Comments: GS: Senior Church Appointments

As seen from across the Atlantic, this development seems to put the (general) debate about the proposed Covenant in an interesting historical light. Much has been said and written about the tendency of some of us Americans to stress polity whilst others, here and abroad, are discussing the interpretation of Scripture. On the face of it, the appeal to Scripture might seem to trump everything else (always granting that well-meaning people may still not agree on what Scripture says): but the proposed changes in the method of senior appointments remind us that the English reformation was not, per se, about the interpretation of scripture, but rather about polity, specifically about (1) the independence of national churches and (2) lay supremacy. The proposed changes concern only the Church of England, not (to underline the obvious) the Church of Scotland: each kingdom has its own Church. The proposed changes come decades after the Church asked for something of the sort, they come as a decision of the Prime Minister, and they concern the power of the Crown to make appointments.

As a sort of question of historical trivia, one might wonder (as I think people have done even on this site) whether the proposed Covenant would not have struck the first Defender of the Faith as a violation of the Statute of Praemunire. To ask the question that way (particularly if one is an American historian) is, of course, pure rhetoric or mere whimsy; but what does not seem to me to be taken seriously enough is the possibility that in adopting the proposed covenant, or something like it, we would be sawing off the branch we chose, in the 16th century, to stand on. If national churches are not independent but merely "autonomous" in the weaker sense used by the Windsor documents, and if the opinions of foreign primates ought to be given due weight and consideration, then how can our Reformation be excused, and, more importantly, what excuse can we have _now_ for remaining independent of the successor to that one primate whose opinions our lay leadership rejected at such a cost in human life and suffering more than four centuries ago?

Posted by 4May1535 at Monday, 9 July 2007 at 9:23pm BST

Right on, 4May1535. You've nailed it.

The Covenant, in fact, overturns the very nature of Anglicanism, replacing it with a form of autocracy which makes Tridentine Rome seem like a veritable democracy by comparison.

At least Rome could be (and frequently was) constrained by the political machinations of the major powers - admittedly, not always for the best, but still.

What constrains this committee of foreign prelates? Even if the secular authorities attempt to constrain one or two of them, there is no meaningful way to constrain the collective.

The laity are left out. The clergy are left out. The bulk of the bishops are left out. And 38 unaccountable and inflated egos will exercise unaccountable and absolute power.

I'm sure that's EXACTLY what the martyrs of the English Reformation died for - a National Church that was subservient to unaccountable foreign prelates.

Posted by Malcolm+ at Monday, 9 July 2007 at 11:25pm BST

I have to wholeheartedly agree with what's been posted here.

I picked the Episcopal church NOT because it was a conformist group of mindless religionists but because there was a FREEDOM to pursue God. That sense of freedom God is threatened by dictate from ambiguous sources in the hierarchy. Well, what's special about a religion that does that? Any old thug can imagine a set of burdens for timid conformists to carry and institute it in "covenant." What kind of christianity is that, though? That isn't a pursuit of God. It's conformity to a regulation society. And in this case it's a sexual regulation society.

Posted by Curtis at Tuesday, 10 July 2007 at 3:14am BST

The historical points raised above are very interesting - particulary on the point of 'polity'. Whilst the Church of England remains established that 'polity' remains in place. Ultimately it will still be the Prime Minister who will pass on the Chucrch's nomination for bishoprics to the Queen and so it will still be the Prime Minister who is ultimately answerable to Parliament for any choice that is made. Having said that, I can't ever envisage a Prime Minister having to resign because the choice turned out to be a disaster or a government falling because of it! For that reason parliamentary accountablity may be hollow - but it is still there in theory at least. The same point can be made in relation to the proposed covenant. Whilst the Church of England remains establised, the polity remains. There is no way the Chruch of England could opt for a covenant that allowed 'foreign prelates' to impose their rule on the Church of England. Anything of substance (e.g. the ordination of women bishops, Unity with Rome) that would need primary legislation would be required to pass through Synod and then be agreed by both Houses of Parliament. So there can be no dictate from 'foreign prelates' without the agreement of Synod and ultimately of Parliament. Under our current polity the 'Queen is sovereign in Parliament' and that remains true for the established church of which she is Supreme Governor. (The obvious analogy to make is with the European Union. The 'Queen in Parliament' has the final say on anything of substance.) Where I am more sanguine in relation to the proposed covenant is that it will act as a break to theological and pastoral development, preventing the Church of England from responding to the situation and culture in which it is situated because 'our partners in the communion will not like it'. We will become preserved in some sort of theological aspic! For that reason it should be resisted and rejected.

