Friday, May 25, 2007

Comments from a member of St Timothy's

These thoughtful comments by Gary Stansbery are posted with his permission:

Here are my comments on the Draft Anglican Covenant: The numbered sections follow the numbered questions in the Study Guide.

(1) I do not think an Anglican Covenant is necessary. There is no more need now than in the past. I believe the Anglican Covenant is a device by the conservative Anglican Primates to facilitate coercing the Episcopal Church in the U.S.A. (ECUSA) into not honoring the human rights of gays and lesbians, and in particular not allowing gays and lesbians to be ordained bishops. Once the ECUSA is coerced in this area, the coercion will be applied in other areas.

However, since the General Convention has agreed to participate in the Covenant process, I accept the idea of a Covenant but would urge that the language allow us to form our faith and practice in a manner that we think is right , without coercion from the conservative Primates.

(2) It does not accord with my understanding, since it views the Anglican Communion as one unitary body, a kind of “super church”, requiring “mutual commitment and discipline”, rather than an association of related autonomous Churches. I believe the “mutual commitment and discipline” in the text refers to action by the conservative Primates to coerce the ECUSA to do or not do what the conservative Primates wish.

(3) It would be a sufficient rationale if the language of the Covenant itself were appropriate. It is not a rationale for the coercive aspect of the Covenant.

(4) The first four adequately describe the ECUSA’s understanding of our faith, except that somewhere the reference to Scripture should be expanded to include the full formula of “scripture, tradition and reason”.

I recognize that item 2 tracks the language of the Chicago – Lambeth Quadrilateral. Since we are expanding on the Quadrilateral in this and other sections of the Covenant, I believe that there should be a clear reference to “scripture, tradition and reason” for the Covenant.

This is important because the Covenant is trying to force a conservative, literal application of scripture, while the “scripture, tradition and reason” formula broadens and expands how we form our faith and practice.

(5) Item 5 reflects an effort by the drafters to compel us to conform to the Thirty-nine Articles and the 1662 Prayer Book, which we should resist. The ECUSA has rejected these documents as authoritative, and we should not be forced to change our faith and practice. Item 5 should be deleted.

(6) Some parts are not clear and understandable and /or need to be altered.

Para. 1. The words “moral values derived from scripture, tradition and reason” should be substituted for “biblically derived moral values” in order to broaden the criteria for moral values. In addition, the words “the vision of humanity received by and developed in the communion of member Churches” should be deleted. This language is ambiguous. My interpretation is that the only vision that the ECUSA can implement is a vision developed by all the member churches. In other words, all the member churches must agree before the ECUSA can implement a vision of humanity (such as that homosexuality is innate, rather than a voluntary sin, or that women should be admitted to the priesthood and episcopate). This relates to the basic issue of whether the conservative Primates can coerce the ECUSA. This statement may provide a rationale for such coercion.

Para. 3. I am not sure what is meant by “bishops and synods’ , but I suspect that these words may exclude clergy and lay persons. The words “governing bodies of the member churches” should be used instead.

In addition, this reference to biblical texts is not clear, and could be construed to support conservative literal interpretation and application. A statement should be added that a dynamic interpretation is permitted, whereby the central tenants of Christianity are employed and applied to current situations, even if particular detailed provisions are ignored as being not appropriate.

(7) I believe it is helpful and should be a part of the Covenant. A Covenant should have a section on mission.

(8) No, this section does not adequately describe my understanding. My understanding was that the Anglican Communion was an association of churches and the “Instruments of Communion” existed to facilitate communication and interaction, including analysis and discussion of current problems. This description makes them into watchdogs of doctrinal purity, which is a different role.

(9) No, I do not believe there needs to be a body for resolving disputes, because “resolving” in this context means coercing a Province which takes a minority view to conform to the views of the majority.

If we are must have such a body, the Primates Meeting is badly flawed for this purpose because it is not a representative body. It does not include clergy and lay persons. In addition, not all members were originally elevated to the status of bishop in a democratic manner. Also, women are excluded by some Provinces from the episcopate and from the process of selecting bishops, and so of necessity are excluded from being Primates.

(10) A “matter of essential concern” is a matter that some party believes is important enough to label it “essential”. The criteria of what is essential is very subjective, and will be manipulated by all parties to advance their agendas. A “common mind” means we must all agree. This is accomplished, hopefully first by discussion and discernment, and finally by those in power coercing dissenters. I note that this meaning is repeated by the phrase “common standards of faith”, which mean that standards held by the minority must be conformed to those held by the majority. Otherwise , such standards would not be ‘common”.

I note that, in the same para. 3, “Scripture” is used again without reference to tradition and reason.

In my opinion, Section 6 of the Covenant is the most important section. And the most important subject in Section 6 is the subject of sanctions. By “sanctions” I mean exclusion from the Communion, reduced status in the Communion, denial of voice and /or vote in Communion proceedings, denial of Communion privileges, etc. If the “Instruments of Communion” do not have the power to impose sanctions, then the Covenant will have little detrimental effect. The “Instruments of Communion” will function as advisory bodies, with no enforcement power. If they do have sanctions, then the ECUSA will be subject to them, and the situation will be drastically changed in that the ECUSA will be subject to intimidation and coercion.

In my opinion, the drafters of the Covenant intend for the “Instruments of Communion” to have the sanctions listed above. However, they have obscured this subject by veiled language which conceals this reality. In para. 4 they refer to “respect” for the “Instruments of Communion”. Then in para. 6 they refer to “a process of restoration and renewal will be required”. In my opinion, this veiled language refers to sanctions of some kind. Since the sanctions are not spelled out, in effect what the Covenant does is create an ecclesiastical police authority which is given a blank check as to what it can do to transgressors.

I would respond to this situation as follows: A) I would specifically bar the “Instruments of Communion” from using any of the above sanctions. This would be done in the text of the Covenant with a specific list and a specific prohibition. B) If that fails or is not possible, then I would specifically list all the above sanctions as powers of the “Instruments of Communion”. We will not have lost anything, because the “Instruments of Communion” will assume the power to apply these sanctions. The value of a specific listing is that it will force the deputies and bishops who vote on the Covenant to face the fact that they are voting to make themselves subject to sanctions, and it will at least defeat the effort to obscure this reality.

(11) The “fundamental shape” of the Covenant is O.K. if changes in the text discussed above are made.

(12) The consequences of signing the Covenant would be to facilitate the conservative Primates in their effort to cause the ECUSA to change its policies on gays and lesbians, beginning with gay bishops ands eventually extending to the overall treatment of all gays and lesbians. After the ECUSA is forced to change on this issue, the conservative Primates will apply their new found power to other issues, which will be deemed “essential” for this purpose.

(13) I do not agree because the function of the “Instruments of Communion” as the watchdog of doctrinal purity, with authority to enforce their opinions and decisions, to my knowledge has no precedent in the Anglican Communion. The statement that there is nothing “new” in the Draft is not true.

(14) Taken as a whole, my response is that it is a document designed to facilitate oppression of the ECUSA, and other Provinces with similar views, by the conservative Primates. There is little that is helpful in the Draft. It is wholly unacceptable to me unless it is drastically reworked as described above.

Gary Stansbery

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