In the next few days a position paper signed by a number of bishops connected to the "Communion Partners" bishops group will be published, in all likelihood by the Anglican Communion Institute. It will challenge the notion that dioceses of TEC are part of TEC in any other way except by voluntary association, and that therefore they are free to independently subscribe to the Anglican Covenant and maintain pastoral visitation and oversight independent of any agreement with TEC or its leadership. At least that is the conclusion to be reached from a thread of emails send to Preludium today (April 21).
The document is sure to be a best seller in the Anglican blogsphere. It remains to be seen if it has any depth. The potential signatories to this letter include the majority of the "Communion Partner" bishops. There may be as many as ten signers.
The Communion Partners bishops are those who wish to disavow TEC leadership but will stay in TEC and have determined that individual dioceses in the Episcopal Church might sign on to the Anglican Covenant (in its apparently final draft) and thereby establish their purity of relationship with the Anglican Communion in spite of what they see as the drift of The Episcopal Church and its leadership away from "orthodox" belief.
The Communion Partners take as their beginning point of reference the comment made some time ago by the Archbishop of Canterbury that dioceses might well be able to sign the Covenant even if the Province to which they belonged did not. There is some thought that the Archbishop of Canterbury regrets ever having said that. But there it is, and the Communion Partners have grabbed on to it.
The second point of reference is the belief that Episcopal Church polity legitimately arises out of the autonomy of dioceses who gather in voluntary association at The Episcopal Church in General Convention. In this view it is the diocese and not The Episcopal Church that is the "basic unit" of The Episcopal Church. In this argument TEC is not a metropolitical entity, but rather a free association of dioceses.
The principal legal brief for this position has been offered by Mr. McCall whose credentials as a lawyer seem established, but whose expertise as a canon lawyer are totally untested, save by inclusion in the community of writers and advisers in the Anglican Communion Institute roster.
That roster includes the following: The Rev’d Professor Christopher Seitz, The Very Rev’d Dr Philip W. Turner III , The Rev’d Dr Ephraim Radner, The Rev’d Dr Andrew Goddard, The Rev’d Dr. Russell J. Levenson, The Rt. Rev’d Anthony Burton, The Rt. Rev’d William Frey, The Most Rev’d Drexel Wellington Gomez, The Rt Rev’d John W. Howe, The Rt. Rev’d Bruce MacPherson, The Rt Rev’d Edward L. Salmon, Jr, The Rt Revd Michael Scott-Joynt, The Rt Rev’d James M. Stanton , The Rev’d Frank Fuller, The Rev’d Dr. Charles D. Alley, Mark McCall, Esq., Professor Russell Reno, Mrs Elizabeth Cooper.
The American Bishops on this roster, a number of the priests on the roster, and Mr. McCall are addressed or mentioned in the email exchanges concerning the lead up to the publication of this paper.
The paper is purported to state unequivocally that the basic unit of The Episcopal Church is the diocese and that TEC is a voluntary organization. It will maintain that TEC has misread, misunderstood or misapplied the provisions of the canons of the church. It will contend that dioceses are enabled to independently relate to the Anglican Communion by individual sign up with the Anglican Covenant and are able to establish their independence from what they view as a heretical and divisive Episcopal Church leadership without having to leave TEC for ACNA.
Additionally the paper will also support the possibility that individual parishes may seek out Pastoral Visitors as a way to continue as part of TEC in a structural way without having to deal with a bishop who is understood as revisionist. They would be covenant affirming by way of a Pastoral Visitor.
One of the email exchanges addressed the need of parish / priest connection to a communion affirming diocese or bishop. "At issue here is said parish understanding that they have some connective tissue to a covenant their Diocesan may wish to avoid, without challenging the Diocesan as to his authority, and so underscoring a way to remain in TEC and not leave for ACNA but also to affirm Communion life and differentiation.
But also, hence, the importance of the Pastoral Visitors. They need to come into play in time as independent of deal-making and/or mild forms of extortion."
One of the email writers opines that the Presiding Bishop need not be consulted in any of this - on conflicts on either a diocesan or parochial level or in more general terms. Concerning the suggestion that the Communion Partner bishops might meet with the Presiding Bishop, he responds,
"I am not persuaded there is any value in visiting the PB unless we have gone down this road first. She does not have the authority, and should not be given it, to endorse or be asked to approve of things like this, and we need to avoid giving it to her or continually to reinforce a perception she and her agents are cultivating that she is a metropolitan. Hence, if we were to pay a visit in time, for my part at least, it would be to a) indicate that we believe in the covenant and its ultimate success as a reality, and in b) the PV idea as an extension of CP work, and so how does she view the situation in the light of a) and b) and her public work of litigation and of forcing only two options: leave and join ACNA or buckle under her hierarchy novelty."
He later writes,
"But I would be loathe to negotiate a single thing with her. The tide, in my view, is not running in her direction, and we must in all things avoid the idea that she is giving gifts or has any to give. Indeed, this is what is at issue in the McCall/ACI work. My instinct--for what it is worth--is to declare victory and work from that premise, and so to put some decent facts on the ground of our own. We have not done that yet and we need to in CO, and then in other places.
The ACI statement with ten or so signatories will signal where our principles in this matter are by what logic we are defending the polity of this Church and so of this Church in Communion."
The McCall/ ACI work is the paper to be published, the signers are the Communion Partner bishops, or at least some of them, and the purpose appears to be to:
(i) declare victory - the right to independently sign on to the Anglican Covenant and thereby keep their status as members in good standing in the Communion, (ii) to deny that the Presiding Bishop or the leadership of TEC have any metropolitical authority, or any authority at all for that matter, and (iii) to present themselves as a "middle way" between leaving and joining the Anglican Church in North America or staying in TEC whose revisionism will lead to denying the Anglican Covenant.
Too bad that (i) the new revised Anglican Covenant Draft does not offer the option for individual dioceses to sign on to the Covenant, but rather asks for the Churches of the Anglican Communion to do so; (ii) The Presiding Bishop's authority does not have to be completely metropolitical in order to have meaning; and (iii) they are not the middle way but rather a conservative thread in TEC that needs to be honored but not coddled.
The paper will come forward from the head of that regularly vocal Zeus, the Anglican Communion Institute, will make the rounds and be quietly retired. Meanwhile we will continue to ask just why Mr. Mark McCall carries weight as a canon lawyer in the Episcopal Church, just why the signers of this letter believe that ignoring the Presiding Bishop is a really good idea, and just who the Anglican Communion Institute represents, save four primary writers and a committee.