By Theodore L. Lewis
Special to Virtueonline
The Anglican Consultative Council (ACC), one of the four Instruments of Unity of the Anglican Communion, met in Jamaica from May 3 to12.
Two questions central to the future of the Communion were brought before it. These were (1) whether to endorse for adoption by the Communion's provinces the current draft of the Anglican Covenant and (2) whether to call on The Episcopal Church (TEC) to suspend its lawsuits against dissident dioceses and congregations.
The ACC's affirmative answers conceivably could have reined in the unilateralism with which TEC has been pursuing its liberal agenda, and thus also the Communion's rapid slide into division. But such affirmations, despite support for them from the Global South and others, were blocked by those in control of the meeting's procedures.
In this outcome financially-resourced TEC may be seen as prevailing. But by deepening the Global South's distrust of the Communion's bureaucracy, it will have enhanced the reliance of these provinces on Gafcon and other structures opposed to TEC's liberalism, thereby hastening the Communion's division.
The ACC meeting was one event in a series dating back to the installation of the "partnered" Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire. Thus it needs to be seen in their light. I have written about most of them previously. But before describing the ACC meeting I will briefly review those of the past year.
Gafcon (Global Anglican Future Conference) held in Jerusalem at the end of last June. At it were represented orthodox provinces and other entities, mainly in the Global South, comprising some 70 percent of the active members of the Anglican Communion. Although not separatist, it asserted an independent voice in Communion affairs.
The Lambeth Conference, the decennial gathering of the Communion's bishops, held in Canterbury in early August. This provided for extensive discussion among the bishops and for several addresses by the Archbishop of Canterbury. But unlike previous Conferences, which adopted resolutions, designedly it reached no conclusions regarding the grave issues facing the Communion.
Secession from TEC in autumn 2008 of the dioceses of Pittsburgh, Fort Worth, and Quincy, joining that of San Joaquin. Pittsburgh's secession led the Presiding Bishop to secure the deposition of its bishop, Bob Duncan (subsequently reinstated by the diocese). She also set up replacement dioceses, under bishops she appointed. In April the Anglican Communion Institute issued a carefully reasoned statement to show that a Presiding Bishop had no such authority. It was signed by 15 bishops, including our Salmon.
Unveiling in December of a constitution and canons for the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), to be a new province of the Anglican Communion, orthodox and separate from TEC. Its constituents are the four seceding dioceses together with several Anglican entities that had already left TEC. The ACNA is the body into which the Anglican Communion Network, together with these other entities, is transforming itself.
The Primates' Meeting held from February 1 to 5 in Alexandria, Egypt. The Primates, the heads of the 38 provinces of the Anglican Communion, met lastly in Dar es Salaam in February 2007. Then they sought to impose definite requirements on TEC concerning homosexual bishops, same-sex blessings, and lawsuits. This time their communiqué contained no striking statements. But the meeting seemed to mark an acceptance by both sides of the unbridgeability of their division.
All during the past year the lawsuits instituted by liberal dioceses and by TEC itself to claim the property of seceding congregations and dioceses have continued, at a cost of millions. Reportedly there were 56 of them in early 2009.
Two shortly impending events should be cited as well.
The ACNA's Inaugural Assembly, June 22 to 25. This is to ratify the constitution and canons which the ACNA unveiled in December. It has already been recognized by much of the Global South, though still lacking acceptance by the Instruments of Communion, and still strongly opposed by TEC
TEC's 2009 General Convention, July 8-17. Elements of TEC have already signaled a push to remove remaining restrictions on homosexual consecrations and same-sex blessings. Their success, which seems likely, would further solidify the Communion's division.
Nature of the ACC
Still before giving an account of its May meeting, I need to speak of the ACC itself. It was constituted by the Lambeth Conference of 1968, which felt a need more frequent contact among the provinces of the Communion than Lambeth afforded. It has been meeting at three-year intervals and, instead of consisting of just bishops, includes other clergy and laity. Provinces are accorded representatives in proportion to their membership, up to a limit of three.
Thus TEC claiming two million members has three, as does also the Church of Nigeria with 25 million active members. A further potential for skewing arises from the disparity in the provinces' financial contributions to the ACC. Available figures show the largest to have come from TEC, directly and through Trinity Wall Street. The second largest, the Church of England's, was only a little over half that. The Compass Rose Society's took a distant third place. The Global South with its relative poverty contributed little. And as in any political process, money confers influence.
