Answering the forgotten question

The most obvious questions in all our troubles seems to have been lost: What is an Anglican? and What makes a church a part of the Anglican Communion?

That these questions seem to have been forgotten may seem strange, since the squabbles in the Anglican Communion have centered largely around questions of structure and authority. In the Episcopal Church, there are some congregations who wish that they could have agreeable bishops from overseas, and there are overseas provinces happy to oblige, providing American bishops of their own choosing who are agreeable to them.

Much has been made by these groups of the need to “discipline” the Episcopal Church, and these consecration and pairings are justified by these folks to punish the Episcopal Church. There have been several structural proposals have been made over the years to effect that punishment; such as a Primatial Council that would exist outside of the Episcopal Church’s polity solely to regulate the behavior of the Episcopal Church, or the previous attempts to transform the Lambeth Meeting into a kind of global synod of bishops, and an appeal to the preamble of the Church’s constitution to justify interference from outside the Episcopal Church.

These strategies have either failed or have been given up on by the very folks who have forced the rest of the Communion to focus on them.

Still in all this, the basic question of what makes an Anglican Church Anglican, and who decides what church is within the Anglican sphere has been largely ignored.

The Rev. Canon Robert J. Brooks of Connecticut, with the help Mr. Ed Hebb, Chancellor of the Diocese of Connecticut, wrote an executive summary that answers the constitutional questions of who is a member of the Anglican Communion and how one both is initiated into the fellowship and how a member church might be expelled or leave.

They remind us that of the four instruments of unity, only the Anglican Consultative Council has a constitution that has been ratified by all members of the Communion, and a specific process for the inclusion and exclusion of the member churches.

The prior condition for holding a conversation about any topic is that there be a transparent framework previously agreed to by the parties as the context of that conversation. Whether the framework is an agreed understanding of conversational etiquette, in the literal case of a conversation, or whether it is a constitution, in the case of an organization, a basic, agreed, transparent framework is essential for the discussion of anything. Even “group process” occurs within pre-agreed standards of behavior. In contrast, a child playing a game with others in a schoolyard who keeps making up new rules when losing and who makes loud threats to enforce them, is usually called a bully. Since Magna Carta in 1215 A.D., there has been a norm, as originally stated, of “rule of law, not men.” On the Field at Runnymede, barons and king publicly agreed to the written framework of the “Great Charter” that anyone could read and know what was the law. No capricious whim of the king, changing the rules from day to day or hour to hour, would be enforceable as law. The rights of all were transparently protected from caprice and bullying in a written law. That is the tradition and standard that this country, this Church, and most of the world has received and enshrined in its law.

In accord with that tradition, the House of Bishops and the President of the House of Deputies have defended the rule of law in this Church, not allowing anyone to tempt them into shredding our Constitution and Canons which protect all, laity, clergy, and bishops, through the transparent framework that includes them in all governance. Yet, the proper framework for the current disputes in the Anglican Communion is not the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church. Since the dispute involves the Anglican Communion, it is to its framework of law that we must look in the first case for the proper context and rules by which any issue can be discussed. The debate on certain issues has been allowed to commence without acknowledging the constitutional framework that all have agreed to, that preexists the debate, that is the required context for the discussion. The test of any constitution is not how it functions when everything is going well but how it functions in a crisis. It is time to invoke and enforce the only universally pre-agreed written constitution of the Anglican Communion as the framework for any discussion going forward. Those who have continuously asserted new rules and new structures in the last few years have consistently ignored the constitutional framework for addressing their proposals. They seek to create new structures solely by loudly asserting them, accompanied by thinly veiled threats, counting on many in the leadership of the Anglican Communion or The Episcopal Church not to hold them accountable to the rule of law. Up until now, their strategy has worked. Building on the action of the House of Bishops and the President of the House of Deputies, it is time to insist that any proposed new structures or any revised status in the Anglican Communion for The Episcopal Church or the Anglican Church of Canada be discussed within the framework that presently exists in the only written constitution of the Communion. Any actions taken outside that constitutional framework are, and are to be regarded as having no legal standing, and are therefore unenforceable and null and void.

The rebellion within (against?) the Anglican Communion has specifically ignored the one constitutional and synodical body specifically designed to handle disagreements within the Communion–the Anglican Consultative Council. They have done this by asserting new structures ex nihilo and by creating bishoprics in other jurisdictions without consulting anyone but themselves. Reducing the ACC to simply a program arm does not hide the fact that the body was created and agreed on by all the member churches of the Communion to create partnerships and deal with intercommunion differences. The recent consecrations in Kenya and Uganda are but one example of how these various groups are working to impose their will on the rest of the Communion, in particular the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church in Canada–and maybe soon the Church of England itself.

Read it all. Thanks to Episcopal Majority for the presentation.

Past Posts