By Robin G. Jordan
In the folktales of the British Isles and Ireland the sometimes mischievous, sometimes malicious spirits variously known as the fairies, the Sealy Court, the Unsealy Court, and the sidhe have the power to enchant human beings into seeing things as they wish the human beings to see them, and not as they really are. This magical power, its use, and its effects are called “glamour.” In these tales those who are offered fairy hospitality, with the help of fairy ointment or a magic seeing stone, or even a blow to one of their eyes, are able to penetrate the glamour and to see things for what they are. The rich foods and rare wines that the fairies are offering them turn out to be poisonous toadstools and dirty water and the golden dishes and bejeweled goblets in which they are served, leaves and acorn cups.
The formation of the Anglican Church in North America has a glamour about it, which, while not magical, keeps Anglicans both in and outside of North America from seeing things as they really are. Evangelical Anglicans from around the world are hailing the launching of the ACNA. Would they be as enthusiastic and as unqualified in their support of the new church if they saw things for what they are? With this particular article I hope to help evangelical Anglicans to see through the glamour and to get a real look at the ecclesiastical structure named the Anglican Church in North America, a number of the events surrounding its formation, and how the creation of the ACNA may affect evangelical Anglicanism in and outside of North America.
The provisional constitution and canons that form the basis of the two documents that the inaugural Provincial Assembly ratified at Bedford, Texas on June 22-23, 2009 were kept under wraps until the very day that Common Cause Leadership Council adopted them on December 5, 2008. They were not made available for public comment until after their adoption. The only people who saw them before their adoption were those who attended the Council meeting. A brief question and answer session was held before they were submitted to the Council for a vote on adoption. Despite fanfare with which they were subsequently unveiled, they were quite disappointing. Poorly crafted, with conflicting provisions, they gave the impression of having been hastily put together by several different committees or work groups who had not closely consulted with each other.
What was even more alarming was the ecclesiastical structure that they created. One of the problems facing conservative Anglicans in The Episcopal Church (TEC) has been the growing centralization of power. The provisional constitution and canons established a similar power structure with no safeguards against the abuse of power. The original structure resembled that of a political party with a party congress (Provincial Assembly) electing a party central committee (Provincial Council) and ratifying the party rules (constitution and canons) and the party central committee under the leadership of the party chairman (Archbishop) making the party rules, determining party policy, and managing the affairs of the party.
An alternative constitution, modeled on the constitutions of Anglican Church of Australia and the Anglican Church of the Province of the Southern Cone of the Americas was submitted to the bishops of the Common Cause Partnership and the Governance Task Force but it did not provide the kind of structure that they wished to establish for the ACNA. It made a Representative Governing Body the supreme legislative and executive authority of the province, gave the primate of the province limited and clearly defined duties and powers, reserved considerable powers to the judicatories of the province, and contained a bill of rights for local congregations. This proposal was also published on the Internet to stimulate the closer examination of the provisions of the provisional constitution by comparison with an alternative constitution.
On April 3, 2009 the Common Cause Leadership Council released the drafts of several proposed amendments to the provisional constitution and an expanded set of canons, incorporating the provisional canons. Interested parties were given 17 days to study the two documents and to submit comments and suggestions to the Governance Task Force. Despite the total inadequacy of the period of time allocated to public comment a number of groups and individuals did make submissions to that committee. Only a very tiny number of their recommendations were incorporated into the draft constitution and canons. The major changes that were made in the two documents were the proposals of the Common Cause Leadership Council. On April 25, 2009 the Common Cause Leadership Council adopted the finalized version of the constitution and canons and commended them to the inaugural Provincial Assembly for ratification. The Governance Task Force did meet before the inaugural Provincial Assembly one more time to consider last minute amendments.
ACNA members for the most part displayed little enthusiasm for debating the provisions of the constitution and canons in the days preceding the inaugural Provincial Assembly. A not uncommon attitude was that the ACNA leaders knew what was best for the ACNA. This mindset of passive, unquestioning acceptance of authority was one that Anglo-Catholic clergy had fostered in TEC laity in the nineteenth century and from which liberal and revisionist clergy had benefited in the twentieth century.
