January 1, 2008

Where Is that Covenant?

Over at a blog called "Covenant" participant Dave Sims openly wonders why more isn't being said these days about the Draft Anglican Covenant. Sims admits he didn't even know where to find the DAC on-line, but also seems to be unaware of the depth of discussion (albeit one-sided) that has indeed been going on.

For instance, while he notes that I made a brief comment questioning the need for a Covenant back in the fall of 2006 (before the Draft was produced) and that I published a satirical comment just last month, he fails to reference the detailed critique of the Draft Covenant in the response from the Diocese of New York General Convention Deputation, a response of which I was the principle author. This document raises a number of very specific questions about the DAC, and I have seen similar questions asked again and again elsewhere.

And there has been very little response; which goes far to explain why there hasn't been much recent comment since. The current version of the DAC dates from April of last year, after all; although there has been considerable comment since then (most of it in the months immediately following the Draft's release) there has been very little response or engagement from the Covenant Design Group. (I hardly think Ephraim Radner posting a comment at Stand Firm constitutes critical engagement!) There is really very little for those of us not on the Design Group to discuss until we see if and how the Design Group addresses the many critiques in their next (and one assumes, final) draft. This is, after all, how draft documents are refined and edited. At present who knows what if any of the critique already on record has been taken under any kind of serious consideration.

This is most troubling due to the extent to which the Covenant-oriented (both on the Design Group and at places such as the "Covenant" blog) seem not to appreciate the strong opposition to the idea of having any covenant at all, by those of us who see any covenant other than one rooted in shared ministry and mission to be a dangerous and unnecessary innovation. Their response, to date, has been to ignore that opposition as if it were self-evident that a Covenant such as they propose is needed -- an asseveration that does not bear the support of history: since Anglicanism has survived until now without one, and the proposed Covenant will most definitely mark the end of Anglicanism as we have known it up until now, so fundamental is the change in structure and ethos proposed -- as Dave Sims clearly recognizes in noting the importance of this proposal.

It would be wonderful if the Covenant Design Group would share some of the revisions that might have been made on the basis of the critiques that have been offered. Then we might see if in fact some workable covenant could be possible. But without a view of the actual text, vague comments about "drawing people to the truth, through various means of integrity" seem to be more of a kind of wishful communionist jargon than practical ecclesiology.

Tobias Haller BSG


RFSJ said...


SF has just published a bunch of comments on the DAC, but I haven't read them yet.


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

So I see, RFSJ. But as I also see in the comments the quibbling is much the same as seen elsewhere, though in this case more between the moderately conservative and very, very conservative. ("It doesn't say enough about sin and judgment!")

What isn't widely recognized (though many of us keep saying it) is that we are at present in no position to enter into a covenant, as we are in a time of disagreement. As I observed in the comments on the Diocese of NY response last May, one doesn't counsel a couple who are having disagreements to get married. It's the last thing they should do. Getting married won't solve the problems.

If on the other hand, as some suggest, this covenant proposal is not really about the Anglican Communion as we have known it coming to some better way of agreement or cooperation, but the creation of a filter that will cause the [self-]exclusion of those who can't agree to "sign on" -- well, that's not very Anglican either.

Dave Sims said...

Hey Tobias. I did actually see your commentary on the Covenant from May, but please note that my post laments the lack of recent discussion, that most of the substantive critiques had dried up by last Spring. Mainly my remarks were in response to those who are confident that the Covenant will be unenforceable and without substance, that the Windsor process is dead, and therefore Lambeth attendance pointless. And yet there seems to be very little discussion (at least recently, in certain circles) as to what the current draft actually looks like.

I also wanted to perhaps instigate more transparent exchanges with the Covenant Design Group, exactly as you've called for here. Dr. Radner's comment at SF seemed to encourage just that, so I went with it. Your last sentence is spot on, I think.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Dave. I well understand the role of "provacateur" in perhaps moving folks to greater responsiveness.

However, my sense is the present process is flawed: the pattern I've seen in the present case, as often happens with "official drafting bodies" -- and I think we saw similar approaches with the Windsor Report and other documents (could this be a "British" thing?) -- in these steps:

1) The team is formed.
2) They issue a draft and welcome response.
3) Lots of people respond and the responses are collated, and perhaps even published (without comment). Otherwise there is no response from the committee, which functions more or less as a black box.
4) A final draft is issued based solely on the assessment of the feedback by the same people who issued the original draft.

My suggestion for a more meaningful procedure would involve

1) the institution of at least a 50% change in the committee membership after the initial feedback; and
2) A second draft and repeat of the feedback process and change in the drafting committee before the final draft is issued. Greater transparency would also help.

