9/14/2009

The Skunk is on the Table: We will have to change the Constitution of The Episcopal Church in order to sign the Anglican Covenant.

There are those across the spectrum in the Episcopal Church (or is there more than one spectrum? Spectra?) who believe the Anglican Covenant (AC) is dead in the water. I am not among them.

Some realignment folk believe the actions of General Convention 2009 deny the moratoria that are the litmus test of actual compliance with the AC. They see no way that General Convention could pass it, if not for content, then as a matter of honesty.


Some progressives see the AC as so flawed as to be impossible to sign in good conscience if not because of the moratoria assumed within it, for the not so hidden power issues that are raised, for it turns out that interdependence is fostered by a system in which all are dependent on some central body for clarity about common beliefs or standards.

But it falls to Fr. Dan Martins to inadvertently point us to the question, "Does signing the Anglican Covenant require a change in the Constitution or Canons of The Episcopal Church?"
In his blog posting, An Emerging Secondary Infection Fr. Martins asserts what I too believe to be true: "There is no "Episcopal or Anglican" disjunction. There is only the "Episcopal and Anglican" conjunction."

His article is otherwise flawed in a variety of ways too serious to be taken on here.
B
ut one thing struck me in particular, his statement that,

"So those who assert the unbounded autonomy of the Episcopal Church are mistaken. According to our own constitution (I speak as an Episcopalian), the moment we cease to be in full communion with Canterbury, we have ceased to be who we are. We cannot cast off our Anglican identity without simultaneously casting off our Episcopal identity."

This business about the implication in the Preamble that the Episcopal Church has its identity only by way of the Anglican Communion is flawed in two ways.
(i) The Preamble to the Constitution of TEC is descriptive, not proscriptive, that is it states the fact - we are a constituent member of the Anglican Communion as defined in what follows in that Preamble. Until the 1960's there was no mention at all of the Anglican Communion in the Constitution, and for that matter no preamble. It was placed there to describe, not to suggest that we would not be the Episcopal Church if we
did not belong to the Anglican Communion.
(ii) Being a member of the Anglican Communion and being Anglican are not the same thing. We know that in may ways, among them being the long time existence of churches who lay claim to the heritage and even the episcopal ordination of the Church of England but are not in communion with Canterbury or part of the ACC.

Martins is much too facile with the both / and language. The situation is more likely that as a fact The Episcopal Church is a member Church of the Anglican Communion, and also Anglican in its core understanding of its heritage and life. It is A and B and C.

But Martins drew my attention to a problem we must face: the problem of the Preamble, the skunk on the table.

The Preamble states the fact of TEC as a constituent member of the Anglican Communion. That statement is true. If it were to be false in some future setting, we would have to change the Preamble.


At some time in the near future I believe the ACC and the Primates will be asked to make the "schedule" of member churches conform to the schedule of those who have signed the Anglican Covenant. The other "Instruments of Communion" would likewise use the Anglican Covenant as a touchstone for questions of inclusion.

Assuming that, consider the following:
Suppose that in three years TEC DOES sign on to the Anglican Covenant. Then we are not a constituent member of the Anglican Communion, as such, but a member of the Anglican Communion by virtue of our interdependent relationship to all the other churches of the Communion by means of the Anglican Covenant. If we signed, our being part of the Anglican Communion would be a contingent statement, dependent on our continued acceptance in the larger order by way of the Instruments of Communion.

So if we DO sign on we need to change the Preamble. Perhaps to something like this (changes in red):


“The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, otherwise known as The Episcopal Church (which name is hereby recognized as also designating the Church), is,
as a signatory to the Anglican Covenant, a member of 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. This Constitution, adopted in General Convention in Philadelphia in October, 1789, as amended in subsequent General Conventions, sets forth the basic Articles for the government of the Church, and of its overseas missionary jurisdictions.”

Suppose at General Convention 2012 TEC DOES NOT sign the Anglican Covenant? Then we would also have to change the Preamble, if for no other reason then to put out of reach the complaint that by not signing on the Anglican Covenant we have acted in a un-Constitutional way. But of course there would be other reasons as well. If we were not in fact a constituent member of the Anglican Communion we ought not say so.


Then it might read as follows, (changes in brown),

“The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, otherwise known as The Episcopal Church (which name is hereby recognized as also designating the Church) consists
of those bishops, the clergy under their jurisdiction, dioceses and institutions that are empowered, licensed, ordained or constituted by The Constitution and related canons of The Episcopal Church. This Constitution, adopted in General Convention in Philadelphia in October, 1789, as amended in subsequent General Conventions, sets forth the basic Articles for the government of the Church, and of its overseas missionary jurisdictions.” (or something like this.)

