I have just had a chance to read the Rev. Katherine Grieb’s presentation to the House of Bishops yesterday, and to pull out some highlights for your perusal. If the bishops take what she is saying seriously, and I don’t know offhand why they wouldn’t, I think the possibility that the House will actually commit news before the end of its current meeting has crept up a notch. Prof. Grieb is regarded as a liberal, I think, by most people, but also as an institutionalist. That she is calling for a five-year fast from participation in the governing bodies of the Communion is a signficant development. I don’t know that I think what she is proposing is a good idea–The longer we are in limbo, the worse it is for our institutional health.–but I am eager to hear how the bishops will respond.
I also appreciate the deft maneuver she has executed in endorsing the Presiding Bishop’s call for a fast, but changing the activities from which we are abstaining. On to the highlights.
On the composition of the covenant drafting committee:
When we first formed as a group and introduced ourselves to one another, it became obvious that we were missing three of our members, no small matter in a group of that size. The representatives from South Africa, Ireland and Ceylon were unable to attend the meeting. We had been formed as a group in November, so undoubtedly they had prior commitments, but for whatever reasons they did not send replacements and we were missing those perspectives that I assume were also carefully chosen to balance the group. This was a concern to me because South Africa has been through the experience of apartheid and the powerful work of the Truth and Reconciliation process; Ceylon has recently ordained women after careful discussion, and Ireland has experienced the bitter religious conflicts between Roman Catholics and Protestants and also the peacemaking efforts. The perspectives of these three members would have been invaluable to our committee.
At the beginning of our work, one of the Primates present suggested that there might need to be a minority report, looking at me …. We worked together well, listening to one another, respecting one another’s differences. But the absence of the three members I described meant that there were only one or two voices at the table to speak for the use of the covenant as binding the whole Communion together with different points of view on issues that are not adiaphora represented in it.
On the content of the proposed covenant:
That same majority point of view was also most insistent on the key role of the Primates as the interpreters and enforcers of the Covenant. A few of us suggested that the Anglican Consultative Council, being more representative of the Anglican Communion as a whole, including women and laity, might be the better body to interpret the Covenant. But it was felt that the group is too large, that it meets too infrequently, and that the ”augmented role” of the Primates was a major part of the rationale for the Covenant in the first place. The language about the Primates prevailed, with the reminder that the Communion as a whole would be discussing this move at length, that this was a draft document to be tested by the larger Communion.
The same sort of discussion happened around the issue of the normativity of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer in section 2.5. The only footnote in the document recognizes that there are other duly authorized Books of Common Prayer in the Anglican Communion, ”but acknowledges the foundational nature of the Book of Common Prayer 1662 in the life of the Communion.” So that section now reads that ”each member Church and the Communion as a whole, affirms”…”that, led by the Holy Spirit, it has borne witness to Christian truth in its historic formularies, the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordering of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons.” Once again, objections that this would work to exclude provinces that are not ordered by the 1662 Prayerbook were met with the argument that this was the sort of thing that the provinces would need to discuss and report back about: how central is the role of the Thirty-nine Articles or the 1662 Book of Common Prayer in the Anglican Communion as a whole?
So the Proposed Anglican Covenant is most clearly based on the covenant document already widely circulated and ratified in principle by representatives of the Global South.
After Dar es Salaam:
The character of that discussion and discernment process has been clarified considerably by the Primates’ Communiqué and by the specific ”assurances” requested from the Episcopal Church by September 30 of this year. The Primates are acting in an unprecedented way, setting up a ”pastoral council” and one or more ”primatial vicars,” as if the Proposed Anglican Covenant process had been completed and the document already ratified by all the provinces. But the long careful process the Covenant Design Group had envisioned with respect t our section 6.6 – by which, eventually, in extreme circumstances, after all procedural due process had been followed, a member Church might be judged to have ”relinquished for themselves the force and meaning of the Covenant’s prupose” by :the councils of the Instruments of Communion” (all of the Instruments of Communion) – that suggested process has been ignored, bypassed, condensed, or otherwise made irrelevant by the Primates’ Communiqué. The Primates have given the clearest possible signal that they themselves cannot wait for the Proposed Anglican Covenant. Their section 30 states that ”an interim response is required in the period until the Covenant is secured.” As we speculate about what could have motivated such a strong response when the work of the Covenant Design Group had clearly advanced beyond anyone’s initial expectations, I think we should assume that the Episcopal Church is considered so unreliable and so untrustworthy that the Primates feel the Anglican Communion is presently endangered without these ”assurances” and without the imposed structures (the pastoral council and the primatial vicars).
