Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Anglican Covenant

December 23, 2009

So we have our Christmas present from the Archbishop of Canterbury: a revised fourth section of the proposed Anglican Covenant. Here is what Rowan Williams has to say about it:

"It’s quite important in this process to remember what the Covenant is and what it isn’t, what it’s meant to achieve, and what it’s not going to achieve. It’s not going to solve all our problems, it’s not going to be a constitution, and it’s certainly not going to be a penal code for punishing people who don’t comply.
"But what it does represent is this: in recent years in the Anglican family, we’ve discovered that our relations with each other as local churches have often been strained, that we haven’t learned to trust one another as perhaps we should, that we really need to build relationships, and we need to have a sense that we are responsible to one another and responsible for each other. In other words, what we need is something that will help us know where we stand together, and help us also intensify our fellowship and our trust.
"The last bit of the Covenant text is the one that's perhaps been the most controversial, because that’s where we spell out what happens if relationships fail or break down. It doesn’t set out, as I’ve already said, a procedure for punishments and sanctions. It does try and sort out how we will discern the nature of our disagreement, how important is it? How divisive does it have to be? Is it a Communion breaking issue that’s in question – or is it something we can learn to live with? And so in these sections of the covenant what we’re trying to do is simply to give a practical, sensible and Christian way of dealing with our conflicts, recognising that they’re always going to be there."

And here is what it actually says:

