Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Williams' New Ecclesiology and the Draft Covenant: The Church of England Response

The Church of England has released its Response to the Draft Anglican Covenant. You can link to it here, and check out all the usual suspects for comments.

The Response addresses both matters of style and matters of substance It offers some revisions of specific passages, and includes a rewritten draft incorporating their suggestions. This is not the first response (for example, the Episcopal Church’s is here), nor even the first to suggest a new draft (as in the Church of Ireland’s, here). Its revisions do largely accept both the form and content of the original Draft, with some additions and a little tweaking.

What strikes me about this proposed “re-Draft” is some suggestions of ecclesiastical structure. I have written before (here and here) my opinion that Archbishop Williams is interested in revising Anglican ecclesiastical structure to look somewhat more like Roman structures. His protestations notwithstanding that he does not want to be Pope, nor does he want some sort of Magisterium, he seems to desire a structure that is more integrated and more centralized in making critical decisions. This re-Draft seems to reflect a similar goal.

There is, for example, this interesting comment:

(5) An important question that is raised by this Preamble [of the Draft Anglican Covenant] is what is meant by the phrase ‘the Churches of the Anglican Communion.’ Are the churches of the Anglican communion, properly so called, the thirty eight national bodies that belong to the Communion or are they the dioceses of the Communion gathered round their diocesan bishops? This is not just a theoretical ecclesiological question, but also a practical one since it raises the question of whether the bodies that should subscribe to the Covenant are the national bodies or the dioceses. This issue does not require a revision of the text, but it is something that needs to be addressed.

Not long ago, few would have thought this question was at issue. However, in the Archbishop’s Advent Letter, and in his private letter to Bishop John Howe of Central Florida, the Archbishop himself made it issue. It certainly makes a difference whether a diocese participates in the Communion through a national church or directly, and so arguably independent of a national church. If the diocese participates directly, and perhaps independently, then how is the diocese represented in the Instruments of Communion? What is the meaning of primacy, even in the limited extent to which it is exercised in the Anglican tradition? In any case, a direct relationship of a diocese to the Instruments of Communion, not least to the Archbishop of Canterbury, vitiates the authority of national structures, and redirects it to the Instruments

Or, consider how the Response and re-Draft speak to the authority of the Instruments of Communion. In commenting on the Draft Covenant’s description of the Primates’ Meeting, there is this comment: “(27) What is said about the Primates meeting needs to note that it is a meeting of the presiding bishops of the Communion and acts as the executive committee of the Lambeth Conference.” According to the Anglican Communion web site, “[The Lambeth Conference] is convened every ten years at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury and is the only occasion when bishops can meet for worship, study and conversation. Archbishops, bishops, assistant and suffragan bishops within the Communion are invited.” We have heard comments over the past few years about the authority of the Lambeth Conference – progressives addressing the limitations, and conservatives expressing frustration at those limitations, frustration so great that some African provinces have stated that those limitations by themselves are reasons not to attend. But if we all accept those limitations, one wonders what need there is for an “executive committee of the Lambeth Conference?” It is manifestly not needed in the sense of a planning committee. Convened at Canterbury’s invitation, Canterbury has assembled his own planning committee. If the authority of the Lambeth Conference is moral, it does not result in programs or policies. To suggest a need for an executive committee is to suggest there will or should be a program to execute.

But that is addressed later in the comments. There is a specific response to this section of the Draft:

[Each Church commits itself] to heed the counsel of our Instruments of Communion in matters which threaten the unity of the Communion and the effectiveness of our mission. While the Instruments of Communion have no juridical or executive authority in our Provinces, we recognise them as those bodies by which our common life in Christ is articulated and sustained, and which therefore carry a moral authority which commands our respect.

The Response’s comment is, “(32) The second sentence of subsection 4 should talk not just about ‘moral authority,’ but also about ‘spiritual, pastoral and doctrinal authority.’” As a result, the re-Draft recasts that section to say,

[We commit ourselves] (4) to heed the counsel of our Instruments of Communion in matters which threaten the unity of the Communion, our fellowship with other churches and the effectiveness of our mission. While the Instruments of Communion have no juridical or executive authority in our Provinces, we recognise them as those bodies by which our common life in Christ is articulated and sustained, and which therefore carry a spiritual, pastoral and doctrinal authority which commands our respect;

Thus, it is the Instruments that articulate common doctrine, and sustain common pastoral practice. That would give the Primates' Meeting something to "execute;" but it would seem problematic in maintaining the breadth across the Communion regarding such issues as interpretation of Scripture and ordination of women, and such issues within provinces as the differences within Australia regarding presidency at the Eucharist.

