The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Just Say No

Rev. Mark Harris over at Preludium has informed us that the Episcopal Church is officially beginning it period of discernment as to whether it adopts the Anglican Covenant in what professes to be its final form.

We should vote it down, without hesitation or qualm.

The Covenant is intended as a means of punishing and/or expelling TEC. Rather than explain that, let me refer you to the writings of Fr. Harris and to the ruminations of Fr. Jake, starting here. Further analysis, albeit broad brush, here.

True though all of these objections are, the Covenant is more fundamentally an affront to Anglicanism's foundational ethos as formulated in both the 39 Articles and in the writings of Richard Hooker. Briefly, the Covenant reflects Canterbury's effort to "ride the tiger" of American far-right and Global South hostility to the decision of TEC to honor the ministry of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters to reify a new creation: An international Anglican Church, rather than a loose confederation of churches, creating a Magisterium. More here.

The problem with all this is that, as Hooker makes clear in his Preface to the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, the evolution of churches in their places of planting reflects the needs of those among whom the church grows up and that even the means of organization may properly vary from place to place. Moreover, the foibles as well as the virtues of great figures (such as Calvin, in Hooker's time) may be reflected in not only their own churches, but those which adopt their teaching. Institutionally, local control and autonomy is a way of allowing for the correction of error, as discerned over time.

And that, not simple anti-Roman Catholic spite, is the justification for Article 37, stating that "The King's Majesty hath the chief power in this Realm of England, and other his Dominions, unto whom the chief Government of all Estates of this Realm, whether they be Ecclesiastical or Civil, in all causes doth appertain, and is not, nor ought to be, subject to any foreign Jurisdiction."

Simply put, the Anglican understanding has held, in delicate balance, the values catholicity and autonomy. Autonomy is necessary to prevent the handing down from on high of bulls which, as Hooker cautions, may result from the universalizing of an insight appropriate to one time and one place, or the over-veneration of a great leader, and simply force a solution to one locale's problem onto a different place and situation, creating a new problem.

The Anglican Covenant upsets that balance, and is indeed intended to do so, reducing the local scope of autonomy. Worst of all, it has no inherent limitation. As Hooker described the mounting demands of the Puritans from respect for conscience, to conformity, to the overthrow of all social institutions which would not conform to their will, the Covenant replaces the delicate balance of communion with a limitless perpetual synod with coercive power whose only limit is its own moderation. We may be expelled from the Communion, no doubt; but we should not sign our own death warrant.

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