Thursday, June 9, 2011

Province IV Synod - Day Two

Busy day today. Two really big discussions (Immigration & Covenant) and lots of other smaller (though informative) presentations, too.

Day Two - Morning Session

The first big presentation was on immigration. Mr. Randy McGrorty, Executive Director of Catholic Charities Legal Services in Miami, Florida, gave a presentation on immigration issues. His approach was historic, and his rationale was that anti-immigration sentiments in our country are usually based on anti-Christian tenets, poor economic understandings, bad social policy, and irrational fear. He cited lots of examples from our nation's past--times in which immigrants were portrayed as criminal, terrorist, unhealthy, job-stealing, lazy, etc.. And he compared that with today--striking similarities. Basically, he argued that the treatment of Irish immigrants during the 19th century parallels the current treatment of Hispanic immigrants, and we've pretty well come to accept the O'Malley's and the McPhearson's into society. One statistic (can't quite remember exactly the details) emphasized the percentage of foreign-born residents. That number is currently at 12-13%--right where it has been for over a century. The presentation was striking. I walked away with a renewed sense of our nation's need to strip away the irrational approaches to immigration policy and actually look at the data. Overall, however, I didn't hear enough focus on why the church (specifically the Episcopal Church) has a role to play and what role that should be (welcoming the stranger, yes, but how and why).

Then we had a series of smaller ministry presentations. To streamline, I'll give you the one thing from each report that impressed me:
  • ECW - Each diocese in the province is doing amazing mission work--worth a look at all they do
  • Youth - We should be focusing on anti-prejudice work like this past summer's Freedom Rides project in North Carolina
  • Campus Ministries - How many churches have grasped the importance of smart phones as the new platform for individual engagement with parish life? If we're still thinking that computers are the "new" thing, then we're behind.
  • Disaster Preparedness ad Response - The provincial group actually has a box with a chalice and paten in it that is sent to areas that have been hit by disaster as a way of saying that we want to help "church" happen wherever you are even though things are tough--a powerful witness.
  • Environmental Ministries - Those within our church who are committed to the environmental movement often feel poorly able to make theological statements about the green movement. We need better lay theological education regarding stewardship of creation.
  • Christian Formation - The committee would love to come and make a presentation in any diocese that wants it.
  • Latino/Hispanic Ministry - Since many immigrants are living away from their families, sometimes a ministry of hospitality to lonely individuals or small family groups is important.
Day Two - Afternoon Session

After lunch, we heard two people present on the proposed Anglican covenant (read a copy here). First, The Rt. Rev. Santosh Marray, Assisting Bishop in the Diocese of East Carolina and former member of the Covenant Design Task Force spoke "in favor" of adoption. Then, Mr, Tom O'Brien, former member of TEC's Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget, and Finance spoke against adoption. Both were enlightening.

Most impressive among Marray's arguments was his articulation of our commitment to Communion. As a Communion (rather than a confederation), we are committed to more than just shared belief. We are committed to a shared life together. Thus, the proposed covenant reflects more than just shared doctrine. It's also about shared practice. He stressed repeatedly that the proposed covenant did not supersede the autonomy of an individual church.

Mr. O'Brien's case was very detailed--clearly the work of a lawyer. He picked apart the covenant for all its faults--many. Rather than rehearse all of them here, I'll do two things: 1) point you to the provincial website where a copy of his slide show is available or will be made available soon and 2) give you my impressions of his argument (and, more broadly, the covenant itself).

At the very core, the covenant is about trying to fix a relational problem between the various provinces of the Anglican Communion. But relational problems aren't usually solved through legislation. Once the "canons" are cited, the relationship is often beyond repair. Most concerning to me about the proposed covenant is section 4--the juridical section that deals with how the covenant will be enforced. This represents a HUGE change in our ecclesiology. And the process (as O'Brien points out), is very vague, giving broad and potentially dangerous powers to the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion. Note particularly that there is no due process involved in section 4--to right of the "offending" province to be heard, no right of appeal, no objective standards for judging a transgression, and no time restrictions on what responses will be taken when an offending church breaks the covenant. And, as section 3.2.1 points out, the churches must either accept the decision of the SCAC or risk breaking the covenant for not doing so--a vicious cycle that traps churches in a system with no checks on authority.

Personally (no one asked, but I'm offering it anyway), I think it's important for TEC to address the covenant and demonstrate our commitment to the Anglican Communion, but I don't think we can accept it as it is. Section 4 is too far-reaching. Given how our church is perceived by other provinces in the Communion, we could expect to find ourselves in the juridical process the day that the covenant comes into effect. We must be committed to the Communion--even willing to make sacrifices for the sake of a Church which is, by definition, far bigger than any one national institution. But this covenant language is inviting more schism rather than reconciliation. Instead, I think we should adopt those sections that we can (for the most part #s 1-3) and reserve judgment on the parts we can't accept.

The good news is that the Church of Ireland has paved the way for such an approach as they refused to "adopt" the covenant, choosing instead to "subscribe" to it. Whether that "counts" will be determined by the Anglican Consultative Council when it meets again in 2015. But it shows that other provinces aren't willing to wholeheartedly accept as discipline and doctrine the language of the covenant. Perhaps we can follow that example. Also, it should be noted that no one has yet spelled out the consequences for not adopting. We just don't know how many churches will adopt and how many will reject the covenant as it is presented, and, although it seems certain that non-covenanting churches are still members of the Anglican Communion, we don't yet know to what level of participation in the Instruments of Communion (Canterbury, Lambeth, ACC, & Primates) they will be invited. Time will tell.

There's a lot more to say, but that's enough for now.

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