So the Anglican Covenant will, it seems to me, require a change in our Constitution. That means that in theory the Covenant could not finally be officially approved until General Convention 2015, unless an earlier special convention was called.

All is not lost for those considering a quick approval for the Covenant. Suppose General Convention 2012 voted "yes" to the Covenant, and with it also voted essentially what Fr. Martins wanted to have happened with D020 at GC2009... a provisional acceptance of the Anglican Covenant as the required time elapsed for the Preamble to be changed to fit.

The "hurry-up and accept the Anglican Covenant" crowd is using the matter of time as a way of engineering a crisis. The argument that we need to accept the Covenant quickly is joined with the fear that the Anglican Communion, through its Instruments of Communion will break with us and we will no longer in fact be part of some world wide something and therefore less part of the imagined reality of being a world wide church. The argument is based on fear, serves fear's ends and has no purpose but to discredit the governance of The Episcopal Church and the policies that are approved at its General Convention.

One of the great leads in to this fear is to push for compliance NOW. Well, now we see why that was a really bad idea. Unless we look carefully at the practical implications of how the Anglican Covenant will be used and what that says to the autonomy of churches we do ourselves and the Communion a disservice.


We are not alone in this, of course. The Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) says this in its Constitution,
"

The Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) hereinafter called “The Church of Nigeria” or “This Church” shall be in full communion with all Anglican Churches Dioceses and Provinces 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 1662and in the Thirty-Nine Article of Religion.

In the interpretation of the aforementioned formularies and in all questions of Faith, Doctrine and Discipline, the decisions of the Ecclesiastical tribunals of the Church of Nigeria shall be final.

Notice that 3.1 says "The Church of Nigeria shall be in full communion with all Anglican Churches... etc." Not in communion with the See of Canterbury. It also says that in "all questions of Faith, Doctrine and Discipline, the decision sof the Ecclesiastical tribunals of the Church of Nigeria shall be final."
I would suggest that the CofN might also have to revise their Constitution if they were to sign the Anglican Covenant. I suspect TEC and CofN are not alone.

I believe that the Anglican Covenant is an innovation of such breadth that almost every Church in the Communion will have to ask the same question, "Will signing the Anglican Covenant require that we change our Constitution or Canons?" I think the answer will almost always be, "Yes." Whether or not any of these Churches will do so is another matter.


As for the question of what happens in the good ol' Church of England, who knows. But I will bet that some clever member of Parliament will opine that in a country where church and state overlap considerably it is not wise to have the church sign on to a Covenant that might bind them to acquiescence to Communion norms or lead to having to give up being part of the Anglican Communion.

Still, all this is "their" problem. Ours is that IF the Anglican Covenant is the determining test of inclusion in the Anglican Communion, signing or not signing the Anglican Covenant will need to b accompanied by some changes in our Constitution.

And by the way, if the Anglican Covenant becomes such a test, it proves all the suspicion many of us have had about it.


Still, as St. Paul says, "I will show you a yet more excellent way." And I think there is a yet more excellent way to think about the Anglican Covenant and indeed accept it.
That is for later.

For the moment, dear friends, the skunk is on the table.

4 comments:

  1. Christopher (P.)14/9/09 10:48 PM

    Mark--

    But didn't the ABC say that there might/would be two tracks in the Anglican Communion--the Covenanters and the non-Covenanters? And both were "in" the Anglican Communion, but in different ways? I'm banking on it, as being in the Anglican Communion is all that is keeping a large number of my fellow parishioners from bolting to CANA and trying to take the rest of the parish with them. The fact that TEC can say it's in the Anglican Communion is a brake on that (though it remains to be seen how much of a brake, if TEC is a non-Covenanter).

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  2. I can't quite wrap my head around how profoundly Protestant this all is. I was rather late to the table in realizing that TEC was, indeed, a Protestant denomination. But, surely, my slap in the face isn't the only one felt.


    me

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  3. Perhaps 'spectre'?

    James.

    [I note for the record that the word verification for this comment is 'jerome,' but I do not hasten a guess as to which ghostly description -- spectRE or spectER -- is the purest Anglican spelling.]

    ReplyDelete
  4. Doesn't the CofE own a much bigger skunk?
    Robert Dodd

    ReplyDelete

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