are and to move on.
Urban T. Holmes, closes his book, “What is Anglicanism?” with the following:
“It is possible for the Christian to refuse to see the implications of Christ for his or her manner of living. It is a blasphemy to suggest that this is a matter of indifference and the prophet who challenges him is meddling in what is not of his or her business. There is nothing outside God’s business. If what the prophet says is not of God, ultimately that is the prophet’s problem. God will not be without his witnesses. God speaks and we as Christians must discern what he says to us now, in this place…
Ultimately the authenticity of faith and belief is measured at the bar of justice. All religious questions merge into the one query: What shall we do? There is an inevitable course to our religious profession, which can be aborted only by denying its Lord. That course leads to living in the world as God sees the world. We can debate the trivial points, but the vision is largely clear. To love God is to relieve the burden of all who suffer. The rest is a question of tactics.” (Morehouse Barlow, 1982, pg.95)
Asserting that we love God makes us party to the incarnation of God’s love for the world. If we would be one with God we must attend to God’s beloved, the people of the world and the world itself. In this context, The Episcopal Church need not then worry about whether or not it are at one with the State, or at one with the fellowship of Churches that constitutes the Anglican Communion, for we stake our claim on God’s confidence in us as the provisional and often incomplete incarnation of God’s care for and relief of the suffering, and that “God will not be without his witnesses.” Either we will do it, some other church will, or perhaps even the great mass of Christians who could not care less how we solve the question of who is in or out of the Anglican Communion will do it, but God will have witness to God’s love for the world.
That being the case, we in The Episcopal Church ought to rejoice in our autonomy, our autonomy from finally being bound by the noise of a pack of cards. While we in The Episcopal Church have spent a great deal of time and energy of late on the effort to find ways to remain in communion with other member churches of the Anglican Communion in spite of differences, some quite deep, it is time to move on.
Much of this effort to maintain the “highest level of communion possible” is commendable, since it is clear that we often find in such connections both the realities of the burdens others carry and the means of assisting in relief. Yet it has also become clear that the object of our efforts, which of Christian necessity ought be focused on the love of God and the relief of the burden of all who suffer, has been slighted in the current struggle.
It is time for The Episcopal Church to discern once again what God is saying to us and to recapture the vision that “to love God is to relieve the burden of all who suffer.” It is time for us to join the Presiding Bishop Elect who said,
“If you and I are going to grow in all things into Christ, if we're going to grow up into the full stature of Christ, if we are going to become the blessed ones God called us to be while we were still in our mothers' wombs, our growing will need to be rooted in a soil of internal peace. We'll have to claim the confidence of souls planted in the overwhelming love of God, a love so abundant, so profligate, given with such unwillingness to count the cost, that we, too, are caught up into a similar abandonment.”
Here is what I envision, concerning that growing in the love of God, in terms of the relation between the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.
- We will or will not be invited to Lambeth. That is not in our control, but we may pray for good will and the opportunity for our bishops to meet with other bishops throughout the world. If any of our bishops are not invited, I would hope the integrity of the house would insist that no bishops from The Episcopal Church be invited. We need not fear, God will feed us wherever we are.
- We ought not shape or form our mission with the end of getting ourselves invited. Those ten days do not determine our mission or our engagement with Anglican friends throughout the world.
- We will hope to be part of the discussions about the future form of the Anglican Communion. I hope we will propose an alternative to covenant, namely a “compact,” whose purpose it is to agree on the ways and means of better addressing the suffering of the world, witnessing to God’s love for all people, and bringing the Good News of God’s renewal and redemption of all creation in Jesus Christ.
- We ought to continue to insist on our autonomy and on the respect of jurisdictions of the various dioceses of The Episcopal Church.
- We ought to come to every international Anglican Communion meeting with that autonomy as a sign of our particular ministry in the wider Church, neither proclaiming it as a standard nor apologizing for it as peculiar. We must come as we are, without one plea.
About the Episcopal Church and its internal divisions:
- It is time for members of this church to cease using “disassociation” as a form of protest. Protest is absolutely essential to the life of this more or less open system of governance. The protest against bad governance is the beginning of reform. It is a scandal, for example, that bishops in particular are given to conflict avoidance, when what is needed is conflict engaged. There protest and dissent are vital. But protest and dissent take place within the community and derive their power from the presence of those who dissent with their adversaries.
- The honoring of diocesan jurisdictional boundaries needs to be maintained.
- DEPO, delegated Episcopal pastoral oversight, must be understood as concerning Episcopal oversight; that same principle in no way ought to apply to Primatial oversight. The Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church is Primate, Chief Pastor and Presiding Bishop of this Church, and if someone can’t abide the reality of who is in place they can either live in patience until a new Presiding Bishop is elected, attempt to have that person removed by canons of this Church, or they can leave.
- DEPO ought not be considered a solution to conflict resolution or a means of conflict avoidance, but rather as a temporary means of providing pastoral care.
- The notion of a tenth province that is not area specific but rather theology specific is abhorrent to the vision of a church in which “all come to me.” In no way ought this be considered a viable alternative for the future life of The Episcopal Church.
- The Episcopal Church, through the Presiding Bishop and Executive Council, ought to be clear that it intends to turn its fact to the primary tasks of proclaiming the Good News and witnessing to the love of God by working to relieve the burden of all who suffer.
Well, there it is: a beginning agenda on the way to a vision.
It is Independence Day and I believe we must declare our independence from fear and distraction from God’s call to us.
In the Declaration of Independence it says this,
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
We in the United States live in a compact with one another mediated by the democratic proposition that the provisional decisions made in the moment will suffice or be perfected in the future if, and only if, we hold certain truths to be self-evident. We are better at this sometimes than at others.
I believe as we become more sure of who we are as The Episcopal Church after all this struggle, we too will be better equipped to respond to the unalienable rights with which all God’s children are endowed, and the compact among dioceses which we call The Episcopal Church will endure. It may be in its way a light to the world, as well as an occasional puzzlement.
The Covenant we have in baptism calls each of us into community as church. The covenant is personal, but universal in application. The Church is universal, but local in its forms of governance and the compacts it makes for the purpose of mission. We need not fear, we are not cut off from our place in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church by the compacts we do or do not make for mission’s sake. But we stand in judgment if we do not make compact to engage the world and attend to the call to love the world in God’s name.
We are engrafted in that mission from our baptism, and if we take the baptismal covenant seriously, “everything else is tactics.”
To this sort of compact perhaps we can “mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”