Saturday, January 03, 2009

A Historical Response to Jim Stockton

My first post of 2009 is a response to a posting by Father Jim Stockton of Church of the Resurrection in Austin, Texas on the House of Bishops and Deputies discussion list (HOBD) on the dangers of endorsing the proposed Anglican Covenant. Subscribers to HOBD are asked not to publish postings without the permission of the author, but readers can still, I hope, get a sense of what is in dispute.

Update: Father Stockton has posted his original article in the comments section.

While the issues that Father Stockton raises are, for the most part, practical and theological, and, as such, not a part of my remit, I would like to take issue with some of his historical assertions.

One of the things that I, as a historian, find a little frustrating about the progressive position are the simultaneous assertions that Anglicanism represents as much an organic as a legalistic version of catholicity – which I think is true – and that because there are few, if any, examples of formal transnational structures, this is implicit proof that no one down the ages ever desired or anticipated them. If Anglican structures have historically been informal, undocumented and organic then there will inevitably be no paper trail, but that proves little about how people have anticipated the future.

Father Stockton asserts that historically there was never an intention to create a Communion. If he means there was never a proposal to create a curial structure, then I suppose he is right, but why is it that it was the American and Canadian bishops who pressed most strongly for Lambeth 1, at least in part to address the questions arising over Bishop Colenso? He further states that the American church never sought to sustain a relationship with the Church of England. Here, I believe he is wrong. The Episcopal Church in the early national period did have to live down its reputation for residual Toryism and disloyalty to the Republic and Bishop Hobart’s approach, as Robert Mullin has demonstrated so well, was designed to emphasize American Anglicanism’s detachment from statist projects, but I have read little that suggests that the Church, at least after 1815, had any other reason to downplay its English credentials.

The evidence from Pittsburgh is rather that the Episcopal Church saw itself as midwife to new immigrants from the British Isles. Our first bishop, John Kerfoot, was instrumental in establishing the notion of letters of transfer to be presented by English immigrants to Episcopal rectors on arrival in the United States. While there certainly are statements that imply a purely advisory role for the Lambeth Conference there are equally existential statements – by bishops and others – that seek to dispel the notion that members of the Episcopal Church belong solely to an American denomination. One might just as well say that any American reserve stemmed from the fact that a largely High Church body – especially after 1873 – viewed with some disquiet efforts to propitiate English Evangelicals, including such legislative instruments as the Public Worship Regulation Act.

I have no way of knowing what Father Stockton would consider “deep and abiding affection,” yet there would seem to be a fairly constant record of clergy exchanges and a strong sense of “Britishness” within the American Church that antedated the Second World War. Clearly this did not amount to a view of the archbishop of Canterbury as even a titular pope, but I think it implied something more than just a common historic point of departure. Anglo Catholics have always seemed good at sustaining transatlantic connections, and the Broad Church had the Social Gospel to share (Charles Gore was read on both sides of the Atlantic).

When Evangelicals started reconnecting in the 1950s and 1960s – John Stott’s visits to America and Billy Graham’s English tour were both part of the same phenomenon – they were merely doing what previous generations of American Anglicans had done. Where they broke with the past was in being more pan-Anglican than their nineteenth century forbears, most of whom had preferred to think in terms of a pan-Protestant alliance extending across the denominations. That is where the real difference between then and now is to be found. Contemporary Evangelicalism may be dismissed by its critics as outside the Anglican mainstream, but it is being shaped much more within an ‘Anglican’ world view than it was 150 years ago. Again, people may not like the Anglican Church in North America, but it is a very different entity than was the Reformed Episcopal Church when it was first formed.

Father Stockton may well be right, however, in his belief that voluntary federations are now inevitable. Those now fighting for a Covenant may well be seeking to preserve a catholicity that is unsustainable. But asserting that a high view of bishops and primates can be seen only as making the former “dictatorial headmasters of an infantilized laity,” also does less than justice to bishops of the past who would certainly not have understood their role solely as that of chief executive officer of their diocese. If apostolic succession is to have any meaning, surely it implies an episcopal charism in relation to matters of doctrine? I would strongly question whether even the most avid of nineteenth century proponents of lay democracy desired to hobble the authority of bishops to pronounce on matters of theological significance.

