Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Evangelical Bar in the Anglican Church in North America

By Robin G. Jordan

In my article series, “A Conservative Evangelical View of the Anglican Church in North America,” I examined the bar that exists in the ACNA and which affects conservative evangelicals. Like the color bar in the South in the last century, it is discriminatory and exclusionary. It keeps out evangelicals committed to beliefs and principles long associated with Anglican evangelicalism. These beliefs and principles are not welcomed in the ACNA.

In this article I will look at who is responsible for this bar in the ACNA, how it was erected, and why.

The Common Cause Partnership, its Roundtable, its Leadership Council, its Moderator, and its Governance Task Force together share primary responsibility for the bar. Conservative evangelicals had no representation in the CCP, its Roundtable, its Leadership Council, or its Governance Task Force. All of these bodies were dominated by church leaders strongly influenced by Anglo-Catholicism and Ancient Future convergence theology.

While the CCP Moderator, then Bishop, now Archbishop Robert Duncan, sometimes refers to himself as a “High Church Evangelical,” he is no Evangelical. In his speeches he has attacked the Elizabethan Settlement and called for a “new settlement,” and has championed practices that the English Reformers rejected. He has spoken of the need for the Anglican Church to regress in a crisis. From his comments what he appears to have in mind is going back to a time after the apostolic age and before the Reformation.

The original draft of the CCP Theological Statement, developed by the CCP Roundtable under Archbishop Duncan’s leadership, and approved by the CCP Leadership Council, was more unreformed Catholic than the final draft. For example, it would have affirmed all the teachings of the first seven general councils of the undivided Church. Even the final draft quotes with approbation the words of Anglo-Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury Geoffrey Fisher: “The Anglican Communion has no peculiar thought, practice, creed or confession of its own. It has only the Catholic Faith of the ancient Catholic Church, as preserved in the Catholic Creeds and maintained in the Catholic and Apostolic constitution of Christ’s Church from the beginning.”  

The CCP Theological Statement was adopted before GAFCON and the drafting of The Jerusalem Declaration. The seven elements that the CCP Theological Statement identifies as characteristic of the “Anglican Way” form the basis of the ACNA’s fundamental declarations—the ACNA’s primary shibboleth to separate “true” Anglicans from imposters. They include the declaration that the historic episcopate is an inherent part of the apostolic faith and practice, a partisan doctrinal position not shared by all Anglicans. The ACNA’s affirmation of The Jerusalem Declaration is relegated to the preamble to the ACNA constitution and is purely incidental to its account of the ACNA’s formation.

Among those who worked on the ACNA governing documents—its constitution and its canons—were AMiA Canon Kevin Donlon, a former Roman Catholic and a militant Anglo-Catholic, and AMiA Chairman Chuck Murphy, a champion of Ancient-Future convergence theology. Canon Donlon drafted and Chairman Murphy approved what would eventually become the Anglican Church of Rwanda’s 2008 Code of Canon Law. Donlon drew heavily upon the doctrine, language, norms, and principles of the Roman Catholic Church’s 1983 Code of Canon Law in his preparation of this set of canons. A comparison of the ACNA canons and the PEAR canons show that they share a number of provisions that are also found in the RCC canons. There has been some rewording but the doctrine stated or implied in these provisions is unaffected. If there was any opposition to these doctrinal provisions in the CCP Governance Task Force, it has never been made public.

At the June 2009 Provincial Council meeting in Bedford, Texas CANA Bishop Martyn Mimms raised the issue of the Anglo-Catholic bias of the fundamental declarations. The Anglo-Catholic members of the Council were adamantly opposed to any changes in their wording, asserting that such changes would lead to the unraveling of the alliance between the Anglo-Catholics and the other groups in the ACNA.

The only alteration in the wording of the fundamental declarations that was made was that “1563” in the phrase “the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of 1563” was changed to “1571.” If the change in date had not been made, the ACNA would have received the 1563 Articles, not the long recognized doctrinal standard of Anglicanism—the 1571 Articles, “taken in their literal and grammatical sense, as expressing the Anglican response to certain doctrinal issues controverted at that time, and as expressing fundamental principles of authentic Anglican belief.”

By this stage the critical “the” in the phrase “expressing the fundamental principles of authentic Anglican belief” had been dropped. As Ephraim Radner would point out, the Thirty-Nine Articles of 1571 were not the only authoritative doctrinal standard for the ACNA as was evident from the wording of its fundamental declaration relating to the Articles.

It is worthy of note that the Governance Task Force in An Overview of the Work of the Governance Task Force of the Anglican Church in North America claim that the ACNA upholds the teaching of the Thirty-Nine Articles. The report was posted on the internet in response to criticism of the proposed constitution and canons in the days leading up to the inaugural meeting of the Provincial Assembly in Bedford, Texas.

The reference to the Thirty-Nine Articles of 1563 in the proposed constitution suggests that the Governance Task Force either did not know the difference between 1563 Articles and 1571 Articles or the difference was unimportant to the task force. The 1571 Articles contain Article 29, which maintains that the wicked and those in whom a vital faith is not present are not partakers of Christ even though they consume the sacramental elements at the Lord’s Supper.

It is also noteworthy that the Governance Task Force in An Overview of the Work of the Governance Task Force of the Anglican Church in North America defends the proposed governing documents’ abandonment of a genuinely synodical form of church governance at the provincial level, their reduction of the laity’s role in governance at the same level, and their promotion of the selection of bishops by the College of Bishops over the election of bishops by diocesan synod. In the case of the laity’s role in governance the task force goes as far as to claim that the proposed constitution and canons enhance that role.

