On a day when the news media and the Twitterdom are obssesed with the imminent closure of the United States government, the earth rocked again in Japan and wars continued to rage across Africa and the Middle East. But since “earthquakes in one place after another” and “wars and rumors of war” are simply just an excuse for a two minute story in the mindless news cycle, what more appropriate time could there be for the Episcopal Church in Upper South Carolina to spend the better part of two days talking about how Christians should talk to each other, that is, if we ever really were to talk to each other about something more substantive than parish budgets, the proper colors in which to drape the altar, and where the youth group is going on its annual ski trip.
The Diocese’s First Theological Council will be held Friday and Saturday in the historic Christ Church, Greenville. As Theological Councils go, it’s not exactly Nicea. The delegates will not wrestle with the deep divisions that threaten the Anglican Communion, but with the simple act of hearing other people who claim that Jesus is their Lord, too. The Council will use the first eight paragraphs of the already dead-on-arrival Anglican Covenant, which most certainly will never become the new operational norm for Anglican Churches. That’s because the Anglican Covenant is a deeply flawed vision of what Christian community is and how it should function in a Church which has historically resisted any attempt to require a statement of faith beyond some very simple things.
In the five centuries since the great and unfortunate Protestant Reformation, Anglicanism has said that it considers itself in communion with any Christian fellowship which accepts four basic things: 1. The Holy Scriptures, as containing all things necessary to salvation; 2. The Creeds (specifically, the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds), as the sufficient statement of Christian faith; 3. The Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion; 4. The historic episcopate, locally adapted. But since 2003, the Anglican Communion has been struggling to find an understanding of sexuality that could be rooted in Scrpture and yet open to people who are gay or lesbian. Hence the Anglican Covenant.
To be clear, the Anglican Covenant is not really under consideration during the Council. That will come later, presumably after some debate among the delegates to the Diocesan Convention. Even if the Diocese approves the Covenant as a new creedal statement, it’s unlikely that the Episcopal Church will follow suit, nor is it likely that a majority of the other national Churches which make up the Anglican Communion do so. Conservatives don’t think the Covenant is punitive enough (devoid as it is of anathemas for those who violate it) and liberals are in general agreement that it is too punitive (replete as it is with anathemas for those who violate it). It is the perfectly awful result of theology by committee and will likely suffer a well-deserved defeat.
Still the Covenant contains some useful things. Bishop Waldo’s instructions to the delegates are to study the Introduction to the Covenant, “because the Introduction provides high-level principles for Christian community from scripture, tradition and reason. The Covenant itself articulates details for living out those principles in the global communion. For our purposes at this Council, the high-level principles will be more relevant.” In other words, it admonishes Anglicans to treat each other with mutual respect and charitable assumptions, things long taken for granted in a faith communion that prided itself on unity amid diversity.
So, we shall gather, and worship together as we have always done and we will re-learn things we have always known and try to practice them.
Since invitations to the Council were limited by space considerations to convention delegates, clergy and a smattering of other elected diocesan officeholders, there are more than a few people feeling left behind. It is my intention to provide regular updates via this blog and Twitter throughout the Council for those with their noses pressed to the glass. That’s probably going to cost me some of my regular readers and a Twitter friend or two, but it’s a small price to pay to let some sunshine into an otherwise murky process.