14 February 2018

Oaths, Subscriptions and Consensual Compact

Occasionally the question arises as to the nature and status of the Constitutions and Canons of the various synods in the Anglican Church of Canada. Fundamentally, enquirers ask about the basis for the authority for such rules.

Legally, the Anglican Church of Canada and its constituent parts are understood as voluntary associations. In such an organization, two or more persons “agree to be bound together for common purposes and undertake mutual duties and obligations.” (I am grateful to Russell Sandberg’s Law and Religion for this succinct definition at pages 72f.) Voluntary associations exist in many forms throughout our society. A secular example would be a curling club. Voluntary associations generally need some form of structure for internal governance and ultimately need to develop rules for governance and operations. This is as true for a church as for a curling club, though obviously the details differ significantly.

Members of voluntary associations agree, or are deemed to agree, to the rules of the organization. This is referred to as the doctrine of consensual compact. In the case of a curling club or some similar organization, a new member might be given a copy of the rules, possibly a membership card, and there would typically be some kind of annual membership fee. Membership would confer rights and obligations, notably the obligation to abide by the rules. And there would be some mechanism to change the rules form time to time.

If we understand the church as a voluntary association, the doctrine of consensual compact implies that the members of the church are understood to have agreed to the rules, and to the system of governance which adopts, amends, interprets and enforces those rules. That is, under the doctrine of consensual compact members of the Anglican Church of Canada are deemed implicitly to have agreed to be governed by our bishops in synods, and by the Constitutions, Canons and other policy instruments that have been adopted or may be adopted from time to time.

When clergy are ordained or licensed, they take oaths which are prescribed in Provincial canons.

Thus, in Canada, a cleric will swear:

I, N, do solemnly declare that I profess the faith set forth in the Scriptures and in the Catholic Creeds and affirm my allegiance to the doctrine of the Anglican Church of Canada as set forth by the Book of Common Prayer and in the Ordinal; in public prayer and in the administration of the Sacraments I will use the form of the Book of Common Prayer and none other except so far as shall be ordered by lawful authority;

I will pay true and canonical obedience to the Bishop of _____ and to his/her successors, in all legal and honest demands;

I will pay true and canonical obedience to the Canons which have been or are from time to time passed by the General Synod, the Provincial Synod and the Synod of the Diocese of _____.

Similar oaths are found in Rupert’s Land as follows:

I, A.B. do solemnly make the following declaration: I assent to the Solemn Declaration adopted by the first General Synod in 1893 (as printed in the Book of Common Prayer), and to the Book of Common Prayer, and of the ordering of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons; I believe the doctrine of the Anglican Church of Canada as therein set forth to be agreeable to the Word of God; and in Public Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments, I will use the form in the said book prescribed and none other, except so far as shall be ordered by lawful authority.

I, A.B. do swear that I will pay true and canonical obedience to the Bishop of ... in all things lawful and honest. So Help Me God.

I, A.B. do willingly subscribe to and declare that I assent to and abide by the Constitution and Canons of the General Synod, Provincial Synod and the Synod of the Diocese of ... that are lawfully in force from time to time.

And in British Columbia and Yukon the oaths are:
I................... do solemnly make the following Declarations:

I................... profess the faith set forth in the Scriptures and in the Catholic Creeds and affirm my allegiance to the Doctrine of the Anglican Church of Canada as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer and no other except so far as shall be ordered by lawful authority;

I will pay true and canonical obedience to the Bishop of ................. and his or her successors in all legal and honest demands; I will abide by the Canons which have been or shall be from time to time passed by the General Synod, the Provincial Synod and the Synod of the Diocese of ……………
For some reason the Province of Ontario no longer specifies the oaths to be taken on its canons, having delegated these to the dioceses. However, that Province has provided a recommended form of oaths, which I believe are in general use, as follows:
I, _________, do solemnly make the following declarations:
a) I profess the faith set forth in the Scriptures and in the Catholic Creeds and affirm my allegiance to the doctrine of the Anglican Church of Canada as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer, in the Ordinal, and in the Book of Alternative Services;
b) In public prayer and in the administration of the Sacraments, I will use the form in the Book of Common Prayer or the Book of Alternative Services and none other, except so far as shall be ordered by lawful authority;
c) I will pay true and canonical obedience to the Bishop of __________, and to his/her successors, in all legal and honest demands;
d) I will pay true and canonical obedience to the Canons which have been, or shall be, from time to time passed by the General Synod, the Provincial Synod, or the Synod of the Diocese of __________.
The key point here is that the norm is that clergy at their ordination and licensing make explicit what is already implicit in the doctrine of consensual compact. That is, not only are clergy as members of the Anglican Church of Canada deemed to have agreed to the relevant Constitutions and Canons by consensual compact; they also explicitly swear an oath to obey the Canons. This undertaking is made in writing.

