In a previous post I spelled out the sense that the Anglican Covenant was at best a so-so document, mostly unworthy of our complete pledge of our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.
That article made use of the Preludium Anglican Communion Pledge-o-meter, an instrument of honesty in communion that has not found wide use because so simple as a graphic as to be unworthy of the wildly complex mess that the Covenant discussion has become. Here is what the Pledge-o-meter had to say about Section 4 of the Covenant
"Greatest LFH" and "Least LFH" refer to life, fortune and honor. Section 4 got such low marks as to make it almost impossible to consider adapting the Covenant. I wrote, " The Pledge-O-Meter makes it clear, at least to me: I am willing to stake my life, fortune and honor on Jesus Christ. I am willing to give my all for others in following the Lord Jesus Christ. I am not willing to do so for the demands for unity as determined by the Instruments of Unity."
Often there are comments on articles in Preludium, but about the Pledge-o-meter there were none. Well, there it is. Still, it seemed like a measured way to approach the Anglican Covenant.
But that way of parsing the Covenant issues seems not to have been too popular. Most who write in opposition to the Covenant do so from a larger overarching suspicion that the whole thing will be badly used in the hands of the powerful, the angry and the frightened. They see the Anglican Covenant as a whole, and see it as a VERY BAD IDEA.
So the search is on to find something about the Anglican Covenant that points to it being anti-Anglican, some smoking gun that would lead us to believe that violence will by it be done to Anglicanism and the Anglican Communion as we know it.
Foundationalism and Fundamentalism:
That smoking gun is fundamentalism, and its presence is first hinted at by the following passage in the Covenant, (4.1.2) "In adopting the Covenant for itself, each Church recognises in the preceding sections a statement of faith, mission and interdependence of life which is consistent with its own life and with the doctrine and practice of the Christian faith as it has received them. It recognises these elements as foundational for the life of the Anglican Communion and therefore for the relationships among the covenanting Churches."
Now the preceding sections (1-3) clearly spell out sources of faith statements, understanding of mission and basis of interdependence and claims that these are consistent with the "doctrine and practice of the Christian faith" as received. What precisely has been received is not spelled out in the Anglican Covenant but comes with the package, unaddressed.
The Anglican Covenant mentions the creeds three times, doctrine once. Yet one of the first of the stumbling blocks for Churches in the Global South was the fact that Bishop John Shelby Spong of Newark, was not tried for heresy, condemned or otherwise repudiated by TEC's House of Bishops. His stance on various elements of the Creeds were viewed as contrary to the fundamental beliefs of the Christian Church. But the Covenant only refers back to the creeds, the scriptures, the prayer book, the Articles of Religion, etc, but does not interpret them. It assumes our understanding of them to be as "received."
The Anglican Covenant mentions deacons twice, priests twice, and bishops ten times. On none of these occasions is there any mention of the specific roles of deacons or priests. Yet the writers of the Covenant have known full well that the Diocese of Sydney was in the process of determining that deacons could preside at the Eucharist. The Diocese of Sydney seems now to have made the decision to go forward with this plan. Read HERE. This move will be viewed by many as contrary to the fundamental beliefs of the Christian Church. But nothing in the Covenant does more than refer back to the traditional standards of the Christian Church.
The Covenant addresses neither of these cases any more than it does the case of the ordination of gay or lesbian persons as Bishops, the blessing of same-sex couples, and the ordination of women. The Covenant refers, as always, to the received teachings of the Church.
So where is the gun? Where is the smoke?
It lies in the argument that we all know and to a large extent agree - that all the foundational material for the faith as found in the creeds, prayer book, articles, scripture, etc. There we will find the fundamentals of the Christian Faith spelled out pretty clearly and plainly.
Which means, of course, that the stance of the Anglican Covenant is foundationalist - founded in the Lord Jesus Christ (the Church's one foundation) and in the foundational statements and narratives of its faith - and fundamentalist, involving clear belief in various assertions of the faithful community and by extension excluding belief in other assertions.
So in quick order it would appear that the Anglican Covenant commits us to belief in the Virgin Birth (sorry Bishop Spong), the unsuitability of gay persons in relationship to be ordained bishop (sorry Bishop Robinson, Bishop Glasspool), the unsuitability of the ordination of women (sorry all you who are), and the belief that the ordinal stipulates and tradition requires that the Eucharist be presided over by the Bishop or in the bishop's absence a priest (Sorry Archbishop Bishop Jensen). It doesn't say so, and it doesn't have to. It also will take us back into challenges about divorce, women speaking in church, women covering their heads in church.
