January 15, 2010

Covenant +

I just want to flag a thought here -- which I confess is not original, but popped up some weeks ago somewhere I can't recall.

That is to suggest that if GC chooses to sign The Anglican Communion Covenant, we do so with an accompanying document that lays out our understanding of what the various articles in the Covenant mean to us, and how we are able to accept them.

This is the kind of proactive laying-on-the-table that I think would be helpful all round. Apparently (and this is not an area of personal knowledge, but came from the above-mentioned source) this is how certain international concordats and treaties are handled. It strikes me that such an explanatory codicil might well be of practical aid, and assembling such a document a good exercise as we continue to consider TACC itself. The tone would be not, "We disagree with..." but "We understand this to entail..."

Whoever first mentioned this, please take credit! I think it a very productive suggestion.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


Anonymous said...

Kind of like a presidential signing statement? ;-)

susan s. said...

It is a good idea, whoever suggested it. Perhaps everyone who signs on should write a codicil. It would be really interesting to see how this 'simple and direct'(my snarky words) covenant is interpreted by all.

June Butler said...

I agree that if TEC chooses to sign the Covenant at GC12, then attaching a codicil stating our understanding of what the covenant means is a good idea. However, if each of the churches that signed the Covenant attached a codicil, I believe we'd quickly come to see what a tangled mess the the wording of the Covenant really is.

The Religious Pícaro said...

In such a case, who gets the final say about what the Covenant "really" means?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Karekin, maybe it was a presidential signing statement the original referred to....?

Susan, GM and BillyD -- that's my thought exactly -- the difference is that it would all be out on the table -- and any "final say" would have to be determined in a process of speaking and listening -- which is what we're called to do, I think, as Christians and as a Communion. If in the end it showed the Covenant to be unworkable, fine.... but it might just also be a way forward. It certainly can't hurt, as I see it, and the process might be educational for us over the next two years...

Marshall Scott said...

This is similar in tone to something you and I agreed would be good, Tobias: to consider each section of the Covenant in a separate resolution, and affirm what we can, regardless of what we can't. These become positive statements of what we understand and what we believe, rather simple rejections. If we affirm sections 1 through 3, and not 4; or if our codicil provides a clear statement of what we understand and believe, we have said what we need to say, rather than simply denying what someone else needs us to say.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Marshall. On the previous post on the Covenant I commented that we did actually issue a codicil of "understanding" concerning the Lambeth Quadrilateral in 1982.

scott gray said...

a side ways thought, as usual.

i have no dog in this race, so i write from a position of inexperience and ignorance.

but i've seen various parish 'mission statements' in other venues, and i wonder if to some degree this isn't about a collective mission statement that refers positively to what is communal, and essential. how much of the covenant is not communally essential? to what extent is the covenant a collective mission statement? is there a hierarchy of mission statements, as it were, within the collective document?


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Good question, Scott. Two things:

1) One of the fair critiques of the Covenant is that it is too long and too wordy. It is certainly too long for a "mission" or "vision" statement -- and much of what is in the Covenant has little to do with either mission or vision.

2) My reason for this proposal relates to our being divided by a common language! One of the problems with Lambeth 1998, for instance, revolves around the fact that the word consult has a different shade of meaning for Americans as opposed to the English. We generally take it to mean something like having a conversation or getting input and advice with colleagues before one takes action; the English tend to see it more as involving deliberation and decision for common action. If you don't believe me, compare the first definition of the word in the OED and in Websters New 20th C. Unabridged. Upon this one word and shade of difference hangs much of the ill feeling about TEC regarding our actions after Lambeth 1998.

So if we can be upfront and say, "This is what we think we are agreeing to" we will avoid some of the misunderstandings inherent in such a vague and complex agreement -- in addition to exposing some of the ambiguities in the document itself.

Brother David said...

Ah, so in English you are developing false cognates even between English speaking groups!

They often exist between languages. One that pops out between English and Spanish is compromise vs compromiso. Often I hear folks from the US who are learning or know a little Spanish use them as if they are synonymous. They are not. But it is obvious from the spelling that they derived from the same Latin root at some point in the past.