The Primates’ Communiqué makes it clear that the bicameral structure of our polity is not important to them: the House of Bishops is to give these assurances on its own, through its Primate. A polity that would require us to do this another way is our problem.
Prof. Grieb’s key insight:
It says that failure to give these assurances means that the relationship between us ”remains damaged at best” and this ”has consequences for the full participation of the Church in the Anglican Communion.” In other words, this is a highly condensed version of section 6.6 of our Proposed Anglican Covenant document. We see that the main purpose of the Proposed Anglican Covenant is directed at the Episcopal Church specifically and the issue of same-sex relationships particularly. We see that section 6.6, far from being a logical outcome of a long list of believes we hold in common, is the point of the covenant-making process. We also see how the Primates are very likely to interpret the Proposed Anglican Covenant when it is finally in place: as a means to bring the practices of a province holding a minority view on a contentious matter into line with the view of majority of the Primates themselves so that the Communion speaks with only one voice.
I suggest that we enter a five-year period of fasting from full participation in the Anglican Communion to give us all time to think and to listen more carefully to one another. I think we should engage in prayerful non-participation in global meetings (in Lambeth, in the Anglican Consultative Council, in other Communion committee meetings) or, if invited to do so, send observers who could comment, if asked, on the matter under discussion. We should continue on the local level to send money and people wherever they are wanted. (This is not about taking our marbles and going home.) We need to remain wholly engaged in the mission of the church, as closely tied as we are allowed to the See of Canterbury and to the Anglican Communion as a whole. But we should absent ourselves from positions of leadership, stepping out of the room, so that the discussions of the Anglican Communion about itself can go on without spending any more time on our situation which has preoccupied it.
A special convention?
I do not think the House of Bishops can make this decision alone – a least not in our polity. It is essential for us to listen to all the representatives of the Episcopal Church, and our constitution does provide for calling a special General Convention. Article 1, section 7 says special meetings may be held as provided for by the canons. Canon 1.1.3 (a) vests the right of calling a special meeting of the General Convention in the bishops. The Presiding Bishop summons the meeting, designates the time and place, with the consent of the requisition of a majority of the bishops expressed to the Presiding Bishop in writing. Canon 1.1.3 (b) says that deputies elected to the preceding General Convention shall be the deputies of the Special Convention. This could be a stripped down, more tightly focused General Convention and somebody who knows a lot more about this than I do can tell us if there are ways to streamline the resolutions process to deal with the Primates’ request as directly as possible.
Theologically, biblically, I think we are at Antioch with Paul, in Jerusalem with Jeremiah, and walking the way of the Cross with that mysterious Son of Man. With Paul in Antioch, we have – perhaps without adequate consultation with Jerusalem – been having table fellowship (koinonia) with Gentiles, until the men from James came to tell us that we have to stop doing it. They want a moratorium on eating with Gentiles. This presents the community with a difficult decision. Peter and Barnabas pull away from the table physically and ritually separate themselves from the Gentiles. Paul says, ”I can’t do it.” If he had not, most of us would not be here today, being Gentiles ourselves.
Jeremiah in Jerusalem before the exile told the frightened people to wake up and appreciate their situation. Their naïve belief that God would never allow the city of Jerusalem and its Temple to be taken by the Babylonians was not going to save them. They were going into exile, one way or another. They could do it the hard way or the easier way, but they were going into exile. I think the metaphor of ”exile” captures something of the pain we can expect from being in less than full communion with the Primates, who will certainly distance themselves from us, if not in September, then later on down the line. But we might remember that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters have long lived in exile and it will be a great privilege to go into exile in their company.
Finally, I think we are in the place of all potential disciples of Jesus when some Pharisees come to warn him about Herod. He will go his way today, and the next day, and tday after that, healing and teaching and casting out demons, but eventually he will end up in Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who lose their lives for now on the way to Jerusalem, when things are hard and scary and it feels like death is all around, then we shouldn’t be surprised later when the Son of Man says he doesn’t want to be seen with us.
Where is that mysterious Son of Man hidden today? What is the cross that we are to take up? This message is especially directed to those of us who are called to ”stand with” a rejected category of persons. Dietrich Bonfoeffer recognized the hidden Son of Man in the persecuted Jews. Abraham Heschel, who marched with Martin Luther King, Jr., had eyes to see the Son of Man hidden in the rejected separate and unequal ones. Perhaps Mahatma Gandhi caught a glimpse of him in the Dalit, the ”untouchables” of India. Since we shall have to answer for these things we do on the day of judgment, it may not burt to ask ourselves ahead of time the question Jesus asks us: What good will it do any of us, even if we gain the whole world, if we forfeit our soul, our life, our self?