A troubling interpretation

In a comment on the blog Titus 1:9, Ephraim Radner, a member of the Covenant Design Group, has suggested that the word “Church” was used in the Ridley Cambridge Draft of the Anglican Covenant rather than the word “province” to provide for the possibility that schismatic churches and individual dioceses could “request recognition and participation” in the covenant. He writes:

Dr. Noll asks one of the question very much in some peoples minds. The answer is that the word church is not carefully defined because it would have been overly limiting of a number of potential situations we did not feel it was wise to constrain in advance, including churches now in a relationship of ecumenical partnership, as well as future uniting churches, currently extra-jurisdictional dioceses, or future ones, etc.. The specific issue of ACNA or an individual diocese in a non-covenanting province was placed on the table, discussed at length, and we agreed that no limitation on this possibility would be defined. I.e., of course ACNA or siuch a diocese can sign and formally request recognition and participation.”

This gives rise to three questions:

If the purpose of the covenant is to bring greater unity to the Communion–rather than to break provinces into ideological camps–why allow a piecemeal approach to membership that is likely to encourage provincial fragmentation Communion-wide?

Is the purpose of the covenant is to bring greater unity to the Communion, or is it an attempt to encourage conservative dioceses in liberal provinces to form “church within a church” arrangements that are legitimized by communion with the See of Canterbury? This certainly wasn’t my view yesterday when I was willing to read the document on its merits, but Radner’s enlightening comments now have me wondering if I was being naive.

And finally, to put this quite simply, if Radner is reflecting the design group’s deliberations accurately, can we trust them? When I read the word “Church” –note the capital C–in the Ridley Cambridge Draft of the covenant, I assumed it meant province. A number of people have informed the Anglican Communion office that they are tired of having their Churches referred to as provinces, because, to their mind, it suggests that the Communion is the ecclesial version of the British Empire, and that member “Churches” have legitimacy only in so far as they are “provinces” of the Communion. I was assuming the Covenant Design Group was responding to this sensitivity, and thought this assumption was buttressed by the explicit recognition of provincial autonomy at various places in the text. Now, assuming Radner’s accuracy, I learn that “Church” was “not carefully defined” on purpose, and that the CDG envisioned scenarios in which schismatic churches and individual dioceses could “formally request recognition and participation” in the covenant, but felt no need to say so explicitly. To learn that important fact, it was necessary to follow the comments of a former director of the Institute on Religion and Democracy on a conservative Anglican blog.

I am wondering what other words in the Ridley Cambridge Draft have hidden definitions and when a member of the Covenant Design Group will disclose them to us. This covenant should not be approved by the Anglican Consultative Council unless the word “Church” is defined–openly–to everyone’s satisfaction.

(I should make clear that I know and trust a few members of the Covenant Design Group, so I find what the Rev. Radner is saying particularly puzzling.)

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