Diocese of Virginia Standing Committee Rejects Proposed Anglican Covenant

BB NOTE: The Standing Committee of the Diocese of Virginia has released a “response” regarding the proposed Anglican Covenant – and it’s a doozy. Indeed, it is illuminating. BabyBlue Commentary is posted.

A Response to the Draft Anglican Covenant
from the Standing Committee of The Diocese of Virginia

We recognize the challenging work undertaken by the Covenant Design Group and acknowledge the draft they have presented. We affirm that the Draft Anglican Covenant is intended for discussion by every Province of the Anglican Communion and is therefore a step in the larger and longer conversation of how we live out our union in Christ.

Let’s just pause a moment and consider the “mission statement” of this opening paragraph. The only thing that they can find to affirm is that it is all about conversation. The conversation (not the covenant mind you) is the focus, not actually arriving at any decision (which is such a passive/aggressive way of saying “not in our backyard come hell or high water.”).

We affirm and celebrate that we already have a covenant initiated by our gracious God, unmerited, unearned and undeserved, as revealed to us in Holy Scripture. By the love and merit of the Son in his Incarnation, Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension, we belong to God for ever.

Now, let’s just pause here a moment as well and take in the incredible assumption that we have no choice in the matter – that it’s a done deal, no matter what and “we belong to God for ever.” It is an incredible statement of assumption – that since “the Son” has done all the stuff, we belong to God, period. No personal responsibility, no choice, no possibility of falling away or any sort of decision on our part – the covenant is spiritual. Now, frankly, I don’t disagree with this view – it’s quite “evangelical-sounding” on one level (though no sign of the word “Jesus” or “the Father.” We’re back to belonging to God – which may mean we can believe what ever we want about those words – new interpretations of what are just metaphorical symbols after all) but have absolute assurance that “we belong to God.” For the seeker, the arrogance that these well-meaning people have “arrived” is breathtaking and causes us to indeed pause. Is this how we sound to seekers? We are so sure about ourselves, not because we’ve repented or anything, but it’s so obvious that God did the right thing in recognizing our true worth. We can’t have anything that might actually cause us to make a decision, now can we? Unless, of course, it’s to agree with us. The middle place between your unbelief and our absolute belief is called “conversation.” This is evangelical-thinking stuck inside a neo-pagan blender.

By the charism of the Holy Spirit, we are pledged to one another as members of the Body of Christ in bonds of love which no human action can dissolve. The covenant relationship we share with one another as a gift of the Triune God has been long expressed in the Nicene Creed and in the ancient baptismal confession of the Apostles’ Creed.

Following on that theme, here’s the actual statement – which makes us drop our jaw in incredulity. “We are pledged to one another as members of the Body of Christ in bonds of love which no human action can dissolve.” Again, we have an incredible statement of irresponsibility that it is just staggering. To translate what again looks to be “evangelical-sounding words” stuck inside a neo-pagan blender, the Body of Christ actually becomes the christ – the church takes on divine status, through this “charism” of the spirit so no human action can touch it. Well, that’s crazy! It’s cult-thinking. Rebellion, sinning against the Holy Spirit, and many other things can certainly dissolve the bonds of love – it’s called, ironically enough, freedom of choice. Because we are so loved by God, we have the choice to completely abandon Him, and we can do that at any time – to reject Him and because of His love for us, He will let us go. It is completely heart-breaking, I don’t know how He can do it, but He loves us enough to let us go, and at the same time, through the Cross of Christ, is ready to bring us back – He is the pursuer, the wooer, the Father who loves us. But the arrogance of such a statement, that there is nothing we can do to break the bonds of love is, well, insidious. The total rebellion for responsibility for breaking the bonds of affection is shocking. Then to back it up, they drag out the creeds (which again, as an evangelical, I embrace – but the reasoning of how they got there is so alarming).

We question whether a Covenant that arises out of a particular conflict and disagreement can serve to make us one, as Christ desires us to be.

All I can say about this is that Thomas Jefferson must be just spinning in his grave.

We fear that such a Covenant will lead to more conflict and division.

Well, there goes John Adams now spinning away. How can Americans, who have built a giant monumental building to house two kinds of Covenants – the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution write such things? Have they left their heads in their cars? And while we’re thinking about it, isn’t Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation also stored in the National Archives? Yes, all those documents faced conflict and division. But again, how can Americans – and Virginians at that! – make such outrageous statements. We haven’t even gotten to the content of the Anglican Covenant. That these Virginians could belittle covenants, while being in a Commonwealth that produced some of the greatest minds who ever wrote covenants – or reside in the Capital of the Confederacy where Lincoln’s covenant broke apart the chains of slavery – well, this sounds too much like the same rationale used to justify maintaining the 19th century Virginia status-quo. Someone in the room must have remembered, please tell us that someone on the Standing Committee knows their Virginia history.

We recognize that the Instruments of Unity in the Anglican Communion have developed organically over time and that the interrelationships between the Instruments have been fluid and changeable.

What?? We think this may be an attempt to define chaos.

We oppose definitions and descriptions of the Instruments that limit them and prevent the emergence in the future of changes or of additional Instruments that reflect the broad riches of the Anglican Communion.

