Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Missouri Standing Committee Response

Date: May 23, 2007

To: The Office of the General Convention (gcsecretary@episcopalchurch.org)

From: The Standing Committee of the Diocese of Missouri
(Compiled on behalf of the Standing Committee by Peter E. Van Horne, D.Min, President of the Standing Committee)

Subject: Response to Draft Anglican Covenant

(1) Do you think an Anglican Covenant is necessary and/or will help to strengthen the interdependent life of the Anglican Communion? Why or why not?
Some on the Standing Committee noted that the idea of a Covenant makes good sense. However, this is a draft document, and it should be seen as that. At the same time, we do not think that this is a process that can be hurried. We would like a clear statement that we are going to take our time in this process, allow people to make suggestions, and not assume that these early drafts are going to be all that great. We would like to see a longer process and broader participation.
We think that one question that should be asked is whether this is a Covenant, or an attempt to do an “end run” around the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church. We think this seems to be more of an attempt to produce a constitution than a covenant.
When we speak of a “covenant,” we are reminded of the Baptismal Covenant and the positive impact it has had on the church. On the other hand, this draft does not have the feel of something that has a positive impact on the life of the church.
Furthermore, what we Episcopalians in American think of as normative Anglicanism is not a norm that is widely held in the Anglican Communion. This is particularly truer today because many ordinands in other parts of the Communion are not familiar with the writings of Richard Hooker. In other words, what is going on is something different; the larger segment of Anglican Communion has a different theological bent.

(2) How closely does this view of communion accord with your understanding of the development and vocation of the Anglican Communion?
We fear that the outcome of the Draft Covenant would be to move us from a relational-based fellowship to a theologically-based fellowship. Reformation covenants did not prevent further splitting of the church.

(3) Is this a sufficient rationale for entering into a Covenant? Why or why not?
It is our opinion that this rationale is very general and is not much of a rationale for a covenant. Communion is a process, covenant is a relationship, but this draft results in juridical statements.
Furthermore, we wonder if the Rationale is suggesting there is too much pluralism in the Anglican Communion. Do they think our theological understanding is too fuzzy? We are of the opinion that the leg of “Reason” from the three-legged of Scripture, Tradition and Reason is being left out. Of course, another question that should be faced is what we mean by “Reason” in a post-modern context.
What has been the genius of the Anglican Communion is that there are a few things we are clear about together, and there are other matters that allow for discussion, debate and disagreement. One strategy that comes through this text is that differing voices must be silenced, and that differences must not have center stage.
It also should be noted that the Eucharist does not enter into this Draft Covenant.

(4) Do these six affirmations adequately describe The Episcopal Church’s understanding of “common catholicity, apostolicity, and confession of faith”? Why or why not?
Affirmation #5 does not describe The Episcopal Church’s understanding of “common catholicity, apostolicity, and confession of faith.”
Affirmation #2 uses the term “uniquely,” and we note that the term does not appear in the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. Should the term be read in terms of natural versus revealed theology?
Affirmation #5’s reference to the Thirty-nine Articles and to the 1662 Book of Common Prayer will be addressed elsewhere in these responses.

(5) The Thirty-nine Articles of Religion and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (of the Church of England) are not currently authoritative documents for The Episcopal Church. Do you think they should be? Why or why not?
The Thirty-nine Articles should be seen today as historical documents that at one time were formative in the life of the Anglican Communion. However, they no longer have that formative role, and they should not be imposed as prescriptive standards.
The 1662 Book of Common Prayer is part of our heritage, yet liturgical renewal since the 1950’s has resulted in forms of worship that are broader and more appropriate for our cultural contexts.

