The Draft Anglican Covenant

June 4, 2007

tease.jpgIf you’ll recall, the last General Convention requested that the church respond to the proposed Anglican Covenant, which can be found here.

The deadline for sending responses to 815 was today.

I didn’t have a whole lot of time to put together my response, but what I sent is pasted below.  I did enjoy Mark Harris’ response, found here.

June 4, 2007

Response to Draft Anglican Covenant
The Office of the General Convention
The Episcopal Church Center
815 Second Ave.
New York, NY 10017

Dear Executive Council:

Much as I would like to find a few favorable things to say about the proposed Anglican Covenant in order to participate fully and enthusiastically in the life of the common community of our global Communion, I have found little that I can say that is positive about it.

From the draft that has been presented, it appears that Communion has been conflated with agreement.  Similarly, unity in this document seems to be misunderstood to be synonymous with uniformity.  In an ever-shrinking world full of diversity, with multiple contexts and so many cultures in which the gospel takes root, it is unrealistic (and, I believe, incongruent with God’s will) to believe that we should strive for either uniformity or agreement.

In fact, the document seeks agreement on all essential matters of common concern without further delineating a definition of either “essential” or “common.”  In the current matters surrounding sexual orientation, the Episcopal Church certainly has not intruded upon any other province so it is difficult to understand how, in this document, our actions are of “common concern,” yet it appears that our brother and sister provinces do not agree.  I fail to see what our brothers and sisters hope to advance with such language.

Given that God is a God for all the nations (Isaiah) and nothing that God has made is unclean (Acts 10), rather it is appropriate, if we must create a written understanding of our boundaries as Anglicans, to focus on how we learn from each other by listening and growing by experiencing our differences together.  Contextual Theology is much more appropriate for the Anglican experience than a rigid doctrinal theology, which is the outcome of the agreements proposed in this covenant.

In fact, the proposed Covenant’s focus on the 1662 prayer book and heightened focus on Primates is another symptom of that flawed view of Anglicanism.  A heightened view of the power and authority of the Primates is a vestige of pre-enlightenment client/patron power structures and patriarchy.  Without significant checks on such a system, ordinary parishioners in the pew do not have access to the decisions that affect them, as the House of Bishops rightly noted in its recent response to the Communique of Dar es Salaam.  Such was the problem with the power structures of imperial Rome—the very power structures that Jesus preached and taught against so often in the gospels.

The focus on the 1662 prayer book, along with the elevated view of English history, glorifies the British impact on our tradition without also looking at similar problems that it has had on the power structure.  Colonialism has had a tremendous effect on the world—including British colonialism.  Many non-commonwealth provinces do not have a prayer book based on the 1662 prayer book- if they did not originate with the Commonwealth, they used our hybrid 1549/1662 prayer book.  That is no accident.  The vestiges of colonialism are still with us.  To elevate the 1662 prayer book and its reformed/Calvinist theology simply because of Britain’s imperialist past ignores and downplays those provinces who are genuinely a part of the Communion but who have either worked to eliminate the sources of British imperialism in their theology and liturgy or found other reasons in their cultural context to change it.  Of course the English reformation was a key development in our shared history.  Idolizing our history, however, over the God we worship will not help us relate one to another now.  Rather we must acknowledge and place value on all of the diversity found within the current Communion.  Tradition is important.  But our tradition has become much broader than it ever has been before, and devaluing the other traditions found within our various contexts makes the false assumption that God could not have been present there also until the British “brought God to them.”  Again, a contextual theological model valuing both what we have in common and also those differences that allow us to learn from each other is more palatably Anglican in the 21st century.

Such a contextual model does not create false choices of “either communion or justice” but rather the historic “both/and” tradition of our Anglican roots—where we have both the ability to relate to each other and the ability to develop within our own contexts; both of which are necessary in order to continue in our ever deepening understanding and experiencing of the gospel.

I do not believe an Anglican Covenant is helpful to achieve such a model.  If one must be made, it must be one much different than the one currently proposed.  I certainly hope and pray that this very un-Anglican document does not move forward.

Jeffrey Martinhauk


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