An individual can claim to own a piece of property but unless he can produce proof of legal ownership, he has little ground to stand on in a court of law. Orthodox Anglicans of the Protestant, low-church stripe* in the Anglican Church in North America are like such an individual. They can diligently search the governing documents and other doctrinal statements of the Anglican Church in North America but they will find nothing giving them any kind of formal recognition in the denomination or any kind of official standing to their beliefs and values. They have no deed, or legal title, to the property that they claim to own. They are in a position where they can be evicted at anytime as squatters. While the law codes of some states recognize squatters’ rights, the ACNA governing documents have no such provisions. Their continuance in the ACNA is dependent the absence of any objection to their presence by those who do have official standing in the denomination – Anglo-Catholics and others who accept the unreformed Catholic teaching and practices endorsed by the denomination’s governing documents and its College of Bishops.
If those who have official standing in the denomination eventually object to their presence in the denomination, they have nothing to which they can appeal. Understandings that are not put in writing and incorporated into the constitution, canons, and other doctrinal statements of the Anglican Church in North America are only binding as long as both parties to such understandings are of the same mind. They have no force of law. If one party decides that they no longer wish to be bound by a particular understanding, the other party has no recourse.
On the other hand, Anglo-Catholics and others who accept the unreformed Catholic teaching and practices endorsed by the denomination’s governing documents and its College of Bishops have a number of documents to which they can appeal. They do not have to depend on the continuation of an unwritten understanding. They formally and officially have standing in the denomination. They have a paper trail to show their connection.
While one party may has so far not raised any objections to the presence of the other party in the denomination, it is sheer foolishness to depend upon such understandings. The mere fact that a party to an unwritten understanding, is unwilling to enter into a written agreement that gives official standing to the other party should set alarm bells ringing and red lights blinking.
The argument that an unwritten understanding was the only thing that orthodox Anglicans of the Protestant – low-church stripe could obtain for themselves in the face of Anglo-Catholic intransigence is a weak one. The refusal to compromise or abandon an extreme position itself should have raised red flags. At that point the wisest choice would have been to withdraw from further discussion. A genuine partnership requires compromise by both parties, not acquiescence by one party in face of the other party’s refusal to make concessions.
Taking the initiative and forming a second province within the Anglican Church in North America, a province that in its doctrinal foundation is closely aligned with the Holy Scriptures and the Anglican formularies and which has its own governing documents, ordinal, service book, catechism, bishops, and synodical government, is an important step toward the formal recognition of the presence of a Protestant – low-church wing in the denomination and the extension of official standing to their beliefs and values. They will no longer be a part of the Anglican Church in North America solely on the basis that no one has gotten around to seriously objecting to their presence in the denomination.
From the comments from the Anglo-Catholic wing on the Internet, it is clear that a segment of that wing does object to the presence of a Protestant – low-church wing in the denomination. However, the leaders of the Anglo-Catholic wing have adopted the more politically expedient policy of making it difficult for a Protestant – low-church wing to flourish in the denomination so eventually that wing will disappear due to attrition and assimilation. One way to keep a group from growing and thriving is to deny formal recognition to the group and withholding official status from its beliefs and values. This is a form of marginalization in which a group is placed in a position of marginal influence. Other forms of marginalization are to give such a group only token representation, if any representation at all, on important decision-making bodies, and then not to consider the group’s concerns and recommendations in the decisions of such bodies.
Marginalization involves the relegation of a group to a position of inferiority and unimportance. Those who deny the marginalization in the Anglican Church in North America of orthodox Anglicans of the Protestant – low-church stripe need to take a hard look at their position in the denomination:
What provisions have been made for their beliefs and values in the denomination’s governing documents, in its ordinal, its rites and services, its catechism, and its organizational structure and form of government?
How extensive are these provisions?
How much weight is given to their opinions on key issues in such areas as doctrine and liturgical usages?
To what degree are the features historically favored by orthodox Anglicans of their stripe evident in the organizational structure and form of government of the denomination?
Such an examination of their position will show that they have indeed been marginalized.
I see no indications of a serious effort in the Anglican Church in North America to comprehend the beliefs and values of Anglicans who are Evangelical and low-church in tradition and committed to the Protestant and Reformed doctrine and principles of the Anglican formularies—none whatsoever. What I do see is the promotion of the narrow interests of one school of thought in the denomination, a school of thought that is unreformed Catholic in its teaching and practices and which has more in common with Roman Catholicism and in some instances Eastern Orthodoxy than it does authentic historic Anglicanism. The beliefs and values of this school of thought are affirmed exclusively over those of the other schools of thought represented in the denomination.