(6) Is each of these commitments clear and understandable with respect to what is being asked of the member churches and are they consistent with statements and actions made by the Episcopal Church in the General Convention? Why or why not?
We have serious reservations about the statement concerning “biblically derived moral values.” Also, there is no conscience clause and no suggestion of respect for minority opinions. We do not know what the driving force is for this desire to impose uniformity. We believe it is wrong, and there should not be an attempt to dictate in detail a commonly-held belief. This is contrary to what we have sought in The Episcopal Church. We wish to avoid any attempt to impose Puritanized moral values of the church.
The Episcopal Church is a creedal church, not a confessional church, and one result of the Draft Covenant would be to lead us into Puritanism. Again, we feel the Draft Covenant is juridical in nature and would serve to discourage diverse thinking and, instead, would attempt to “keep people in line.”
We would like to think that the church would welcome others to the Table, yet we are greatly troubled to learn that some might not be invited to the feast. We need to be more inclusive.

(7) Is the mission vision offered here helpful in advancing a common life of the Anglican Communion and does this need to be a part of the Draft Covenant? Why or why not?
It is our opinion that this entire conversation is about out vision of catholicity. Do we in the Episcopal Church have an American set of blinders? The issue of how we relate to the rest of the world is important. We need to work at a relationship with the Communion in the name of greater inclusivity and catholicity, and be open to the insights of others around the world. This document is not inclusive.

(8) Does this section adequately describe your understanding of the history and respective roles of the “Four Instruments of Communion”? Why or why not?
The question of how the Instruments of Communion are supposed to work is not adequately addressed in the Draft Covenant. We also believe that this document represents a “power grab” by the Primates.
(9) Do you think there needs to be an executive or judicial body for resolving disagreements or disputes in the Anglican Communion? If so, do you think it should be the Primates Meeting as recommended by the Draft Covenant? Explain.
We do not think there needs to be “an executive or judicial body” to resolve conflicts or disagreement within the Communion. If one is needed, perhaps it should be the A.C.C. rather than the Primates. The Primates seem to be giving themselves more weight than they deserve. Overall, it seems the Draft Covenant is leaning toward developing an ecclesiastical court system designed to discourage diversity of thought and practice. If there is to be a juridical system as the result of this Draft Covenant, there also should be a Bill of Rights so that the many will not trample on the rights of the few.
There also should be a process that will outline how members of the Communion who do not agree with each other still can engage in conversation and dialogue. Up to now, we have been able to agree to disagree, and we only needed to agree on the Quadrilateral. Do we have to agree on all else?

(10) What does the phrase “a common mind about matters of essential concern. . .” mean to you?
Laughter erupted among the members of the Standing Committee when this question was read aloud. “Essential” is not a category that works for us. It would seem that the Draft Covenant is attempting to nail down too many things. Instead, we wish to recapture the “center” in the Communion Center and make that center work again.

(11) Can you affirm the “fundamental shape” of the Draft Covenant? Why or why not?
We cannot affirm the shape of the Draft Covenant. Our answers in the sections above should explain our position. We agree with those who have said that the Draft Covenant is a “deeply flawed document.”

(12) What do you think are the consequences of signing such a Covenant as proposed in the Draft?
The consequences of agreeing to such a Covenant would be disastrous, and any Covenant should not take this form.
(13) Having read the Draft Covenant as a whole do you agree with the CDG’s assertion that “nothing which is commended in the draft text of the Covenant can be said to be ‘new’”? Why or why not?
As to the question of whether there is nothing here that can be said to be new, the immediate response of one member was, “Baloney!” One has only to look, for example, at the sections concerning the anticipated roles of the Instruments of Communion to see that there is much here that is new and which discourages the diversity of Anglican thought and practice that has been a hallmark of our Communion.

(14) In general, what is your response to the Draft Covenant taken as a whole? What is helpful in the draft? What is not-helpful? What is missing? Additional comments?
Again, laughter erupted among the members of the Standing Committee when this question was read aloud. Please review our responses above to see what we believe is helpful, not helpful, and missing. We are trying to appreciate that a long work has begun, and there is much to be done and the inclusion of more voices would be helpful.

Published here with permission of the President of the SC.

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