May 17, 2007

Communionism and Adhocracy

a thought on the Draft Covenant

The Draft Covenant stresses accountability in its last section, but makes no clear statement as to the basis or the substance of that accountability, and only limns out a vague process for (apparently unconditioned) accountability to the Primates. As with the Windsor Report, it seems to be an "agreement not to disagree" with a poorly defined (and I would say at the least mischievous and the worst malicious) open-ended authority to ensure conformity with whatever happens to be the current "mind" of the larger body as determined by an oligarchy. That is not communion. It has nothing to do with communion. It is "communionism."

I suggest a comparison with the very clear and useful "Called to Common Mission" document by which TEC and ELCA entered into full communion. Common ground is laid out; specific expectations are described; and there is, at least as far as I can see, no suggestion of a need for discipline -- each of the churches remains completely autonomous on matters that do not directly touch the relationship between them, and agree to work together in joint mission. That is communion.

Turning to Scripture

Now, the question is, Do we need a "political" solution to the tensions in the communion? Will a structure, or a code of law, solve the problems? Or simply provide a way to discipline those who do something the larger body doesn't like?

Now, this may sound shocking, but Scripture does not provide an answer for the dilemma of church polity, at least if one is looking for an international system or code of government. Scripture doesn't even provide a polity for a national church, let alone a communion! (This was, in fact, Hooker's primary argument contra the Calvinists). Scripture can give guidance on how Christians should behave towards each other, but it cannot and will not provide a blueprint for the governance even of a national church, far less an international body however constituted (as federation, communion, or curial monarchy).

It is quite true, as Ephraim Radner points out, that "autonomy" is not a biblical term -- but the "communion" spoken of in Scripture takes only two forms:

1) the fellowship enjoyed by all Christians in being part of the universal church, the Body of Christ, through baptism, a fellowship which is fundamentally the same everywhere, at the local and at the universal level; and

2) the mission and ministry that binds the various "local churches" together through charitable work and cooperative mission. This is the koinonía of Rom 15:26, 2 Cor 8 and 9; a "communion" or "fellowship" that is precisely about *service ministry* (overseas financial aid, in fact; the First Millennium Development Goals!). It has nothing whatsoever to do with governance, and barely touches doctrine except for the doctrine of the Great Commandment and mutual service, which unites us in an effective and loving communion. "Service unites; doctrine divides..."

Where the use of Scripture fails

The Draft Covenant is decorated with Scriptural citations, but most of them have little applicability to the real problems facing us. The arguments about how to deal with sinners (as in Matt 18 or 1 Cor 5) do not "map" to the level of churches dealing with other churches. There is no easy correspondence between the relationships of individuals Christians (as described in Scripture) and the structure of church polity (which has evolved in many different forms since apostolic times).

Our task is to find a church polity (which Scripture cannot provide) that continues to respect the individual Christian as a member of the body (which the Scripture does address), and potentiates mission and ministry. And I think Anglicanism as structured up to now has worked well in that regard. Which brings me to my final point for today.

Getting Real

The whole affair at present cannot be treated as an abstract exercise about developing a form of inter-provincial governance for Anglicans, either as if we didn't already have one (minimal as it is), or that this was just an exercise arising out of having nothing else to do.

On the contrary, this is a massive exercise in adhocracy, and until the veil on that is lifted and the real issue confronted, all the rest will be of no use. The Windsor Report took a dishonest view of the ordination of women (which can be seen as a far, far greater innovation and "threat" to communion than the events in New Hampshire or New Westminster, since it necessarily and actually creates an obstacle to mutual recognition of ministers, which as "Called to Common Mission" shows, is a cornerstone of communion). There has also been a pretense that "it isn't really about Gene Robinson" (hence he was not asked to speak in the consultations leading up to the WR). How often have we heard "it's not really about sexuality" only to find that the only concrete matters for a moratorium from TEC are about sexuality?

This doublespeak is not at all helpful in reaching clarity. I have yet to see a clear articulation of why or how the presenting issue is not capable of resolution in exactly the same way as the ordination of women -- that is, by a time of bilateral impairment through a process of reception (or rejection).

The notion that there is a "communion teaching" is specious and self-referential. The fact that Lambeth 1998 was coopted, as Archbishop Ndungane notes, is simply an example of how poorly things work when a "conference" imagines itself to be a legislature and departs from its "founding charism" -- it is this departure from our "Anglican founding charism" that marks the beginning of our woes -- not GC 2003.

As I have said in the reflection below: a return to our charism is the way forward, not a hastily constructed quasi-legal edifice. This charism includes keeping Lambeth as a conference to share common concerns (a "jamboree" as Archbishop Akinola puts it; rather than a legislature, which is what he wants). And above all a return to the baptismal unity that recognizes other Christians as children of God, and other local churches as our partners in mission. If we do not start there, I have no interest at all in where we end up.

Tobias Haller BSG


June Butler said...

Tobias, I will spare you and your readers my mantra on the covenant, but I'd like to have a chance to ask Archbishop Akinola, "What's wrong with a jamboree?"

Andrew Gerns said...

I would add only one thing to your fine post. Not only does Archbishop Akinola disdain the "jamboree," but he and his cohorts also disdain legislatures and the process of consensus that goes with them. What he and his friends dream of is a soviet. A gathering that will vote as they are told.

Andrew Gerns

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Here is the source for the "jamboree" statement:

In a Jan. 14 interview with the Guardian newspaper of Lagos, Archbishop Akinola, the primate of the Communion’s largest province, said sending more than 100 Nigerian bishops to Lambeth would not be an act of prudent stewardship, if the conference was simply going to be an expensive episcopal jamboree.
“A Lambeth Conference that will not be able to guide the church in a way that the church will embrace” and “comply” is “not worth attending,” the archbishop said. The Church of Nigeria would be a “bad steward, to use God’s resources and waste it on jamboree. God will hold me responsible and accountable for spending money in that way.”

The Lambeth Conference “does not legislate” nor can it tell “any diocese or province” what to do, Archbishop Akinola said. However, “as a result of the fellowship, praying together, studying the word of God together,” the bishops at Lambeth come to a “consensus of opinion, which we now commend to the provinces for further actions.”

Note that, of course, the only acceptable "actions" in response to the "consensus" is "to comply." This is more of the Orwellian doublespeak in which the communionists engage; so, Andrew, the analogy with a "soviet" is a very good example!

Anonymous said...

Have you seen the Statement from the Episcopal/Canadian Anglican liturgists in response to the Proposed Anglican Covenant? It can be found on the blog of Deacon Ormonde Plater.

R said...


Thank you! You articulate with such clarity what I have only been able to feel at a gut level.

Ann said...

Jambo means Hello in Swahili - here is a song that might be nice for our Jambo-ree. The words are HERE