Thursday, August 18, 2011

Questions raised regarding authority of new "Anglican Communion Standing Committee" following resignations from bishops representing majority of the Communion

Members of the AC Standing Committee
There is no doubt that "something" happened in the western bureaucracy of the Anglican Communion following the Dar es Salaam Primates meeting in 2007. The Rev'd Dr. Steve Noll points to the fact that the Archbishop of Canterbury engaged in what he describes as a "betrayal of trust" after switching strategies following the release of the official communique from that landmark meeting imploring that the Episcopal Church USA (TEC) must be held accountable for its determination to continue to engage in communion-breaking actions.

Since then it has been in some ways brilliant bureaucratic maneuvers by the western minority leadership to redirect authority away from the collegial "instruments of communions" and to a small centralized committee called rather innocuously a "standing committee" suddenly given grandiose powers (or at least authority to send out press releases) by the Archbishop of Canterbury.  The agenda was set by the western minority and when protests were made to its creation and domination by the west (including appointing the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church as well as the Episcopal Bishop of Connecticut) to the group, it was clear the the communion was coming apart at the seams.

Dr. Noll here offers an insightful commentary on the controversial creation of this "standing committee" and it's claim to hold powers it does not have and cannot have.  It's very difficult not to make the claim that the last meeting of the "standing committee" was completely pointless and a total waste of time and money. 

Make no mistake about it, The Episcopal Church fully intends to authorize rites for same gender marriages in the Episcopal Church at its General Convention next year.  It will not pass the Anglican Covenant, for even in its extremely weakened condition, Section IV remains in the Covenant and that, at least in writing, poses a problem for TEC.  However, the covenant is as Ronald Reagan once described a "paper castle" - easily blown away by the winds of change since there is no mechanism in place for enforcement, unless this Standing Committee actually has the audacity to remove its own leading members from their seats.  And since those very members play a central role in setting the agenda for the standing committee meetings, that is like asking the wolf to clean up Little Red Riding Hood's house after the mess.

It would be an astonishing thing to see TEC remove itself from the standing committee - perhaps in a gesture of hope, it may not be a bad time to get the committee a Hoover.

From "Sea Change in the Anglican Communion," by Dr. Steve Noll:

Dr. Steve Nol
The Archbishops of Canterbury during the decade following Lambeth 1998 tried to blunt the gale force winds from the Global South at a series of Primates’ Meetings which climaxed in Rowan Williams reneging on the Primates’ resolutions at Dar es Salaam in 2007. The Archbishop’s betrayal of trust led seven Provinces, including two from the largest Provinces in the Communion, to convene the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) in Jerusalem in June 2008 and to boycott the Lambeth Conference later that summer. These Provinces went on to set up a parallel Primates’ Council and recognize the Anglican Church in North America as the legitimate Anglican Province in North America.

Dr. Rowan Williams
Ignoring these storm signals, Archbishop Williams sought to calm matters by advocating an Anglican Covenant as a means to deal with controversies within the Communion. The most striking weakness of the final Covenant draft (December 2009) was the enhanced role assigned to the “Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion” as adjudicator of Covenant disputes. Strong theological objections were raised by scholars of the Anglican Communion Institute (ACI), who argued this Committee, as a creature of only one “Instrument’ of the Communion, the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC), did not have the standing to act for the whole Communion and that in a Church constituted by the historic episcopate, bishops – whether in council (Primates) or plenary session (Lambeth Conference) – were the proper guardians of doctrine and discipline. The ACI scholars concluded: “It is now beyond doubt that the newly transformed and empowered ACC Standing Committee cannot function as the committee required by Section 4 [the enforcement section] of the Covenant.”

Beyond the theological questions, there were practical objections to the Standing Committee as an instrument of governance. Global South leaders refused to sit at table with representatives of TEC on the Standing Committee. Archbishop Henry Orombi, the African Primate on the Committee, had communicated his refusal to Rowan Williams after the Dar es Salaam meeting; Williams never replied to this objection. Business continued as usual, and the Standing Committee merely noted Orombi’s repeated absence “with regret” and even suggested that he be removed according to its rules of attendance.

Dr. Mouneer Anis
Bishop Mouneer Anis, a second Global South Committee member, took another tack, urging his fellow Global South leaders to attend the meetings and hold the Communion accountable to its commitments. In January 2010, however, he gave up the effort, penning an impassioned resignation letter which stated:
I have attended every meeting of the Standing Committee as well as the ACC-14. However, I have come to the sad realization that there is no desire within the ACC or the SCAC to follow through on the recommendations that have been taken by the Communion and which are tearing its fabric apart. Moreover, the SCAC, formerly known as the Joint Standing Committee (JSC), has continually questioned the authority of the other Instruments of Communion, especially the Primates Meeting and the Lambeth Conference….

