By Robin G. Jordan
Readers sometimes leave a comment in response to an article posted on Anglicans Ablaze, which deserves more than a brief reply. One comment left in response to my article, “Bad to the Bone – Part I,” noted that the selection of bishops by bishops is how bishops are chosen in the African provinces. The comment briefly drew attention to the advantages and disadvantages of this way of choosing bishops. As we shall see, it is not the only way that bishops are chosen in the African provinces nor is it particularly African.
The modes of episcopal election used in Nigeria, Rwanda, and Uganda are sometimes offered as justification for the second mode of episcopal election found in the constitution and canons of the Anglican Church in North America. This second mode of episcopal election is supposed to be based upon an African model. But actually it is based upon a Roman Catholic model with the college of bishops of the province replacing the Roman Pontiff.
The second ACNA mode of episcopal election was adapted from the canons of the Anglican Church of Rwanda, which were drafted by an Episcopal-turned-Anglican Mission priest, an American and a former Roman Catholic, and are heavily indebted to the Roman Catholic Code of Canon Law. The Rwandan canons not only incorporate Roman Catholic language, norms, and principles but also doctrine. Over this past summer I identified the sources of the different provisions of the Rwandan canons, including the mode of episcopal election in the Anglican Church of Rwanda. The same priest who drafted the Rwandan canons was involved in the drafting of the ACNA constitution and canons. The ACNA canons also show the influence of the Roman Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law.
Under the provisions of the Roman Catholic Code of Canon Law senior clergy of the diocese recommend suitable candidates for the episcopate. Various groups in the diocese may also be consulted in this process. From these candidates the Roman Pontiff may select the new bishop of a diocese. The final choice is the Pope’s. He may choose someone who was not recommended by the diocese’s senior clergy but whom he believes is suitable to be a bishop. When an assistant bishop is needed, the diocesan bishop recommends three candidates to the Holy See. As in the case of diocesan bishops, the final choice also is the Pope’s.
Under the provisions of the Rwandan canons the synod of the diocese select from a slate of four nominees two candidates to fill vacancies in the episcopate. The province’s college of bishops meeting as a provincial episcopal synod may elect one of the two candidates or reject both candidates and request the submission of two more candidates. If there is a tie, the candidate who has served the longest by date of ordination is declared elected. This method of resolving a tie is taken from the Roman Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law. The primate of the Anglican Church of Rwanda must confirm the election of the bishop-elect before he is consecrated and/or invested.
The ACNA canons do not specify how a diocese using the second mode of episcopal election is to nominate the two or three candidates that it presents to the College of Bishops. Nor does it specify what happens if the College of Bishops rejects these candidates. Under the provisions of the ACNA canons an outgoing bishop could in consultation with the College of Bishops nominate his successor and one additional candidate. The canons do not prohibit a bishop from doing so. The College of Bishops could, after rejecting the candidates nominated by the diocese, nominate and elect a candidate of its own to be bishop of the diocese. The canons do not prohibit the College of Bishops from doing so.
The story behind the Anglican Church of Rwanda’s adoption of its present set of canons is complicated. I do not have the complete details. The Anglican Church of Rwanda has not only based its mode of episcopal election upon a Roman Catholic model but also the legislative process in the church. It has abandoned the doctrines of the Thirty-Nine Articles for the dogmas of the Council of Trent, which are in direct antagonism with Anglicanism’s confession of faith. The indications are that the liberals in the Episcopal Church are not the only ones in North America seeking to turn the African provinces away from the plain sense of Scripture and the classical Anglican doctrinal and liturgical formularies.
In the Church of Nigeria the province’s college of bishops nominates and elects the new bishop of a diocese. The diocese itself plays no part in the process beyond providing the college of bishops with a profile of the diocese. The primate of Nigeria must confirm the election of the new bishop.
In Church of Uganda the diocesan synod elects a nominations committee that submits two nominees for the office of bishop to the college of bishops whenever a vacancy occurs in the see. The primate with the college of bishop may consider these two nominees. If they think fit, they may refer the matter back to the nominations committee for further nominations. Thereafter but not later than one year from the date of the vacancy, the college of bishops, in consultation with the Primate, and subject to his final consent, nominates a person for him to appoint to the vacant see.
A number of factors may contribute to an African province adopting a mode of episcopal election based upon a Roman Catholic model. I have identified three such factors.