In the long run, however, I fear that the Covenant Process will take far longer than just this year -- and that is a good thing for such a momentous change. As I noted above, working out a settlement for unity (rather than a divorce) is not well accomplished in the heat of divisiveness. At present, I think you are correct in the assessment that a "strong" Covenant will not be acceptable to those who favor the traditional "weak" Communion linkages; while a "weak" Covenant will not be acceptable to those who are seeking a disciplinary Order. Although Eprhaim Radner acknowledges the need for compromise, I'm not sure how these positions (which seem to me to be structural and systemic quite apart from content) can be compromised.

I'm happy to see the discussion at Stand Firm, but it does strike me as more of the same, and I haven't seen anything new in the proposals there. Until a final (?) draft is issued, we really don't know where we stand.

Anonymous said...

Have you seen the line-by-line revision of the covenant just produced by the Church of England? It's at http://www.cofe.anglican.org/info/papers/angcommresp.rtf

Malcolm+ said...

As a preliminary, let me reaffirm my belief that the whole idea of an Anglican Covenant is a bit of well-intentioned stupidity. If we can meet, we need no covenant. If we cannot meet, no covenant will help.

That said, the "black box" of the Covenant Design Group suggests to me a certain arrogance in the process. This isn't about a Communion working towards a Covenant, but about a hand-picked elite imposing a Covenant which advances the personal agendas of at least some members of the CDG. Certainly the Chair of the CDG is hopelessly compromised after so openly throwing in his lot with the schismatics in Kenya.

The degree to which this supposedly Anglican Covenant overthrows the very nature of Anglicanism is borne out, I think, by observations and commentaries from many places, including the recent commentary from the Church of England. The CofE response points out several instances where certain positions are ascribed as definitive when, in fact, there has always been a range of opinions. The Covenant imposes (for no particular reason) a particular viewpoint on an issue as simple as the number of sacraments. It similarly imposes (for a very specific and power-grubbing reason) a particular view if scriptural interpretation. In neither case can any reasonable person argue that these positions or assorted others been concurred in by all Anglicans, or even by an overwhelming majority of Anglicans.

(I also quite liked the simple affirmation of the CofE response that it would be illegal for the CofE to sign on to the draft as proposed given its outrageous proposal to give the Primates the power to "direct" the internal affairs of Provinces.)

The idea of a Covenant is fundamentally flawed.

The process to develop a Covenant is fundamentally flawed.

The draft produced is fundamentally flawed.

And in claiming that attendance at Lambeth presupposes a commitment to the eventual production and imposition of a Covenant, his grace of Canterbury is being fundamentally foolish.

June Butler said...

What troubles me is that "reports' come to be seen as binding, as equivalent to laws or canons, and "drafts" come to be viewed as "reports", which then come to be seen as binding, without passing through the proper processes - whatever the processes are.

I confess that I'm fairly ignorant of the processes of the Anglican Communion, but I'm mystified as to the means by which Windsor came to be seen as binding, and I'm wary of another such exercise.

Forgive my lack of knowledge, but I am a layperson, trying to understand what's going on.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Malcolm+ -- I was being charitable, I suppose, in not addressing the membership of the Drafting Committee and their own rather evident points of view. What I was getting at is that this "black box" method seems to be the way the British work in general -- and I'm used to the much more open debating process that we see in General Convention and Executive Council. For example, the way the Draft of Title IV was worked on (or over!)

GM, this slippage is another major problem. The tendency for assumptions to become beliefs. Say, that's a thought for the day!

Meanwhile, thanks to badman for the link to the C of E response. It is rather appalling on two counts, which are worthy of separate note.

Christopher said...

Fr. Haller,

Thank God for you keeping on top of this as this whole covenant business gets me worried every time I think about it because it's so not transparent in process which strikes me as unChristian in how we have understood the use of authority and power at their best; it's a hardening up of our generosity of opinion on various matters (and highlights exactly how much latitude we give one another on basics, like Sacraments, but can't do so on third order matters, apparently); and it's representative of a polity and ecclesiology that is essentially Roman. As I've said before it's the worst of Rome and Geneva. Ironic, no?

What this covenant suggests is that we become a confessional body beyond the creeds of the Patristic Church, and frankly, there are far better confessions already in existence, Augsburg, for example, that I would rather sign on to than this more fundamentalist and Reformed document with a Roman polity and ecclesiology. This document is not something I could assent to and if it or something so similar becomes our confession, well, let's just say, I could not assent whatever the consequences of that might be.