Readers respond to opinion articles on proposed Anglican covenant

July 2, 2009

Several readers have responded to the opinion columns "Consider facts about proposed covenant, not myths" by the Rev. James Stockton and "Covenant aligns with Episcopal identity" by the Rev. Bruce Robison.

Responses to the columns follow.


General response

On one hand, if we don't accept some type of covenant, then we end up with the situation that we have now. On the other hand, if we accept a covenant that is too restrictive, we end up with (in effect) papacy instead of episcopacy.

After reading the proposed covenant, I would like to see what form the debate would take if sections 3.2.5 and 4.2.3 were modified or eliminated entirely.


Responses to "Consider facts about proposed covenant, not myths"

I agree whole-heartedly with this article! Applause!

I couldn't agree more with all you say. The last thing the churches of the Anglican Communion should be doing is moving in the direction of legalism. Nothing smothers a living faith faster than that kind of Pharisaic impulse. And what would be accomplished by it? All it would do is add more fuel to the fire of doctrinal controversy.

The answer to the current conflicts in the church, if there is one, is to re-emphasize the core of Christian moral teaching, which is love; and let the shifting winds of opinion on specifics blow where they will.

Thank you, James Stockton, for saying what needs to be said to every delegate to this year's General Convention. We have never been a covenanting church and becoming one will not restore our unity. If we can't unite in a common mission and worship, why bother?

Recent reports on the numerical decline among the Episcopal dioceses in general brings serious doubt as to the ability of the Episcopal Church to "set the pace and lead the way back to mission" as the Rev. Stockton suggests. The evidence suggests that whatever way of doing things has been used by TEC has not been working for quite some time. Perhaps a little less "colonialist arrogance" on the part of the defenders of the status quo and a little more openness to the criticisms of the "colonies" might be in order.

I do not believe I have seen an article which shows more ignorance of what the proposed Anglican covenant purports to accomplish, or which attempts to dismiss it and those who support it with such broad, vitriolic and unsupported strokes. To cite several examples: the attribution of "thoroughly mistaken" to any thought of re-affirming our Anglican roots via the essential doctrines of Christianity; the idea that the "so-called conservatives'" embrace of the covenant "is driven by hopes for punitive powers"; the relegating to mythical status of a "distinct Anglican theology or a singular Anglican ethos" just because it is not "singular" (used twice in the same sentence); and the accusations that certain primates (those "whose rancor disturbed Lambeth Palace as far back as 1998") "are now spinning further and further from anything that can be identified as Anglican"; and that they exhibit an "utter lack of interest in participating honestly and collegially with (some) fellow primates."

The writer seems to know what "Anglican" is; but he never lets us in on it. He speaks of distracting the Episcopal Church (and others) from "the genuine mission of the church," but he gives us no clue as to what that mission is or how that mission is discerned. He asks about the relevance of the covenant to the church's mission and ministry, apparently assuming that he knows what that is, to the exclusion of those he has ridiculed and dismissed (see above).

I would suggest that the writer step back for a moment, and realize that his facile and generalized volleys do little to promote advancement in mission and ministry, which is precisely what the proposed covenant attempts to do. His lack of connection with the story of Anglicanism through the years (yes, as haphazard and untidy as it has been), and his inability to see that mutual submission to one another just might bear a more godly discernment about mission and ministry than that which is myopically grounded in the so-called "freedom" of the Episcopal Church, does no service to anyone in the church.

There are some of us who are sincerely trying to see how we can move forward in what is "our" church too - the Episcopal Church. We are distressed by the blatant politicization which falls at the feet of such idols as "rights" and "social action and advocacy." We are dismayed that those who do not fall in step with the "progressive" and "revisionist" agenda are marginalized more and more as time goes on. We sit in utter wonder that those who have left the Episcopal Church are demonized, and yet we who have stayed are discounted, disparaged, and counted as ignorant among the all-knowing elite.

The proposed Anglican covenant seeks a way to get beyond this toxic culture of mistrust and misuse of power. If honored, it will call for deeper reflection and humility from all sides. It is not about "enforcing unity"; it is about seeking the mind of God in all its evangelical and catholic fullness.

I fear the writer has taken the extremes and thrown a large net over many who are seeking a way forward in these trying times. A more thoughtful approach would be helpful to us all.

BRAVO, Rev. Stockton! NO to the False Covenant and YES to the love of Christ through mission.

Kudos for having the courage to say what so many are afraid to say. It is time we contemplate the blessing of religious liberty and abandon the strategy of trying to appease people who are angry. Appeasement ultimately is an insult. Telling the truth is the only genuinely loving thing to do -- when we disagree, when we agree, when we're not sure.