Or, consider the comment on the Anglican Consultative Council:

(28) The description of the Anglican Consultative Council needs re-working. It is unhelpful to imply that the ACC in particular represents the bishops, clergy and laity of the Communion in a manner than the other Instruments do not and the final clause of the description of the gives a rather limited picture of its role.

However, it is manifestly the case that in fact the ACC does represent non-bishop clergy and laity in a manner that other Instruments do not. Non-bishop clergy and laity participate in the ACC, and not in the other Instruments. I do not question that most primates and other bishops want to represent what they see as the best interests of the clergy and laity they serve. I question whether what the bishops see as the best interests are the same as those clergy and laity see themselves. Their participation in the ACC does make a difference, and does make it distinctive among the Instruments.

Moreover, this accepts largely unquestioned the Draft Covenant’s subversion in general of the role and authority of the ACC. By downplaying the important distinction of the participation of clergy and laity in the ACC, the Reponse and re-Draft exacerbates that subversion. (And all this without resolving that troublesome issue of whether the national church or the individual diocese participates in the Communion. In that case, just how is the ACC “representative?”)

Finally, the Response states, “There needs to a new sub-section that addresses the issue of intervention in the affairs of Anglican churches.” While perhaps there might be some value in establishing appropriate boundaries, the result in the Response is this new section in the re-Draft:

(6) to refrain from intervening in the life of other Anglican churches (sc provinces) except in extraordinary circumstances where such intervention has been specifically authorised by the relevant Instruments of Communion.

Thus, the Instruments of Communion are somehow empowered to authorize such interventions. Once again, authority is removed from the national churches and centralized in the Instruments. It is the Instruments that determine when circumstances are “extraordinary,” and what is appropriate for extraordinary pastoral support.

These examples speak to a more centralized understanding of primacy and authority in the Anglican Communion than we have known in the past. It certainly reflects statements Archbishop Williams has made in the past. Perhaps he is so confused as to imagine that we can return to an earlier time, when the Church of England, represented in its many and various colonies and trading stations, was still in some sense unified. This seems like that sort of effort, to return to the image and structure of the Church before we troublesome Americans separated from the Empire and from the Imperial Church. In any case, I wonder whether Archbishop Williams can really be seen as an impartial arbiter in these discussions.

The Response is important, and worthy of thorough examination. It can certainly contribute to the reflections of the Covenant Drafting Committee and to reflection at the Lambeth Conference. However, in itself it appears to represent an innovative centralization of our ecclesiology. It might well provide the means for resolving issues among members of the Communion; but it may provide those means at the cost of losing the unique ecclesiology that we used to understand as “Anglican.”


Jon said...

Wasn't there a major crisis in one of the AFrican provinces (Rwanda IIRC) which resulted in the ecclesial structure being decimated? How can the communion help in a situation like that if they absolutely must get permission from the national church first? Granted the possibility of intervention can be abused, but if it requires the consent of the ACC it is less then likely to be possible to use it as a weapon to try to settle controversies.

As for the Primates acting as an executive council for Lambeth, concider how many different things Lambeth conferences have given an opinion on. If opinions start shifting rapidly between Lambeth Conferences it might be convenient to have some sort of official way of recognizing that shifting of opinion.


Marshall said...

I believe there was great pain in the Church in Rwanda (as well as in Burundi); but not so great that there was no one to ask for help.

I think it would be interesting to think about what sort of support might be possible, and how that support might be reviewed by ACC. However, the real reduction in the authority of the ACC proposed in the initial Draft and apparently supported in the re-Draft leaves me uneasy about the whether the decision could be made in that one truly representative body. In the United States, where Designated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight (DEPO) has been tried in good faith, it appears to have worked. Where it hasn't worked it's largely because those requesting oversight had already predetermined that existing structures were inadequate/inappropriate.