Posted by AlaninLondon at Tuesday, 10 July 2007 at 1:06pm BST

Well where is the nearest exit? Seriously,I hope TEC remains a refuge for those who choose not to be ruled by the Primates - I labor under the belief (hope? delusion?) that TEC will remain steadfast and a courageous witness to love and inclusiveness

Posted by ettu at Tuesday, 10 July 2007 at 3:48pm BST

Well, this is really bringing the Church of England closer to the so-called *communion partners* (does this imply something involving dance cards and ladies dropping perfumed hankerchiefs?).

The reality is that everywhere else in the world outside England the national government has no say over the appointment of bishops and cathedral deans. The idea is that, somehow, the Church can take good care of itself. Of course, other factors are out there and ready to contribute to institutional inertia, as many of us would know. Here are two examples. My parish back in Australia is between vicars, and this time round it's the Bishop's appointment. The parish's appointment committee is involved in the process, and, given the political machinations that can go on in these situations, this may ultimately kill off the possibility of a truly creative appointment. Melbourne is fairly well known for having a very fraught process for electing archbishops - as the last two elections have shown particularly forcefully. We had a particularly nasty time last year, during which the nominating committee had to field a second group of candidates after the synod rejected all of the first group. Despite the penchant some clergy in Australia have for regarding the Anglican Church there as somehow *established* (perhaps they really mean *mainline*), no Church or religion has ever been established there in a comparable sense to the Church of England. We were well ahead of the C of E in developing synodical forms of government as a way of ordering our disestablished life.

And, of course, the whole covenant thing stinks like something that died in a heatwave. It can only be attractive to those who fancy themselves as bishops of a state church.

Posted by kieran crichton at Wednesday, 11 July 2007 at 10:41am BST

Some people blogging say TEC should keep in touch with those it helps protect, like gays and lesbians elsewhere in the Anglican Communion, and a little compromise might be a good idea to keep the contact.

What is a good idea is to keep in contact long enough to let the sectarians do the walking. There is obviously a trust that TEC cannot break, but short of that showing willing lets Akinola and crew either marching to the top of the hill and down again or actually doing what he keeps threatening - and when he does, good, because that means this Communion is the more tolerant towards its various peoples. If what so many want happens, which is TEC to be "kicked out", then this communion is in effect shaped by the impact of some of the Africans, by the incursions, by that ethos, and by a Covenant that is likely to be insufferable, and then lead to Churches, dioceses, parishes, making friendly connections with TEC. Always let the sectarians do the walking - they keep threatening it so, should they do it, let them do it first. Of course they may just march down the hill - again.

Posted by Pluralist at Wednesday, 11 July 2007 at 11:21pm BST

Thanks, Alaninlondon: your account of the sovereign authority of the Queen in Parliament is what I wojld have thought, but it's good to have it confirmed by someone in the UK. I've heard people say that, in theory, under the British constitution, a majority in Parliament could decide tomorrow that the CofE should be, say, Lutheran, and replace Dr. Williams with an appropriate cleric.

Here's a thought experiment: if the PM _had_ advised the Crown to appoint a gay man living in a committed relationship to a see, and other dioceses had objected, and the Primates had set up a plan for alternative primatial oversight, who in England would have had the authority to agree to the proposal? The Archbishops' Council? General Synod? or would it require the Queen in Parliament?

Posted by 4May1535+ at Thursday, 12 July 2007 at 5:10pm BST
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