Occasionally someone suggests that they only agreed to abide by the canons that were in force when they took the oath, and that they are thus not bound by some new piece of legislation to which they take exception. But that’s not what the oaths say. The oath is to abide by the canons which are in force “from time to time”. Our system of governance through synods allows for the adoption of new canons and the amendment or repeal of existing ones. And when synods legislate, clergy have already accepted (and sworn on oath) that any new legislation applies to them.

Similarly, clergy sometimes assert that their oath of canonical obedience of the bishop applies only to the bishop who was in office at the time of the oath, and that when a new bishop takes office they don’t have to obey him or her. Again, that’s not what the oaths say. The key phrase in Canada and British Columbia and Yukon is “the Bishop of … and his or her successors.” And in Rupert’s Land, even though explicit reference to the successors is omitted, the oath is to the Bishop in his or her official (not personal) capacity which implies the Bishop who is in office from time to time.

So what does one do if a Synod legislates in a way that one finds intolerable? It's no good claiming to reserve the right not to be bound by some rule that one disagrees with. Really, there are only three options. The first is to live with it. The second is to propose subsequent amendments that might make it more livable (bearing in mind that there is no guarantee that such amendments will be adopted). And the third is to leave the Church. For clergy, this last option involves relinquishing ministry pursuant to Canon XIX, the colloquial term being laicization. Obviously this last course of action would not be an easy step to take, but that is the ultimate remedy. For under the doctrine of consensual compact, as long as one is a member of a voluntary association, one is presumed to consent to the organization’s rules, and clergy in particular are bound by the canons under oath.

Thus we see the doctrine of consensual compact in action.

19 July 2016

Canonical History made at General Synod

In adopting Resolution A143 (pdf), the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada has made history. The resolution authorized three sets of liturgical texts for trial use for the next three years. The texts in question are seasonal forms of the daily offices, collects for the Revised Common Lectionary and an inclusive language Psalter. These are all available on-line (at the time of writing the web page there still says they are encouraged for use where permitted by the diocesan bishops.)

Although liturgists will appreciate these new texts, none of this sounds particularly ground-breaking, but on one very specific point, the resolution certainly was. What made history was the choice of verb in the resolution: “authorize”.

One might be forgiven for a bit of confusion about the significance of this verb. After all, surely the General Synod has the authority to authorize liturgical texts, and periodically does so, so why is this worthy of even a nano-second of thought? The fact is, that although the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada does have the authority to authorize liturgy, it has studiously avoided exercising this authority since it approved the 1962 Book of Common Prayer. Rather, since that time the General Synod has preferred the route of producing liturgical texts and commending them for use, but only under the auspices of the local diocesan bishop, in his or her exercise of the power of jus liturgicum.

Liturgical law in the Anglican Church of Canada is not very developed – a comment that might equally be made in a number of areas of our canon law – so much of the authority over liturgy that is fleshed out and clearly specified in other Anglican provinces is left to some combination of custom and the bishop’s jus liturgicum (which some would argue is also customary). What is clear is that it is a fundamental principle of Anglicanism that in public worship clergy are permitted to use only texts that have been approved by “lawful authority.” We find this stated in so many words in The Principles of Canon Law Common to the Churches of the Anglican Communion – Principle 56 (2008: Anglican Consultative Council.) The principle is given force in the Oaths and Subscriptions taken by clergy at the time of their licensing. Thus, for example, clergy in the Ecclesiastical Province of Rupert’s Land are required to swear that “in Public Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments, I will use the form in the [Book of Common Prayer] and none other, except so far as shall be ordered by lawful authority.” (Canon VI)

The General Synod’s Declaration of Principles sets out the distribution of “lawful authority” in a variety of provisions, some explicit and some implicit. Section 6(j) gives the General Synod jurisdiction over “the revision, adaptation and publication of a Book of Common Prayer and a Hymnal for the Church. Section 7(b)(viii) gives authority to the Provincial Synods to authorize “special forms of prayers, services, and ceremonies for use within the province, for which no provisions have been made under the authority of the General Synod or the House of Bishops of the Anglican Church of Canada.” Implicitly, then, both the General Synod and the national House of Bishops must have authority to authorize liturgy beyond the Book of Common Prayer.