Section Four: Our Covenanted Life Together

4. Each Church affirms the following principles and procedures, and, reliant on the Holy Spirit, commits itself to their implementation.
4.1 Adoption of the Covenant
(4.1.1) Each Church adopting this Covenant affirms that it enters into the Covenant as a commitment to relationship in submission to God. Each Church freely offers this commitment to other Churches in order to live more fully into the ecclesial communion and interdependence which is foundational to the Churches of the Anglican Communion. The Anglican Communion is a fellowship, within the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, of national or regional Churches, in which each recognises in the others the bonds of a common loyalty to Christ expressed through a common faith and order, a shared inheritance in worship, life and mission, and a readiness to live in an interdependent life.
(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.
(4.1.3) Such mutual commitment does not represent submission to any external ecclesiastical jurisdiction. Nothing in this Covenant of itself shall be deemed to alter any provision of the Constitution and Canons of any Church of the Communion, or to limit its autonomy of governance. The Covenant does not grant to any one Church or any agency of the Communion control or direction over any Church of the Anglican Communion.
(4.1.4) Every Church of the Anglican Communion, as recognised in accordance with the Constitution of the Anglican Consultative Council, is invited to enter into this Covenant according to its own constitutional procedures.
(4.1.5) The Instruments of Communion may invite other Churches to adopt the Covenant using the same procedures as set out by the Anglican Consultative Council for the amendment of its schedule of membership. Adoption of this Covenant does not confer any right of recognition by, or membership of, the Instruments of Communion, which shall be decided by those Instruments themselves.
(4.1.6) This Covenant becomes active for a Church when that Church adopts the Covenant through the procedures of its own Constitution and Canons.
4.2 The Maintenance of the Covenant and Dispute Resolution
(4.2.1) The Covenant operates to express the common commitments and mutual accountability which hold each Church in the relationship of communion one with another. Recognition of, and fidelity to, this Covenant, enable mutual recognition and communion. Participation in the Covenant implies a recognition by each Church of those elements which must be maintained in its own life and for which it is accountable to the Churches with which it is in Communion in order to sustain the relationship expressed in this Covenant.
(4.2.2) The Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion, responsible to the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meeting, shall monitor the functioning of the Covenant in the life of the Anglican Communion on behalf of the Instruments. In this regard, the Standing Committee shall be supported by such other committees or commissions as may be mandated to assist in carrying out this function and to advise it on questions relating to the Covenant.
(4.2.3) When questions arise relating to the meaning of the Covenant, or about the compatibility of an action by a covenanting Church with the Covenant, it is the duty of each covenanting Church to seek to live out the commitments of Section 3.2. Such questions may be raised by a Church itself, another covenanting Church or the Instruments of Communion.
(4.2.4) Where a shared mind has not been reached the matter shall be referred to the Standing Committee. The Standing Committee shall make every effort to facilitate agreement, and may take advice from such bodies as it deems appropriate to determine a view on the nature of the matter at question and those relational consequences which may result. Where appropriate, the Standing Committee shall refer the question to both the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meeting for advice.
(4.2.5) The Standing Committee may request a Church to defer a controversial action. If a Church declines to defer such action, the Standing Committee may recommend to any Instrument of Communion relational consequences which may specify a provisional limitation of participation in, or suspension from, that Instrument until the completion of the process set out below.
(4.2.6) On the basis of advice received from the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meeting, the Standing Committee may make a declaration that an action or decision is or would be “incompatible with the Covenant”.
(4.2.7) On the basis of the advice received, the Standing Committee shall make recommendations as to relational consequences which flow from an action incompatible with the Covenant. These recommendations may be addressed to the Churches of the Anglican Communion or to the Instruments of the Communion and address the extent to which the decision of any covenanting Church impairs or limits the communion between that Church and the other Churches of the Communion, and the practical consequences of such impairment or limitation. Each Church or each Instrument shall determine whether or not to accept such recommendations.
(4.2.8) Participation in the decision making of the Standing Committee or of the Instruments of Communion in respect to section 4.2 shall be limited to those members of the Instruments of Communion who are representatives of those churches who have adopted the Covenant, or who are still in the process of adoption.
(4.2.9) Each Church undertakes to put into place such mechanisms, agencies or institutions, consistent with its own Constitution and Canons, as can undertake to oversee the maintenance of the affirmations and commitments of the Covenant in the life of that Church, and to relate to the Instruments of Communion on matters pertinent to the Covenant.
4.3 Withdrawing from the Covenant
(4.3.1) Any covenanting Church may decide to withdraw from the Covenant. Although such withdrawal does not imply an automatic withdrawal from the Instruments of Communion or a repudiation of its Anglican character, it may raise a question relating to the meaning of the Covenant, and of compatibility with the principles incorporated within it, and trigger the provisions set out in section 4.2 above.
4.4 The Covenant Text and its amendment
(4.4.1) The Covenant consists of the text set out in this document in the Preamble, Sections One to Four and the Declaration. The Introduction to the Covenant Text, which shall always be annexed to the Covenant text, is not part of the Covenant, but shall be accorded authority in understanding the purpose of the Covenant.
(4.4.2) Any covenanting Church or Instrument of Communion may submit a proposal to amend the Covenant to the Instruments of Communion through the Standing Committee. The Standing Committee shall send the proposal to the Anglican Consultative Council, the Primates’ Meeting, the covenanting Churches and any other body as it may consider appropriate for advice. The Standing Committee shall make a recommendation on the proposal in the light of advice offered, and submit the proposal with any revisions to the covenanting Churches. The amendment is operative when ratified by three quarters of such Churches. The Standing Committee shall adopt a procedure for promulgation of the amendment.

Things to note.
Check out 4.1.5. This will allow groups such as the breakaway North American Province to sign the covenant and seek recognition by ‘the instruments of unity’.
There is every likelihood that the Covenant reception process will prove quite divisive, but it will be difficult to make it go away even if a majority of provinces want it to.
4.2.2 ‘The Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion, accountable to the ACC and the Primates Meeting’ becomes a powerful body rather than a servant of the larger groups. They can declare actions taken by provinces as “incompatible with the covenant”.

I suspect that this whole effort will exacerbate division in the communion, not only between provinces (and other ‘groups’) that sign over against those that don’t, but within provinces between those who think this is a good thing and those who do not. It is clear that the Standing Committee would ask us to ‘exercise gracious restraint’ with regard to consecrating any openly gay bishops (until when..?) I wonder if they would also challenge the bishops of Uganda regarding their support for the idea that homosexuality is a learned behavior which should be discouraged through draconian punishment. Does that strain the ‘bonds of affection’ enough to be a communion breaking action?

