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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Stop the Lambeth Steamroller

I'm on the road today - heading back to Delaware with a stop over in New Jersey.

I wrote this last night and posted it on HOB/D (House of Bishops/Deputies) Listserv in response to repeated requests from Tobias Haller and Chris Cunningham, both deputies from the Diocese of New York, as to my specific objections to Section III of the Anglican Covenant - hereinafter named The Anglican Contract.

I know. I know. I said I wasn't going to write on that odious document again. I really didn't intend to. Blame Tobias.

At any rate, this ought to keep you busy and out of mischief while I'm gone.

I thank you for your 'traveling mercies' and pray for your mercy when this gets a bit tedious.

Tobias and Chris,

You asked what my problem was in terms of Sections 1-3. I assume you are looking for something to put into the proposed "Stop the Lambeth Steamroller" Resolution.

I'll try to help you with that, but I fear I won't be of much help. I offer this because you seem to want it, not that I think it will be particularly edifying for those on this list. But, since you asked, here goes:

This is going to be a bit long, even for me, so if you develop "MEGO" (My Eyes Glass Over) and you want to get to what I think is the good stuff, scroll down to the end under "Four Unifying Elements of the Anglican Communion".

Let me first state that I HATE this stuff. I hate that I have the Anglican Covenant (hereafter named "Contract") bookmarked in my browser. I'm ashamed to admit that I don't have the Bible bookmarked. Neither do I have the BCP bookmarked. And yet, here we are, referring to The Anglican contract by section and paragraph.

How many Episcopalians do you know who can refer to Scripture by Chapter and Verse? If we spent half the time studying Scripture as we do this bloody Anglican Contract, we'd be a much stronger communion.

Here endth my rant and beginth my response.

In truth, it's not so much what's in The Anglican Contract as what ISN'T in there. There are quite a few missing pieces. Important pieces.

Before I get into specifics (did I mention that I HATE this?), I must say that the general picture of Sections 1-3 is not expansive enough to include the other important RELATIONAL pieces of what it means to be an Anglican. The whole things sounds juridical and legalistic. It uses language about "interdependent" and "family" but nowhere does it embody those sentiments or ecclesiological positions.

Furthermore, there is no mention of The Anglican Spirit of Tolerance, much less the Via Media. Nothing about how we are not a 'confessional church"; neither are we one with a magesterium. Anglicanism is, at its best, a pragmatic faith. Gosh, we don't want that in there, now, do we? That would make us look pretty foolish when we get to Section IV.

No mention, either of the "three-legged stool" of Scripture, Reason and Tradition. These are things kids in Confirmation Class around the Communion learn as the basics of Anglicanism. Where is this in Sections 1-3?

Section 1-3 contains nothing that is not already in our Outline of Faith.  My problem is that it embellishes the Catechism. For example:

SECTION I (You can follow along by clicking on each section, or click here)

(1.1.3) the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as containing all things necessary for salvation

I'm fine with this statement - but this? - "and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith".

Well, not so much.

Not as I and hundreds of thousands of faithful Christians have learned our Catechism over the years. There's not one thing in the Catechism about "rule and ultimate standard of faith". Scripture is not a 'rule' book. It is, rather, a guide book. Neither is it a "standard of faith".

God is the ultimate judge of my faith - not someone else's interpretation of Scripture.

I'm going to leave the parts about the Creeds alone for now, except to say that our Catechism describes them as "statements of our basic beliefs in God," which I suppose the Covenant means about being "sufficient statements." Does that mean that other Statements of Faith are acceptable?

I find the two following statement deeply ironic . . .

1.2.4) to hear, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the Scriptures in our different contexts, informed by the attentive and communal reading of - and costly witness to - the Scriptures by all the faithful, by the teaching of bishops and synods, and by the results of rigorous study by lay and ordained scholars.

(1.2.6) to encourage and be open to prophetic and faithful leadership in ministry and mission so as to enable God’s people to respond in courageous witness to the power of the gospel in the world.