“The Church of England,” says Father Stockton, “never had a covenant. The Episcopal Church purposely has never had a covenant.” It might be more true to say that neither ever had a confession, but to insist that Episcopalians (and members of the Church of England) never thought in covenantal terms seems much more of a stretch. It would be interesting if other dioceses would take up the question from a historical perspective so that we might gain a deeper understanding of just what it was that American Anglicans believed in times past. It is most unprofitable for either side to project onto the Church Expectant a vision derived from present-day events.


Jim Stockton said...

I appreciate Mr. Bonner's basic endorsement of my observations from history that there was no original intention to create an Anglican Communion, and that the Communion didn't begin to take shape until Lambeth 1 in the early 19th century. I do note that Mr. Bonner does not address the fact that the contemporary manifestation of the Anglican Communion is extremely new, dating to the establishment of the Anglican Consultative Council in 1968. I'm grateful nonetheless that Mr. Bonner's remarks basically support my own.

The only faults I can find in Mr. Bonner's remarks include his assertion that my position is that ECUSA now TEC has "never sought to sustain a relationship with the Church of England." I agree with him that if this had been my assertion, then I would indeed be wrong. The fact is, however, I did not, and do not, make this assertion. I will remind him that my point is that a drive to submit this Church, its autonomous and autocephelous polity, to England or to a formalized covenant has never been a characteristic of what it is to be Episcopalian or Anglican. History demonstrates that the driving concern for this Church was to sustain the apostolic succession of its orders, and thus its ministry.

Mr. Bonner appears to infer from my observation of this fact that I am contending that ECUSA has somehow nursed an animosity to the Church of England, which he then seeks to disprove. Again, this is not my position. The relationship between TEC and the CoC is well esteemed among many in the States, especially among the anglophiles of the Church. My point in observing the facts of our history is that this relationship has never been the definition of our identity. My contention is that shouldn't become so now.

Mr. Bonner's also implies that I somehow insist that "covenantal thinking" has not been a part of Episcopalian and Church oft England practice. I note again that my point is to observe the fact of history that neither the Church of England, nor the Episcopal Church, nor any other autonomous autocephelous member Church of the Anglican Communion has ever had a 'covenant' beyond the Creeds of the Church catholic. Indeed, I would further here suggest that adopting a covenant beyond the creeds ends the legitimacy of the claim of any of the Communion's Churches to be truly catholic.

I'm aware that Mr. Bonner must contend at the cathedral in Pittsburgh with the confusion of terms around what it means to be a diocese, an Episcopalian, and an Anglican. I sympathize with this. But surely the difficulties of of any of these situations are not resolved through the loose juxtaposition of important terms. "Covenantal thinking," a term that does not occur in my original remarks, is one thing. An "Anglican Covenant" is something completely and massively different. To gloss over the distinctions has consequences that are dramatic, ones to which we should pay especially close attention.

Finally, please know that I have not, as Mr. Bonner implies, asserted "that a high view of bishops and primates can be seen only as making the former 'dictatorial headmasters of an infantilized laity.'" I do not address 'a high view of bishops' at all. I do most certainly make the claim for the proposed Anglican Covenant. I further suggest here that the proposed covenant has nothing at all in common with a traditionally Anglican 'high view of bishops and primates.' Rather, I suggest that the proposed covenant establishes an authority and power for primates and bishops that sharply reduces the determinative participation by laity and clergy in the polity of the Churches of the Communion. I encourage people simply to read the thing, and let it speak for itself. When has a "high view of bishops and primates" ever included trans-geograhpic jurisdiction? My point is that Anglicanism has never favored such a thing in the past, and my contention is that this proposed covenant would so dramatically alter the polity of what is it is to be constituent of the Communion that it would end the unique gift that Anglicanism alone can yet offer to the wider fellowship of Christians and to the world. In addition, it would end the autonomy and autocephaly of any Church that chooses to remain 'constituent.' And, again, it would end for any such Church its legitimacy in claiming to be catholic.