Friday, December 18, 2009

What is a Jew?

December 18, 2009

The new British Supreme Court has ruled on a case regarding admission to a well known London school called JFS, formerly the Jewish Free School. A child whose mother is a Jewish convert and whose whole family is observant in a progressive synagogue was denied admission to the school which comes out of an Orthodox Jewish Tradition. The school sets its definition of a Jew by that of the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations in the Commonwealth, and Orthodox group, which says that a Jew must be born of an Orthodox Jewish mother.

The majority of the judges ruled that this is discrimination based on ethnic identity rather than religious belief under English law and since the school receives state funding (even though it is allowed to favor Jewish applicants) they have to follow non discriminatory admissions practices. Some judges suggested that the law might need to be changed to accommodate JFS concerns.

Others who have been denied admission (even when they have a close relationship with the school) ask why it is that an atheist whose mother happens to be Jewish should be preferred over the child of an observant convert. This is a reasonable question

One place where this kind of issue affects us is when we are trying to balance our desire to be hospitable with our desire not to be ‘used’ by people seeking a wedding at All Saints’. Some people want to meet all the requirements for ‘membership’ without any interest in the spirit of what it means to be an active participant in this community of faith. Others insist that their active participation means that their adult children who live elsewhere have a ‘right’ to be married at All Saints’. Our desire is to be generous and inmost situations we are happy and able to accommodate all kinds of circumstance. Where it gets tricky is when those desiring to be married start acting as though they have rented the church, the clergy and the staff along with their tuxedos. In the end we do plenty of ‘non member weddings’ but find that there is no rule or standard that ensures the kind of attitude that makes for a happy occasion for all concerned.

There are of course other places where ‘membership’ is an issue. Why should an active baptized member of the congregation who, for whatever personal reason chooses not to seek confirmation or reception into this branch of the church, not be able to vote in a vestry election, let alone offer him or herself for office?

I’m sure the Supreme Court ruling will complicate things for JFS in some way but suspect that no clear standard of membership will really achieve what they want, human beings being what we are.

You can read about the case here


December 17, 2009

Kabuki is a form of Japanese drama marked by stylized movement and singing with the characters wearing heavy make up and, occasionally, masks. I have been thinking about this as the Church has reacted to the election of Mary Glasspool as one of two Suffragan Bishops in Los Angeles. Her election is causing a furor of sorts because she is a partnered lesbian. (Who recalls offhand the name of the other distinguished priest who was elected first?) Since the election all the usual players have made all the usual and predictable moves. Rowan Williams has shown that he has more grasp of the polity of The Episcopal Church than some do and urged that her election not be approved by those bishops with jurisdiction and Standing Committees that will be asked to give their consent. He is still hoping for an Anglican Covenant that will keep conservatives in the fold. Others have colorfully praised the election as “another nail in the coffin of Christian homophobia”. Various groups have made various statements, but there just is not the heat behind all this that there was when Barbara Harris was elected a Suffragan Bishop of Massachusetts and many thought the sky was falling, or when Gene Robinson was elected Bishop of New Hampshire and a similar furor followed. We are ‘over it’, pretty well confirmed in our various positions and moving on. The actors with all their masks and arcane costumes are taking all the right steps, but they no longer inspire passion.

I, and many others apparently, are much more concerned that Anglican Bishops in Uganda are waffling about whether or not they condemn a proposed law against homosexuality. The threat of a death penalty has been removed, partly as a result of international pressure (Our Presiding Bishop and even Rick Warren have made statements opposing the proposed laws on moral grounds but as yet nothing official from the ABC—He is ‘working intensively’ behind the scenes apparently.) There are some signs of right wing groups in the US funding and supporting aspects of the proposed law which criminalizes not only homosexuality, but the suspicion of it, outlining punishment for those who do not report such deviant behavior among their neighbors. That is worth getting worked up about and it is unclear to me what would be so terrible about the ABC making public his concern over the position of Anglican Bishops in the matter. He was willing to have an official opinion about an election in TEC within about twelve hours of its happening and making that statement public? Can anyone explain why a statement ‘urging’ his brother bishops in Uganda to take a clear position in line with various Lambeth Conference resolutions would be so terrible?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Chicago Consultation