. . . . . especially the parts about "in our different contexts" and "an costly witness to" and "prophetic and faithful leadership" and "courageous witness" - given the context and historical development of the Anglican Covenant.

Does this "mission" include Queer People into a "worldwide family of interdependent church"?

I think not.

Section IV obliterates and makes an hypocrisy of the good intentions of these words.


2.1.4) . . . As the Communion continues to develop into a worldwide family of interdependent churches, we embrace challenges and opportunities for mission at local, regional, and international levels

Or, in this? (2.2.2.d) . . . “to seek to transform unjust structures of society”

The Archbishops of York and Canterbury have been pathetically lax in speaking prophetically about the injustice to Queer People in the Global South. They are positively antagonistic about transforming the "unjust structures" of the church with regard to Queer People and women.

The memorandum of Dean Colin Slee is the latest documentation of the hypocrisy of these two Princes of the Church.

And, what of the church's "unjust structures" with regards to the ordination of women and the election/appointment of women to the episcopacy? Oopsie. Another bit of hypocrisy showing there.

Let me return briefly to something in SECTION I

(1.1.5) the two sacraments ordained by Christ himself – Baptism and the Supper of the Lord – ministered with the unfailing use of Christ’s words of institution, and of the elements ordained by him.

Why is there no mention of the Five Sacramental Rites of the Church? This is a most curious omission. They are, in fact, mostly pastoral and catechetical. Oh, no. We don't want anything like THAT in this document.


(3.1.2) its resolve to live in a Communion of Churches. Each Church, with its bishops in synod, orders and regulates its own affairs and its local responsibility for mission through its own system of government and law and is therefore described as living “in communion with autonomy and accountability”

Section IV banishes this statement to the realm of "good intentions" and to the state of almost laughable. Really? "orders and regulates its own affairs"? The "autonomy" part is diminished by the "accountability" as vaguely outlined in Section IV.

(3.1.3) the central role of bishops as guardians and teachers of faith, as leaders in mission, and as a visible sign of unity, representing the universal Church to the local, and the local Church to the universal and the local Churches to one another. This ministry is exercised personally, collegially and within and for the eucharistic community. We receive and maintain the historic threefold ministry of bishops, priests and deacons, ordained for service in the Church of God, as they call all the baptised into the mission of Christ.

Where is the laity in the orders of ministry? Oopsie! Well, they're a troublesome lot anyway. If we don't mention them, maybe they really don't exist - except during Stewardship Season. Oh yes, and when we want to count them in our statistics.


Don't get me started.

Four Unifying Elements of the Anglican Communion

Finally, I strenuously object to the enshrinement of The Four Instruments of Communion. It is an innovation of  The 1997 Virginia Report which was "received" at Lambeth 1998 and, I think General Convention, but has never been formally adopted by the either the Primates or the entire Communion.

Yes, yes, yes. I know. It is descriptive of our reality anyway. Why am I getting my Victoria Secrets in a twist? Well, because I think there is another, better way to describe the instruments or vehicles which unite us as a communion.

Allow me to be so bold as to offer this suggested alternative as the

Four Unifying Elements of the Anglican Communion:

1. Scripture - We believe that scripture is the Word of God, because God inspired their human authors and because God still speaks to us through the Bible. We understand the meaning of the bible by the help of the Holy Spirit, who guides the Church in the true interpretation of the Scriptures (BCP, pg 853 - 4). One of the most demanding tasks of every Christian is to read scripture with the intent to answer, for themselves, the question Jesus asked of his disciples, "Who do you say I am?".