I note that Mr. Bonner's commentary on the affection of some in the American Church for the Church of England does not attempt to refute any of this. In fact, I find nothing here that contradicts the substance of my earlier observations. Mr. Bonner's remarks often directly support my observations that historically TEC has never chosen fealty to England over its own autonomy in perpetuating its apostolic continuity and ministry. For this, I'm grateful. I share his interest in the health and integrity of our Church.

God's Peace to him.
Jim +

For his readers' convenience, I am happy to post the original piece here and to refer them to "" where they may read the piece in an orignial context. I would further suggest that Mr. Bonner might simply contact me for permission to reproduce a piece that to which he wishes to respond, and I will, in all likelihood, by happy to comply. The full piece from the HOB/D is as follows.

Post-Lambeth Conference processes that give much attention to the proposal of TEC's formal adoption of an Anglican Covenant, call us to remember our history accurately, not romantically. Specifically, let us remember that the Church of England (not "the Anglican Church;" there is not such thing) was an accompaniment to the colonizing efforts of England around the world of the 17th and 18th centuries. There was no original intent to create a Communion of autonomous and autocephalous Churches. As a phenomenon the Anglican Communion is an accident of history; it is an adaptation of the former colonies of England.

When the United States won its independence from England, there was no Anglican Communion in existence. The Church in the United States decidedly did not seek to sustain communion with the See of Canterbury. Instead, the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America sought only to maintain apostolic succession. Most of us know that England was unwilling to cooperate, and so our Church's first bishop was consecrated not by the Church of England, but by the Episcopal Church in Scotland. Afterward, in reaction to our initiative, it was the Church of England who sought a cooperative relationship with the ECUSA, not vice-versa. Inasmuch as England had hopes of reclaiming her former North American colonies (war of 1812), preserving a British connection to them in the Church no doubt seemed prudent. The point being that the history of the inception of our Church fails to demonstrate any deep and abiding affection between ECUSA (now TEC) and the Church of England. It seems again rather an accident of subsequent history, especially through WW2, that our two Churches have been perceived, and perhaps have perceived themselves, as somehow especially allied.

Thus, it seems to me that TEC will be wise to resist further participating in an inaccurate mythology. The Anglican Communion, as a concept, is hardly even 150 years old. And in its modern manifestation, it dates back to no later than 1968, when the Anglican Consultative Council was formed. These realities present some hard questions that need to be asked before TEC and others participate in actions that will permanently alter the way this Church functions in the world. Harkening back to its origins, ECUSA was concerned with apostolic succession, not with communion with Canterbury. With the relatively recent formal establishment of the "instruments of communion (unity)," and with the trend toward greater mechanisms to urge, then enforce, unanimity, I think TEC will do well to revisit its inaugural choice: apostolic fidelity or fealty to England?

Ironically, I find myself agreeing, though not sympathizing, with the self-proclaimed orthodox of Africa and the Southern Cone who have already raised the question: why do we need Canterbury anymore? It seems that their only use for the see of Canterbury is to transform it into a trans-provincial entity of jurisprudence. It seems also that Canterbury has its own use for them in return, namely: allowing them to succeed in their effort, in the name of unity. I suggest that if Canterbury's only or main relevance to the Anglican Communion is to serve as a tool of enforcement, then it is time to gather up that same Reformation energy that compelled Tudor England to question those claims of authority that were coming form Rome, and now place that same challenge before Canterbury. TEC will do well to lead the way in requiring Canterbury to do far better than trying to ram through the post-Lambeth processes a Covenant in order to convince us that Canterbury is still relevant to the practical mission and ministry of the autonomous Churches of the Communion.

A Covenant presumably will be something in which the Churches agree to participate. Should a Church not agree, then it will be a second-tier member, and eventually be considered for removal. Thus, it seems to me time to acknowledge the latest accident of history, namely: that the Anglican Communion is in fact already a voluntary federation of Churches, not a single denomination under the authority of even a titular head. Rather than seek greater enforcement of uniformity, it is time, perhaps, that the Churches accept the reality of their wider diversity. The Churches already participate in varying degrees with one another, more with some, less with others. A covenant won't change this. Primates and Houses of Bishops of certain Churches that have claimed to reject other Churches won't be changed by a covenant. The reality is what it is. There are established processes by which a proposed province or Church accepts membership in the modern version of the Anglican Communion, as prescribed by the Anglican Consultative Council. And this involves far more than simply being invited by the Archbishop of Canterbury. If Canterbury is to remain relevant, then let the Archbishop there continue to invite bishops to Lambeth, but the invitation should be to ALL bishops of all Churches who voluntarily affiliate with the Communion. The ABC should cease presuming to play referee. And the Churches should cease regarding the ABC as such.