December 8, 2009

The Chicago Consultation is made up of a group of Christians from the US and elsewhere, including many bishops and priests who gathered in Chicago prior to our last General Convention to “support the full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons in the Church”. They have responded to Mary Glasspool’s election as a Bishop Suffragan in Los Angeles and to the ABC’s subsequent statement in a measured way. You can read this contrast to some of the statements to which I referred in my post of yesterday here

Monday, December 7, 2009

Bishop Mpango and Anglican Affairs

December 7, 2009

It has been a joy to have Bishop Gerard Mpango and some friends from the Diocese of Western Tanganyika as our guests over the past week. On Sunday they joined us for worship at two services and were impressed by the size of the congregation and the vitality of our (fairly traditional) worship. In his remarks he alluded to ‘difficulties in our relationship’ related to ‘politics in the Anglican Communion’ and his desire to forget the past and move forward in mission together. At a lunch in his honor after church he expanded those remarks. He acknowledged that following the consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire, he had to decide which way to lead his diocese. The province of the Church of Tanzania was divided but nonetheless pressuring everyone to fall in line with the conservative stance of much of East Africa. Was DWT going to go with Peter Akinola and his brand of the faith or try and be more participatory in the Anglican Communion in spite of real differences of biblical interpretation and, culture and life? It was the Lambeth Conference that gave him the will to move in the latter direction and to engage a three part companion diocese relationship with Gloucester in England and El Camino Real in the US. It was that same sense that led him to seek to re-engage relationship with All Saints’, Atlanta. As a sign of that desire, he was moved to visit at his own expense and bring other members of his diocese with him. Our vestry made a grant to the AIDS ministry of his diocese in thanksgiving for his visit. This gift addresses our relationship and the millennium development goals, as well as extending our commitment to give more to those in need in challenging economic times.

At he point of our lunch, the election of two suffragan bishops in Los Angeles was in the background. Two women were elected, the second of whom was declared to be a partnered (of twenty one years) lesbian. The Archbishop of Canterbury responded within hours warning of ‘serious consequences’ for The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. Bishop Mpango received this as ‘bad news’ but at least in conversation with me, he did not suggest that this was anything other than a difference in spite of which we would be in relationship. He is certainly concerned that bishops are ‘for the whole church’, but gave no sign that this would damage his three way diocesan relationship or friendship with All Saints’.

In a way, that response is one that I expect will be played out in a number of ways throughout the communion. Some blogs have expressed anger and outrage that the ABC would interfere in the affairs of TEC over people who love each other while being unable in weeks to make any kind of response to a hateful anti-homosexual bill being supported by Anglican bishops in that country. Others have trumpeted the same old (inaccurate) stuff about our moving away from tradition and scripture. The international press has largely reported the election and the ABC’s response without drama. And on we go.

I remain proud of The Episcopal Church. I also remain committed to relationships of mutual caring and respect with those who differ from us in many ways including our friends in DWT. The alternative is schism and separation rather than being in a place where we may all discover something of the expansive reality of God’s unutterable love.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Moral Philosophy

December 5, 2009

Simon Blackburn of Cambridge University has mounted a defense of the relevance of the discipline of moral philosophy in Cam Magazine (Issue 58, Michaelmas 2009, p.35-37). In response to those disciplines that would reduce human behavior to matters of genetics, or to some basic assumption such as the economic one that we are inherently selfish. He says “just as we need clean air, we need a clean moral climate,--and one of the tasks of moral philosophy is to worry about whether we have it.” He challenges the extreme individualism of much modern thinking pointing out that such things as language, money and law are ”socially constructed and sustained”.

