The fact: President Bishop Mouneer H. Anis, Bishop of the Episcopal / Anglican Diocese of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa, also President Bishop of the the Episcopal / Anglican Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East, has stated, "I hereby summit my resignation from the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion." His full statement can be read by getting the PDF file from the Diocese of Egypt site, HERE.
The frump: He has resigned from the "Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion." There is considerable muttering as to just what the SCAC is. The Anglican Communion Institute says in its own summary of a long paper,
- The final Covenant text envisions a Communion of responsibly coordinated Instruments, ordered episcopally, that the current ACC-led standing committee is in fact undermining;
- The current ACC standing committee is not necessarily the “Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion” indicated by the Covenant text, and cannot therefore automatically claim the authority it seems to be assuming;
- The current ACC standing committee has little credibility in the eyes of a large part of the Communion and ought not to be claiming the authority it seems to be assuming;
- Those Churches of the Communion who move fully and decisively to adopt the Covenant must work with a provisional and representative standing committee, continuous in membership with the other Instruments, that will direct the implementation of the Covenant in a way that can eventually permit a Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion to be formed as envisioned by the Covenant text.
It may be that the Joint Standing Committee is a really good idea. But unless we talk it out we will never know. But who is interested in giving the JSC, an unexamined body, authority to act as big brother? "
So I agree with part two of the ACI paper. The need for clarity in the matter of "Standing Committee of what?" is there. About the rest of the long ACI Paper? Well, it's a mess.
The ACI, called by Jim Naughton "the four guys with a Web site," is apparently advocating dumping the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion, which they believe is a committee of the ACC. Jim's comment is right on: "Many Episcopalians have been critical of the Covenant, but they've never advocated anything as radical as what Anis and the ACI have called for tonight." The ACI and the Bishop of Egypt and President Bishop of the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East are pushing hard. I am not sure they are pushing together, but it is quite remarkable that the Bishop's letter, dated January 30th and the ACI paper, dated January 31st, come so close together.
The ACI paper begins, "We have learned today from Bishop Mouneer Anis that he has submitted his resignation from the former joint standing committee." Well, I know the talented guys with their website can pop off major long papers in almost no time, but I am amazed that they suppose that somehow the paper was written in twenty-four hours in response to his letter. One could just as easily suppose that in conversation with party or parties unknown both the Bishop and the ACI folk arranged a spirited attack on both the Anglican Covenant as proposed and the ACC under whose banner the Anglican Covenant was meant to become the standard for the Anglican Communion. In addition to the effort to trounce the ACC as the core organizing organization for an ongoing office for the Anglican Communion, the ACI is also co-sponsoring a conference titled, "Hierarchy Conference. If the title is unimaginative, the content is very much a matter of the imagination. The work up on the conferences reads this way:
“Who’s in Charge—Hierarchy and the Episcopal Church” is a conference designed to consider the governing structure of The Episcopal Church. Experts with theological, historical, legal and ecumenical training will evaluate how appeals to ‘hierarchy’ compare and contrast in different church bodies. At issue is whether the term requires definition and differentiation due to the historical and ecclesial realities facing respective church bodies. Does hierarchy mean the same thing for Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist, Anglican and American Episcopal Churches, and if not, how might we best understand the unique governing structure of The Episcopal Church? The question demands careful assessment because this is a period of contestation when claims to represent the polity of The Episcopal Church are being lodged." It should be an interesting time for all. The ACI is off tilting at windmills in hopes that at some point they will scare the hell out of those of us who believe in episcopal authority but don't believe it rests solely with bishops to exercise that authority and that we will cave in and decide, what the hell, they are the bishops, let them govern.
Of course the wonder of that cave-in is that the whole of governance gets put in the hands of bishops - not The Episcopal Church house of bishops, but bishops throughout the whole communion, were as some are wont to point out the GAFCON sentiment wins out. No, the end of all this hierarchical talk is to negate the authority of local synods (those of national or regional churches) and to transfer that authority to a world wide synod expressed in representation by the Primates. The object is to move the center of the Anglican Communion from its one synodical body, however imperfectly formed, to the Primates and the Bishops at Lambeth. The losers are the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Anglican Consultative Council. In reality the losers are those who believe in the ABC as a focus of unity (even when he doesn't seem too focused) and the ACC as a synod of churches. Well, there it is, planning in the plains of ecclesastical id for a major turn to hierarchical sanity focused in the witness of the GAFCON types, with the suggestion of a new and improved Anglican Covenant that would exclude the unworthy or the slow to sign-on from being part of the actual governance from the outset. One could weep and wail and carry on about how important this all is.
But I will show you an even more excellent way. As they charge with their lances tipped with steel hard logic and thundering verbiage, give way, stepping to the side and then away, aside and then away. Let them pass by. No need to linger. There is nothing much to see there.
Which is too bad, since at least part of the ACI argument is right. The new Standing Committee (of the ACC of the Anglican Communion, whatever) is a bad idea supposedly justified by United Kingdom civil law.
Poor Bishop Anis actually said some things in his letter that warrant our further consideration, but things have moved on. His resignation is the point, his points are not.