Finally, section 9(a) of the Declaration of Principles specifies that “nothing contained in sections 6, 7 and 8 shall limit or affect the powers, jurisdiction and authority inherent in the office of bishop, or exercised collectively by the bishops of the Church sitting as the House of Bishops of any province or of The Anglican Church of Canada.” The power to authorize liturgy locally in a diocese – a central part of jus liturgicum – is understood to be one of those “powers … inherent in the office of bishop” and this provision suggests that it could be exercised collectively by one of the five Houses of Bishops (four provincial and one national).

But if the General Synod has authority to authorize liturgy, it has studiously avoided using it, even when given the opportunity. During the 1970’s – a period of intense activity on liturgical reform across the Anglican Communion – Canadian Anglicans developed a number of rites for trial use. In 1975, General Synod considered a motion “that the Holy Eucharist, An Alternative Canadian Use ... be approved as an alternative form to the Book of Common Prayer service.” After amending the motion to include similar rites from the Episcopal Church and the Church of England, the General Synod then amended the motion to change the word “approved” to “commended”. The concern seems to have been that the General Synod wanted to leave the actual authorization of trial liturgy to the local diocesan bishop.  Perhaps someone present remembered Resolution 45 of the 1897 Lambeth Conference, which “recognise[d] the exclusive right of each bishop to put forth or sanction additional services for use within his jurisdiction, subject to such limitations as may be imposed by the provincial or other lawful authority.” Even so, the Resolution certainly doesn’t say that the General Synod can’t exercise its own authority (and even if it did, being a Lambeth Resolution it has no authority over any General Synod anyway.)

Similarly, when it came time to collect experimental liturgical texts into a Book of Alternative Services (1985), the General Synod chose not to authorize the book but again simply to commend it for use where authorized by the Ordinary. (It says as much in the Introduction). This is in stark contrast to other Provinces, including the Church of England, the Anglican Church of Australia, the Church of the Province of Southern Africa, and the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, Polynesia and New Zealand – to name a few – that all published alternative prayer books and authorized them in parallel to the Book of Common Prayer.

Since the Book of Alternative Services was published, other supplemental and trial use rites have also been developed, including three supplemental Eucharistic prayers, orders for Morning and Evening Prayer and Compline, and a Book of Occasional Celebrations, all of which have been subject to the authorization of the local Ordinary.

But now, with Resolution A143, General Synod has finally chosen to authorize new liturgical texts, albeit only for a three-year period. Historians take note.

I have a dream that one day the General Synod will codify its liturgical law to clarify the various powers over liturgy rather than depending on someone’s memory of custom. That project may never come to fruition, but at least while we wait General Synod has finally chosen to exercise its authority.

30 June 2015

A Canadian at General Convention - A few random impressions

Today is day 6 of the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church. I arrived here in Salt Lake City on the afternoon of day 2, and got myself registered as a visitor. Mostly, I'm here to see how General Convention works, being a Synod junkie. Now that I've reached the halfway point of my visit, it seems about the right time to record a few impressions. (Of course, there may be some errors in what follows, which I'll try to correct if notified.)

My point of comparison is the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada, of which I have been a member 4 times, and have also attended as an Assessor twice. (I've served in both capacities once.) What follows is a set of random impressions and comparisons from that perspective.

General Convention is enormous! It's apparently the second-largest democratically elected legislature in the world (behind the Indian Parliament), and the second-largest convention in the United States (behind the Democrat National Convention).

Formally, General Convention is bi-cameral, unlike General Synod's uni-cameral structure. (curiously, my auto-correct just tried to replace "uni-cameral" with "un-American") However in some ways it might be described as multi-cameral because of its extensive use of legislative committees. (More on those below.)