Compromise is a settlement of a dispute or disagreement, usually with both sides giving something up or making some concessions.

Compromiso is an obligation obtained by agreement, commitment or promise.

Even in later Latin its meaning has come to involve an arbitration, which supports the English, but it is created from the Latin roots which mean together and promise, which supports the Spanish which independently evolved from Latin long before English existed.

John Sandeman said...

It is unlikely that a commentary on the covenant would be brief and it would add its own layer of complexity.
Given this I think the main benficiary of a codicil would be the Gafcon group.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Dahveed, for another example. False cognates abound between many languages; as French major in high school and college I was alerted to many of them. But in my English studies I was also alerted to the many different shades of meaning, regionally and internationally. even within the English language. "Consult" is just one example -- and it had a serious impact on the Communion, generating feelings of distrust on one side and bewilderment on the other.

John, I still think it necessary to spell out how we understand portions of the Covenant (whether we adopt or not) in order to make it clear to ourselves and others what it is we think we are agreeing to. This is in part due to the Covenant itself arising from a welter of motives and composition by a committee. I don't see how Gafcon will benefit particularly -- from what I've heard there is less interest in the Covenant from that sector over all. To date, I've not heard that any Gafcon province has adopted it.

Erika Baker said...

My question would be whether TEC isn't a miniture replica of the Anglican Communion with various dioceses hoping for different things when they contemplate signing the covenant and believing it to mean different things. How will you avoid the accompanying document from becoming overly complicated, complex and so diverse that it is almost meaningless?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

(Reposting to correct an error. I really must proof more carefully... and clean my eyeglasses periodically)

Good question, Erika. I think we can only discover this by doing it -- and if it becomes clear that even within TEC we cannot reach consensus on the meaning of the Covenant, I think that will be a good demonstration of the problems inherent in it.

However, I think that if we focus on keeping the text of our codicil compact, and address only the truly ambiguous or confusing clauses in TACC, this may not be a long "commentary" -- longer than the original! I'm not proposing a Talmud to the TACC Mishnah, in short.

For example, I think we need to address the reference to the 1662 BCP (our liturgical heritage deriving more from 1549 via Scotland). I think we need to have a clear understanding of the reference to other churches signing on; and suggest we understand this as meaning other non-Anglican churches with which we are in communion, for example. Spelling out what we think might be acceptable "relational consequences" is another area for clarity. The issue of the sufficiency of Scripture, raised by Lionel in the other post, needs some minor clarification.

I'll have to go back and review the document again, but it seems to me that there are only a relatively small number of points which require some disambiguation. Of course, I could be wrong...

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

I did a little research today and it appears Dahveed is too modest to mention that he suggested a "signing statement" as long ago as last May! This must be where I first saw the suggestion, and a fine one it is. (I realize there is a legal debate about the standing to Presidential SS's, but I think the cirucmstances are different here -- as it is not clear what the legal standing of TACC would be either! -- it is a Bootstrap Document, and we had best have a hand in setting its context and meaning.)

The Religious Pícaro said...

We generally take it to mean something like having a conversation or getting input and advice with colleagues before one takes action; the English tend to see it more as involving deliberation and decision for common action.

I had no idea! This does indeed explain a lot of what's been going on. You'd think that it would receive more attention in the ecclesiastical press (although there are certainly parties who would not buy the idea that we acted on a misunderstanding, prefering to see something more sinister at work). Has the idea been suggested to the PB?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

BillyD, I forget when I first was alerted to this distinction by an English friend; sometime in the early "noughties" I think -- it has been a while. Another problem word is "homosexual" -- which in much of Africa does not primarily mean "a man who has sexual relations with another man" but rather "a transvestite or prostitute (or both), very likely using drugs, and definitely promiscuous."

I've learned a lot in the "listening process"! The ecclesiastical press, sadly, is much more interested in sales than truth; or they don't know these things, and still operate out of their echo-chambers or little green boxes.

I've not mentioned it to the PB, but perhaps I shall when opportunity arises.

June Butler said...

Tobias, I did not know about the difference in meanings in the word "consult", either. When you have the opportunity, you should tell the PB.

