Boundaries

Rascal Behind the GateWe have those two dogs, Rascal and Fionna.

Rascal is a “gobbler” – meaning that he sees food and he goes for it. He gobbles it down.

Fionna is a “grazer” – she has a nibble now, leaves the bowl, comes back, nibbles a bit more … this will go on all day if the food is left down for her.

But, of course, the food isn’t left down all day because, if it’s down, Rascal gobbles it. So nothing is left for Fionna to nibble.

To give the young lady time to nibble, we have to confine Rascal to the laundry room behind a “baby gate.” In other words, we have to set boundaries for him.

He doesn’t like these boundaries. When the gate is up, he moans, he yips, he outright barks! All to no avail, of course. We leave the gate up, and we leave Rascal behind the gate.

Recently, despite boundaries existing for centuries, despite his attention being called to those boundaries by his peers, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Peter J. Akinola, the Archbishop of Nigeria brought his moans, yips and outright barks to the other side of the boundary between his province and the American Anglican province. On May 5, he installed Martyn Minns as bishop over something called “CANA” (Convocation of Anglicans in North America). (I remarked on this before it happened below.)

Currently, the Anglican Communion, which has never really worried much about boundaries, is in an up-roar over boundaries. Archbishop Akinola and his friends say the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada have crossed some biblical boundaries by welcoming gay and lesbian persons into full membership in the church, including ordaining them and possibly giving sacramental blessing to their committed relationships. Because of these alleged “boundary crossings”, +Akinola has crossed the geographic boundaries between provinces and dioceses.

In an effort to draw the boundaries more visibly, the Primates of the Anglican Communion (head bishops of “national” churches) have proposed an “Anglican Covenant“. And we are now in a process of study and comment. In fact, I am on my way to a clergy conference today at which the Covenant will be one topic of discussion.

We have been asked to take a look at the Covenant and a study guide prepared for Episcopalians. The first question asked in the study guide is, “Do you think an Anglican Covenant is necessary and/or will help to strengthen the interdependent life of the Anglican Communion? Why or why not?” My answer: No, neither necessary nor strengthening. In fact, it seems to me that such a document is antithetical to the spirit of Anglican unity. Confessional documents (required statements of faith) have been eschewed by Anglicans since the beginning.

Most folks usually say that the Anglican Church began with Henry VIII and, to some extent, that’s true. But Anglicanism really got its start with his daughter, Elizabeth I. Elizabeth refused to say too much about what people ought to believe. She seemed to think that freedom of belief was good. If her people gathered together for common church services, she did not want anyone to ask too much about their private beliefs. When pressed to place doctrinal requirements on the Church of England, she is reported to have said that she “did not wish to make a window into men’s souls”. Her main advisors agreed. So the result was a policy that was a “middle way” – the Via Media – between the rigidity of the Church of Rome, and the rigidity of the more extreme reformers.

The proposed covenant is a back-door into establishing that “confessional” rigidity Elizabeth declined to impose. The document makes the Anglican formularies of the 16th and 17th Century (the BCP of 1662 and the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion) normative, which they have never been for the American church.

Further along in the document, the member churches are required to commit themselves to “uphold and act in continuity and consistency with … biblically derived moral values.” That is one loaded set of words! It sets a b0undary which, despite the apparent clarity of the language, is nearly impossible to define. What, pray tell, are “biblically derived moral values”? Another blogger taking a look at the covenant proposal has commented:

“Biblically derived moral values” carries with it an impressive amount of baggage, particularly in the United States, where “moral values” has become a rallying cry in recent politics. My pre-programmed cultural biases immediately lead me to ask whose “biblically derived moral values?” In other words, this phrase begs questions that will not lead to easy answers. There are clear opinions in Anglicanism right now that assume very specific knowledge about what we mean when we talk about these values, particularly in light of some of the most contentious issues on the table (i.e. human sexuality.) The assumption remains in the water that those of us who differ from these understandings are no longer following “biblically derived moral values.” In short, this provision may not be ultimately helpful, and may only succeed in arming one “side” against another in current and future debates over what Scripture tells us is moral in the lives of our members, and where the church should be prophetic about (and perhaps even learn from!) what God is doing in the lives of some of our historically marginalized members, as well as even in the greater world at times! (See his full analysis here.)

I agree. This provision is not helpful … we can derive all sorts of conflicting and contradictory “moral values” from the Bible.

In the same section of the proposal, is the commitment to “ensure that biblical texts are handled faithfully, respectfully, comprehensively and coherently, primarily through the teaching and initiative of bishops and synods….” Leaving aside for the moment the fuzziness of words like “faithfully, respectfully, comprehensively and coherently,” let me just comment on the words “primarily through the teaching and initiative of bishops and synods.” Comment: NO WAY!

The fact is that one can point to plenty of bishops and synods who have been just plain dead wrong about a variety of things throughout history. More importantly, however, this provision draws a boundary line where one has NEVER existed in the American church. Our province simply does not entrust anything “primarily [to] the teaching and initiative of bishops.” The American church has a uniquely democratic polity in which lay persons, presbyters and deacons participate fully as much as bishops. We simply cannot buy into a document which describes a way of doing church business contrary to our “ecclesiastical DNA”.

There’s more (especially later on in the proposal where considerable power is given to the Primates, power they currently do not possess, to violate the boundaries between the autonomous provinces) … but no time to write about them now.

Suffice to say that the proposed covenant, in my opinion, is not a helpful document. It purports to clarify boundaries but does nothing of the kind, it knocks down some historical and traditional boundaries and it creates boundaries where none currently exist.

Rascal’s boundary – the gate across the laundry room door – is clear and necessary. The proposed covenant is neither. Rascal’s moans, yips and outright barking (and even Archbishop Akinola’s moans, yips and barking) will be nothing compared to what will be heard if this arrangement is approved and adopted in the Anglican Communion!

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