The two chambers in General Convention are the House of Bishops, presided over by the Presiding Bishop (it includes both active and retired bishops of the Episcopal Church), and the House of Deputies, consisting of 4 clergy and 4 lay members for each of the 109 dioceses. The House of Deputies also includes an Official Youth Presence, made up of 2 youth for each of the 9 Provinces in the Episcopal Church. Unlike the 30 youth delegates in General Synod (one per diocese), the 18 Episcopal youth have no vote, though they do have voice.

The two Houses meet separately (obviously) and have very different look and feel to them. They also each have their own rules of order. I have been able to sit in as an observer in both houses, though on one occasion so far the Bishops met for "private conversations" (i.e. in camera). I'm told the Deputies can do so as well, though they do so rarely. The visitors' gallery in the House of Deputies is much larger, as befits a body that is over 4 times as big as the House of Bishops. (not to mention that it's over 3 times the size of the General Synod)

Both houses are seated at tables. In the House of Deputies, diocesan delegations each sit at the same table. I haven't yet discovered how the bishops are organized into table groups. The smaller House of Bishops speak from their tables, holding up a sign with their table number to be recognized. The House of Deputies have gone high tech, with a scanner being used to put their names into an electronic queue that can be read at the head table so the President can recognize Deputies in sequence at one of eight microphones.

Legislative committees are unknown in General Synod, although we do have sessional committees, but they play a different role. I have been intrigued to sit in on several legislative committee meetings over the past few days. These 23 committees review all substantive resolutions before they go to the two Houses for consideration. The committees hear "testimony" from interested parties, who need not be members of the Convention. In fact, on my first day here, I was invited to address the Governance and Structure comittee on the uni-cameral structure of the General Synod, because the committee was reviewing a proposal to make the General Convention uni-cameral also. Although in General Synod we routinely hear from invited guests, there is no equivalent to someone just showing up and speaking.

Committees review legislation, and may offer amendments, even quite substantial amendments and complete substitutions, based on their deliberations in light of testimony they have heard. By the time a resolution gets to the floor, it is presented by the chair of the relevant committee, and comes with a recommendation that the legislature adopt, adopt as amended, or reject the resolution. They may also recommend that the House "take no further action", which is to say, do nothing with the resolution, neither yes nor no.

At first glance, this committee structure looks like a rather complex and bureaucratic system which gives the committees an enormous amount of power to the committee members. But in fact it seems to serve three helpful purposes. First, it allows for participation beyond the official membership of the Convention. Anyone can offer testimony simply by signing up before the committee meets. Second, it allows for a lot of debate and honing of resolutions to happen before the formal debate, minimizing the number of significant difficulties or omissions in resolutions that might need to be addressed in debate, so Deputies can focus on the substance of a well-formed resolution. Third, and related to the second point, the committees can help the very large House of Deputies do its large volume of work efficiently.

So the reason I might use the term "multi-cameral" is because there is a kind of legislative dance including the two Houses that actually vote and legislate and the 23 committees that debate and craft and hone resolutions and recommend action. An example: in a primatial election in Canada the bishops nominate a number of candidates and then the General Synod reverts to a bi-cameral system (as it used to be) so the clergy and laity (which used to be called the Lower House) can vote (by orders) to elect the new Primate. They inform the bishops of their decision and it's a done deal. Here, I observed the Episcopal primatial election, which involved the bishops going off to vote on a slate of candidates that had been prepared by a committee. Then they sent word of their choice to the President of the House of Deputies, who immediately referred the name to the Committee for the Confirmation of the Presiding Bishop. That committee went away for about 45 minutes or so to confer and then returned with a recommendation to the House to agree with the Bishops' choice. It was only at this point that the House was officially informed of the name of the person elected. (Unofficially, someone leaked the name and it went out on Twitter.) Then the House of Deputies had a vote (not by orders) to confirm the election. Now it was a done deal, and Bishop Michael Curry was officially Presiding Bishop-elect. This interposing of a committee in the electoral process to recommend confirmation was foreign to me, but clearly a natural way of doing things here at General Convention. Strictly speaking, of course, the committees don't make decisions, but they certainly play an integral role in steering legislation through the Convention.

