Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Back to St. Andrew's

It’s time to return again to the St. Andrew’s Draft of the Draft Anglican Covenant. (I know that repeating Draft might seem redundant. Since even acceptance that there will, much less should be, an Anglican covenant, I think we need to emphasize that we are dealing with drafts of a proposal, rather than drafts of an agreed goal.) It’s time again because Bonnie Anderson, President of the House of Deputies of the Episcopal Church, has asked deputies to study and reflect, and to inform their bishops of their reflections, before the bishops come to Lambeth. Since sometimes I reflect best through my fingers (and am less likely to lose those reflections), I’m going work out some of the reflections here. I realize I have already written some reactions to the St. Andrew’s Draft. On the other hand, it can’t hurt for me to work through the process. I expect I’ll notice some things I’ve missed before.

The recommended process is a bit different this time. The structure speaks of three “levels of engagement.” So, to begin at the beginning, let me start with the first. These are the instructions:

I. First Level of Engagement with the Text
Read the Saint Andrew’s Draft Covenant in its entirety: Introduction, Covenant, and Appendix.1
After reading, consider the following initial questions:
• What in the document did you find compelling? What resonated with you and why?
• What in the document caused you the most concern and why?
• What in the document surprised you the most and why?

My first reaction to the Introduction? That it would be an interesting “covenant” in and of itself. It is interesting to think we might “covenant together as churches of this Anglican Communion to be faithful to God’s promises through the historic faith we confess, the way we live together and the focus of our mission,” although I admit some concern about what “the need for mutual commitment and discipline” might mean. I find attractive the sentence, “We seek to adore God in thanks and praise and to make intercession for the needs of people everywhere through a common voice, made one across cultures and languages,” as a description of “common prayer.”

I am struck, too, by the mention of “a special charism and identity” for the Anglican Communion. My hope would be that those would be addressed. After all, the intent of our beloved Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral was not to describe Anglican identity, but those characteristics that would identify other Christian bodies as sufficiently similar as to make possible full communion.

Then, too, there is paragraph 7, written as one long, convoluted sentence:

Our faith embodies a coherent testimony to what we have received from God’s Word and the Church’s long-standing witness; our life together reflects the blessings of God in growing our Communion into a truly global family; and the mission we pursue aims at serving the great promises of God in Christ that embrace the world and its peoples, carried out in shared responsibility and stewardship of resources, and in interdependence among ourselves and with the wider Church.

There is an interesting lean here toward our cherished “three-legged stool” in beginning with reference to “God’s Word and the Church’s long-standing witness.” In that light, though, is “our life together” intended as a description of what we might mean by “reason” in the Anglican triad? If so, I’m not sure I think it sufficient.

Looking now at the Covenant draft, what strikes me generally is that there is much in the sections of Affirmations that I can agree with. As I have written before, I think the section intended to reflect the Quadrilateral is weak in its reference to the Creeds. I think, too, there is a general preference for the past over the present. That is, there is much focus on guidance from Scripture and Tradition, and little explicit incorporation of Reason.

The difficulties (I will not speak of the devil here) are in the details, and especially in the details of the Commitments. This is, I think, where the most difficulties in discussion and reception will come. I don’t think it’s a matter of rejecting the idea of commitments (notwithstanding that a few want to do just that). Rather, I think it’s about how we will negotiate apparent contradictions. For example, of what value is “respect [for] the constitutional autonomy of all of the Churches of the Anglican Communion,” or “spend[ing] time with openness and patience in matters of theological debate and reflection to listen, pray and study with one another in order to discern the will of God,” if the ultimate results are “to be willing to receive from the Instruments of Communion a request to adopt a particular course of action in respect of the matter under dispute,” potentially to accept or be shunned?

So, on to the Appendix: and here I am most struck by a strong desire not to live in tension, and a sense of haste in resolution. Resolution here has displaced our previous understanding of reception, in that no one province need tolerate difference with another and discover whether there is something there to be learned. The longest process for decision takes perhaps three years – and that’s if previous efforts fail and referral is made to the Anglican Consultative Council. Yet, as I have often repeated (in that I’m sure it’s not original with me), “We think in years, but the Church thinks in centuries.” I grant you that none of us these days are comfortable with that. However, I think haste is a serious issue here.

I have written before about one concern here: that the various timetables envisioned here might prevent (and might be intended to prevent) the constitutional processes of the Episcopal Church. If primacy is held here by the General Convention as a whole, and our bishops cannot speak for the whole church, but only of their commitments to one another, any process that does not allow that time frame simply does not respect our constitutional processes. Given the statements made about respecting the integrity and authority of individual provinces, this seems incongruous.

I have written about what has struck me, and what has concerned me, but I have written little about what has surprised me. Also, I have written little about the work as a whole. Some of that is because this isn’t my first reading of it, and I’ve found it hard to go back. And, this doesn’t seem all that different that the first, or Nassau, Draft. There are differences there, and I think when I get into details I will see and honor them. However, this still seems oriented toward uniformity, discomfort with disagreement, and centralization of, if not power, certainly authority. That disappoints me, more than a little; but it doesn’t surprise me.

No comments: