A debate of sorts was held at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Sunday afternoon (13 March 2011). The Revd. Nathan A. Rugh, curate at nearby Calvary Episcopal Church, presented arguments against adoption of the Anglican Covenant. (I have discussed the event on my own blog.)
Rugh, an avowed liberal priest, told the audience that we was presenting a conservative case against the Covenant. His argument was that adoption of the Covenant would forever change the nature of Anglicanism. In particular, it would change our polity, our relationships, and our approach to theology.
Here are some excerpts from Rugh’s address:
The centralization of power in the Standing Committee created by the Covenant will make the Communion more strictly hierarchical. It will invest power mainly in bishops, who make up most of the Standing Committee’s members, and in the hand of bureaucrats in the Anglican Communion Office. There would be no one to appeal to beyond the Standing Committee, and its decision would become law. Our church’s democratic polity would be threatened as a result, as power is taken from the hands of laypeople and rank-and-file clergy, and moved into the hands of bishops.You can find a link to Rugh’s whole talk here on the No Anglican Covenant Web site.
Moreover, the Covenant could weaken the bonds of affection internally within the member churches themselves. Inevitably, local disagreements will be easily internationalized and harder to resolve. Forces within a member church will ultimately appeal to the Communion level for resolution, and thus appeal to a political process more than to mutual care and regard. The Covenant grew out of such an appeal following the Episcopal Church’s decision to consecrate the Rev. Gene Robinson. The Covenant has the potential to make such appeals a regular and disruptive feature of our common life.
As a result, Anglican theology is often messy. We disagree a lot and we always have. We don’t have ready-made answers or assurances beyond our reliance on Scripture and the Creeds, the Tradition, and our God-given minds. And all of these things need to be interpreted. There is no system or final arbiter for a right answer. This side of the eschaton, “we look through a glass darkly.” And yet, we have survived and thrived because of this fact. We should be astounded by the resiliency of Anglicanism. Its comprehensiveness and its ability to deal with profound disagreement are nothing short of a miracle. Our theological heritage has enabled us to hold on to our ways, or to return to our ways when we have fallen astray, while at the same time, allowing us to respond to new ways and new contexts. We should be looking to export it, not dismiss it.