The Governance Task Force dodges the criticism that the principles of internal organization embodied in the proposed governing documents are authoritarian and elitist. They give structural form to what amounts to a concentration of power in a limited group of people who are not constitutionally responsible to the general membership of the Anglican Church in North America. Accountability is minimal, if not non-existent.

AMiA Bishop John Rodgers also posted an open letter on the internet, urging Evangelicals to support the proposed constitution and canons. He maintained that the fundamental declarations could not be changed but offered no explanation as to why. He argued that there would be no new province if the proposed governing documents were not adopted and ratified.

Bishop Rodgers was, as it would turn out, not the only CCP leader to exploit this fear to marshal support for the proposed constitution and canons. A number of delegates to the Provincial Assembly’s Bedford meeting would later admit that they voted to ratify the proposed governing documents for this reason even though they were not happy with the provisions of the documents.

Bishop Rodgers in his open letter claimed that the proposed constitution and canons made the legislative process in the Anglican Church in North America less complicated. They took the development of legislation out of the hands of a deliberative assembly and placed it in the hands of a committee of specialists. They did away with the legislative maneuvering that characterized the proceedings of the Episcopal Church’s General Convention. What he failed to point out was that they permit a single group or party to control the entire legislative process. After the proposed constitution and canons were adopted and ratified, Bishop Rodgers’ open letter was removed from the internet.

Archbishop Duncan has been the most vocal supporter of the model of ecclesiastical governance that the ACNA has adopted, repeating in his speeches and sermons a number of the talking points that the Governance Task Force introduces in An Overview of the Work of the Governance Task Force of the Anglican Church in North America. Both at Bedford, Texas, and more recently at Ridgecrest, North Carolina, he emphasized in his address to the Provincial Assembly that the Assembly is not a legislative body. It only approves and sanctions formally decisions that other bodies have made.

At the Provincial Assembly’s Bedford meeting Archbishop Duncan would not permit any extended debate of the provisions of the proposed constitution and canons or any amendments to their provisions. The delegates were instructed to ratify each provision or reject it. He allowed frequent interruptions while at the same time urging the delegates to finish their work as quickly as possible as speakers were waiting to address them. The two documents might have been ratified by acclamation except that the Governance Task Force had prepared a number of amendments.  

A number of factors account for the direction that the Anglican Church in North America has taken in its form of governance at the provincial level. Among these factors are the authoritarian and elitist leanings of its leaders, the influence of unreformed Catholic ecclesiology (Anglo-Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Roman Catholic) upon these leaders, a strong propensity toward clericalism on their part, and impatience with the negotiation, compromise, and attention to parliamentary procedure involved in the decision-making process of deliberative assemblies.

These factors are troubling enough. However, a particularly disturbing factor is the ACNA leaders’ basic distrust of the laity and their tendency to blame them for developments in the Anglican Church of Canada and the Episcopal Church in the USA and to minimize or ignore the part that the clergy, particularly the bishops, played in these developments.

An even more troubling factor is that this particular form of governance permits a single group or party to control the decision-making bodies of the province. To make matters worse it is justified on the grounds that it purportedly makes the Anglican Church in North America more missional. It is supposed to spare the laity from the distraction of making decisions affecting the life and ministry of the church so they can focus on mission.

The same factors to large part also account for the ACNA canons’ commendation of the selection of bishops by the College of Bishops as the preferred mode of choosing bishops. It is justified on the grounds that it minimizes, or so its supporters claim, what An Overview of the Work of the Governance Task Force of the Anglican Church in North America describes as “the kind of deceitful politicking that has characterized episcopal elections in North America.” In actuality it replaces one set of problems with another.  Rather than end politicking, this mode of choosing bishops shifts it to a different arena—the College of Bishops. The priorities of the group or party dominating the College of Bishops replace the needs of the diocese in the selection of bishops.

Related: A Conservative Evangelical View of the Anglican Church in North America—Part 1
A Conservative Evangelical View of the Anglican Church in North America—Part 2
A Conservative Evangelical View of the Anglican Church in North America—Part 3
A Conservative Evangelical View of the Anglican Church in North America—Part 4


Robin G. Jordan said...


When I make too many errors in a comment I have posted, I usually copy it to Word, delete it from the comment thread, do spell check and grammar check on Word, and then repost it. I use the "gone forever" feature in deleting a comment. Blogger does have spell check and I proof read my comments but I still miss errors.

If a poster does not use the "gone forever" feature, I will remove the "poster deleted comment" post when I clean up a comment thread.

+Del said...

Dear Robin,
I have followed many of your blog articles with interest. I usually don’t comment on anything that bloggers write on the internet but I do have a good deal of respect for your learned and thoughtful insights so I’d like to comment here. There is one reason and one reason only for the failure of the ACNA, and all of the other current "Episcopal" and "Anglican" denominations save our own little group ... they do not have Christ as the center of all that they do, believe and preach. He has been relegated to the margins. They have instead their own self interest and I find a very amusing parallel between them and the Pharisees of the Old Testament … constantly building empires and “dividing” the word, while ignoring the cross and the spiritual health of the sheep. If you ever need a shelter, we would be proud to count you as one of Christ's true friends.

+Delbert Murray
Presiding Bishop and insignificant servant ... PECUSA

+Del said...

Thanks Robin, that worked well.