Full disclosure requires that I specify that in this line up I'm struck out a number of times: I say the creeds, including the virgin birth, but I do so with what seems to be a minority understanding of what this is all about. I am mostly with Bishop Spong on this. I took part in the ordination of the Philadelphia Eleven believing that they were quite suitable although undeniably illegal. I would be honored to have Bishop Robinson or Bishop Glasspool as my bishop, although neither has presented me with that opportunity. I have attended celebrations of the Eucharist presided over by what we would consider lay people - clergy ordained outside the context of the historic episcopate - and on several occasion in a Disciples of Christ Church where a lay person presided, and believe I there received the Body and Blood of Christ. I have been divorced and remarried (now for 43 years). I have never believed that women should keep quiet in church or anywhere else.
This stuff of returning to fundamentals, to fundamentalism, is not about someone else. It is about all of us. It is about me. And in the hands of those wishing to take us there, the Anglican Covenant paves the way.
It is for this reason that the Anglican Covenant begins with a section on Scripture and the magesterium that provides correct interpretation of Scripture. It is Scripture and Catholic Tradition that take the lead in Section One. Reason, however defined, is a distant third. Catholic tradition is itself a renaming of the claim to orthodox understanding of Scripture. The three legged stool of Scripture, Reason and Tradition becomes one legged, and that leg is fundamentalist.
Will signing on to the Anglican Covenant mean a more stringent application of fundamentalism in the Anglican Communion, or just a return to some sort of order and moderation of change? Its hard to say. But it is not hard to imagine a day when three Primates announce that, because of the decision of the Archbishop of Sydney and the synod there, they will call for investigation to the end that either Sydney will cease and desist from allowing deacons to preside at the Eucharist, or Sydney and the Church in Australia (for not clamping down) will no longer be represented in the various instruments of the Anglican Communion.
For sure the Covenant will be put into practice, as it is already in the workings of the Archbishop of Canterbury's office, to work "consequences" on those who do not conform to the moratoria of the Windsor Report. And with a bit of practice, perhaps they will go back and address the scandal of Bishop Spong by keeping an eagle eye out for future bishops holding unorthodox belief. We have not seen the end yet of the demand that Churches zip the lip of errant bishops. Fundamentalism is waiting to come to a Province near you.
An early statement of this Anglican fundamentalism can be found in the workings of the Kuala Lumpur statement of 1997. See the Second Trumpet from 2nd Anglican Encounter in the South, Kuala Lumpur 10-15 February 1997.
The whole of the statement was formulated around the theme of The Place of Scripture in the Life and Mission of the Church in the 21st Century. Among the witnesses made to this place was the following:
"6. Scripture, the Family and Human Sexuality
Reflection on our Encounter theme has helped further deepen our resolve to uphold the authority of Scripture in every aspect life, including the family and human sexuality.
6.1 We call on the Anglican Communion as a Church claiming to be rooted in the Apostolic and Reformed Tradition to remain true to Scripture as the final authority in all matters of faith and conduct;
6.2 We affirm that Scripture upholds marriage as a sacred relationship between a man and a woman, instituted in the creation ordinance;
6.3 We reaffirm that the only sexual expression, as taught by Scripture, which honours God and upholds human dignity is that between a man and a woman within the sacred ordinance of marriage;
6.4 We further believe that Scripture maintains that any other form of sexual expression is at once sinful, selfish, dishonouring to God and an abuse of human dignity;
6.5 We are aware of the scourge of sexual promiscuity, including homosexuality, rape and child abuse in our time. These are pastoral problems, and we call on the Churches to seek to find a pastoral and scriptural way to bring healing and restoration to those who are affected by any of these harrowing tragedies."
This statement makes it clear that the Global South participants believe that fundamental issues are at stake here - principally "Scripture as the final authority in matters of faith and conduct." What matters in Scripture rate being about faith and conduct? It is not spelled out, but we know: any matter that is understood by those in authority to be of such importance.
The Anglican Covenant puts in place an agreement that we adhere to certain foundational elements - Scripture, Creeds, Sacraments, Episcopacy, Worship, Articles of Religion - and leaves the driving to those authoritatively schooled in Scripture and Tradition. Just so you know: "Reason" as in "Scripture, Reason and Tradition" does not appear in the Anglican Covenant - not even once. The nearest we get is in 1.2.2 - "to uphold and proclaim a pattern of Christian theological and moral reasoning and discipline that is rooted in and answerable to the teaching of Holy Scripture and the catholic tradition."
Theological and moral reasoning is far from what was and is meant by "reason."
The Pledge-o-Meter was wrong in that it too narrowly parsed the content of the Covenant. The Anglican Covenant ought to be taken as a whole. And as a whole it is perhaps benign in the hands of the benign, but in the hands of those who are fundamentalist, it will serve them well. It will become the smoking gun.
How long would it take for the fundamentalists among us to arise and eat and work great harm?