The ACC meeting: the Anglican Covenant
As noted above, one of the two main questions to come before the ACC was whether to endorse the current draft of the Anglican Covenant. Known as the Ridley Cambridge draft, it was the third produced by the Covenant Design Group. Upon endorsement by the ACC it was to have been sent out for adoption by the provinces. A sketch of the Covenant's salient points is appended. It consisted of four sections, the first and the last being the significant ones.
The first forthrightly set out the tenets of traditional Anglicanism, affirming inter alia "the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as containing all things necessary for salvation." The last concerned procedures for implementation. Eligibility to adopt the Covenant extended but was not limited to the provinces represented in the ACC. Provision was made for reproof of provinces deviating from it. But what constituted deviation was left unclear, the reproof envisaged was mild, and the process prescribed for administering reproof was much circumscribed.
Thus the Covenant draft offered something to both sides of the Anglican divide. The conservative Global South and their western associates could see in it an affirmation of traditional Anglican principles, while to the liberals of TEC and elsewhere it assured little or no interference in their internal affairs. The latter feature caused some conservatives, notably Bishop Michael Nasir-Ali of Rochester, to contend that the Covenant left matters much as before. Others, notably Stephen Noll, considered it still worthwhile.
This was my view also. I was impressed by the resemblance of the affirmations of Section 1 to Resolution B-001 presented to the 2003 General Convention by then Bishop Ackerman of the diocese of Quincy, similarly affirming the sufficiency of Scripture. That resolution was voted down by the General Convention, which went on to ratify Gene Robinson's election. It seemed that the inherent contradiction between the two was such that had the Convention accepted the resolution it could not have proceeded with the ratification. And on the basis of Section 1 a similar dynamic might operate in the Anglican Communion itself
Apparently a majority of the representatives at the ACC meeting, especially those from the Global South, favored endorsement of the Covenant in its entirety. An initial vote was to this effect, defeating a resolution calling for further consideration of Section 4. How then did the ACC fail to endorse the Covenant? Almost certainly it was through parliamentary maneuvering by TEC and its liberal supporters, through their control of the meeting's procedures. For following the rejection of the above resolution, its key provisions were reintroduced as amendments to another resolution.
This was over vigorous objections from Global South representatives but on the recommendation of the Archbishop of Canterbury, in apparent contradiction of his previous strong affirmation of the Covenant as a whole. Considerable confusion ensued at this point; a Global South representative later told me that the resolutions went by awfully fast. In the midst of it the second, amended resolution was adopted, or declared adopted; it was not fully clear that it had been voted on.
The outcome was the referral of the Covenant to the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates' Meeting and the ACC for further consideration, with various additional steps envisaged before its submission to the provinces. Thus a subsequent text will not be produced before the year's end. And in it some of the compromises embodied in the current, Ridley Cambridge draft may have been undone, auguring still further delay.
(A possible instance of the influence accruing to TEC from its financial support of the ACC is to be seen in the composition of the ACC's resolutions committee. Of its five members, three were from provinces-the US, Scotland, and New Zealand-opposed to the Covenant. A fourth was from the Church of South India, which as a union of churches could not adopt the Covenant. This left only the fifth, from Ghana, to uphold the orthodox position.)
What actually caused TEC and other liberals to sideline the Covenant? Concerns voiced at the ACC did not relate to Section 1 with its affirmation of traditional Anglican tenets.
Instead they focused on Section 4. It was held to be unduly restrictive, despite the assurances it contained of non-interference in a province's internal affairs-and stressed in the CDG's commentary issued with the draft.
There was a further expression of concern about its provision for adherence to the Covenant not just by the provinces represented in the ACC but by "other Churches" also. Indeed, this raised the possibility of acceptance of the Covenant by the ACNA but not by TEC. But this provision was removed already at the ACC meeting.
Therefore, liberal anxieties should have been allayed on this score also. Thus Section 1, despite the lack of overt discussion of, may have been what was really on liberal minds. For if I could perceive its potential for exercising long-term moral suasion in the Communion, TEC could have perceived this too. And insofar as this is so, TEC will be concerned to postpone consideration of any Covenant draft containing such a section indefinitely.
The ACC meeting: moratorium on lawsuits
As also noted above, a second major question came before the ACC meeting. This was whether to call on TEC (and the Anglican Church of Canada) to suspend the law suits instituted against departing parishes and dioceses. Concerned mainly with who owns the property, these suits have consumed vast amounts of time and money. Moreover they are contrary to Scripture; in 1 Corinthians 6.1-7 Paul urges against them. The genesis of this moratorium is as follows. The Windsor Report, issued in 2004 to provide a way through the crisis provoked by the Robinson consecration, called for three of them.