The first is the colonial experience. Nigeria, Uganda, and Rwanda were at one time colonies of a European power. In the colonial period in their history any bishops in these three countries were appointed by a foreign church and came from a foreign country. The native African clergy (if there were any), much less the native African laity, were not consulted in these appointments. This is bound to have influenced African thinking regarding episcopal election.
The second is traditional African society. The structure of traditional African society is hierarchical. Traditional rulers exercise considerable authority over their subjects. Traditional understandings of authority and leadership are bound to influence the indigenous church not only in how it structures itself and chooses its bishops but also how it interprets Scripture. In traditional African society in which villages have headmen and elders, references to overseers and elders in the New Testament are going to have shades of meaning for Africans that we cannot begin to appreciate in the northern hemisphere.
The third is the Roman Catholic Church itself. The Roman Catholic Church is one of the largest if not the largest church on the African subcontinent. Africans are more likely to be familiar with its modes of episcopal election than those of Anglican churches in the northern hemisphere and elsewhere. The modes of episcopal election of the Roman Catholic Church also fit with the African colonial experience and traditional African culture.
To put the modes of episcopal election found in Nigeria, Rwanda, and Uganda in perspective, it is useful to compare them with other modes of episcopal election found in global South provinces. For comparison I have selected the Anglican Church of Australia, the Anglican Church of Kenya, the Anglican Church of the Province of the Southern Cone of America, and Diocese of Trinidad and Tobago of the Church in the Province of the West Indies.
In the Anglican Church of Australia we find several different modes of episcopal election. In some dioceses the diocesan synod nominates and elects the new bishop. In others the diocesan synod elects a board of electors that elects the new bishop from a slate of candidates nominated by the diocesan synod. In a number of dioceses the diocesan synod may as an alternative to electing a new bishop itself delegate the election of a new bishop to the metropolitan of the internal province to which it belongs or to the primate of the Anglican Church of Australia if it does not belong to an internal province, and to such other bishops as it may designate. It may give specific instructions to the electors with its delegation of the election of a new bishop to them. This alternative mode of episcopal election is generally reserved for occasions when the diocesan synod cannot agree upon a new bishop. If a diocese belongs to an internal province, the metropolitan of that province must confirm the canonicity of the bishop elect or if the diocese does not belong to an internal province, the canonicity of the bishop elect must be confirmed in accordance with canon law. The canonicity of the bishop-elect may be confirmed by the chancellor of the diocese.
In the Anglican Church of Kenya the members of the Synod of the Diocese and the Provincial Standing Committee of Synod nominate candidates to a canonical vacancy in a See. A Search Committee made up representatives from the Diocese and the Province interviews and evaluates all legally nominated candidates and recommends up to three candidates for election to the Archbishop of the Province who after satisfying himself concerning the age, ordination, and canonical status of the nominees convenes the Diocesan Electoral College. The Diocesan Electoral College is made up of elected members of the Provincial Standing Committee of Synod appointed by the Archbishop and elected members of the Diocesan Standing Committee. The Diocesan Chancellor presides over the meeting of the Diocesan Electoral College but has no right to vote. The Diocesan Chancellor notifies the Archbishop of the Province of the outcome of the election and the willingness of the bishop-elect to accept office, and the Archbishop certifies the validity and the canonical regularity of the election.
In the Anglican Church of the Province of the Southern Cone of America a bishop is nominated and elected in accordance with the canons of the diocese. The Provincial Executive Council and the province’s college of bishops must confirm the election of the bishop-elect. The constitution and canons of the province do not prescribe a particular mode of episcopal election except when a diocese that has failed to elect a bishop after two attempts requests the province to elect a bishop for the diocese or the see has been vacant for two years and the diocese has not elected a bishop. In such cases the Provincial Executive Council assumes the role of the diocesan synod or its equivalent. This includes designating a Nominating Committee designated from among its members, conducting a search for suitable candidates, interviewing candidates, and electing a bishop. The election of the bishop-elect by the Provincial Executive Council must be confirmed by the majority of the bishops of the province.
In the Diocese of Trinidad and Tobago of the Church in the Province of the West Indies the Vicar General of the Diocese upon formal notification of a vacancy in the See summons the Diocesan Council, which in turn calls a meeting of the Diocesan Synod for the purpose of providing a Bishop for the See. At its first meeting the Diocesan Synod decides whether it will elect the Bishop or delegate the choice to a Selection Committee appointed by the Diocesan Synod.