Any criticism of the constitution and canons increasingly became seen as a criticism of the ACNA and suddenly the constitution and canons became a taboo subject. A conservative Anglican website that had been running a series of my articles examining the provisions of the constitution and the canons discontinued publishing my articles, explaining that growing criticism from members of the ACNA leadership had prompted the decision. Another conservative Anglican website declined to run the articles, citing its support of the ACNA. No conservative Anglican websites picked up the articles from the two web logs on which they were posted, even when the articles were drawn to their attention. It soon became apparent that there was a self-imposed conservative Anglican media blackout on anything that drew attention to the deficiencies of the constitution and canons.
Despite this blackout there was some public debate on the Internet upon the provisions of the constitution and canons and their drawbacks. This debate did help to bring a number of concerns to the attention of the ACNA bishops and Governance Task Force and prompted responses from three senior ACNA bishops and the latter committee. A series of articles related to the constitution and canons, with proposals for the revision of the two documents, from this period are on the Internet at: http://theheritageanglicannetwork.blogspot.com/
At the session of the Provincial Council on June 21, 2009 the question of modifying the wording of the third declaration of the proposed Fundamental Declarations was raised. It was drawn to the attention of the Council that evangelicals and other conservative Anglicans in the ACNA objected to the unnecessarily partisan doctrinal position of the declaration: it was “too Catholic.” Anglo-Catholic members of the Council countered with the objection that a number of the other declarations was “too evangelical.” The objection was also raised that if the Council modified the wording of one declaration, it would lead to proposals to modify other declarations’ wording. The wrangling over the proposed changes might cause the unraveling of the present detente between Anglo-Catholics and evangelicals. On the motion of Bishop Jack Iker, the Council voted to retain the existing wording of the Fundamental Declarations. The only change in the Fundamental Declarations that was approved was the correction of the number of declarations from eight to seven, an oversight of the Council when it adopted the proposed canons on April 25, 2009.
In their greetings to the ACNA on the behalf of the Church of England Evangelical Council Bishop Wallace Benn and Archdeacon Michael Lawson described the ACNA as unifying the Anglo-Catholic and evangelical traditions but the unity to which they refer is an artificial one that is maintained at the expense of the evangelical tradition. In the public debate over the issue of making the wording of the third declaration neutral, which preceded the inaugural Provincial Assembly, one member of the Governance Task Force objected to such a change in the Fundamental Declarations on the grounds that Anglo-Catholics might perceive any proposal for modification of the wording of the declaration as an attack on Catholic doctrine and take offense, causing a rupture in the partnership underlying the ACNA. This fear of how Anglo-Catholics might react, points to one of the dynamics operative in the ACNA. In this sense evangelicals in the ACNA are the hostages of the Anglo-Catholics in that body. They tiptoe around the Anglo-Catholics lest they upset the Anglo-Catholics and the Anglo-Catholics pull out of the partnership. The result is an unequal partnership.
A common outcome of disagreements between Anglo-Catholics and evangelicals is that the evangelicals accommodate the Anglo-Catholics and compromise their own principles. All Anglo-Catholics have to do is stand their ground and evangelicals acquiesce to them. What transpired in the Provincial Council meeting before the inaugural Provincial Assembly is illustrative of this dynamic. In the ACNA evangelical concerns are more likely to be sacrificed on the altar of unity than Anglo-Catholic ones. The ACNA is far from a model of Anglo-Catholic-evangelical cooperation, of Anglo-Catholic–evangelical mutual give and take.
At the session of the Provincial Assembly on June 22, 2009 at which the constitution was ratified Bishop Robert Duncan insisted that the Assembly either ratify each part of the constitution and canons “as is” or return it to the Provincial Council. He objected to the Assembly itself making any changes in a part of the constitution or canons, a normal procedure in deliberative bodies, which he derisively referred to as “going back to Egypt” and equated with the legislative process of the General Convention of The Episcopal Church and the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada. It was quite evident that he wanted the Council to retain control of whatever alterations and additions were made to the constitution and canons and the Assembly to play a very limited role, either accepting or rejecting what the Council had presented to it.
At the session of the Provincial Assembly on June 23, 2009 at which the canons were ratified one group of delegates wanted to move quickly through the canons. Another group wanted to examine each canon, discuss its merits and to consider amendments. A “tug of war” developed between the two groups. At the very opening of the session there was a motion for the acceptance of the canons by acclamation but this motion was tabled. The motion was later withdrawn. About 30 minutes into the session Bishop Duncan took the chair and urged the delegates to move faster as speakers were waiting to address the Assembly. Bishop Duncan was also opposed to the session extending to the following day. By the afternoon the Provincial Assembly had worked its way through the entire set of canons and ratified all of them. There was very little discussion. Motions to return a canon to the Council were regularly quashed. The only amendments that were offered had been drawn up ahead of time and had received prior approval. Indeed the motion for acceptance of the canons by acclamation might not have been tabled except for these amendments. All of the amendments were adopted. There were no amendments from the floor.