About the word "homosexual", do you know if the law in Uganda will apply only to transvestites and prostitutes who use drugs and are promiscuous? I'd be surprised if it did.

susan s. said...

The English word I have trouble with is 'scheme.' Apparently to the English it means 'plan.' To me it means 'evil plot.' So when the ABC mentioned a scheme(I believe it was during the Primates meeting in Dar Es Salaam) I immediately jumped to that conclusion.

John Sandeman said...

My suggestion that Gafcon may benefit from a codicil or signing statement is based on your sense of a lack of consensus as to the meaning of the covenant. This may frustrate those who have seen the covenant as a way forward for the AC - while you have been clear that you don't think the Covenant is fit for this purpose, others especially in the Global South have been more optimistic.
A confusing response to the covenant (has TEC signed all of it, or only part of it, or accepted an alternate reading only?) may encourage some towards the Jeruslem Statement.
Most of Gafcon, however, will sign the Covenant in my view. But Gafcon will remain as an alternate or supplementary network. Most of Gafcon will remain inside the AC, the degree of importance of Gafcon will depend in part on how well the AC holds together.

Erika Baker said...

Daveehd's comment is a comment on the all too commonplace fact in all aspects of international life about the lack of using language professionals when discussing major concepts.

People who do not have English as their first language should always be cautious when interpreting an original English language text, and if the Covenant is to be signed by churches whose first language isn't English, it should first be translated by a qualified translator who would either select more appropriate target terminology, or add an explanatory footnote explaining the difference in concepts behind a difficult term.

Brother David said...

Case in point Erika; the Japanese bishops are not interested in the TACCy because there is no translation. The closest word to covenant in Japanese is contract and they are not interested in a contract.

Which makes one wonder if contract perhaps has some negative meaning or shade in Japanese.

Erika Baker said...

I forgot to add that "localisation", i.e. translating a document or a thought into words used in the various countries, should also apply when the different countries all speak English. Tobias' example of the understanding of the word homosexuality shows that it is just as important when people mistakenly believe that the word has the same meaning in another cultural context or in a country where the meaning of English words has developed and changed differently in day to day use.

Closed said...

I think this a wise middle course. Be clear about who we are and how we understand the Covenant document. And couple a codicil with voting on each section separately. This provides a means to check anxieties at Convention and to seriously think about what and what is not cogent with our understanding of Anglicanism.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks for the additional comments.

Mimi, though I can only assume that over the last 20 years many Ugandans have come to understand a more western meaning to "homosexual" I am sure the law will be applied primarily to the subgroup represented by the older African understanding. Read the supporters of the bill, and note their language concerning the perceived threats to society by "hooligans" and such. The pernicious side of this law, of course, it that it will be used for blackmail and political pressure, too. For the words and meanings in an African context, I commend "Boy Wives and Female Husbands: African Homosexualities" by Roscoe and Murray, who document much of this linguistic / cultural problem.

Susan, yes, "scheme" in English English doesn't have the primarily sneaky connotation it does in US English -- the OED shows the sneaky definition well down on the list. It is often used without malice in GB politics, which could refer to "Obama's health-care scheme" without a hint of negativity.

John, the lack of consensus as to the meaning of the Covenant is not based on my "sense" -- there was significant discussion about the ambiguity of "church" in the section about others signing on -- and while Radner says it means one thing, Williams and Kearon say it means another... so key people are in disagreement. Also, if you think I've "been clear" that I don't think the Covenant is "fit" as a way forward for the AC, you have entirely misunderstood me. I do not think it would have been the best way forward, but now that it is on the table, I think it best to make the best of it and move forward. Otherwise others such as Gafcon will make use of it to move us backward. Personally I don't care if people move away from the Canterbury-based AC towards Jerusalem or Alexandria. That, I think is where Gafcon is heading, and I would be curious to hear some evidence for your guesstimate to the contrary. We will likely know within five years if you or I are best at reading these particular Anglican tea-leaves.