In 1989 I left the Roman Catholic Church because that church believed (and still does) it has the market cornered on all religious truths and salvation. What a wonderful experience it was to be affirmed in the Episcopal Church where worship and loving and serving God and loving people became more important than church laws and church doctrine. Yes, there were disagreements in the Episcopal Church but most of us "agreed to disagree" and went on serving God.

It saddens me to read the news online about what is happening to my beloved church. When did we put "doctrine" above loving and serving God? Splitting our church in the USA into different denominations is wasting energy we could better use to carry out Jesus' gospel. Why can't we all just get along!

The Rev. Stockton: U dah man! Well reasoned, and well stated. Agree with you 100%!

As you have reasoned this well, and stated this well, no doubt you will have severe critics. If you do, then you have my further congratulations!

Hear, hear! Nicely put, Fr. Stockton!

I so agree with Fr. Stockton's thoughtful examination of the motives behind the idea of the covenant. I can't help wondering what possible document of unity could be drawn up at this time, when our greatest symbol of unity, the Eucharist itself, is not valued enough for those who oppose the views of our Presiding Bishop even to come to the table. Fr. Stockton's comments on colonialism ring very true to me, and I am distressed to find the Anglican Communion still in those bonds.

Clearly, the best we can hope for in the name of unity is the willingness to allow each province the understandings and practice it feels itself led to, without comment and without judgment. The rest of the world can wait for Nigeria (or the Southern Cone) and extend them the "respect and dignity" we pray for. But we cannot sign a document that would bind the American and Canadian churches to ways of thinking that to the majority of ordinary Episcopalians seem contrary to the movement of the Holy Spirit in our own General Convention.

We have the Lambeth Quadrilateral. We have the Creeds. We have Baptism. We have the Eucharist. What more does the Anglican Communion need? It has never been our heritage to demand commonality of interpretation either of Scripture or of doctrine. Uniformity of signature is not the way of our heritage. And to many of us it is not the way of the Spirit, who blows as it will through the churches and through our own hearts.

I commend Fr. Stockton for his thoughtful article. "Liberals" who think a covenant would lead to charity need to give his words serious thought!

Thirty years ago, while still nominally Roman Catholic and a resigned Jesuit priest, I believed the Episcopal Church was acting prophetically in ordaining women to the priesthood. A decade later, not yet having made the leap to TEC, my wife and I rejoiced at the election and ordination of Barbara Harris as the first woman bishop in the Anglican Communion. As a priest of TEC in 2003 I prayed for General Convention's consent to the election of Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire.

To wait for the universal Catholic Church to determine that women belong in ordained ministry at every level, to wait for the whole Anglican Communion to recognize the full humanity and Christianity of our LGBT sisters and brothers, including their gifts for the fullness of ordained ministry, is not to act prophetically. To continue to say, in effect, that non-celibate LGBT Episcopalians can be ordained deacons and priests, but not bishops, is hardly prophetic. At the risk of offending some I hold dear, I would call it cowardly.

I concur wholeheartedly with Fr. Stockton's conclusion that the Anglican Communion would benefit from, and truly needs, the leadership that TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada can provide, a prophetic leadership that is rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our mission as his church is to bring Him to the world and the world to him. Let's get on with it.

I completely agree with Jim Stockton. From my teenage years until now in my many years as a priest in parochial, diocesan and national church positions, I have observed the unfolding of Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence policies to empower local growth and governance. That in some places when the "new" churches become occasionally "ugly teenagers," as they mature into their own identity, neither excuses them by attempting to conform to their whims (a liberal form of colonialism) or to join with their need for doctrinal conformity (the conservative form). Such attempts are useless, irrelevant and not in the spirit of MRI. I pray that diversity, dialogue and mutual tolerance flourish in the deep spirit of core Anglican values. Where I am, we and a large local "Anglican" congregation work side by side on inner city ministries. We seem to have no need to talk doctrine while we feed the hungry, empower the dispossessed and enjoy fellowship together. Seems all very Anglican to me. And it is fun!

Fr. Stockton makes some very pointed statements, many with which I agree. I would have only two brief comments. The first being that the document that seems to get in the way of how I might rather do things is Holy Scripture, and how it is seen through the tradition of the church. It is important to me that we all have a certain understanding of just what that Scripture says and means. The solution would be a simple one if we could ignore that, just play nice, and do good in the world. That brings me to my second comment; it is Holy Scripture that tells us our place is not in this world, nor are we to be molded by what the world expects of us, but what our Father in heaven expects. Don't view these statements as a challenge, but just a couple of things that not only cause me to pause, but honestly get in my way.

Loved it. Especially that the world does not care if we play together -- or however that paragraph went.

