Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Anglican Covenant and other voices not my own

I have not commented a great deal, at least directly, on the proposed "Anglican Covenant" that would, if enacted, bring about a more formal structure to our very shaggy Anglican Communion. Part of my reluctance to comment is I've read the drafts and find them overly complicated, a lawyer's dream if you will.

Moreover, I am among those who are suspicious of creating a de-facto magisterium of archbishops and bishops. I have enough of an American independent streak to be wary of tying my local parish's fate too closely to the whims of committees and prelates far from our shores (see my posting from last week on this topic HERE).

Moreover, the direction the church should be going generally should be to flatten hierarchy and create more local autonomy. The creeds and the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral of 1888 are good enough for me.

And yet. . .

I also profess to be a priest whose orders are embedded in the historic Anglican Communion and the wider apostolic succession within the catholic (universal) faith. I am not just a local priest. My parish is not just a local non-profit organization. I am wary of selfish individualism and narcissistic autonomy. I am definitely not a congregationalist; I am suspicious of professions of redemption that are entirely focused on individual salvation. I believe our salvation depends entirely on the grace of God in Christ, and we are therefore all connected through God in Christ. We are people of the covenant, beginning with Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Rebecca, Moses and Zipporah, and extending through to the "New Covenant" proclaimed by prophets and incarnated by Jesus Christ. We live free by covenanting to live within community by putting boundaries on our freedom. We come to the Promised Land together, not autonomously.

And yet. . .

I am much turned off by those voices for the "Anglican Covenant" who really seem to be looking for a way to gild their own bigotry against gays and lesbians and women in the priesthood, and justify a grab bag of other prejudices. They speak of covenant but their covenant seems only to exclude. They speak of sin but see not their own hateful ways and words. They weaponize the Bible much as an earlier generation used the Bible to justify slavery and segregation. They are part of an old shameful story; they are the Tea Party at prayer. My skin crawls when reading commentaries by David Anderson, a self-appointed bishop of the whacky right-wing American Anglican Council. My skin crawls when reading some of the snarky comments left on my own blog. I am mystified at the continuing appeasement by Archbishop Rowan Williams toward this crowd.

And yet. . .

I promised to bring you voices from around the Communion this summer from people I do not necessarily agree with. There are conservative voices who are not bigots, and people who are struggling to remain in communion with the rest of us. They are looking for how to include while staying included themselves. Some are worth hearing if only to test our own biases and to think more deeply about the issues we confront. The Rev. Dr. Ephraim Radner of Colorado is someone whose writing is worth careful study. He is one of the architects of the proposed Anglican Covenant and perhaps its chief proponent within the Episcopal Church. He sometimes sounds like a voice crying in the wilderness, but give him credit for trying. Radner has considerable influence within the larger Anglican Communion and is worth hearing on that level.

I have heard Radner speak at conferences, and read much of his writing. While I disagree with his Calvinistic anthropology of human nature, he is an articulate voice for why a covenant is needed. His views are challenging, his writing nuanced. Ironically, while Radner speaks of a covenanted relationship, he sounds estranged from all camps within the Anglican Communion, including his own Episcopal Church. That said, Radner is not willing to break relations with any camp, and that is probably why I find his voice honest:
Thinking through matters in this light and making such proposals is hardly a matter of either attempting to stage a coup or playing footsy with corrupt powers. Rather, I believe it to be a responsible path to follow in what we all know to be a longer, more challenging, and difficult journey in our Communion’s vocation. I do not reject the ACC or its members and leaders; I will question vigorously those of their actions I think are ill-advised; I will resist strongly actions that appear to be improper. But the ACC are not my enemies; they are a part of the church of which I am a part. I do not reject the Archbishop of Canterbury. He is in fact someone whose heart and mind I deeply respect in Christ. I will question vigorously, however, judgments he makes or actions he takes that I think are ill-advised; I will even resist those that appear to be improper, as I would any within the church. But he is someone, quite apart from my personal views, whose role I honor in my very office as an Anglican priest. I do not reject the leaders and members of FCA – among them are individuals I do indeed respect and, out of a similar bond of ecclesial affection and shared ministry, I honor. But I will resist vigorously judgments and actions that seem ill-advised; and I will resist ones that seem improper. I do not reject TEC itself, of which I am formally a member and in whose ordering my ministry is placed. But I do maintain the calling of honesty, necessary dissent, and active resistance where called for.
I am not endorsing Radner's views, but I do think those of us on the so-called "progressive" side need to hear him if only because our own views will atrophy and become in-grown if we are only listening to ourselves.

Radner wrote a somewhat dense commentary on what we should do next on the proposed Anglican Covenant, and you can read his full commentary by clicking HERE.

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