Erika, right on both counts -- I think we have been deceived by the "apparent" uniformity of English -- which has very different usages around the world. This is why at the very least some kind of definitional document is needed -- much as TEC's disciplinary canons have a table defining all the words used in the law code. "Church" in particular needs clarification, but so do a few others.

Dahveed, indeed! There are many concepts easily said in English that just don't "have" a word in Japanese, or likely other tongues. I was taught as a French major (so it must be true!) that French was the language of international diplomacy because the Academie Française had an iron hand on the meaning and definition of words, so a precise meaning to a treaty could always be set forth. Perhaps the French version of the Covenant will be the one we should examine! (Paging Bishop Whalon!)

Christopher, I'm less sanguine about voting on the Covenant in bits; I think we need to first understand what we think it means, and then vote it up or down; and if we adopt, attach our understanding of the meaning. I want our Yes to be Yes or our No, No.

John Sandeman said...

I should have said that you don't see the covenant as the "best fit" as a way forward for the Communion. Saying that TEC should "sign the covenant and move forward" is not exactly the same as saying that the Covenant takes the communion forward.
There is a different shade of meaning in these two uses of "forward". One sees the Covenant itself as moving things forward, the other expresses a wish to move forward without specifying that the Covenant positively contributes. Oh well, another example of the subtlies of language.
And in talking of your "sense" I met your sense of the state of the discusion. Number two.
I think what happens with Gafcon will be interesting, and yes the next five years will be interesting.
You are a more experienced tea leaf reader than I (but in the age of the Tea Party is it polite to say that to an American Progressive?).
My view of Gafcon is that it will (outside of North America) proceed as a gentle building of Networks - that provinces such as Nigeria, Rwanda and Uganda stay in the AC but also relate through Gafcon and the Global South meetings - which may be interchangeable). I do not expect revolution. Some member provinces in the Anglican Communion will be in fellowship with TEC, others with ACNA.
But as I said, you have seen the bottom of more cups of tea than I.

Erika Baker said...

what it also should mean is that linguists in each of the AC countries first provide a localised version of the Covenant so that people know what it is they're discussing. That's really the work of qualified linguists not of theologians and church politicians who happen to speak another language.

Like with any contract, the localised version is debated, the original version is later signed and remains the authoritative text.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, John, for the further clarification; a good demonstration of the need for more rather than less dialogue.
As to ways forward, my initial concern with the Windsor Process stemmed from the push it was receiving from the Global South end of things; and the early drafts of the Covenant were clearly unacceptable to the vast majority of provinces -- and the combination of haste and dissatisfaction seemed to me to be a formula for less than satisfactory progress. In addition, it seemed to smack too much of trying to solve a problem by means more indicative of the problem itself than of a solution: the analogy I've used is of a dating couple under stress seeking to marry quickly in hopes that marriage would solve their problems.

The Covenant has now been heavily modified, given a new framework, and from four to eight years for further study, talk, and deliberation. In addition, the various "networks" are networking -- or not working -- and that will have its influence, as will the legal decisions in a number of the US court cases (which will have significant negative impact on the enthusiasm of those who have sought to separate from TEC -- impact that is already being felt.) Meanwhile, the Indaba listening process is continuing apace, and people are learning they can cooperate without necessarily approving. The irony in all of this is that the AC may -- via the Covenant -- become a paper tiger (once structured by bonds of affection, but now 20 lb bond!) and the robust relationships will be bilateral or through networks. In short, I do not think this will represent a substantial move towards what the early drafters of the Covenant hoped (a more monolithic structure) for which, in the communion at large, there is neither overwhelming will nor desire.

Erika, I think ideally linguists as well as theologians will be needed -- but first it must be clearly determined what words like "church" mean in the various sections of the Covenant (meaning must precede translation!) Language study was my undergraduate work, so I'm particularly sensitive to the difficulties inherent in translation -- but more importantly the whole difficulty of meaning itself -- and the Covenant, as a compromise document capable of multiple meanings, presents particular difficulties. Just like Scripture!

Erika Baker said...

if linguists had been involved a long time ago much of the current level of disagreement could have been avoided altogether.