As a "cradle" Episcopalian it breaks my heart to see so much energy (and money) going into a fight, instead of into doing what we, as God's children, promised by our baptism to do!

Somehow I have heard God's church teaching me all my life (92 years of it) that we are ALL His children. Based on what is happening now, perhaps that is not the message.

Hear! Hear! This is the first articulate rationale against the covenant that I have read. Fr. Stockton exposes the myth that there is any one definition of what it means to be and act Anglican and that any covenant can codify that. I would wish that this explanation be sent to every member of the Anglican Communion for reflection and discernment before jumping on the bandwagon of the covenant. Thank you, Fr. Stockton.

How tragic that the "real" "body of Christ" must ostracize, even "cast out" others with whom they disagree on certain particular "preferences" of life as they have found it within themselves in this moral realm. Yet they embrace others among themselves who are "guilty" of "lifestyles" that the culture has found to be an "acceptable establishment" within the faith (i.e. adultery, disregarding a literal reading of the Bible that they proclaim, even among the clergy) who have found their CHOICES "acceptable to God." How blessed is selective exegesis! (?) Heaven weeps!

Resolution A160 was just a mealy-mouthed way of saying: "We regret behaving like Christians, when that is offensive to others in the communion."

Our faith does not ask us to be loving when it is convenient, but at all times.

I can only be highly suspicious of any "covenant" that has grown out of such an unworthy impulse.

Who we are and how we love and respect each other transcends any document that could be signed. The Covenant is as relevant to the Communion as a marriage certificate is to the parties in union. The love, fidelity, and respect between the parties means much more than any document they have signed. Rev. Stockton is on the mark.


Responses to "Covenant aligns with Episcopal identity"

When the welter of words on both sides of this covenant debate is cleared away, my understanding is that there remains one simple truth, one simple divide: Some people feel deeply, genuinely and sincerely that, as per the story of Lot in Genesis, God, himself, (or themselves, if you prefer) is/are opposed to what our society used to call the unnatural union of men with men, and women with women. On the other side, there are apparently people who feel equally deeply, genuinely and sincerely that the overarching love described in John 3:16 is controlling and that these minor differences of sexual orientation should be of no effect in our relationships with God and with each other.

I think the Episcopal Church's basic, insoluble problem is that it wants to have things both ways: Let's us apologize for consecrating an openly gay bishop too hastily; and then, after a discrete pause that reverses nothing and restores none of the erstwhile interpretation of God's word as previously generally accepted, let's move forward with our theological revision of God's word to say that what used to be categorized as an unnatural union now receives a same-sex blessing; and let's us give poor Bishop Robinson some like-minded company, while we are at it.

Write all the volumes of apologetic theology you want, there is just simply no way for our poor, besieged church to have it both ways; and, equally, there is no way to close Pandora's debate box and go back to that halcyon, pastoral time, before all this was an issue. A good reality check might be to just admit that there is no easy way out of this box. We all might just need God's help to navigate a way through this mine field of theological opinion; and, as God has a nasty way of doing, we just might find that all of us, on both sides of the divide, have to go through an unavoidably uncomfortable place out in God's little woodshed, before we get it all figured out -- with God's help.

Thus, maybe the three most important words in this debate on both sides are, "I don't know"; but I prayerfully and care-fully hope that God will help us all find out. That seems a healthier, more realistic starting point than all this verbal sleight-of-hand nonsense going on right now, wherein we try to simultaneously take both sides' position at once and hope that no one notices. It is unsustainable, in a world where sustainability is supposed to be the order of the day. There is no balance here, no firm ground. We might all just be better off, if we admit that large and growing elephant in our shared room in God's house, whether Episcopalian or Anglican, or just plain, dizzyingly confused.

I respect what the sponsor of these resolutions suggests, but I also would like to know what he (and others who undoubtedly will support this move to establish a unity that at the present time can be no unity) does with the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, God in our own human flesh. If we are not bound by common belief in the Incarnation, then we are not Anglican, for this is our hallmark doctrine -- and yet a common interpretation even of this doctrine has never been required. If the sponsors of this resolution truly believe God took our human nature for his own (so that we might be partakers of his divine nature, as St. Peter and St. Paul and St. John make very clear), then how dare our generation continue the heritage of the ages: for the church in its hierarchy to pronounce definitively on which part of humanity is covered by God's mighty act and which part is not? (For all our assurances, of course, that gays and lesbians are valued and deserving of full pastoral care!) What if it really is true that Jesus has many things to say to all of us which we still cannot bear to hear -- and what if the Holy Spirit is indeed still active and stirring in the church and in the world our Lord Jesus died for?

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