Our friend Giles Frazer (who is once again going to be the presenter for adults at our Kanuga parish weekend next autumn) has take up a similar theme in a recent article in The Guardian, arguing against the belief of much modern atheism that children ought to be left to decide for themselves about religious faith when they are older. He makes the point that we are socially constructed and that transmitting societal values is comparable to teaching language to children. He distinguishes this from ‘religious brainwashing’.

Reading these articles leads me back to my fundamental assumption that what makes any of us who we are is some kind of sense of self together with all that we can call our ‘circumstance’, --our history, culture, adoptions and rejections, language and so on. I would count God as the source and prime mover of this circumstance (This is the phrase from José Ortega y Gasset: “I am myself plus my circumstance”) I reject anything such as the waiter of Jean-Paul Sartre that would define human freedom in extremely individualistic terms. In the same way I reject any kind of communalism that seeks to give ultimate power to some notion of community such as seen in the attempts of Lenin and Stalin to put the Marx-Engels philosophy into practice.

Immigration and Islam (2)

December 5, 2009

Ann Appelbaum is a columnist for the Washington Post. She has written a review of Christopher Caldwell’s Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam and the West (Doubleday, 2009) I discussed this in an entry of August 13 of this year. In her review published in The New Republic (November 18, 2009 p.38-41). She takes issue with what she understands as Caldwell’s idea that Islam is incompatible with European Culture and always will be. “Having explained why no efforts at assimilation were made in the 1960s and 1970s, and why such efforts are not succeeding now, he goes on to predict why they will never work at all.” Applebaum tells us that she “belongs to the group who fondly and naively imagine that Islam may evolve”. She does not “see why Muslim immigrants will remain magically immune to all the integrationist influences that have shaped other immigrants into contented citizens of Western society.”

I find myself more in the ‘pessimist column’ than not on this one, --at least in the near and middle future. I am persuaded by Jonathan Sacks argument in The Dignity of Difference (See my post for September 7, 2009) that conservative religion in various forms is growing in response and reaction to ‘modernism’ and ‘globalization’. At the same time this conservative movement is squeezing any relevance that liberal religion holds precisely because it is aligned with the modernist project. The reality of the internet and the powerful claims of that mysterious idea of ‘identity’ mean that Caldwell’s conclusion is likely to be the right one: “When an insecure, malleable, relativistic culture meets a culture that is anchored, confident and strengthened by common doctrines, it is generally the former that changes to suit the latter.”

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


November 29, 2009

You may have heard of Marjora Carter. She is host of a show on Public Radio’s called The Promised Land and also one on the Sundance Channel called Eco-Heroes. She has been named one of the twenty-five most influential African- Americans by Essence Magazine and is a Genius Fellow of the MacArthur Foundation. What she did that led to these opportunities and accolades was founding and heading something called Sustainable Bronx, a community organization dedicated to Environmental Justice solutions through innovative, economically sustainable projects that are informed by community needs in addressing policy issues affecting one of the poorest congressional districts in the country. It is not unlike the transition town movement originally out of England but now international and growing in this country and might be helpful to us as we begin to think about the future of this city block on which we sit in the middle of a growing metropolis. Marjora Carter said something really compelling in her remarks to the Trinity Institute at the beginning of this year (January, 2009). She said: “As far as I’m concerned, people need three things to be whole: someone to love, something to do and something to look forward to. If any one of these things is missing, the other two suffer—and in communities like mine, at least two out of the three are hard to come by.” The article is called “Greening the Ghetto” in The Anglican Theological Review, (Fall 2009, Vol. 91, No 4) p.602

This kind of work could be the personal ‘way in’ to issues of sustainability and environment that I have been seeking. Many of the articles of that issue of ATR, (available in our parish library) address such things as ‘neighborhood ethics’ and ‘a theology of urban space’ that could be useful in our next phase of strategic planning.

Another great resource comes from our own Earth Stewards in the most recent All Saints’ Monthly in thinking about the spirituality of a sustainable Christmas. It is called 'Have a Green Christmas'.