Voting is another interesting point of contrast between our two legislatures. Where the General Synod traditionally votes by show of hands (notwithstanding an experiment with electronic voting in 2013), General Convention uses voice votes. Interestingly, however, on a couple of occasions the voice vote result in the Deputies was sufficiently close that the Chair called for an electronic vote to sort it out, and the electronic vote wasn't as close as the voice vote had suggested. In one case the affirmative vote was over 70%. Obviously there's a danger of voice votes distorting results.

I haven't yet seen a vote by orders here, but our two systems are very different on that point as well. In General Synod we simply take three votes: laity, clergy and bishops - requiring a majority (or 2/3 majority in some cases) in each Order. You could call this a tri-cameral voting system. For General Convention, voting by orders only applies to the House of Deputies. Here each diocese gets one collective vote for clergy and one for laity. The procedure is that each diocesan delegation polls its clergy and laity separately, with the majority in each order determining that diocese's vote on the question. So with 109 dioceses it would take 55 clergy and 55 lay votes for a simple majority. (General Synod also has a rarely-used provision for voting by diocese, but that's a different matter, and is not done by orders.) Curiously, it is mathematically possible for a resolution to be adopted by a minority of clergy and a minority of laity in a vote by orders in the House of Deputies. Even a matter requiring a 2/3 majority only needs the barest simple majority under this system - literally 50% plus 1!

General Convention is very formal in the way the House of Deputies functions. Everyone is referred to by title: Mr Secretary or Madam President, or Deputy Johnson. (We learned that Johnson is the most common surname in the House.) And the conduct of business is highly scripted, even ritualized. Each item of legislative business follows this liturgy:

President: "Mr Secretary, what is the next item of business?"

Secretary: "Thank you, Madam President. The matter before the House is the Legislative Calendar. The next item on the Legislative Calendar is ...."

Debate is equally formal. Once the debate is concluded, the result is declared and punctuated with a gavel.

Often at General Synod, I hear people comment on how formal and bewildering Synod is. General Convention is at another order of magnitude in its formality. Indeed, General Synod is positively laid back by comparison. But this level of formality is necessary because of the enormous size of the House. Without it, the legislature would quickly become unmanageable. It does mean, however, that there is a learning curve for new Deputies that must be rather steeper than the learning curve for members of General Synod.

Formality in procedure is reflected in dress, as well. At General Synod dress tends to be almost uniformly casual, but at General Convention large numbers of clergy and bishops dress in clericals, lots of men wear jackets and ties (and bow ties!) and women are no less well dressed. This is serious business, and people dress for business.

Differences aside, there is much more similarity between our two legislative bodies. Synod is Synod. Some of the details are different because of size or culture, but overall I feel very much at home here at General Convention. Part of that is due to the similarities in our legislatures, but a good part is also due to the number of kind people who have been so welcoming.

13 October 2013

Business Arising

Earlier this month, the Provincial Synod of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa formally adopted the Anglican Covenant. This might seem like a new development in the life of the Covenant, as the zombie Covenant refuses to die in spite of some clear evidence that it had already been buried. However, it is important to note that the same Synod had adopted the Covenant provisionally back in 2010, when the project still had some life to it.

The full resolution reads:
This Synod

1. Notes the adoption of the Anglican Covenant at the Provincial Synod of 2010;
2. Recommits the Anglican Church of Southern Africa to playing the fullest possible role at the heart of the Anglican Communion, working to promote its unity in diversity and strengthening of bonds of affection, in a life of mutuality and interdependence, shared between autonomous churches, acting each as we are called in our own particular contexts and according to our own ordering, in response to this common gift and calling we have received in our Lord Jesus Christ;
3. Reaffirms its belief that this ordering of shared Communion life may be furthered as set out in the Preamble to the Covenant:
We, as Churches of the Anglican Communion, under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, solemnly covenant together in these following affirmations and commitments. As people of God, drawn from “every nation, tribe, people and language” (Rev 7.9), we do this in order to proclaim more effectively in our different contexts the grace of God revealed in the gospel, to offer God’s love in responding to the needs of the world, to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, and together with all God’s people to attain the full stature of Christ (Eph 4.3,13).
4. Resolves to confirm its adoption of the Anglican Covenant.
The key to understanding the actions of the ACSA lies in the first and last paragraphs of the resolution. Given that it had provisionally adopted the Covenant, the more recent action is thus best understood as nothing more than business arising from the previous meeting of Synod.

