Followup on Communion and Hierarchy, my article "Why direct sign on..," etc.

The Anglican Communion Institute (ACI) has published a long detailed analysis of my article "Why direct diocesan sign-on now to the Covenant is a bad idea." It is unclear who the author is. The ACI pages simply posts it as, "More On Communion And Hierarchy" without an author listed. Anglican Mainstream picked it up with Dr. Philip Turner listed as author. The Covenant picked it up under the by-line Fr. Matthew Oliver. Well, one way or another not bad coverage on both sides of the pond.

Whoever wrote it did a detailed analysis of my paper. I am grateful the author took the time. There are several corrections and comments I would like to make.

(i) The author writes, " He has made clear the full scope of the widespread view among TEC’s present leadership that the Archbishop of Canterbury’s observation about the possibility of covenant ratification on the part of dioceses is both harmful and unhelpful." And later, "... the views Fr. Harris expresses, views he shares with the Presiding Bishop and much of the present leadership of our church, are views that go against its constitution and change, indeed almost reverse, the way in which TEC has understood itself since its foundation." The author seems to believe that my position is that of "TEC's present leadership" and that these are views I share "with the Presiding Bishop and much of the present leadership of our church." I suppose this is a complement, in that I greatly admire the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies and a number of the progressive bishops and deputies in TEC. But to be fair to them and to the author, my views on Preludium are in no wise to be considered those of the leadership of TEC. These are my views here, for what they are worth, and I would be glad if they were shared by others. I don't assume it and neither should the author.

(ii) The author states "Let it be noted first that the chief concern of those individual dioceses that might want to ratify the covenant is not, contra Fr. Harris, a desire to leave TEC for another jurisdiction." Granted. I believe that a number of the Communion Partners are quite sincere in their desire to be both part of TEC and part of the Anglican Communion. It is a desire I share, although I do not share the belief that independent ratification of the covenant is the way to go.

The author next states, " Neither is it a desire to create an international form of governance." I disagree.

That is precisely what I am arguing is at stake, quite independent of desire. I believe strongly however that at least some of the Communion Partners are quite up for that.

The author then gets to the crux of the matter: "The chief concern is, given the fact that TEC has provisionally rejected the Covenant by repudiating the Communion teaching the Covenant requires and given that is unlikely that TEC will ratify a covenant that places limitations on the course of action taken at this past General Convention, it is more than likely that TEC’s relation with the Instruments of Communion and a large majority of Anglican Provinces will be compromised."

The whole of the ACI paper's argument rests on the "fact" "that TEC has provisionally rejected the Covenant..." I believe that is not a fact, but a belief, and one that I hope is not fully founded in reality. I believe TEC has not at all "provisionally rejected the Covenant." Rather, in the transformation of D020, the "Martin" resolution, we rejected the "provisional commitment" to the Anglican Covenant, and replaced that language with the commendation "That dioceses and congregations be invited to consider the Anglican Covenant proposed draft as a document to inform their understanding of and commitment to our common life in the Anglican Communion."

At each juncture TEC has made ample provision for diocese, bishops, standing committees, etc, to comment on the development of the Covenant and through Executive Council we have been diligent in referring the comments we received to the Anglican Communion Office and to the Covenant Design Group. That continues into what appears to be the final cycle prior to the publication of the final Draft of the Anglican Covenant, which will then be sent to the Churches of the Anglican Communion.

TEC has not "provisionally rejected" the Covenant. I have no idea whether or not the complete text will be received, adopted and signed on to at the next General Convention. The ACI paper assumes the worse, based in part on the writer's understanding of resolutions passed at General Convention that seem to lift the restraints on actions that would be contrary to the requirement of Draft Covenant 3.2.5, "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 and the effectiveness or credibility of its mission."

ACI's argument seems to be that, given our actions, we have indeed provisionally rejected the Anglican Covenant. That point is only valid, of course, if we have not acted "with diligence, care and caution in respect of any action which may provoke controversy..." The argument is raised again and again that insufficient theological work and conversation has taken place regarding a theology of blessing, of sexuality, of ordination, etc., to back a claim that such actions as those taken or contemplated by TEC are warranted. The claim is there has been a lack of due diligence, care and caution. Many of us believe that we have been diligent, careful and cautious and that our actions are reasonable within the core beliefs, values and community expectations of this Church and that our expression in these actions can be commended, even to those who do not agree, as our response to God's call to this Church.