Still, consider: He writes, "I have come to realize that my presence in the current SCAC has no value whatsoever and my voice is like a useless cry in the wilderness." "I have come to the sad realization that there is no desire within the ACC and the SCAC to follow through on the recommendations that have been taken by other Instruments of Communion to sort out the problems which face the Anglican Communion, and which are tearing its fabric apart. Moreover, the SCAC, formerly known as the Joint Standing Committee (JSC) has continually questioned the authority of the other Instruments of Communion, especially the Primates Meeting and the Lambeth Conference."
Well there's the rub. Bishop Anis believes SCAC and the JSC (which was of both the Primates and the ACC Standing Committees) are the same thing. How does ACI account for that. Oops, they are not after all on the same page.
The good bishop does realize something that I wrote about earlier in my piece on the Standing Committee... that it has become essentially a fifth instrument of communion, one which suppose to speak for at least two of the instruments - the Primates and the ACC - when they are not meeting. This is indeed a bad idea.
He then complains, "The current SCAC provides no effective challenge to the ongoing revisions of TEC nor does it apply the recommendations of the Windsor Report and the Primates Meetings..." He has an extensive footnote as to just what recommendations he speaks of. And, no surprise here, it edits out those having to do with intervention by one Church in the life of another without permission. Bishop Anis then complains that there are provinces participating in the decision making processes of the Communion "who turn their backs on every appeal and warning."
Better he suggests, that "the participation in the decision making process that affects the life of the Anglican Communion should be for those who show respect in word and deed to the whole Communion." What he means, dear friends, is that the ACC and the Standing Committee should expel those who disagree with the GAFCON primates. He would wish that ACC and the SCAC would throw TEC representatives out. This inclusive stuff is in his mind a ruse. He feels excluded, so his response is to wish that we were excluded.
Now to be fair, no one, as far as I know, has suggested that Bishop Anis should not be on the Standing Committee just because he supports the interventions by other Provinces in the workings of TEC. And, now that I think about it, he has had every opportunity to make his case at Lambeth, at the Primates meetings, in ACC and SCAC, etc. It is not that he is marginalized for matters having to do with language, ethnicity, theological position or even sexual orientation. He is, apparently, marginalized, if at all, for not haveing a good enough set of arguments to "win" enough of the time to satisfy him.
Bishop Anis took the time to express his personal views in his letter - more personal apparently than his feelings of marginalization.
He thinks there is an effort to question and diminish the authority of the Primates and the Lambeth Conference. He is right. When resolutions of one or the other of these groups are raised to the level of dogma, it is time to question authority. Tough. I am sure he has sufficient authority in his own Church. Let it be.
He thinks the current version of the Anglican Covenant is weaker than former versions because it cannot solve the current crisis. Right. If the Covenant were there to solve the current crisis it would be straightforwardly a means of punishing several churches for their actions in the past.
He suggests that "Provinces who violate the spirit of the Covenant should not be allowed to sign or adopt the Covenant in the first place." OK, just what do you believe is "the spirit of the Covenant," who do you suppose should make that judgment, and just who do you have in mind, bishop? This is so contrary to the work done on the Covenant that it is scary.
He believes dioceses in provinces that "do not want to adopt the Covenant, or delay the process of adoption," should be allowed to adopt the Covenant. By which I suppose he means, any Province that doesn't hop on board right now is doomed to have its on unity dissolved by local option.
The really big noise, however, is in item D of his suggestions. Bishop Anis states, "According ot Section 4.1.6, "the Covenant becomes active for a Church when that Church adopts [it]" The implication of this would be that when a majority of provinces have adopted the Covenant, they should then elect new representatives to the Anglican Consultative Council and the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion. The current ACC and SCAC should resign." Well, he certainly is imaginative. There is no such implication. If there were it would be reason enough for every Province to reject the Covenant. This is hogwash.
Bishop Anis then turns his gaze to the Listening Process. He says, "in our Communion where some churches depend financially on others, there is no guarantee of a fair, two-way listening process." There is no doubt that financial dependency breeds careful words and that real engagement between churches and peoples needs to break free of such constraints. That is a real and valuable matter to engage. But it is a sham argument as concerns the Listening Process. The purpose of the "Listening Process" was not to guarantee debate privileges to two parties. It was to make it possible for gay and lesbian persons in the various part of the Communion to be heard, often when listening as well as speaking was punishable by fine, imprisonment or death. I believe on the whole that process has been a failure, but that is another issue. The Bishop is raising the "poor, poor, pitiful me" flag and it is unworthy of him, the courage of his convictions or the truth. It is bogus.
He grouses about the western structure and staffing of the Anglican Communion Office and its use of IT rather than face to face and telephone communication. Right, and getting off the Standing Committee serves this end exactly how?
Well, at least the Bishop of Egypt, northern Africa and the Horn of Africa, believes that the Anglican Communion has a future, a future placed in the Global South where growth is taking place. His Province is no clear example of such growth, but we know what he means. The future growth of the various national and regional Churches in the Anglican Communion will in the near future numerically favor the churches in parts of the Global South.
It may well be that some of them will want to organize around different principles than those provided by the Anglican Communion, with its four or five instruments of unity, wide differences in values and understandings and dispersed authority. So be it.
In which case I am glad he resigned. As with those who have left the Episcopal Church, Go with God. Try not to destroy what you are leavinging, and by the way, don't call your new thingy The Anglican Communion. The name is already taken.