Ideally, linguists are involved right at the drafting stage, in this case maybe as early as after Lambeth 98, certainly for the Windsor Report, during each Primate meeting etc. Translation and localisation tacked on at the end of a process always provides less acceptable results than involving language mediators actively throughout the whole process.

The difficulty is that without linguists, you may not even be aware of which words are likely to have different meanings to different people, so you would not necessarily have known that it's ok to discuss "church" among the religious professionals but that "homosexuality" has to be localised before a discussion is possible.

Marshall Scott said...

You know, Erika, I have long contended that the work of theology is one of translation. The truths of the Gospel do not change, but the language in which we apprehend them and communicate them does. I don't think that in any effort to produce localized versions of a Covenant we can separate the qualified linguists from the theologians, or trust a-theological experts with the work. It's not that the product wouldn't show theological bias; it's that the bias wouldn't be ours.

Tobias, John, the next General Synod in England may have unexpected impact on this process. If the Private Members Motion on recognition by CoE of ACNA fails, there will be little notice. However, if it moves forward, even if not finally passed, I believe there will be those GAFCON-esque folks who will move toward the Covenant, believing that not only will CoE pass it, but will understand it as the GAFCON-esque folks do. They won't necessarily feel too distressed if it fails, but the might well feel some triumph if it passes.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Erika -- a very true reading; and it derives from the three H's in this case: haste, hubris, and habit. The Windsor Process was begun and continued under pressure; the hubris of assuming English is our "ingua franca" and the ignorance you note (not even being aware of shades of meaning); and the habit of thinking church folks are able communicators, skilled in language, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.

Thank you, too, Marshall, for these points. I'm not so sure the PMM on ACNA will be of much moment just because it is considered -- though if adopted it could be a major shift, and will mark the formal end of one of the foundational principles of Anglicanism -- referred to in the Lambeth speech I quoted earlier from Abp Runcie. The situation is assymetrical: I doubt its failure to pass will be taken as a rebuke, but its adoption will be trumpeted as a victory or condemned (as I think) as an intolerable intrusion into the life of another province -- and in direct contradiction to the Windsor Process at that! So as faulty as I see the WP, adoption of the PMM will render even that (and the Covenant) off the table.

Erika Baker said...

you are right, of course. But translation is a wide field and we're each only specialist in our own area. For you that could be trying to decode what old English speaking theologians meant with the words they used and which may have had a different meaning in their time, for others it’s the original biblical Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew, for others it’s Latin. And for most of us jobbing linguists it’s one or two specific specialist subjects in a modern language and the differences within one language and cultural concepts in various countries who all believe they speak in the same tongue.

And so international cooperation in theology needs experts who know that compromiso means something different in Spanish than in English, and experts who understand the cultural difference between the use of the word homosexuality in the West and in Africa, and whose explicit role it is to advise the others of those differences.

Sometimes it’s merely a matter of syntax, register and style – what sounds objective and matter of fact to one readership sounds threatening and domineering to another, but we should not underestimate those subliminal messages.

So you need qualified linguists to alert you to those differences and to write the material for their respective target readers so that all are getting the same basic idea. Then the theologians and policy makers can debate what they have been presented with, preferably with the linguists present to look at each interim report, communiqué, press release etc. to make sure that no additional avoidable misunderstandings have crept in.

The biggest conceit is that we think the meaning of our words ought to be obvious to everyone.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Erika, that last line says it all -- he greatest obstacle to communication is the assumption hat we already understand each other. Information theorists would say that unless you are telling something to someone that is new to them, it isn't information!

Brother David said...

Sometimes it’s merely a matter of syntax, register and style – what sounds objective and matter of fact to one readership sounds threatening and domineering to another, but we should not underestimate those subliminal messages.

You do not know how often that causes issues for me just posting comments in the Anglican blogs! Also in someplace as innocuous as the Apple Discussions where I assist folks with problems with their Mac computers.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Tone and register are particularly difficult: I think "scheme" is a good example of that problem. This is, of course, the problem with people who think Scripture or the 39 Articles have a simple "literal" sense: at the level of meaning, even the "literal" can create problems.

Marshall Scott said...