The reference to “autonomous churches” in paragraph 2 suggests that the ACSA does not intend its formal adoption of the Covenant to impair its own autonomy, nor does it seem likely that it will use the Covenant to interfere in other churches' autonomy, given the emphasis on diversity and “acting each as we are called according to our particular contexts.” Whether the Covenant will change anything, notwithstanding the ACSA's apparent understanding that it isn't intended to, remains to be seen. But for it to bring about any meaningful change, positive or negative, would require its widespread adoption.

My sense is that the Anglican Communion as a whole is generally moving on from this project, and the ACSA has simply cleaned up a bit of unfinished business

16 March 2013

Calling for more study

Note: there hasn't been much recent activity on this blog because there hasn't been much recent activity with respect to the proposed Anglican Covenant. I have some ideas about other topics I would like to pursue in this space, but it was initially set up to address the Anglican Covenant. I have decided to reserve this blog for that topic until the disposition of the Covenant has been determined. Once that happens, I will look to other topics as the muse strikes. In the meantime, posts to this blog will inevitably be sporadic.

As previously noted, the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada, at its 2010 meeting, called for study of the proposed Anglican Covenant, to be supported by the production of three documents: a study guide, a legal analysis and a theological analysis. We received an excellent study guide and an equally excellent legal analysis in short order. Last November we were disappointed to receive a flimsy report from the group that had been asked for the theological analysis. I would make a lame joke about how it ought to have been titled The Dogma Ate My Homework, except there was no theology in it.

Resolution A-137 of the General Synod of 2010, having called for study of the Covenant, then “direct[ed] the Council of General Synod, after this period of consultation and study, to bring a recommendation regarding adoption of The Covenant for the Anglican Communion to the General Synod of 2013.”

Yesterday, at its last meeting before the General Synod to be held in July, the Council of General Synod (CoGS) decided on the resolution that it will present to General Synod. To wit, the resolution will:
Request the conversations in the Anglican Church of Canada about the proposed Covenant for the Anglican Communion continue during the next triennium, and

Request the ACWG to monitor continued developments about the proposed Covenant for the Anglican Communion and report to the spring 2016 meeting of COGS and

Direct COGS to bring a recommendation regarding the adoption of the Covenant to General Synod 2016.
You can see the full discussion toward the end of the CoGS notes for March 15th here.

There are several ways to read this development.

First, and most obviously, CoGS is not doing what it was directed to do by the 2010 General Synod. That is, it is not “bring[ing] a recommendation regarding adoption of The Covenant for the Anglican Communion to the General Synod of 2013.” However, in its defence, it could be argued that it would be premature to do so because the period of consultation and study is incomplete. A few dioceses in Canada have undertaken extensive studies of the proposed Covenant in the last three years, but others have presumably been waiting (in vain, as it turned out) for the theological analysis before undertaking their own study. After all, if you're going to do a study, and you've been told that there will be important background material forthcoming, it makes sense to wait for that material. You can't fault dioceses that have been waiting for the background material for not getting on with the study process. Especially when there's evidence that even CoGS hasn't given the Covenant much study. That said, there are no doubt some dioceses across Canada where there simply isn't a critical mass of interest or energy to study the Covenant document. And now that its future and status are in serious question, interest is waning. It would be nice if some credible body were to make a clear declaration as to whether it's worth flogging the horse any more.

The second way of reading CoGS's motion is to see it as a delaying tactic. Perhaps CoGS is suggesting subliminally that General Synod not take any action just now, anticipating a declaration that the horse is dead. Wait a few years, monitor the situation, and then see if there's anything that needs doing.

The third interpretation is that CoGS is suggesting to the dioceses that haven't yet taken the opportunity to study the proposed Covenant that they do so in the next three years or forever hold their collective peace. Maybe. But the problem is that CoGS is not apparently calling for the theological work that was left undone to be done in the next three years. That being the case, the dioceses will still not be in a position to do a thorough study in the next three years because the necessary background material still won't be available. And energy is definitely waning out in the provinces. We have other things to do than engage in a study process that might (and probably will) prove to be entirely superfluous.