Unfortunately the current structure of the Anglican Communion is not a true reflection of the world-wide Anglican Communion which grows mainly in the Global South. The Anglican Communion Office (ACO) is mainly staffed by Westerner [sic] who do not necessarily express the voices of the rest of the Communion. The result is a lack of the sense of ownership.
Three months later Archbishop Ian Earnest followed Archbishop Orombi and Bishop Mouneer in resigning from the Standing Committee, stating:
Consequently, I feel constrained by my conscience to uphold my duty as shepherd of the flock and to forthwith suspend all communication both verbal and sacramental with both the TEC and ACC – their Primates bishops and clergy until such time as they reverse their theological innovations, and show a commitment to abide by the decisions of the Lambeth Conference.
What is noteworthy is that the only way these Primates found they could be faithful to their calling as bishops in the Communion was to depart from its central committee. For all the talk of inclusiveness and dialogue, it is the innovators who are left at the table, dialoguing among themselves. This ploy of excluding traditionalists while mouthing faux inclusivism is old hat to those of us from TEC, but it has now been carried out on the international stage. The Minutes of the two succeeding Standing Committee meetings show how little impact the theological and political protests of conservatives made on the Lambeth bureaucracy and its Western facilitators.

The Standing Committee
The Standing Committee was reorganized by a revised Constitution of the Anglican Consultative Council, which went into effect in early 2010. Since then, the Committee has met twice, once in July 2010 and once in March 2011. Whereas the Minutes of the Standing Committee had previously been kept secret, they are now available on the Anglican Communion website (here and here).

Reading committee minutes is a sleep-inducing exercise, and these minutes are no exception. My purpose here is merely to point to those moments in the 3-day meetings that reveal the current fracture within the Communion.

Let’s begin with the composition of the Standing Committee. It is chaired by Bishop Tengatenga of Malawi. A common “inclusive” tactic of the bureaucracy is to appoint an African to serve as chair of a committee, the agenda of which is pre-determined in London. Other members, may come from the Global South, even a GAFCON province, like Mrs. Philippa Aimable of Ghana, but it is clear from the Minutes that they have little voice or authority within the Committee itself. The real power players are all Anglo-Saxon, working hand in hand with the bureaucrats like Canon Kenneth Kearon and Canon John Rees. Together they keep the Committee sailing smartly to safe harbor.
As noted, there were no episcopal representatives of the GAFCON provinces that had protested the actions of the North American churches present at these meetings. The Episcopal Church was well-represented by two members, Primate Katherine Schori and Bishop Ian Douglas of Connecticut, the consummate ecclesiastical politician. The Committee “noted and expressed regret at the resignations of Bishop Mouneer Anis, Archbishop Henry Orombi, Archbishop Justice Akrofi (an alternate to Archbishop Orombi) and Bishop Azad Marshall,” and bade them a wistful farewell, claiming that “their voices were missed.” Not surprisingly, they were replaced by others who were less likely to upset the smooth running of the operation. (1)

Dato’ Stanley Isaacs
The one hold-out at the first Committee meeting was Dato’ Stanley Isaacs, a lawyer and layman from the Province of Southeast Asia. Mr. Isaacs has been a strong voice opposed to the agenda of the West but also in favor of working for reform within the Communion structures. It is instructive to follow his attempt at the first meeting to address the concerns that had been raised repeatedly over the years over the violations of The Episcopal Church.

Mr. Isaacs’ opportunity came when the Standing Committee discussed the Archbishop of Canterbury’s 2010 Pentecost Letter, which proposed that Provinces that had violated the “three moratoria” against consecrating of homosexual bishops, authorizing same-sex rites, and crossing Provincial boundaries reduce their members to observer status on ecumenical commissions. Some Standing Committee members objected to this proposal, even while Rowan Williams assured them that it was not intended to be “punitive.” Isaacs, on the other hand, argued that this disciplinary slap was not enough and “queried whether members of TEC should also be withdrawn from other bodies such as the Standing Committee”:
Referring to the communiqué of the fourth Anglican Global South to South Encounter [in April 2010], Dato’ Isaacs said that those who had met in Singapore had reflected that the time had come to take decisive action towards arresting the present situation and restoring the integrity and unity of the Communion. He said that the Primates’ communiqués over the years had been consistent in affirming Lambeth I.10, that the Lambeth Commission had spoken of walking apart; that the churches of the Global South did not wish to walk apart from the Communion but wishes to walk apart from TEC; that if TEC were not prepared to separate voluntarily, then a forced separation on a temporary basis would be a way forward.”
Clearly Isaacs had disrupted the agenda and the bonhomie, but the distress was momentary, as his confrontative statement was quickly enfolded in a cloud of “indaba”:
Members of the Standing Committee continued to discuss developments in the Communion, and a range of perspectives was heard and explored. Issues included: the hope that a “third space” could be maintained where people could share their concerns and engage in a sustained and deeper way; the thought that the Anglican Communion was in a period of transition, and experiencing growth pains, to be navigated with charity, honesty and imagination; the danger of supposing we knew all the truth; the fact that there are Anglicans who believe there is no biblical authority to justify the consecration of gay or lesbian persons; an uneasiness about absolute tests of orthodoxy, but also an uneasiness about initiatives and actions that widened the gulf between communities in such a way that they could not speak for one another or be responsible for one another.
Noting that such matters would be addressed later in the Continuing Indaba report, the matter was punted to the end of the meeting. At that point and not to be deterred, Mr. Isaacs repeated his request that members of TEC should be excluded from the Standing Committee and Instruments of Communion.