These were on further consecrations of homosexual bishops, on authorization of same-sex blessings, and on interventions by overseas provinces across diocesan and provincial boundaries. This call received various subsequent endorsements, most recently by the Lambeth Conference of last summer.
The Windsor Continuation Group (WCG), appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury to promote implementation of the Windsor Report, recommended it for endorsement by the ACC. And in so doing it added a fourth moratorium: on lawsuits by TEC. But when the WCG recommendation emerged from the Primates' and ACC's Joint Standing Committee, through which on the way to the ACC meeting it had to pass, the fourth moratorium was somehow missing. It was reinstated in the meeting's agenda. But when it came to a vote it was narrowly defeated (33 to 32). That this represented the real sense of the meeting is doubtful, however. My Global South informant told me that many of his fellow representatives, whose first language was also not English, were unsure of what the term litigation meant.
Thus TEC and its allies, overt and covert, prevailed on both issues: postponing consideration of the Covenant by the provinces (although they are free in the meantime to study it) and avoiding censure of its lawsuits against dissident dioceses and congregations. But the Covenant, albeit lacking much provision for enforcement, offered perhaps the only remaining hope of maintaining coherence in the Anglican Communion. And the call to TEC to suspend its lawsuits, had it been heeded, would have provided space for a degree of reconciliation between the opposing parties. The continued pursuit of them necessarily poisons the atmosphere, even fatally, for TEC itself. Thus on both these scores, the Covenant and the litigation moratorium, TEC may be seen as acting against its own longer-term interests. And on this reckoning its prevailing at the ACC meeting was Pyrrhic.
---The Rev. Theodore L. Lewis is Resident Theologian of All Saints' Church, Chevy Chase, Maryland
Addendum: The Anglican Covenant and its salient provisions
The Covenant was proposed by the Windsor Report, issued in October 2004. The Archbishop of Canterbury appointed a Covenant Design Group (CDG), headed by Archbishop Drexel Gomez of the Caribbean and with some orthodox representation, to draft it. It has gone through three revisions as the CDG took account of comments on it and of its own deliberations: the Nassau draft, the St. Andrews draft, and then the Ridley Cambridge draft, arrived at earlier this year. The latter was the one presented to the ACC. It consists of four sections, the first and the last being the significant ones. The following are salient features of the four.
1. "Our Inheritance of Faith:" This affirms "the catholic and apostolic faith uniquely revealed in Holy Scripture and set forth in the catholic creeds" (Apostles' and Nicene). It affirms also "the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as containing all things necessary for salvation and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith." And it cites as authoritative "the historic formularies of the Church of England," notably the Thirty-nine Articles and the 1662 (English) Book of Common Prayer.
2. "Our Anglican Vocation:" This speaks of communion as a gift of God, calling for engagement in mission in concert with other churches both Anglican and non-Anglican, mission taking the form of evangelization and service to society.
3. "Our Unity and Common Life:" Each Church (sc. province), while remaining in full control of its own affairs (but with "accountability") is called on to affirm a shared Anglican life as expressed in the four Instruments of Communion: the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the ACC itself, and the Primates' Meeting. "Each Instrument may initiate and commend a process of discernment and a direction for the Communion and its Churches," without, however, compromising the autonomy of these Churches.
4. "Our Covenanted Life Together:" This section deals with the commitments entailed---or not---in adopting the Covenant, with eligibility to adopt it, and with its supervision. It is complex. The commitments to which the Covenant gives rise are set forth in rather dense language, but they seem to involve adhering to the Covenant in principle rather than detail. Care is taken to specify that the Covenant does not in itself affect the constitutions and canons of the member churches. As for eligibility, all members of the ACC may adopt the Covenant, in accordance with their own procedures. Adoption is open to other Churches as well, although by adopting it they do not automatically become Communion members. (At the meeting, however, adoption was limited to current ACC members.)
The function of supervision is assigned to the Joint Standing Committee of the ACC and the Primates' Meeting (JSC). If an action of a covenanting Church is of questionable consistency with the Covenant, the JSC, but evidently no other, may request that Church to defer its action. If that Church fails to defer, then the JSC, after seeking advice from the ACC and the Primates' Meeting, may make recommendations to the Instruments concerning the participation of that Church in the Instruments. But there is claimed neither any authority over the internal affairs of that Church, nor any jurisdiction regarding its constitution and canons.