I find myself thinking of the Babel fish of Blessed Douglas Adams, which "by effectively removing all barriers to communication between different races and cultures, has caused more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of creation."

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Adams, God (or whatever) rest him, was a keen and wry observer of the human condition. Like Murphy, he may have been an optimist...

Closed said...

I think attaching an explanation of how we understand the Covenant is not a simple "yes" or "no". And hence, I think we'd be quite wise and deliberative to proceed in pieces or at the very least debate each part very carefully. As has been made clear in the comments here, the simplicity of answering one way or another is not so simple. How we receive, interpret, and even develop this document matters greatly. How our interpretation "means" to other Churches of the Communion also matters. We'd better get on explanations and debates now so that we can check them out with others.

Here is what actually bothers me, however, beyond the punitive intent and fearful heart that surrounded its inception. My objection is a theological and particularly, not surprisingly, christological one.

This Covenant is an acknowledgement of faithlessness, even apostasy, on our part. Strong words, I know. How so, you ask? It wants to imply and all but does that somehow we can be the source of our own unity through these means, even turning the 6 of Maurice or the 4 of Reed into ius or lex and things unto themselves rather than regula or guides and signs pointing to and binding us to one another in Him alone who is our source and life and unity at all. The overemphasis of the episcopate in such a way that it becomes more vicarial than representing is deadly. The diminishment of the Order of the Laity, Hooker's term for us, cuts against the heart of our reforms.

Ecclesiology is carefully decoupled from christology, from that to Whom we as the Body are meant to point the entire Creation. The Church becomes an inward and incestuous thing rather than the Living Body of the Living Lord "who fills up all things." Something other than Jesus in essence becomes central. And yet, we have neither ecclesiology, nor ontology outside of Him and His merits only. The Reformation is all but denied with its emphasis that all comes from Christ alone, making this Covenenant on the one-hand very Protestant and at the same time very Roman. Like the Evangelicals Maurice came to loathe, as did Ramsey long after, it devises a problem for us to be saved from, rather than start theologically, that is, christologically, from Him who first gives us any being at all.

The Covenant reminds me very much of the memorialism of Zwingli on the sacrament of Holy Communion or of the sacerdotalism of the Tractarians (think Pusey's explanation of Baptism or Neale's "Christ is Gone Up, Yet Ere He Passed") on the Sacraments. The Presence of Christ who is our actual bond and unity through His creating and redeeming and by us receiving Him in Holy Baptism either is something past or something contained as singular events rather than these being signs of the Presence of the Ascended Lord "who fills up all things." We huddle together in our cramped covenantal unity like the disciples after the crucifixion making schemes for ourselves like Lot's daughters, saying, "God has left us. Let us devise together our own way."

JCF said...

Long thread . . . but this goes back to the original entry---

On this, I passionately disagree w/ you, Tobias. If EVER there were a time to "Let our Yes be 'Yes', and our No be 'No'", THIS IS IT.

A Codacil?

That way lies . . . Protestantism!

You know, that religion in which the Apostles Creed gets turned into a 87-point "Statement of Faith" (i.e., Loyalty Oath!)

No, no, no: do NOT do that, TEC.

Let our Yes be "Yes", and our No be "No" (like you, I won't pre-judge which ought to be which---only that it be one or the other!)

A "Yes", with a Codacil (from TEC), will be treated as WORSE THAN a "No" (by the Usual Suspects).

There's nothing to be gained that way, and much integrity to be lost. OCICBW.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

JCF, I take your point, but my proposal about a codicil or table of definitions is simply to address the slippery meaning of many of the words and phrases in the document. I am not suggesting a point by point acceptance or rejection, but a clarification of what we think the Covenant means to us -- and I think we should do that even if it means we reject the Covenant. As with so many things in life, I don't think a "Just say No" approach is helpful.

Finally, I am not at all concerned about what the Usual Suspects will say. That kind of reactive thinking is, in my opinion, at the root of the problem. I do indeed think we ought to let our Yes be Yes or our No, No -- but also to be clear about what we are saying Yes or No to. I think much can be gained from this approach. Clarity of purpose and expression is important if we are to have meaningful dialogue -- and even if not!