At both sessions of the Provincial Assembly, the proceedings of the Assembly were regularly interrupted by “mission minutes,” announcements, and greetings from other jurisdictions. These interruptions diverted the attention of the delegates from the task at hand. They tended to emphasize that the constitution and canons were not the main business of the Assembly
The constitution and canons that were amended and ratified in Bedford, Texas take sides in the debate over a number of key issues that have historically divided Anglo-Catholics and evangelicals. The constitution favors a Catholic viewpoint on a number of these issues in its official definition of Anglican orthodoxy. It defines as orthodox Anglicans those who meet the following criteria:
(1) They believe that the Old and New Testament are the Word of God (but not “God’s Word written”) and that Scripture is inspired and has final (but not supreme) authority in matters of faith and practice.
(2) They believe baptism and the Lord’s Supper to be sacraments ordained by Christ himself and to be administered with unfailing use of His words of institution and of the elements ordained by Him.
(3) They believe that the historic episcopate is an inherent part of the apostolic faith and practice and consequently is essential to the fullness and unity of the church.
(4) They believe the historic faith of the undivided church as articulated in the three Creeds—Apostles, Nicene and Athanasian.
(5) They believe the teachings of the first four councils of the undivided church and “the Christological clarifications” of the fifth, sixth, and seventh councils, “in so far as they are agreeable to Holy Scripture.”
(6) They accept the 1662 Book of Common Prayer with the 1661 Ordinal as a standard for Anglican discipline and doctrine and “with the Books that preceded it” as the standard for the Anglican tradition of worship. The Books that preceded the 1662 Prayer Book are not identified.
(7) They accept the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of 1571, understood in their literal and grammatical sense, as expressing the Anglican response to certain doctrinal issues called into question in the sixteenth century, and as expressing fundamental principles of Anglican belief. An earlier version of the constitution placed “the” before “fundamental principles” but the article was dropped from subsequent versions.
According to this definition of Anglican orthodoxy conservative evangelicals who subscribe to the doctrines that historically have distinguished classical evangelical Anglicanism are not orthodox Anglicans. According to the same definition Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, Bishop John Jewel, Archbishop John Whitfield and the other English Reformers who took the position that no particular form of church polity is prescribed by Scripture and that “the essential notes of the Church” are “the true preaching of the word of God, and the right administration of the Sacraments…” were not orthodox Anglicans. Neither were the generations of Anglicans who held the same view of what constitute the indispensable characteristics of the Church.
The doctrinal statements incorporated into a number of canons are Catholic in content. Catholic doctrine is also implicit in a number of canons. Doctrines set forth or implied in the canons include the automatic operation of the sacraments, the Real Presence, baptismal regeneration, the sacramental nature of confirmation and ordination, and tactual succession.
Congregations joining the ACNA or forming a diocese with other congregations must subscribe to the constitution and canons of the ACNA, including their doctrinal provisions. Individuals becoming members of the ACNA must accept the doctrinal views expressed in these provisions and implied in the constitution and canons. Candidates for holy orders must “subscribe without reservation” to a declaration in which they “solemnly engage to confirm to the Doctrine ….of Christ” as the constitution and canons interpret it. So must all bishops before they are consecrated if they have not previously been consecrated.
Entities such as seminaries, religious orders, congregations, dioceses and ministry organizations, which may belong "another denomination of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church or be independent," must “subscribe without reservation” to the Fundamental Declarations in order to become ministry partners with the ACNA. Candidates for the office of bishop in the ACNA must “fully embrace” the Fundamental Declarations.
The constitution and canons discard an important part of the legacy that previous generations of North American Anglicans have bequeathed to posterity. This legacy includes 1) centuries of hard-won lay involvement in the governance of the church at all levels and the nomination and election of the diocesan bishop and auxiliary bishops of the diocese and the primate of the province; 2) synodical exercise of episcopal authority, with the power of the bishop counter-balanced by councils of clergy and laity as a deterrent to episcopal tyranny; and 3) genuine autonomy of the diocese particularly as manifest in its election of its own diocesan bishop and auxiliary bishops and its initiation and ratification of constitutional amendments and canons.
