December 23, 2009

Thoughts for 12.23.09

For all its casting itself as a model of catholic Christendom, at its worst The Anglican Communion Covenant (TACC) could become a form of lowest common denominationalism. With the capacity for intramural carping and critique a highlight of its discipline, it could become a modern version of the perverse "communion" Paul condemned in Galatians 5:15 — "If you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another."

I am all for remaining in fellowship and working together with those with whom I may disagree on this or that — even important thises or thats — but I really do not want to submit the informed judgment of my church to a forum that appears to base its judgments on misinformation, or at least refusal to engage in a close examination of the matters at hand in a dispassionate way.

This is why I prefer a loose federation to a "world church." Given the very extreme differences in cultures and societies, within which any church must live, move and have its being; and given the very different readings of the Gospel itself, informed by history and movements within and against those cultures, it seems unlikely that anything approaching consensus will be reachable, and a world-church struck voiceless, unable to witness within those different societies to the truth of the Gospel as each perceives it. What does it profit us to gain a "world church" at the cost of our true ecclesiastical identity? What does it profit us to gain a Covenant at the cost of the Gospel?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


WSJM said...

Well said, Tobias.

There is already a "world church," and those who would like to be members of it would be welcome to join it. Just row up the Tiber. They are mostly nice folks. Not all of them, but then not all of us are nice folks either. (I frequently am not.)

Marshall Scott said...

Tobias, you and I have, I think, both felt that we could conceive of a covenant document that the Episcopal Church might sign, even if we haven't seen it yet. Looking again at the current draft, I have said that I hope we will consider it in General Convention, not as a whole but section by section. I don't think we can, much less should, sign with Section 4 in place as it is; but I think we should identify what in the document we can affirm.

That said, I have to wonder about our critics, some of whom are so eager to sign. It seems to me that the commitment in paragraph 3.2.3, "to spend time with openness and patience in matters of theological debate and reflection, to listen, pray and study with one another in order to discern the will of God," is one that we have invited for a generation. If they would commit to this by signing on, they could hardly continue ignoring our explorations.

There have been voices saying we should sign the Covenant, if only to begin procedures under Section 4 against other national churches. I honestly hope we're not so inclined; for that would be a wretched reason to sign on. Still, if we did sign I would think the commitment in 3.2.3 would be our first grounds for raising questions. We have come to an informed judgement, while others have simply refused to engage.

June Butler said...

Relationships amongst churches of the "Anglican Communion" may surely continue without the Covenant. And attempting to make a church catholic by force, which is what the "consequences" section of the Covenant seems to attempt, would only result in a distortion of the meaning of "catholic", such as we see in the present day RCC. The bonds of affection are either present or, they're not, and the Covenant will not serve to make us love one another.

The wreck that the "AC" resembles at the moment, is not the sole doing of the Archbishop of Canterbury, but he contributed to the mess. I'm leaning towards Jim Naughton's view that Rowan has been intentional from the beginning and has kept a steady course ever since he asked his friend Jeffrey John to step down from his appointment as Bishop of Reading.

Christopher (P.) said...


I agree with your wise thoughts, here as elsewhere, but this caution arose in me. As do I, you value the ability of each church/province in the Anglican Communion "to witness within those different societies to the truth of the Gospel as each perceives it." But it does seem to me that the Anglican Church of Uganda is doing that in, tacitly at least, supporting the draconian measures currently under consideration. They are most certainly wrong, but just as certain they are witnesses to the truth of the Gospel "as they perceive it." Would not a world church be able to provide a strong and decisive counterweight to this, much as the U.S. national government provided a strong and decisive counterweight to the states' arguments in the 1950s and '60s (and '70s) that they were but expressing the wills of the citizens of their several states, with respect to racial segregation?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Bill, the short boat ride is indeed an option, and I understand that recently a discount group travel plan has been introduced. There seem to be few takers, though. Perhaps the old line about reigning in hell rather than serving in heaven would apply -- though I'm not sure which way!

Marshall, it was with those suggestions (about starting a "complaint department war") that I thought of Gal 5:15. At this point, though, I am not optimistic about the Global South submitting to 3.2.3., and the Covenant seems ill equipped to promote engagement by a coalition of the unwilling.

Mimi, more and more I think this will devolve into those bilateral relationships that have always been the real "life" of the Communion.

Christopher P., I wish I could believe that the Covenant, if adopted, would provide a way into addressing the Uganda situation. Problem is, as I said to Marshall, coercion of the one by the many can only work in a voluntary organization when all agree to it. Ultimately Congress (and LBJ) were able to persuade certain states of the error of their ways via the National Guard! I don't think that's what we want. Meanwhile, the local reps of the Big World Wide Church on the Block (RC) has supported the legislation. So I take little comfort in any notion of a world-wide pressure applied to others that I would not want applied to my own church. I think it is fine for people to express their displeasure -- but coercion, it seems to me, is contrary to the Gospel, and comes under the old failing of the libido dominandi.

Paul (A.) said...

Unless I am misreading Lionel Deimel's several recent posts on the Covenant and changes in the Anglican Consultative Council, it would appear that Rowan Williams has taken over the Anglican Communion by coup. The ACC is evidently no longer controlled by its members, but by its Standing Committee, which has renamed itself the "Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion". The ACC Constitution appears no longer to be valid, having been substituted by Articles of Association which have not been published. The Standing Committee acts in secret, except to the extent it decides to publish its dictates. (Note the Standing Committee's resolution bemoaning the episcopal election of Mary Glasspool was explicitly "approved for public distribution". How many other resolutions have not been so approved?)

I used to think, with Tobias, that TEC's signing on to the Covenant might be relatively harmless: It might be something like a Fifth Instrument of Communion, with the Covenanters and the Noncovenanters (or as Adrian Worsfold notes, the Anglican Union and the Anglican Guild).

But now I'm not at all so sure. Too many things are contemporaneous and related, and all kept largely secret.

What is the Archbishop hiding?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

There certainly appears to be something fishy going on, but it is almost impossible to tell what. I have said all along, from the time of the Windsor report until now that there is far to much of the "making it up as we go along" quality to the whole affair; as I said in "Communionism and Adhocracy, in 2007: "The ... Covenant stresses accountability ... but makes no clear statement as to the basis or the substance of that accountability.... 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)."

These recent stages of "affirming" devices and desires is if real is troubling (such as "the mind / teaching of the Communion") and it begins to appear to be as bad as the Big Lie technique favored in the very worst secular political regimes.

I weep for the loss of the Anglican Communion.

JCF said...

Awesome comment, Paul (A.).

I kid you not: wv, "madjugg". Don't blame me! ;-D