So the ACI paper presents its claim, that of TEC's "provisional rejection." Given that claim it is clearer just why the ACI paper wants to move ahead with diocesan buy-in to the Covenant. I do not argue, or at least I try not to argue, that there is any constitutional or canonical reason why dioceses cannot sign-on to the Anglican Covenant. My argument is that the Anglican Communion, through its "instruments" ought to accept notification not by dioceses but by the province, which is a national or regional church.

The ACI paper believes that effectively TEC as a Church has already jumped ahead and provisionally rejected the Covenant and will do so in fact at the next General Convention. I am not convinced. The next three years will provide ample time for discussion and it may well be that the Anglican Covenant, if it is seen not to require changes in our Canons or Constitution, will find a majority vote in both houses next time we meet. There are large parts of the existing draft that I find perfectly acceptable, others not. Perhaps there will be some changes in interpretation of existing final sections and some changes in conceptual and verbal forms of the last section. Perhaps over the three years we will all step back from thinking the worse of the whole thing and begin to thing of it in positive ways. Then again, maybe not.

As someone who has spent considerable time working with others on the response to the Windsor Report, and the successive drafts of the Covenant, and as (I suppose) a progressive, I can attest to the care with which the text is being received and discussed. TEC has probably done more work examining this document than most other Churches in the Communion and engaged more lay and clergy input than most other Churches. We are taking the matter seriously.

(iii) The author of the ACI papers holds out an interesting accusation; "Those who hold power have acted decisively in ways founded on crude majoritarian vote rather than consensus." "Crude majoritarian vote" is certainly one way to describe the votes taken at the close of extensive debate, hearings, legislative working group efforts and even committee of the whole actions. Another way is to describe it as a vote taken at the close of a broad effort to produce a resolution that a large majority could affirm. The votes of D020, D025 and C056 were all taken in both houses after extensive workup so that the final form would gather a rather broad affirmation. It was in no way a "crude majoritarian vote" but rather the large majority voting on broadly acceptable resolutions.

(iv) There is one place where the ACI paper simply misreads what I said, or perhaps I needed to say it better. The author says, "To think that six or seven hundred dioceses from around the Communion would be part of provinces that did not ratify the Covenant is way beyond the bounds of credibility." The author is right. I was suggesting in fact that six or seven hundred dioceses would buy-on individually and be counted among the signers of the Covenant. My sense was that perhaps two hundred might not. The point was that whichever way it goes, if a sizeable majority of the dioceses of the Anglican Communion as currently constituted were to sign on, and the remaining did not, the direct decisions by one or the other of the instruments of unity would have to be invoked in a wide range of cases to determine who was in and who was out.

Remember, it is not who signs on to the Covenant that alone counts, it is who abides by the Covenant. The instruments might determine that TEC has not abided by the Covenant, but does it want to have to decide if the Diocese of Delaware (my diocese) has?

(v) The author of the ACI paper closes by stating, "Our founders were careful to define TEC in relation to the doctrine and worship of the Church of England. Latterly that definition changed to communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury and membership in the Anglican Communion. Both definitions place The Episcopal Church within a communion of churches, the whole of which is more fundamental to Christian identity than its national expression. We do not know if it is any longer possible to carry on a meaningful discussion of this crucial issue, but we are grateful to Fr. Harris for making an attempt."

They might also remember that "our founders" were careful to say that "...when in the course of Divine Providence, these American States became independent with respect to civil government, their ecclesiastical independence was necessarily included; and the different religious denominations of Christians in these States were left at full and equal liberty to model and organize their respective Churches, and forms of worship, and discipline, in such manner as they might judge most convenient for their future prosperity; consistently with the constitution and laws of their country." (BCP, Preface pg 10)

Of course they were set on maintaining consistency of doctrine and worship with the CofE. But they understood TEC to be a "religious denomination of Christians in thee States." Our consistency with the doctrine and worship of the CofE was there, but so was the right to judge "most convenient for their future prosperity" the ways in which that continued legacy of the CofE was to be maintained.