If the Diocesan Synod decides to elect a Bishop, the Diocesan Synod adjourns for twenty-eight days, during which time members of the Synod are invited to submit nominations for the office of Bishop. At the end of the twenty-eight day period the Diocesan Synod reconvenes to elect a Bishop. If no Bishop is elected, the Diocesan Synod adjourns for another twenty-eight days and further nominations are invited. If no Bishop is elected at the subsequent meeting of the Diocesan Synod or if no nominations are submitted in the first or second twenty-eight-day period, the Diocesan Synod delegates the choice of a Bishop to a Selection Committee. When a Bishop has been elected, the election of the bishop-elect must be confirmed by a majority of the Bishops of the Province. If they fail to confirm the election of the bishop-elect, the Diocesan Synod may proceed to a third election or delegate the selection of a Bishop to a Selection Committee.
If the Diocesan Synod decides to delegate the choice of the Bishop to a Selection Committee, it may do so to a committee of persons within the Diocese, a committee of persons, some or all of whom are from outside the Diocese; and the Archbishop, or when there is no Archbishop, the senior Bishop of the Province is added to the committee and has an equal vote with the other members of the committee. When a Bishop is selected, his selection must be confirmed by the majority of the Bishops of the Province. Should the choice of the Selection Committee not be confirmed, the Diocesan Synod may request the same committee or another committee to make a new selection.
With so many modes of episcopal election from which the Common Cause Governance Task Force could have chosen, one is prompted to question why the Common Cause Governance Task Force adopted as its second mode of episcopal election for the Anglican Church in North America a method based on a Roman Catholic model exported from North America to Rwanda and then presented to Anglicans in North America as based on an African model.
The African provinces have a number of characteristics that are worthy of emulation. They are more evangelical than the North American Church. They evidence a much greater acceptance of the authority of Scripture and the classical doctrinal and liturgical formularies. They are more mission-minded and evangelistic. They make much greater use of lay readers in planting and pastoring new churches and lay catechists and evangelists in growing them. We see no widespread movement in the Anglican Church in North America to emulate these desirable characteristics.
The particular modes of episcopal election used in Nigeria, Rwanda, and Uganda may or may not account for the growth of the Anglican Church in these countries. The cultural context must be considered in any assessment of the effectiveness of these three modes of episcopal election. What works in Africa is not guaranteed to work in North America. They are also not entirely problem-free. They have problems particular to them as well as general to all modes of episcopal election. One of these problems is that where a particular region is dominated by a particular tribal and linguistic group and the college of bishops is dominated by this group, there is a temptation to pick new bishops from the same group. This can and has led to conflict between a new bishop and his diocese in which another tribal and linguistic group is dominant.
We also must consider possible ulterior motives behind the preference for the selection of bishops by bishops in some quarters of the Anglican Church in North America over the other modes of episcopal election used in Anglican provinces around the world. The biggest supporters of this way of choosing bishops are found among those who champion Catholic faith, order, and practice. They are not known for their enthusiastic support of a vision of a North American Anglican province ruled by the plain sense of Scripture and the classical Anglican doctrinal and liturgical formularies.
Selection of bishops by bishops is often trumpeted as a safeguard of orthodoxy. The question is “Which orthodoxy?” While the radical theological pluralism seen in the Episcopal Church is not discernable in the Anglican Church in North America, it is evident in its less radical forms. The ACNA affirms the teaching of the three Creeds, the first four Councils of the undivided Church and the Christological clarifications of the fifth, sixth, and seventh Council but becomes pretty fuzzy when it comes to the teaching of the three formularies of the Anglican Church. It is these formularies that state the Anglican doctrinal position on the authority of Scripture, salvation, justification, and the sacraments. The ACNA also maintains that bishops are of the essence of the Church, the unreformed Catholic position on the episcopate, and a position over which Anglicans are divided. The reality is that the ACNA not only lacks a common liturgy, it lacks a common faith! Some of its clergy and congregations are faithful to Scripture and the Anglican formularies. Others are loyal to a particular tradition and consensus. The result is an ecclesial body in which is proclaimed more than one gospel.
Under the circumstances it is better to stick with the mode of episcopal election with which North American Anglicans are most familiar—election of bishops by diocesan synod. The problems of this method are known and correctable. Replacing it with another mode of episcopal election that bears a freight of problems of its own is not the solution. Providing an alternative method that can be used if a diocesan synod fails to elect a bishop is another matter. Such a method needs to be carefully worked out so that it is not abused.
To read "Bad to the Bone - Part 1," click here.
To read "Bad to the Bone - Part 2," click here.