The Provincial Assembly has the largest number of lay members. However, the Assembly has no actual power. Its only role in the governance of the church is to ratify proposed constitutional amendments and canons adopted by the Provincial Council. If future sessions of the Assembly are conducted in the same manner as the Assembly’s inaugural session, its ratification of constitutional amendments and canons is likely to be perfunctory. The Assembly also has no control over its own agenda.
The smaller and less representative Provincial Council is the highest governing body of the ACNA. The Council elects a twelve-man Executive Committee that serves as the Board of Directors of the ACNA and sets the agenda for the meetings of the Council. The Executive Committee is the real focus of power in the ACNA.
How delegates to the Provincial Assembly and the Provincial Council are chosen is left to the diocese or jurisdiction. The diocesan bishop may appoint the delegates or the diocesan convention or synod, if the diocese has such a representative governing body, may elect them. Under the provisions of the constitution and canons a diocesan bishop may govern a diocese without the counter-balance of a diocesan convention or synod. Indeed a bishop may oversee an entire jurisdiction without such a counter-balance since the canons permit dioceses and jurisdictions to continue to operate under the constitutions and canons of their parent Provinces. As the bishop of the jurisdiction he may appoint the delegates for the dioceses or other subdivisions within that jurisdiction or he may delegate their appointment to the bishops overseeing the dioceses or subdivisions.
At the first session of the inaugural Provincial Assembly the chair announced that the Executive Committee would be naming members to the Provincial Council before the full Council met in December although the neither constitution nor the canons give the Executive Committee the authority to make such appointments. The Executive Committee’s appointment of Council members is irregular, if not unconstitutional. The canons authorize the Executive Committee to fill causal vacancies in its membership for the remainder of the unexpired term, a questionable provision since the Council must meet at least annually and could fill any casual vacancies at its annual meeting.
One of the most significant departures of the ACNA from its North American Anglican heritage is the mode of episcopal election favored by the canons. While the canons for the time being permit judicatories electing their own bishops to continue to do so, requiring them to obtain confirmation of the election from the College of Bishops, the canons establish as the norm for new judicatories the election of their bishop by the College of Bishops and commend this mode of episcopal election to the judicatories that continue to elect their own bishops. In the days following the Provincial Council’s adoption of the finalized version of the constitution and canons on April 25, 2009 there was a public debate over a number of provisions of the two documents. This mode of episcopal election was one of the provisions that had given rise to controversy. The Governance Task Force eventually issued a public statement in which a representative of the committee stated that the mode of election under fire was only an option: it was not mandatory. However, this statement did not explain why the application material appended to the proposed canons did not advise applicants for recognition as a diocese of the ACNA that they had two options. It instructed the applicant to submit the names of two or three nominees for the office of bishop of the diocese for the consideration of the College of Bishops:
“The College of Bishops has authority in the election of bishops. A grouping puts forward two or three nominees for bishop. The College may choose one and grant consent for his consecration (Article X). Canon 4 further specifies that an eligible candidate for bishop will be a duly ordained male presbyter of at least 35 years of age, who possesses those qualities for a bishop which are in accordance with Scriptural principles, and who has fully embraced the Fundamental Declarations of this Province. Additional guidelines for the submission of nominees for bishop will be provided.”
The related matter of whether the new diocese, if the College of Bishop chooses its first bishop, could subsequently elect its own bishop has never been resolved to the satisfaction of the parties who drew attention to the lack of specific language in the canons stating that it could.
One proposal that was submitted to the Governance Task Force would have clearly stated in the canons that a diocese was free at any time to change the mode by which the bishops of the diocese were elected and would not be bound to use the same mode of episcopal election for each occasion a vacancy in the office of diocesan or auxiliary bishop needed to be filled or an additional auxiliary bishop needed to be elected. The proposal died in that committee. It was not reported to the Provincial Assembly in the form of an amendment to the canons.
The origin of the mode of episcopal election that the canons favor can be traced to the Roman Catholic practice of dioceses in the British Isles and Ireland nominating three candidates for the office of diocesan bishop in a vacant see for the consideration of the Holy See. In the Anglican adaptation of this method of choosing bishops the bishops of the province replace the Pope as the extra-diocesan authority that makes the final choice.
