Wednesday, August 05, 2015

The Anglican Church in North America Needs a Fresh Start

By Robin G. Jordan

The Anglican Church in North America needs a new constitution and a new set of canons. It needs more than a superficial revamping of its organization and structure but sweeping changes affecting how it is governed, how its bishops are elected, how their election is confirmed, and how long they may serve, and under what conditions, and other areas of the life of the denomination.

Most importantly the Anglican Church in North America needs a new contractual agreement between its participating churches to form the basis of its new governing documents. The terms of this agreement need to be clear to all the parties so as to prevent the kinds of problems that arise from different interpretations of the agreement.

Among these terms should be the recognition that the Anglican Church in North America is a voluntary association. It is a creation of the churches forming it. It is organized to perform functions that the participating churches can do better collectively than they can individually. Denominational officials and bodies have no inherent authority of their own but exercise authority delegated to them by the participating churches. They are accountable to the participating churches.

The voluntary and subsidiary nature of the Anglican Church in North America has implications for its denominational organization and structure. The principal governing body of the denomination should be composed of the representatives of its primary stakeholders—the participating churches. The denomination’s consultative and executive bodies should be ancillary to this body.

The delegated nature of the denomination’s authority has similar implications. It means that denominational officials and bodies may exercise only the powers and prerogatives expressly given them in the denomination’s governing documents. They have no discretion in matters outside their purview and only limited discretion in matters within their purview.

Judicatories, the subdivisions of the denomination, are also voluntary associations, created by the churches participating in them. They, like denominations, are organized to perform functions that the participating churches can do better collectively than they can individually. Judicatorial officials and bodies, like those of the denomination, have no inherent authority of their own but exercise authority delegated to them by the participating churches. They are accountable to the participating churches.

The observations that I made about the implications of the voluntary, and subsidiary nature of the denomination and the delegated nature of its authority apply to judicatories.

In light of the range of convictions held by the churches participating in the Anglican Church in North America a crucial term of the agreement should be a strong commitment to make provision for the diverse convictions of the participating churches acceptable to those churches holding a particular set of convictions. What this would mean in practice is that the rites and services and the catechism of the Anglican Church in North America would have to reflect this range of convictions and not the particular set of convictions of one group of participating churches. It may be time-consuming but it is not impossible to do. The formation of affinity networks within the denomination is one approach with each affinity network producing its own rites and services and its own catechism.

Re-launches are not uncommon in church planting. Restarting a church is also one way of revitalizing a stagnant or declining church. Re-launching a denomination is not as dramatic step as it might sound.

The Anglican Church in North America was launched with unnecessary haste. A provisional instrument of governance could have been put together and more time taken to examine proposals for the new denomination’s doctrinal foundation and its organization and structure. The haste in which the denomination was launched had nothing to do with a rapidly closing window of opportunity. Common Cause Partnership leaders created a false sense of urgency in order to secure the adoption and ratification of the draft constitution and canons. They claimed that if the two governing documents were rejected or their adoption and ratification was delayed while they were subject to further scrutiny and revision, there would be no orthodox alternative to the Anglican Church of Canada and the Episcopal Church in North America. This was patently untrue. Common Cause Partnership leaders also lobbied the GAFCON Primates to call for such an alternative. 

Interested parties were given a few short weeks to examine the two documents and recommend changes. It was insufficient time to thoroughly evaluate the provisions of the two documents and their ramifications, to hold a public discussion of the documents' strengths and weaknesses, and to offer alternative proposals. The apparent intention in keeping this period short was to prevent the development of organized opposition to the documents' provisions. What recommendations were made were for a large part ignored except when they concerned glaring mistakes made by the task force that drafted the documents.

The reaction of Bishop Jack Iker to a series of alternative proposals and the refusal of REC Presiding Bishop Royal Grote to pass the same proposals onto his fellow REC bishops showed that Common Cause Partnership leaders had come to agreement among themselves as to what would go into the constitution and canons of the new denomination. Iker demanded to know who authorized the proposals. Grote denied that he was the right person to contact. At the time he was communications director for the Reformed Episcopal Church and a REC representative on Common Cause Partnership's Governance Task Force. He indeed was the right person!

The Anglo-Catholic members of the provisional Provincial Council would block any substantive changes to the fundamental declarations.

Then Archbishop-elect Robert Duncan in an address to the delegates to the inaugural Provincial Assembly ridiculed those who wanted to make the two documents clearer and more detailed and to make other needed changes in the documents. He equated them with the people of Israel who wished to return to captivity in Egypt. He essentially discouraged the delegates from debating the documents’ provisions and revising them.

The two documents were rushed through the inaugural Provincial Assembly with very little discussion of their provisions and frequent interruptions by Archbishop-elect Robert Duncan telling the delegates that speakers were waiting to address them. The provisional Provincial Assembly was not given an opportunity to change provisions of the documents, omit provisions, or add new provisions. A number of delegates reported that, while they voted for the ratification of the two documents due to the false sense of urgency created by Common Cause Partnership leaders, they had serious misgivings about the contents of the documents.

Ahead of the inaugural Provincial Assembly evangelicals were offered assurance that if they supported the adoption and ratification of the documents, their concerns would be addressed later. The assurance offered to evangelicals proved to be a ruse intended to secure their support. The open letter offering this assurance was subsequently removed from the Internet.

Without a fresh start the Anglican Church in North America is going to lose sight of the principal task of the Church—that of spreading the gospel and making genuine disciples of Jesus Christ. This is what happened in the Eastern and Western Churches in the past and in the Continuing Anglican Churches in more recent times. The maintenance of a particular cultus displaced the proclamation of the gospel; the proselytization of new converts to that cultus and their formation in its beliefs and practices supplanted the making of new followers of Jesus Christ and their instruction in his commandments.