I personally would not be comfortable as a judicatorial official, pastor, or church member in a denomination in which Christians who share my views on doctrine, worship, and governance do not enjoy any recognition or their views any standing. To my mind a denomination that does not affirm what I and Christians like myself believe and value is not the right denomination for a Christian like me. For this reason I no longer worship and minister in the Episcopal Church, a denomination in which I spent my teen years and a good part of my adulthood. Most of congregations and clergy forming the Anglican Church in North America left the Episcopal Church for the same reason: it no longer affirmed what they believed and valued. In this regard the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church in North America are alike when it comes to Reformed Evangelicals. They both do not affirm the beliefs and values of Reformed Evangelicals.
The formation of a second province within the Anglican Church in North America, a province that in its doctrinal foundation is closely aligned with the Holy Scriptures and the Anglican formularies and which has its own governing documents, ordinal, service book, catechism, bishops, and synodical government, is a major step toward making the Anglican Church in North America genuinely comprehensive. It would do away with unwritten understandings that permit Reformed Evangelicals and other Anglicans who are low-church in their tradition and Protestant in their theological leanings to be a part of the denomination as long as no serious objection is raised to their presence. It would eliminate their dependence upon the good will of the denomination’s Anglo-Catholic wing whose goodwill that is tied to their accommodation of the beliefs and values of that wing, the only wing to enjoy formal recognition and official standing in the denomination.
For those who wonder how they got into this mess in the first place, it must be pointed out that what comprises the ACNA’s Protestant – low-church wing was not adequately represented in the Common Cause Partnership bodies that drafted the ACNA constitution and canons. The same bodies ignored that wing’s proposals for the revision of the two documents.
Before the Inaugural Provincial Assembly then AMiA Bishop John Rodgers published an open letter on the Internet, urging Evangelicals to set aside their misgivings about the draft constitution and canons and to support their adoption and ratification. He maintained that any delay while their concerns were addressed would prevent the formation of a new province altogether. He claimed that their concerns would be addressed once the two documents were approved and ratified. Having helped to achieve this result, the letter was then taken off the Internet. To date none of their concerns have been addressed. They were misled. Bishop Rodgers has never offered them an apology for misleading them.
At the Inaugural Provincial Assembly the Anglo-Catholic wing blocked any serious revision of the two documents in the Provincial Council. Then Archbishop Elect Robert Duncan hurried the delegates to the Assembly through the ratification of the two documents, frequently interrupting the proceedings and telling the delegates that speakers were waiting to address them. Many delegates were caught up in the excitement of the moment and did not think through the implications of the various provisions of the draft constitution and canons. A number of delegates admitted later that they had serious misgivings when they voted for the two documents’ ratification.
The ACNA constitution and canons create a system in which changes to the constitution and canons must originate in one small group – the Governance Task Force, be approved by the Provincial Council, and finally ratified by the Provincial Assembly. It is a system similar to that which existed in the Russian Communist Party in the Soviet days. It is also a system similar to that which exists in the Roman Catholic Church. It permits one faction to control the process from start to finish. The Provincial Council may amend proposed legislation but it cannot initiate it. The Provincial Assembly cannot amend legislation submitted to it, only ratify it or send it back to the Provincial Council. The proceedings of the Assembly are orchestrated in such a way that there is very little likelihood that delegates will reject legislation approved by the Provincial Council.
The only way for the Protestant – low-church wing of the Anglican Church in North America to gain affirmation of their beliefs and values in the denomination is to take the initiative and form a second province within the denomination over the objections of Anglo-Catholics and others who have an investment in the status quo. In the kind of system created by the ACNA constitution and canons, it is the only way that wing can gain formal recognition of its presence and official standing for what it believes and values. Those who oppose its formation will then be forced to deal with the reality of its existence. They will be faced with two options. The first option is to negotiate a working agreement under which the two provinces would cooperate on matters of common interest. The second option is to go their separate way. If they choose the second option, it will say a lot about where they really stand in relation to historic Anglicanism and cooperation with Evangelicals. It will be an eye-opener for the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans.
*I borrowed this descriptor from Canon David Wilson.