It will be interesting to see what General Synod will do with the resolution in July, and what amendments (if any) are introduced.

In the meantime, we continue to watch for the puff of white smoke above Lambeth Palace that will indicate the burning of the Covenant, and the declaration from the balcony: Non habemus pactum.

09 December 2012

Theological Analysis?

Two and a half years ago, at its triennial meeting, the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada adopted Resolution A137 calling, in large part, for consultation on the proposed Anglican Covenant by the Council of General Synod (COGS) with dioceses. In order to facilitate the consultation, the resolution requested three things: a Study Guide, and, to support the study process, a Legal analysis of the Covenant and a Theological analysis of the Covenant. The latter two were to discuss the legal/canonical and theological/ecclesiological implications of adopting or not adopting the Covenant. At the end of the consultation process, COGS is to make a recommendation with respect to adoption of the Anglican Covenant to the next General Synod meeting, in 2013.

A year later, in June 2011, the Study Guide was released. At the time, in commending the study guide, I suggested that the two analysis documents would be useful background before actually embarking on a full study of the Covenant. For without expert analysis of the legal and theological meaning and implications of the Covenant, any study would be incomplete.

Within days of the Study Guide, the legal analysis was released. This very thorough study of the Covenant raised a number of serious concerns including the lack of definition of key terms which was so serious that it would be impossible to know what one was agreeing to in adopting the Covenant. Equally serious is the violation of natural justice (procedural fairness) in the dispute-settling mechanism of section 4.2. In my comments on the legal analysis, I said that I was looking forward eagerly to the theological analysis in order to have a complete picture of the proposed Covenant. As I said at the time, “the legal analysis has established a very high standard.”

And so we waited.

Then three weeks ago, published highlights from the Council of General Synod's meeting indicated that COGS had received the long-awaited theological study. I happened to be on vacation at the time, so when I returned I looked for the study. I thought it might have been posted on the Anglican Church of Canada website with the Study Guide and Legal study. But it wasn't. So I asked the General Synod office for a copy and received one by e-mail within a few minutes of my request.

It wasn't worth the wait. To say that I was disappointed is an understatement.

The report begins by saying, perhaps by way of excuse, that the anonymous group of authors “found it impossible to achieve consensus on what [the implications of adoption or non-adoption] might be.” They go on to say that “this is not a matter of interpreting the document itself differently, but rather due to the divergent perceptions of the context in which the text of the Covenant came to exist and is now being read.”

So, if I understand correctly, the committee had no trouble interpreting the text of the Covenant, and in fact agreed on that interpretation. But they couldn't agree on what it means due to “divergent contexts”. Huh?

So what does the Covenant mean, divorced from context? The committee doesn't bother to say. In fact, the report is very thin on analysis. They don’t seem to engage with the text of the Covenant, nor is there much reference to theology broadly or ecclesiology narrowly. I would have hoped that there would be some articulation of what Anglican ecclesiology is and some discussion of the extent to which the Covenant is congruent with that ecclesiology. For example, they don’t engage at all with the question of how having a dispute-settling mechanism in an interprovincial treaty impinges on our ecclesiological assumptions of autonomous Provinces governed by bishops-in-synods. Nor do they engage with the theological meaning of, say, section 1.1’s definition of the faith, which I have characterised as elastic, or the gloss on the Marks of Mission in section 2.2. Nor again do they touch on the traditional use of Hooker’s schema of Scripture, Tradition and Reason in our theologizing, or why the Covenant seems to leave out Reason. I would also have looked for some engagement with the descriptions of the Instruments of Communion in section 3.1.

In the last paragraph, the report suggests that “sections 1-3 ... articulate some of the principles of contemporary Anglicanism,” though leaving us in the dark exactly how these sections do so. But in fact this suggests a very superficial reading of the Covenant text. Sections 1.1, 2.1 and 3.1 do attempt to set out some basic principles in outline of what it means to be an Anglican Christian, though not at any depth of theological or ecclesiological analysis. But sections 1.2, 2.2 and 3.2 contain some specific commitments, which go beyond articulating principles of contemporary Anglicanism. And, as I have suggested before, there is a problem in section 1.1 with suggesting that the “historic formularies” of the Church of England can simply be transported into our modern context and assumed thus to be “contemporary.” At the very least we would need some discussion on how, exactly, these historic formularies can be received and used authentically in our own context. For the Anglican Communion of the 21st century is not the Church of England of the 16th and 17th centuries.