Under the provisions of a new constitution and a new set of canons and with the election of new leaders the denomination’s attention could be kept focused upon the Church’s principal task. To borrow an analogy from a confessing Anglican in New Zealand, the Anglican Church in North America could be re-coupled to the locomotive of the gospel and pulled back onto the mainline of the Great Commission. 


Unknown said...

It strikes me that there is an inherent fault line in the association with reference to the ordination of women.

Robin G. Jordan said...

The question of the ordination of women does divide the Anglican Church in North America. Despite strong leanings toward unreformed Catholic teaching and practices in other areas, the stance of the Anglican Church in North America in this area is one I associate with liberal or affirming Catholicism. As far as women’s ordination is concerned, the Anglican Church in North America may be described as a macrocosm of the Anglican Communion. The same question also divided the Communion with some provinces permitting women’s ordination and others rejecting it. Some, like the Church of England until recently and the Anglican Church in North America at the present time allow women deacons and presbyters but not women bishops. Its current position on women’s ordination is one of the biggest obstacles to traditionalist Anglo-Catholic Continuers becoming participants in the ACNA.

Unknown said...

Well, except Bishop Iker is soundly Anglo-Catholic. How does he abide being in a group that, to his mind, anyway, must seem apostate? (I seem to have lost my name here. How interesting.)

Robin G. Jordan said...

Good question. It is a question that can be answered only by Bishop Iker himself. How does he reconcile his traditionalist Anglo-Catholic views with the ACNA's current position on women's ordination? Perhaps he is hoping to encourage the ACNA to adopt a moratorium on women's ordination like the AMiA did and eventually decide against women's ordination. When the issue was raised during Archbishop Duncan's tenure, he passed the hot potato onto the GAFCON Primates, which was a safe bet for him since the GAFCON Primates are themselves divided over the question of women's ordination. At least one person I know views the ACNA brand of Anglo-Catholicism as not quite as pure as that of Continuers since ACNA Anglo-Catholics tolerate women's ordination. I don't know if I agree with him because a number of Anglo-Catholics in the ACNA with whom I am acquainted chaff at the hesitancy of the ACNA to oppose women's ordination. .

Unknown said...

You must know more than I do. When did ACNA make a stand on WO? Has the new archbishop actually said anything? Ruled a certain way?

I have read about postulants who have left the process because of frustration with the ambiguity of this issue.

Has it been cleared up?

- Remaining nameless (although I appear to Be Not A Robot)

Robin G. Jordan said...

Since you originally posted as "anonymous," Blogger remembers you by that name. I cannot do anything about it. You may be able to post using a different name on another comment thread.

As I recall, the College of Bishops put together a position paper which former Archbishop Duncan presented to the GAFCON Primates. He essentially passed the buck. Considering the position he himself has taken on women's ordination, it was a clever maneuver because it took the onus of himself and shifted it to the GAFCON Primates. The GAFCON Primates responded as I expected them to do--pointed out that that they themselves were divided on this question. Duncan I am pretty sure knew that they would respond this way. By this maneuver he neatly sidestepped the issue. At the same time he could return home and tell his fellow bishops, "See guys. I tried."

To my knowledge Archbishop Beach has not articulated his position on women's ordination since taking office. He did attend the Anglo-Catholic Congress at which women's ordination was a hot issue and was addressed by a number of speakers. He also attended from what I gather some kind of Orthodox gathering. But I would not draw any conclusions from his attendance at such gatherings. Even if he is himself opposed to women's ordination, the ACNA has a contingent that supports women's ordination. Signaling a shift from a policy of women deacons and presbyters but no women bishops to no women in orders period could be a real deal breaker. As you pointed out, it is a major fracture line in the ACNA.

As the Chinese say, we live in interesting times.

Unknown said...

Ah. So we know the same things about this issue. This is a weird thing to be suspended about, given what is happening with the women in England who have now taken upon themselves the responsibility to change God into a woman. There are even bishops over there going around telling people to NOT ORDAIN WOMEN!

It's not an issue, it seems to me, to be equivocal about.

(I think I'll be Rosie. From the Jetsons.)

Robin G. Jordan said...

The Jetsons' robot maid and housekeeper. XB-500. The spoof version in the Futurama movie, Bender's Game, certainly was not unequivocal. "Everything must be clean. Very clean. That's why the dog had to die. He was a dirty dog. Also that boy Elroy. Dirty. Dirty." You know that we both have just dated ourselves--unless of course you watch the reruns on the Cartoon Network.

Unknown said...

The real error is that, according to you anyway, I am NOT a robot. And yet the first name I could think of is a robot.

Perhaps you are wrong about me after all.

Robin G. Jordan said...

I am not sure that I quite understand your comment.

I long ago concluded that our information about other people is never complete and any conclusions we might draw about them are tentative and subject to revision when additional information becomes available. Despite the sometimes polemical nature of my writing what I think of individual people is tied to what I know about them individually.

Unknown said...

(1) This process assures me that I am not a robot.

(2) Nevertheless, I freely chose the name of a robot to use for myself.

(3) Perhaps your process, of proving that I am not a robot, is inaccurate.

(4) Perhaps I am a robot.

(5) Would I, in truth, be capable of knowing whether I were a robot or not?

(6) It is a dilemma that I will have to face in the dark moments of my life.

Robin G. Jordan said...

Self-aware AI? Or a reflection on free will vs.predestination?

Unknown said...

The challenge now will be how to stop laughing at your comment.

Robin G. Jordan said...

I am glad that I brightened up your evening.

Unknown said...

Very much, thank you.

Robin G. Jordan said...

You are quite welcome.