2 Tradition - We believe that God's engagement with the world, through Christ, is also revealed theologically in the traditions of the Church, which include the two historic Creeds (Apostles and Nicene), the two Major Sacraments (Baptism and Eucharist), the five Sacramental Rites (Confirmation, Ordination, Holy Matrimony, Reconciliation of a Penitent and Unction of the Sick), the Book of Common Prayer, the liturgical calendar of Holy Days, Lesser Feasts and Fasts, and Calendar of Saints, the Historic Councils and Documents of the Church and the hierarchy of the ministers of the church: The Archbishop of Canterbury, Primates, Archbishops, Bishops, Priests, Deacon and Laity of the Church who participate in the mission of the church and take their places, as appropriate, in the central governing bodies and councils and corridors of authority in the church, including the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates Meeting (Lambeth)

3 Reason - A personal relationship with God allows us to realize and celebrate our lives to the fullest. The gift of reason, as a complement to Scripture and tradition, leads us to seek answers to our own questions and to grow spiritually. Being active in a community of faith strengthens us to carry our faith into the world. Weaving Scripture, tradition and reason together, we strengthen our faith and grow as children of God. Reason also allows us to seek the historic Anglican Via Media of the comprehensive unity of both/and, rather than either/or. This is best seen in the Elizabethan Settlement which embraces our catholicity as well as reformed faith. We are neither a 'confessional' faith nor one with a magisterium. Because of the divine gift of reason, our faith is pragmatic.

4. Worship - We are guided by a belief in the principle "lex orendi, lex credendi" - the law of prayer is the law of belief. In this way, our various Books of Common Prayer contain our doctrinal statements. There are a variety of Books of Common Prayer throughout the Anglican Communion. What they all have in common is that they are (1) biblical and edifying, (2) reformed, (3) in a language that is common to the people (4) has a consistent shape and form (5) is authorized by the church and the bishop, who is the chief liturgical diocesan officer; (6) are neither "dumb" (do not teach anything or are to difficult to understand) nor "dark" (contain incorrect teaching); follows the liturgical cycle of biblical readings so that scripture is a central part; (7) appropriate to every nation.

Now, you may quibble with my descriptive paragraphs - or even flat out disagree - but, in the main, I find these four elements more unifying than the regulatory, legalistic four of Archbishop of Canterbury, The Lambeth Conference, The Anglican Consultative Council, and the Primates Meeting - which is disproportionately centered on clergy and governance and hierarchy which, ultimately, does not hold us together in the relational ways in which scripture, tradition, reason and worship do.

Unless, of course, clergy and governance and hierarchy are most important to you and scripture, tradition, reason and worship are not. In that case, never mind.

Okay, I'm done. Now I have MEGO.

On my way out of town, I'm going to take my entire tin of imported Earl Grey Tea, drive out to the Boston Harbor and dump the whole thing into the water, calling on the revolutionary spirit of the good men and women of the Church of England (and later, Episcopal Church) who chanted, "No taxation without representation!".


Michel S. said...

Beautifully said, Rev. Elizabeth -- thank you! And safe trip.

Straying aside into the issue of the use of vernaculars -- I personally find worship in an ancient language (whether Latin, Syriac, or Hebrew) to be uplifting -- some Episcopalians agree too, obviously, since there is a curious Latin translation of the 1979 BCP) -- but would agree that worship in the vernacular is definitely an overall improvement.

Kind of interesting that the Roman Catholics are now reliving this debate, and that it is simplistically expressed as being between repopularizing the old Tridentine mass and defending the use of the Mass of Paul VI in the vernacular -- ignoring that the latter *may* be used in translation but also in Latin! I've attended some beautiful such masses in English Catholic churches.

Anonymous said...

Elizabeth, thank you for this reflection. I especially appreciate your thoughts on the four unifying elements and find them to be organic, life giving, and grounded in the ancient church - very Anglican.

Peace, Mike+

Bex said...

Way OT, but I'm trying to think of some song titles for the new Lambeth Steamroller album...

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Michael - I knew that the RCs were up to the lace on their cottas in liturgical discussions. It should be interesting to watch as that develops.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Mike. I'm quite sure Lambeth doesn't give two figs about what I think.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Bex - I would LOVE to hear what you come up with. I'd also love it if someone with Photoshop skills would do a political cartoon. That might get the attention of Lambeth Palace. Like most autocrats and meglomaniacs hate it when people laugh at them.

Bex said...

Anybody can play the song titles game...let's try to outsnark each other.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

The Urban Dictionary has an interesting definition for Steam Roller:

Makes me think of Sweet Baby James Taylor's song