As for an "official way of recognizing" changing opinions: between Lambeth Conferences the "constitutional processes" of the various national churches go on. They issue opinions in their various means. Those opinions can be part of the discussion and consultation in ACC (which I think should meet more often) and the Primates' Meetings (which I think should meet less often), and we can benefit from their consultations and reflections. It's hard to acknowledge changes in "official" statements from Lambeth, when we're not sure yet just how "official" statements from Lambeth are.

What could help with that? Perhaps a process in Lambeth built on concensus building, rather than on passing resolutions. Perhaps an agreement of some sort (I'm wary of the word "covenant" in light of the current Draft), in which participants agree to a process that establishes what is "official," and what "official" means (even if ultimately the Episcopal Church is unable to sign on).

And perhaps a recognition that opinions in the Church in fact may take decades to change, despite the illusion created by rapid communications. In that case, some may seem to change too rapidly, and some may seem to resist too long; and in either case we allow time to see the fruits.

Jon said...

The way you're using official seems to suggest something juridically binding. I was thinking of it more as a quick reference for those who lack the time and/or inclination to hunt through hundreds of pages of conflicting opinions from mulitple sources when they ask questions like "What do Anglicans think about abortion?" Granted the reality is going to be more complicated, but many people can probably do quite well with only a set of basic principles and positions. The usefulness of that sort of quick reference guide can also be seen by thinking about how we might know when the rest of the Communion is sufficiently comfortable with the idea of other provinces having partnered gay or lesbian bishops that we can stop worrying about that as a potentially communion breaking issue. The ACC, Lambeth, and the Primates are all more or less equally good at providing that sort of quick reference although a Gallup poll or something like that could work just as well. Each has strengths and weaknesses. Lambeth includes the most people making it both the most unwieldy and the most likely to include the broadest range of views. The Primate's meeting includes the least amount of people and so is the easiest to pull together when it is felt that some sort of rapid response is needed. The ACC is in the middle. I'm not inclined to worry about the fact that Lambeth and the Primates meeting only include bishops for a variety of reasons, including the fact that supposedly more representative bodies like GC can easily do a lousy job of actually being representative (IIRC there have been debates on the HOBD on precisely how well GC represents TEC), and the fact that most bishops have some idea of what sort of things their diocese will let them get away with.


Marshall said...

Jon, thanks. Yes, I am using "official" in that judicatory sense. I think that prior to the Dromantine meeting of the Primates (and perhaps to the Windsor Report) we might have worked with the Instruments to provide "a quick reference." However, the interpretation of the Dromantine meeting that calling Lambeth 1998 1.10 "the mind of the Communion" was roughly equivalent to calling it an encyclical from the Vatican put that juridical meaning of "official" on the table. Subsequent statements from Global South primates, both individually and from meetings of the Global South Steering Committee, have affirmed their explicit desire to see what we would call previously (and literally) a "mind of the house resolution" as rather juridically "official." With that recent past I think we would do well to be wary. These are people who do want Lambeth to establish doctrine, and who do want the executive authority to enforce it.

Indeed, for most of the history of the Lambeth Conference it was just as you describe: a periodic meeting for consultation producing a description of positions about which there was some consensus. Changes as former colonies became nations, and former colonial extension of the Church of England became national churches in their own right, revealed cultural issues that deserved respect, but that also made consensus harder to come by. Ever increasing speed of communication, and consequent increasing exposure to our differences, have sometimes made it easier to share, and sometimes made it easier to fight. Some believe that winning the fight, rather than increasing the sharing in a context of respect, is the way to meaningful communion. They will, I fear, get for themselves what they want; but I for one would not want them to have "executive authority" over the Anglican Communion or the Episcopal Church.

Jon said...

The GS can only get as much power as the rest of the communion will give them, and I don't see Archbishop Williams backing down on his view of how this next Lambeth ought to run unless he sees some overwhelming drive for it to be changed.

One of the things I like about Rowan is his focus on consensus at the communion level. While that has worked against TEC in the recent past, it can just as easily work against the GS, especially since many of them seem ot have very little interest in doing the hard work of building consensus.