TEC is already part of a voluntary association of autonomous Churches that share an appreciation for the Chicago/Lambeth Quadrilateral, the Book of Common Prayer, and the heritage of English Reformation theology and ecclesiology. The role of the ABC is rightly subsumed under the latter; it does not (any longer) belong in an elevated position above it. I pray TEC will not surrender its original autonomy nor compromise its witness and ministry for sake of fealty to a mythological Anglicanism that has never really been. I pray my fellow Episcopalians will move with healthy suspicion and skepticism as we consider further the peculiar notion of an "Anglican Covenant."

The conversation around the proposed Anglican Covenant appears to be surfacing two discernible streams: those who are in favor of its adoption rather immediately, and those who favor a cautious skeptical approach. Few if any are against a Covenant outright. Having reviewed the St. Andrew's draft of the proposed Covenant, I had originally concluded that it was pretty serviceable. I viewed the abundant appendices as perhaps a sly way of weighing the thing with such cumbersome processes of application that effectively it would be a moot exercise. I no longer hold to this position. As serviceable as it may be, the proposal is less about a covenant of relationship than it is about a description of a juridical process. I believe this renders the proposed covenant a detriment to the vitality of the Anglican Communion, and certainly to the mission and ministry of the Episcopal Church.

The effectiveness of any covenant is only as good as its signatories. I'm aware that many of the bishops who have been speaking vigorously in favor of the Covenant are also those bishops who, in 2005, signed their names to the House of Bishops Covenant Statement, then promptly abandoned that covenant by simultaneously sending a secret message to the Archbishop of Canterbury claiming that the very existence of the covenant statement was itself evidence of the terminal fracturing of the Episcopal Church. One can only wonder how quickly these same bishops, and those of similar mindset, will abandon any Anglican Covenant that fails to meet their exacting legalistic standards or fails to meet out to their chosen enemies the punishment and condemnation they long to impose.

It seems to me that the process by which a covenant has been originated is irretrievably flawed. Of all the many recommendations of the almighty Windsor Report that received response, this is the only one that has gained momentum. This, despite the fact that the Primates themselves at their meeting in Dromantine noted their own reservations about the establishment of any sort of covenant. While the Archbishop of Canterbury seems determined to listen to the cranky bigots of that body who are determined to press ahead, he seems uninterested in those more moderate voices urging caution. Those who authored the first covenant as it was presented in Dar es Salaam were aiming with a legalistic approach at reinventing the Anglican Communion and shifting its seat of authority. Their targets were first TEC, then the Anglican Church of Canada, then the Church of England. Despite the changes to the proposed Covenant, then, one rightly wonders whether or not the original intentions have changed at all. I think not. The Archbishop of Canterbury, whom some approach as their Anglican pope, has given them no motivation to change. Quite to the contrary, Rowan Williams is fueling a dismissive disregard for the polity of TEC and an exalted view of bishops and primates as dictatorial headmasters of an infantilized laity.

The underlying motivation for an Anglican Covenant seems oriented less around unity and more around unanimity. Yet, no covenant will promote mutual accountability. Relationship does this already. And if relationship does not exist, then nothing mutual exists, either. The Covenant reads like a tool for enforcement and punishment, and if adopted, the Anglican Communion will be very much like that single denomination that the so-called "conservatives" like to describe it as already. Personally, I see no reason to recreate what already exists in the Roman Catholic Church. The only possible reason for a revised Anglican Communion would be to afford particular persons access to the exercise of power that their departure for the Roman Church would not bring them. The autonomy of the national provinces of the Anglican Communion is Anglicanism's unique gift to the wider body of Christianity. No reasonable argument can be made that a covenant will not thoroughly undo this. Thanks be to God, the Communion already has unity amongst those who choose to embrace and engage the challenges and blessings of Anglicanism.