Dato’ Isaacs said that he wished to speak on behalf of conservative orthodox Anglicans and appealed to TEC members of the Standing Committee to respect the feelings of the majority of Anglicans. Bishop Jefferts Schori responded that people in TEC had made decisions in what they believed were faithful and biblically sound ways. She said it was difficult to explain to members of TEC why it was the only Province currently in focus, since extra-provincial interventions had predated any consecration of openly gay bishops. She said that in the Communion we saw through a glass darkly, but more effectively together. Our task was to call people to the table to find creative, constructive and life-giving way [sic] forward.

Next the Archbishop of Canterbury opened his mind on the subject:
Archbishop Williams reflected that while it was important that ecumenical partners knew with whom they were talking, when the Standing Committee, the Primates’ Meeting and the ACC discussed matters of faith and order, they did so recognizing unfinished business among themselves. Within these bodies, there was still a case for the widest possible representation with sufficient trust and confidence to pursue conversations.
TEC Bishops, Dr. Schori and Dr. Douglas.

Bishop Douglas addressed Isaacs with the smooth tongue of pluralism and representative democracy. He
...appreciated Dato’ Isaacs request, which reflected the view of some others [!] in the ACC; he similarly tried to represent those who had elected him and would continue to do everything he could for the wellbeing of the Communion. He wished to contribute to the plurality of voices and considered that the way in which people read the Bible from their own context was a great gift of the Communion today.
Isaacs made one final appeal to reason, arguing that since the TEC representatives were being removed from bodies involved in ecumenical dialogue, TEC members should also recuse themselves from any matters of faith and order proceeding from those bodies to the Standing Committee and ACC. “However,” the Minutes go on to note, “there was no consensus for this.” The Committee then resolved to “regret” the breaches of the three moratoria and the “consequential resignations” of former members,” and passed the matter on further consideration to the (new) Primates Meeting and ACC.

Dato’ Stanley Isaacs, much to his credit, made waves at the first Standing Committee Meeting in July 2010. He was not present at the next one in March 2011, and the issue of TEC and Lambeth I.10 and moratoria was not mentioned. The Primates’ Meeting and the ACC, with GAFCON members absent, will almost certainly not consider the divisive issues further. The sea, once roiled by Gene Robinson and the Global South Primates, is calm again. All is well.

The other item of interest from the first Standing Committee minutes concerned the dubious legitimacy of the Committee itself amongst the Instruments of Communion and the proposed Covenant as had been challenged by the ACI and others. In discussion of the General Secretary’s Report, it was noted that the term “The Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion” sounded a trifle imperialistic since the Standing Committee did not in fact represent all four Instruments of Communion.
It was recognized that the words “of the Anglican Communion, responsible to the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meeting” were merely descriptive of the fact that the Standing Committee derived its authority from its responsibility to the two Instruments of Communion which elect its membership, and on whose behalf it acted.
The solution was simple: just call it “The Standing Committee.” This resolution of the problem is facile by half. The Standing Committee in fact derives its authority neither from the Primates’ Meeting nor the Anglican Consultative Council but rather from the ACC constitution. The Primates and ACC elect five and nine members to the Standing Committee, respectively, and they receive its reports, but it is legally and financially the accountable party. It might be more accurate to describe it as the Board of Directors of the Anglican Communion Office, and like that office, its missives will go out on stationery headed “The Anglican Communion,” full stop.

As noted above, the Standing Committee also has been assigned a critical role to play in the Covenant.
Archbishop Williams referred to the role of the Standing Committee in the outworking of the Covenant and reflected that some questions needed addressing: how the Standing Committee, designated in the Covenant as the broker of decisions, might work actively with IASCUFO [Inter-Anglican Standing Committee for Unity, Faith and Order]; and uncertainties around Standing Committee members whose Provinces hadn’t signed the Covenant being adjudicators.
Move along, move along.
Having acknowledged a problem, Williams skipped past the questions and uncertainties and stated that “when enough Provinces had adopted the Covenant, then the Standing Committee could think about behaving as if the Covenant were in force.” His skip in logic and process was similar to the tactic employed at the 2010 ACC meeting in Jamaica, where serious procedural irregularities had been revealed but were met with mild embarrassment and brushed aside with vague promises of further investigation. “Move right along, folks, nothing to see here,” seems to be his response to such objections.

Read it all here at the AAC.  Dr. Steve Noll is the retired Vice Chancellor of Uganda Christian University and Emeritus Professor at Trinity School for Ministry.

1 comment:

Dale Matson said...

"I would frankly be surprised if the Covenant does not fade away, since its real purpose – buying time for Lambeth to postpone any action against TEC – has been fulfilled."
If Dr. Noll is correct with this statement then I am particularly sorry for Ephraim Radner who helped craft the Covenant. What comes of this for me is that the attempt to reestablish trust was never the goal and the ABC Rowan Williams was duplicitous from day one of his tenure. It is a sad day for me personally when I have to balance the prayers of the people with my more human response to the ABC. It is still my hope that he will step down.