My overall impression is that they have not engaged with the question they were asked, having to do with the theological and ecclesiological implications of adopting or not adopting the Covenant. Instead, they have given a brief and superficial political analysis that seems to come down to a suggestion that how one reads the Covenant will depend on whether one likes it or dislikes it, and that this will influence how one might vote on it, as well as one’s interpretation of the implications of the vote.

If I were using this document to help come to an informed decision on how to vote at General Synod, I would find myself no further ahead.

The bottom line seems to be that after a two and a half year wait for a serious theological analysis of the Anglican Covenant, in order to come to some kind of informed decision as to its adoption, we have been presented with a slap-dash all-nighter reflecting the most superficial reading of the Covenant, virtually no engagement with or quotation of the actual text, and nothing that looks like theology to me in the whole document. We really do have some theologians in the Anglican Church of Canada, but you'd never guess that from this document. No wonder the authors left their names off it.

So, we are left with six months before the General Synod meets. We have a very fine study guide from the Canadian Church (which was produced in time to allow it actually to be used), and we have an equally fine legal analysis (also provided with plenty of lead time). Theological analysis? Not so much. But we can only work with what we have and what we have suggests, albeit without stating it in those terms, that we shouldn't touch the Covenant with a barge pole.

General Synod will meet in July, presumably to make a decision on the proposed Covenant, without the benefit of the theological analysis it asked for. But the legal analysis should be enough to decide that the only rational vote on the Covenant will be “no.”

07 November 2012

Fallout from New Zealand

The Anglican Consultative Council has finished its meeting in New Zealand, and now we can evaluate the meeting's implications for the proposed Anglican Covenant.

First, there was a rather confused report on the “progress” of the Covenant process in which the authors demonstrated difficulty counting and an apparent inability to understand the word “no” as I have commented before.

Second, there was apparently some conversation about the proposed Covenant.

But third, and quite interestingly, I think, there were no resolutions on the Covenant. So all the ACC did with it was to receive a report on its status with very questionable figures. But notwithstanding some comments about their conversations on the Covenant, formally they said nothing.

(You can see all the ACC resolutions here).

Given that there were no resolutions on the Covenant, the ACC has thus made no formal comment about its status or the direction of the project. We have therefore no indication of an answer to the question raised by the Church in Wales as to the status of the Covenant in the light of the Church of England's decidedly negative vote in its diocesan synods. (This rather bizarrely depicted as a “partial decision” by the report to the ACC.) So the poor Church in Wales, and anyone else waiting for the answer to the same question, is left in the dark.

Nor has the ACC chosen to suggest any criteria for when we might know if the project is either a stunning success or dead in the water. In the summer, after the Episcopal Church's General Convention, I reported that there was talk about setting a deadline for adoption of the Covenant, and specifying a minimum number of churches that should adopt it for it to be in effect. Obviously, I was wrong.

In a related move, the ACC has amended the fourth Mark of Mission, which makes section 2.2.2 of the Covenant out of step, as I predicted previously. Now that the fourth Mark of Mission has new language incorporated into it (in lieu of introducing a sixth Mark of Mission) the quotation in section 2.2.2.d is out of date. The only remedy, as I noted before, is to go through the rather cumbersome process of amending the Covenant, which really doesn't make sense unless and until a critical mass of Churches adopt it.

But given the ACC's silence on the questions surrounding the Covenant, we are left wondering whether this is a project worth spending any time on. Should we continue to study and deliberate on the proposed Covenant, or simply walk away and find a better project, such as the Continuing Indaba process, which the ACC endorsed in a resolution?

I conclude from the ACC's silence on the Covenant that it is moving on from the project. If it's not important enough for the ACC to comment on officially, then it's lost its significance for the Communion. I think it can be shelved.

The ACC took a brief glance at the Covenant as it sank unceremoniously beneath the waves of Auckland Harbour, but made no efforts to stage a rescue.