I'm both glad and sad to know that our Diocese of Texas deputation to General Convention will be meeting to discuss the Covenant. As good as this might seem, there has been here no real effort to gather the diocesan community around a study of the proposed covenant. Such an effort would have meant getting the people involved, having to deal with a variety of view points, and admitting to the existence of disagreement. These are phenomena that our current diocesan administration avoids with phobic determination. Instead, an extremely small number of individuals will 'discuss'; they will not contest both our retiring bishop's and our new bishop's coadjutor a priori affection for a covenant (remember: our retiring bishop was in favor of adopting the far more extremist version of the covenant from Dar es Salaam), and they will allow our bishops to pretend for General Convention that this opinion represents that of the entire Diocese of Texas. I'm glad that at least a few people here are meeting to discuss the Covenant. I'm sad that there will be little that will be original or productive that comes of it.

The Church of England never had a covenant. The Episcopal Church purposely has never had a covenant. No Church constituent of the Anglican Communion has ever adopted a covenant. Presumably, we have all experienced the grace of catholicity, i.e. the wisdom of doing without any more covenant than the Creeds of the Church. The very phrase Anglican Covenant is virtually a contradiction in terms. Personally, I hope and pray that the idea of an Anglican Covenant will wither and die, and that those of us who appreciate the blessing that is the Anglican Communion will press on with our respective and collective mission and ministries.

Jim Stockton. priest, Diocese of Texas.

Jeremy Bonner said...

Father Stockton,

Thanks for reproducing the text upon which I commented. Ultimately, readers will be free to draw their own conclusions.

The tenor of your piece certainly suggested to me a much greater degree of separation between English and American Anglicanism than you apparently intended to convey.

It seems to me that dating the establishment of the Anglican Communion back to Lambeth 1 was NOT what you said originally, so if you accept that dating, there is much more of a historical pedigree to the Communion - and Episcopal participation in same - than many within TEC would presently argue.

My point about the relationship between TEC and the Church of England is that I am not convinced that we KNOW exactly what Episcopalians of that era thought about the future global Anglican relationship.

Yes, they would have been unlikely to think in terms of "a drive to submit this Church, its autonomous and autocephelous polity, to England or to a formalized covenant," but that was because they would not have imagined theological divisions of the present magnitude arising between the two great national churches. Their reality is not the present one.

Furthermore, my research suggests that during that nineteenth century, at least in this part of Pennsylvania, an association with the Church of England DID form an important part of the definition of Episcopal identity. I don't know if this holds good elsewhere, which is why I would favor more research on the subject.

It might be revealing to explore what a figure like Charles Brent actually wrote on the subject. I don't see him as an ardent spokesman for the "autonomous national church" point of view.

I also think that it is misleading to separate a high view of bishops from the Covenant. It is surely inevitable that any covenant with teeth is ultimately going to be enforced by the bishops. I thought that was part of the progressive complaint; that it wouldn't be administered by the Anglican Consultative Council with its more 'democratic' membership.

Tanks again for the reply.

Anonymous said...

The Anglican Communion brings together many autonomous churches in communion with Canterbury - not only the C.of E. and the Protestant Episcopal Church. One such is the Church of Australia, in some sense part of the C.of E. until 1961 with many of its members (as I do) still describing themselves as C.of E, yet with a Constitution, accepted when we became autonomous, that simply states that we are in communion with the C.of E. unless the latter departs from certain fundamentals. Statements of the Lambeth Conference or the Anglican Consultative Council or the Primates can have no formal or binding authority in our Church.
Our General Synod meets only every 4 years and any major changes have to be approved by the Diocese so I can see no possibility at all of our Church, for one, ever formally accepting an "Anglican Covenant" - and that would be true, I think, of many other Anglican Churches. Yet I hope we to seek to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace - with fewer of the schisms, controversies and court cases that seem to bedevil the Episopcal Church (and perhaps in addition we might read Rupert Shortt's new biography of the present Archbishop!).