By Bishop Dave Bena
This weekend, we will all celebrate a magnificent event: the two hundred twenty-third anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. After struggling so long under an oppressive mother government, the Thirteen Colonies made a dramatic and risky decision. They would break with England and become an independent nation. It was risky for a number of reasons. They might lose the war; and even if they won the war, they might not be recognized by other nations. They might even win the war and then be thrust into such an economic depression that they would once again be enslaved by another nation. Declaring independence was risky, all right. But they had a taste for freedom…
As I participated in the First Provincial Assembly of the Anglican Church in North America last week in Texas, I realized that there were some profound similarities between what we were doing in Texas in 2009 and what our forebears did in Philadelphia in 1776. Profound similarities.
Let’s go back to Philadelphia, back to June 6, 1776. The Second Continental Congress had convened in the summer heat and humidity to debate the question of independence. On June 7, Robert Henry Lee of Virginia proposed “that these united Colonies, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they be absolved from all allegiance from the British Crown, and that all political connection between America and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved…” Called the Resolution of Independence, it caused such a stir among the members of Congress that John Hancock decided everyone needed to cool their heels for awhile. All were definitely not on the same page. They all agreed that the Colonies were being stifled by the oppressive measures of England. But they were not of one mind as to the way forward. While most of Congress was ready to declare independence (outside strategy), members from New York and Pennsylvania still hoped that some reconciliation with England might be possible (inside strategy). Members from South Carolina were watching closely lest the formation of this new nation bring them into an oppressive AMERICAN highly centralized government. Some members favored a centralized government; some a loose federation of States. Debate continued through June. A committee was formed to write a declaration that the Congress might sign on to, a declaration that would communicate to the world just why the Colonies were being forced to declare their independence. So the committee, made up of Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, John Adams of Massachusetts, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, and Robert Livingston of New York, went to work drafting the document.
Finally, on July 1, Lee’s Resolution of Independence was brought before the Congress for a vote. Nine colonies voted yes, two vote no (Pennsylvania and South Carolina), and two abstained (New York and Delaware). President Hancock, sensing it was time for private discussions in the tavern after business hours, called it a day. On July 2, the Resolution of Independence came up again. By this time, some who had opposed it the day before had talked it through in the tavern with other members of Congress and decided that compromise was needed so that all could be at one on the decision. The Resolution of Independence passed, although a few individuals did not favor separating from mother England. With the passage of the Resolution of Independence, Congress was then able to take up Jefferson’s committee draft, the Declaration of Independence. More debating; more compromise; more attempts to word proof the document to death.
Late on the afternoon of July 4, the vote was in on the Declaration of Independence. It passed 12 to 1, New York’s delegates stating that their mandate did not allow them to vote for independence (Five days later, the New York Assembly passed the Declaration, making the vote unanimous by all thirteen colonies). The deed was done. The United States of America was born. Interestingly, on August 2, when it was time to actually sign the Declaration of Independence, two members refused to sign it, including one of the drafters, Robert Livingston, who felt that reconciliation with England was still possible.
So that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it! Now how is that similar to what we Anglicans did in Texas last week?
Well, the delegates who came to the First Provincial Assembly in 2009 had much in common with the members of the Second Continental Congress in 1776. We were a diverse lot – Anglo Catholics, Evangelicals, Charismatics – all watching each other and hoping we could forge a union which would allow everyone to breathe. Some jurisdictions wanted a church much like the one we had left; some wanted a church with a strong hierarchical government; some just wanted a loose federation of churches. And some still thought we could reconcile with an oppressive mother church. See the similarities? But we had tasted freedom in Christ, and we were willing to take some risks. It was possible that our Constitution and Canons would not be passed, that we would fragment into a number of independent colonies, er, I mean jurisdictions. There was also the risk that even if we put it together, no one would recognize us as being part of the Anglican Communion (as of now well over a majority of the membership of the Anglican Communion has recognized the Anglican Church in North America). But, as with the Continental Congress, we were bound together by a common objective – theirs was to be a free and independent nation; ours was freedom to be a “Great Commission Province.” We were bound together under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. We were bound together under the biblical principles of classical Anglicanism. And so after praying, debating, discussing, and sweating under the hot Texas sun, we passed the Constitution and Canons of the Anglican Church in North America. And we were free! Praise the Lord. I think we must have felt the way those members of the Continental Congress felt on July 4, 1776. To quote another who worked for freedom, “Free at last; free at last. Lord God Almighty, we are free at last.”
Summed up by Archbishop Bob Duncan, “Working together, we have been able, by God’s grace, to reunite a significant portion of our Anglican Church family here in North America.”
Welcome to freedom in Christ, my dear brothers and sisters.link image