Monday, May 4, 2009

Anglican Covenant--Nah!

The more I work among the Lutherans the more I am opposed to a covenantal agreement within the Anglican Communion. I chatted with a Lutheran seminarian this week and listened to how she described her faith. She is singularly a believer in the Lutheran Confessions. And that is as it should be. The theology she espoused was as ‘orthodox’ as she was fervent. And I am sure I was much like her when I graduated from seminary. But the theology that I spouted was not from the 16th century; it was true 20th century process/liberation theology.

What I have observed among the Lutherans is that the power of covenants and confessions last much longer than their intended purpose. Certainly the Lutheran leaders, both secular and sacred, needed to come to a common covenant in order to bring some commonality to the wide-spread call for theological growth during the Reformation. Anytime a specific theology, or interpretation of Scripture has been enforced as the sole formula of Christian thinking, as it had during the Middle Ages, it is not surprising that the call for re-thinking that Luther gave in the 95 theses was an opening of Pandora’s box. It was not only Luther; it was Calvin, Melanchthon, Zwingli and so many others who opened the minds of the laity to other ways of embracing Christ and the Church. However, the covenants have become as dogmatic as the Medieval Church was in the western part of Europe. Today I do not find among the Lutherans the kinds of grappling with the modern issues that I have among Episcopalians. In the light of modern psychology they still believe in the utter depravity of humanity—a concept that does not square, in my mind, with the generosity of the Incarnation.

I do not hear the struggle with substituionary atonement or original sin that I hear among Spong, Borg or Fox. It is impossible to address such topics because they are so fundamental to what it means to be Lutheran. They cannot address the possibility that all creation is good including human nature because ‘justification by Faith alone’ means that humanity has to be depraved after the Fall to make any sense of the death of Jesus. If there are other ways of entertaining Christ’s passion, they cannot be addressed because it would topple the whole meaning of Luther’s revolutionary acts.

Covenants or confessions trap perfectly legitimate and holy explanations of the faith in a time warp. They demand obedience and honor long after the explanations have been lost their meanings.

Now the Covenant that Anglicans is entertaining, no matter which rewrite is being bantered about presently, is not a theological document for the most part. It is basically to proclaim Church order. However, it seems that to do so requires an adoption of a way of thinking or believing that is not in keeping with the Anglican tradition of the freedom of thought that was expressed in the Elizabethan settlement. It calls for a type of ecclesiology that does not for the most part engage TEC, Canada or for that matter New Zealand. There has been much discussion about the ulterior motives of those who have proposed the present Covenant, about its specific theologies, about desires for punishment or the acquisition of power.

Any community of faith needs some kind of document that affirms the basics of commonality of the group. The Ridley document is fairly straight forward and simple and similar to the Chicago/Lambeth Quadrilateral of the 19th century. But there was present in the 19th century no underlying desire of one part of the communion to censure another. There were no churches standing in the wings desiring to be given the inheritance of the other. The purpose of an Anglican Covenant is not the same as either the Augsburg Confession or the Chicago/Lambeth Quadrilateral. It is not intent in inclusion into a shared life in Christ. Its purpose is to exclude those who do not think like the majority or those in power.

Even if The Episcopal Church were to assent to the Anglican Covenant, it would still not make us one with those who disagree in the main with the direction we are going in the area of addressing the misdeeds of the Church in dealing with LGBT people. It would not make us one in addressing the misdeeds of the Church in supporting slavery in the past. It would not help the Anglican Church to address the inherent sinfulness in the forms of subjegation that we employed under the guise of colonialism. The Covenant would just promote the continuation of the misuse of power that has long attended the Church.

If the creative theology that is frequenting the Church these days, setting people free from ways of thinking that have long hampered the faithful from coming to mature faith in the God then we cannot commit ourselves to covenants that would put more emphasis on punishment than it does on the freedom of the Word. TEC needs to be able to proclaim of message of hope for all its members, not just those whose ‘manner of life’ is acceptable. We need to be a Church which can tolerate and even teach ways of thinking of God that expand rather than provide refuges for ancient theologies. “New occasions [still] teach new duties” even when the majority doesn’t want to look.


SCG said...

Maybe I'm crazy, but the covenants that make the most sense to me are the ones that God has made with all of God's people. And rather than waste time writing some punitive document and slapping the word "covenant" on it, I think everyone ought to crack open the prayer book to the Baptismal Covenant and give it a good, long, thoughtful, meditative, read... especially that last bit about respecting the dignity of every human being. Once we've all really made a commitment to *that*... I don't see the need for another document.

Muthah+ said...

SCG, that is the best idea that I have heard on the topic lately.
Thanks for the post.

Jim said...

I agree completely. The covenant is really about someone deciding to make the bad guys behave. That worked badly for Caiaphas too.