We think this means that they don’t want to actually make any decisions about theology or be held responsible for anything. So while they used evangelical-sounding words earlier, now we see that in fact, there is no center, no common ground to stand on. What the spirit may be doing now might be different in the future. Can we imagine what Thomas Jefferson or John Adams would have said if the subject was liberty? Remember, Patrick Henry was standing in an Anglican (not Episcopal) Church in Richmond when he uttered his unforgettable words. We have no such convictions here. It appears they have no convictions at all – but that is deceptive. You bet they have a world-view, but their world-view isn’t found in the Anglican Covenant.

We particularly object to the clauses in the Draft Covenant that limit the authority of the Anglican Consultative Council, the only Instrument of Unity that includes lay people. We affirm that the full inclusion of the laity in decision making and leadership is a hallmark of The Episcopal Church and a particular charism of Anglicanism, and we object to any action that would diminish its vitality.

Now, we still haven’t talked about theology, instead we turn to politics. Again, Virginia is well-known for limiting the power of bishops and for its anti-Roman Catholic prejudice. Anglo-Catholics who have historically resided in the Diocese of Virginia can tell you horror-stories of what it’s like to be in the tiny minority of Anglo-Catholic clergy. This plead for the laity is so incredibly hypocritical it’s beyond the pale. Let 7,000 laity vote to join a different branch of the Anglican Communion and this same body of people slaps the laity with lawsuits. The hypocrisy of this statement coming from the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Virginia is simply audacious. “We affirm that the full inclusion of the laity in decision making and leadership is a hallmark of The Episcopal Church a particular charism (there’s the word again) of Anglicanism, and we object to any action that would diminish its vitality.” Read the Diocese of Virginia Protocol for Departing Churches lately?

We also object to the disproportionate power given in the Draft Anglican Covenant to the Primates’ Meeting and oppose efforts to establish any body akin to the Roman Catholic Curia. The establishment of such a body is profoundly contrary to the historic spirit of Anglicanism.

Here we go – the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Virginia speaks to the deeply embedded anti-Rome bias (“foreign prelates” anyone?). Again, this sounds very ‘”low churchy” – but the irony is that this same group of people have sold their souls to New York. Virginia has always had a zeal for its independence (one doesn’t know if it’s because we’re Virginians or because we’re south of the Potomac, or if frankly because we’re Americans). That this same group of Virginians have in fact embraced the Roman Catholic view of an Episcopal hierarchy is simply mind-blowing. They’ll take their Catholic hierarchy when it suits them, thank you very much. But in Virginia, until that happy little meeting with David Booth Beers, a foreign prelate would be anyone north of the Potomac. Even Bishop Lee said as much when he justified voting for Gene Robinson. The people of New Hampshire can elect any bishop they wish precisely because we are not a hierarchical church, just as Virginia can elect anyone they wish. The House of Bishops is a fellowship, not a governing body (which we keep hearing them say in their talking points), except that which conflicts with their legal case. Having authority of any kind from the Communion annoys not only their independence but their legal case. This section is pure politics – it’s not theological because it’s inconsistent.

We are deeply concerned that the Meeting of Primates has already assumed improper and unprecedented authority to adjudicate genuine theological disagreements and to dictate what actions Provinces may or may not take without regard to the synodical structures of the Provinces, as evidenced in their Dar es Salaam Communiqué.

Finally, they are deeply concerned – not over theology, but because they might be held accountable for their actions. They basically call the Anglican archbishops dictators and they plead not on behalf of the Christian faith, but their beloved structures. Isn’t that what British loyalists and later Virginia slaveholders pleaded – that it was their way of life, their beloved and profitable structures, that were threatened?

We conclude that the Draft Anglican Covenant is profoundly impaired by its disregard for the deep theological grounds on which we already belong together, the ecclesial history of Anglicanism as a family of interdependent yet autonomous churches that are both episcopally led and synodically governed, and by a rush to end the current disagreements in which we find ourselves.

Not once do they discuss the theological merits of the Anglican Covenant or even mention Jesus by name. Not once do they acknowledge that The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion are facing one of the gravest crises we have ever faced since we shipped two Connecticut priests to Scotland. The Prayer Book isn’t even mentioned (which is what I personally see as the unifying statement of faith, which is why the rewriting of the Prayer Books is so grievous as the doctrine of the Church is said in the liturgy – by changing the liturgy we change our doctrine and become less and less Anglican). This statement from the Diocese of Virginia Standing Committee to reject the Draft Covenant illustrates why we have such deep division, not only in the Virginia, but in the Episcopal Church and in the Anglican Communion.

I am writing this in a Starbucks. It is interdependent with the Starbucks corporation, but this Starbucks is a franchise, it is independently owned. There are certain things that this Starbucks must abide by or it loses its identity as a Starbucks. First and foremost, it sells coffee. If tomorrow it decided to no longer sell coffee, it would still look like a Starbucks, the people inside would still be wearing the same outfits, the sign outside still says Starbucks, and they’d still sell the CDs of Paul McCartney. But it wouldn’t be a Starbucks because Starbucks is all about coffee. No coffee, no Starbucks. It’s an imitation of the real thing and that is what is sadly happening to The Episcopal Church.

An association of men who will not quarrel with one another is a thing which has never yet existed, from the greatest confederacy of nations down to a town meeting or a vestry. -Thomas Jefferson

“Never water down the word of God, preach it in its undiluted sternness; there must be unflinching loyalty to the word of God; but when you come to personal dealing with your fellow men, remember who you are — not a special being made up in heaven, but a sinner saved by grace.” -Oswald Chamber, My Utmost for His Highest for June 28th