Another major break with its North American Anglican heritage on the part of the ACNA is the election of the Archbishop by the College of Bishops without any involvement of the clergy and laity. No rationale has been offered for placing his election solely in the hands of the bishops of the province. What arguments like the one Bishop John Rodgers made in support of changes of this type, do not say is that, while “the new ways…bear a note of fresh air, wisdom and promise” to leaders like himself, the particular mode of primatial election that the ACNA has adopted is no more new than the aforementioned mode of episcopal election. The bishops of the province of the liberal Scottish Episcopal Church elect the Primus of that province. In the liberal Church in Wales the election of the Archbishop of the province passes to the provincial Bench of Bishops if the Archbishop’s Electoral College cannot agree upon the choice of a new Archbishop.
One of the amendments to the constitution that was adopted on June 22, 2009 authorized the assignment of additional duties and responsibilities to the Archbishop by canon. In the public debate preceding the inaugural Provincial Assembly it was drawn to the attention of the Governance Task Force that the canons arrogated to the Archbishop duties and responsibilities not authorized by the constitution, doing what Presiding Bishop Katherine Schori has been doing in TEC and setting a bad precedent.
Under the provisions of the constitution the Archbishop is not the metropolitan of the province and does not have metropolitan authority. However, the canons require the bishops of the province to show canonical obedience to the Archbishop even though he is not a metropolitan but an ordinary bishop like themselves with the designation of Archbishop and a number of special functions.
Provisions touted as safeguarding diocesan autonomy are actually designed to permit jurisdictions like the AMiA to continue to operate as they have been operating without any synodical form of church government. The canons arrogate to the province powers that historically have belonged to the diocese in North America, ignoring the provisions of the constitution reserving to the dioceses the powers not delegated to the province or prohibited to the dioceses. The canons not only contain provisions permitting dioceses and jurisdictions to continue to operate under the constitutions and canons of their parent Provinces but also giving the archbishops and bishops of parent Provinces a seat and a voice in the College of Bishops.
The provisions of the constitution that has been publicized as protecting the property rights of local churches also permit dioceses to continue to hold property in trust. A related canon permits dioceses to take property into trust with the written consent of the local congregation.
The canons have been described as “minimalist” and not burdening the ACNA with “unnecessary legalism.” However, they contain a number of provisions that are not necessary and could have been omitted. In a number of sections they do not provide details where details are very much needed. For example, they do not state whether a diocese can present a second slate of candidates for consideration of the College of Bishops if the College of Bishops rejects its first slate of candidates for the office of diocesan bishop. They do not juridically bind the College of Bishops to choose anyone on the slate of candidates that the diocese nominates.
Like the constitution, the canons contain few if any procedural safeguards against the abuse of power. Indeed they have several provisions that could be easily abused. For example, the canons permit the ACNA’s new Archbishop to appoint at the request of a bishop a board of inquiry to investigate the circulation of rumors about the bishop. In the wrong hands the board could be used to suppress legitimate dissent.
The ecclesiastical culture that is emerging in the ACNA is one in which obtaining the patronage of an influential bishop is going to play an important part in the politics of the new church. Without the backing of such a patron clergy and laity are not likely to receive a hearing in the decision-making bodies of the ACNA or secure an appointment to an office, committee, or task force.
In a church in which constitution and canons favor Anglo-Catholic doctrine rather than not aligning with the views of any theological grouping, the kinds of institutions that the ACNA fundamental documents create are not going to foster an environment that is friendly to evangelical Anglicanism, particularly in its classical form, and supportive of its beliefs and practices. What it is likely to promote is the development of an environment that is not too different from that in TEC and ACA. Evangelicals are going to have a difficult time teaching and practicing their beliefs and upholding and preserving their identity. These documents set in place mechanisms that can be used not only to discourage and suppress heresy and liberalism but also classical evangelical Anglicanism and other biblically faithful and authentically Anglican ways of following Jesus Christ.
In its constitution and canons the Anglican Church in North America fails to rise to two important challenges. The ACNA fails to establish an ecclesial body that is a truly comprehensive Anglican church as conservative Anglicans understand Anglican comprehensiveness. The ACNA also fails to restore to good condition and vigor the institutions that form a major portion of the legacy bequeathed to North American Anglicans. Rather the ACNA sets up a church that shows partiality to the theological outlook of one school of thought. It throws away an important part of the legacy handed down to North American Anglicans, adopting the practices of other provinces in its place and trading one set of problems for another. The particular ways that it has adapted these practices are themselves problematic. The church that lies beneath the glamour, the church that Bishop Duncan proclaimed in his opening address to the inaugural Provincial Assembly represents “a new day” in a time in which “there is a great Reformation of the Christian Church underway” is a church that is very much in need of reform itself.