Saturday, March 12, 2016

Thoughts on the Possibility of Doctrinal and Liturgical Change in the ACNA

By Robin G. Jordan

Appeals to church unity ring hollow when they amount to accommodating the one wing of the Anglican Church in North America to which its leadership is giving preferential treatment and to denying the validity of the concerns of the ACNA’s other wings. The latest service of Holy Communion and the Daily Office Lectionary are further evidence of the preferential treatment given ACNA’s Catholic Revivalists.

It is clear from the ACNA’s Ordinal, its Catechism, and its 2019 Proposed Prayer Book that the ACNA does not treat as full partners in the province Anglicans who “uphold and maintain the faith of the Church expressed in the Holy Bible, the Anglican Formularies, and the Jerusalem Declaration.” Ample space is given to the unreformed Catholic teaching and practices of the Catholic Revivalist wing of the ACNA in the ACNA formularies but negligible room is made for the Protestant/reformed catholic teaching and practices of the convictional Anglican wing. While the presence of convictional Anglicans is tolerated—at least for the time being—their doctrinal beliefs and worship principles are not—certainly not to the extent that they enjoy official standing in the ACNA.

Part of the problem is the form of governance that the framers of the ACNA constitution and canons created. Part of the problem is how it has come to operate in practice. It incorporates features of the ecclesiastical system of the Roman Catholic Church and political system of the former Soviet Union. These features permit a special interest group to hold onto the place of power in the jurisdiction indefinitely once it has occupied that place. They enable this group to control the legislative process from start to finish and to determine who is appointed to critical task forces and committees. They allow the same group to determine the teaching and practices of the jurisdiction.

These features also prevent any inside strategy to reform the ACNA from succeeding. For any dissident group to introduce meaningful reforms related to the jurisdiction’s teaching and practices, it would have to first capture the place of power and reform the jurisdiction’s form of governance. The system, however, is designed to keep that from happening. The only changes that may be introduced are the changes favored by the special interest group occupying the place of power.

In such a system what leverage a dissident group may apply is limited to refusing to cooperate with the special interest group and to go along with its decisions, refusing to provide it with money to implement those decisions, and ultimately withdrawing from the ACNA. To exercise this kind of leverage such a group must be willing to suffer the consequences of its opposition to the special interest group. The special interest group will seek to turn public opinion against the dissident group, to portray it as disloyal and divisive, and to take disciplinary action against individual members of the dissident group. The special interest group will also seek to co-opt the weakest members of the dissident group and to isolate its strongest members. 

By the application of this kind of leverage the dissident group may be able to exact concessions from the special interest group. To effectively apply this kind of leverage, a dissident group needs to organize itself and form a shadow alternative province within the ACNA. The prospect of losing a sizable chunk of the ACNA membership—clergy and congregations—to a second alternative North American Anglican province is more likely to induce the special interest group to make concessions than the prospect of losing a trickle of individual clergy and congregations to other jurisdiction and denominations.

On the other hand, the special interest group may be glad to see the dissident group go. For this reason the dissident group needs to be prepared in advance to formally establish itself as second alternative North American Anglican province. The formation of an alternative shadow province is a necessary step toward this end.

At this stage I believe that ACNA members should be encouraged to share with the ACNA leadership their concerns related to the direction in which it is taking the ACNA doctrinally and liturgically. I personally do not believe that the ACNA leadership will respond to their concerns. It has been unresponsive to date. At the same time ACNA members should be allowed an opportunity to seek a change in direction, working through official channels. If the ACNA leadership does nothing, makes promises and fails to follow through on them, or makes only cosmetic changes, these members are more likely to support stronger measures at a future date. They will have experienced for themselves how intractable and even duplicitous, the ACNA leadership can be.

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