The ACI article closes on a note of despair, wondering if it is even useful to have these exchanges. I think so. I learned, for example, that the ACI writer believes TEC has "provisionally rejected" the Covenant. I believe the writer to be wrong, but it makes clearer the contention that dioceses ought then to declare themselves for the Covenant at the earliest point, not at a later one. I also learned that the ACI writer is at least consistent with fellow ACI writers in maintaining that "our primary objection to Fr. Harris’ analysis, with its implicit proposal that dioceses are subject in a final sense to the determinations of a national governing body. We have on numerous occasions shown that, within TEC, there is no constitutional basis for this claim. According to its constitution, as a national church, TEC is not hierarchical. It is hierarchical in a constitutional sense only at the diocesan level."

The "numerous occasions" include of course the two rather long articles on the matter that have received considerable attention in the past. These articles are, in my mind, not persuasive. The nearest we can come to agreement on this is that it is hierarchical in ways considerably different from, say, the Church of England.

At any rate, I rather hope ACI writers continue to engage the questions raised. No one else may learn much from it all, but I have learned a bit. Still, in the end, the matter is this: As it stands diocesan decision to be Anglican Covenant compliant is, like the desire to be Windsor Compliant, a early declaration of how a diocese will vote later. Those who declare themselves are wanting something - in this case inclusion in the Anglican Communion inner circle, the "first track." As the Church of England is finding out itself these days, two tracks do not tell us much, except that perhaps one makes many stops and the other is express. But which is which?


  1. Jay in the Dio. of Springfield, IL5/8/09 9:17 AM

    ACI: 'We have on numerous occasions shown that, within TEC, there is no constitutional basis for this claim. According to its constitution, as a national church, TEC is not hierarchical. It is hierarchical in a constitutional sense only at the diocesan level.'

    I'm not a canon lawyer, so please help me out here. If TEC is NOT hierarchical at a national level, but only on a diocesan level, then why do TEC (and yes, Network) Bishops and diocesan Standing Committees participate in the consent process - consenting or not consenting to the election of any other diocese's bishop?

    If the ACI view were reality, would not a diocese simply "announce" the election of its bishop-elect? End of story.

  2. "Those who hold power have acted decisively in ways founded on crude majoritarian vote rather than consensus."

    Well, dang, my constitutional law professors were all misinformed: A "consensus" is not the will of the majority. How about that. We better start re-writing all the dictionaries.

  3. Fr. Harris
    1. Given this statement from the Archbishop of Canterbury it is clear that TEC will not be able to join in any Anglican Covenant without instituting genuinely the moritoria as originally requested by Windsor which would require a denial of the actions just taken in D025 and C056.
    "However, a realistic assessment of what Convention has resolved does not suggest that it will repair the broken bridges into the life of other Anglican provinces; very serious anxieties have already been expressed. The repeated request for moratoria on the election of partnered gay clergy as bishops and on liturgical recognition of same-sex partnerships has clearly not found universal favour"

    2. You sight the convention's action in the passage of D020 as evidence that the Covenant has not been 'provisionally rejected' yet even it does not commit TEC to taking a vote on the actual Covenant when it is finalized, but only to draft legislation to respond to it.
    "Resolved, That Executive Council prepare a report to the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church that includes draft legislation concerning this Church's response to an Anglican Covenant."

    3. Given the actions of the convention I beleive it would be nothing more than wishful thinking to suggest that there is not already a de facto rejection of any Anglican Covenant that includes possible self imposed limits on actions for the sake of restoring and maintaining full communion among the provinces of the Anglican Communion.

    Yes, it is possible that TEC will reverse 30 years of its current direction, but no one is expecting that nor would it be reasonable to suggest that anyone at ACI or elsewhere should act on that remote possibility.

  4. Funny how that side are all in favor of majority rules (when PropH8 passes) but all opposed (when exclusion is voted down).

    `When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.'

    `The question is,' said Alice, `whether you can make words mean so many different things.'

    `The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, `which is to be master -- that's all.'

  5. To say that this is not a hierarchical church except within each diocese means that General Convention and the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church have no authority within my own diocese, and so I am thus not bound to them. That is patently false. In every set of diocesan canons I've seen, there is always a clause which states that if the diocesan canons conflict with the national canons, the national canons take precedence.

    I continue to be amazed over and over again that in the same breath that conservatives insist that TEC is not a hierarchical church they also insist on creating a hierarchical Anglican Church out of the Anglican Communion. If one wants a worldwide church rather than a worldwide communion, I'm sure the Roman Catholics would love to have you...

  6. ACI statements entail input from several authors, in the US, UK and Canada. Fr Matthew Olver is a Priest at Church of the Incarnation in Dallas and a contributor to the covenant-communion website.

    As for your citing draft requirement 3.2.5. Since the request was made by the Communion, it will be the Communion which will interpret compliance/rejection.ACI does not believe that “caution” was exercised at all, and it furthermore does not believe that those who embrace these innovations understand that they need to exercise caution at all. The time for that, we understand from them, is over; restraint was not really appropriate anyway, and now that time is past. Is this really in doubt?

    So what if your premise is, as we believe, wrong? What if the move forward has been undertaken regardless of the threat to Communion and its unity, out of a sense of justice and rights? What if proponents of the new sexual ethic truly want to be a church on its own, vis-à-vis a Covenant or Windsor? Interdependence in a Communion is precisely what is being rejected in favor of autonomy and a federal association. The nominations in LA and MN make that abundantly clear. So again, what if your premise is flawed?

    It is because of this that ACI speaks of provisional rejection. What we do not understand is why supposedly liberal Christians wish to hold hostage to their way of thinking those who prefer interdependence in Communion. On logical terms, why must all be bound to go the way of autonomy and a national denomination? Why do you not see that some truly wish to belong to a catholic church and an Anglican Communion via a covenant, instead of being lumped with those whose understanding and hopes are very different? That some of us believe that in so doing we are upholding the constitution of this church? No one is contesting that your way of being an Episcopalian is winning out in the General Convention voting. What we do not understand is why you don’t declare that this entails an autonomous church, and a way of being Anglican the proposed covenant does not embrace, and then let those who wish to embrace this do so? Surely that is congruent with the liberal position.

    What remains terribly confused for those wishing to embrace a covenant of interdependence is your insistence on saying nothing has changed, that there has been no rejection. that we are studying the covenant, etc., but insisting at the same time that the American Episcopal way is a way of autonomy and independent action? If this be so, why not declare it and let those who wish to be Episcopalians in Communion do so?

    In putting it this way, we leave to the side whether dioceses have the right to sign a covenant anyway, and that there is no constitutional let or hindrance against this. What remains unclear is your failure simply to embrace the position you hold, with integrity, and acknowledge that the life in Communion envisioned by a covenant would be an infringement on goals and hopes central to your way of being a Christian? To many this just seems to be temporizing, or strategy, or prevarication. Certainly to people in Integrity a covenant way of living in Communion is a false way and to be rejected as unjust. Draft requirements like 3.2.5 are wrong, and ought not to be part of the Christian way of justice. They are not to be complied with or defended, and indeed their very logic is to be rejected. It is confusing how you could read this in any other way.

    (On the matter of consents, referred to above – the consent process is exactly a process entailing bishops, and that is how the determination is made. General Convention or ‘the national church’ does not vote. We are an Episcopal Church in an Anglican Communion, not a General Convention Church, or a national denomination in a global federation, like the Lutheran World Federation. Though that is what some are trying to create. Re: becoming a RC. No, Anglicans are catholic and apostolic Christians in a Communion. RCs understand that difference, even while we are beginning to forget it).

  7. Thanks for posting my comment. It was unclear what was happening so ACI simply decided it was better to join the matter in a context where greater possibility of exposure was assured, and discussion, than here (where often comments are very few in number). So ACI has offered a fuller comment than the one above. I see that some blogs have now picked this up. The issues are very important.



OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.