January 12, 2010

Tempus Fidget

We appear to be in a fidgety time of impatience regarding the Anglican Communion and its afterthought Covenant. The wealth of comments at Thinking Anglicans (to which I admit to having contributed) is one indication. To read some of the comments one would think the eschaton was round the next bend.

It is good to remember, however, that actual signing-on to the Covenant, in The Episcopal Church in any case, is some time away. There is ample opportunity both to reflect on the document and consider other provinces' reactions to it e're we in TEC adopt, seek to amend, or reject it.

For many, this ambiguous state will seem intolerable. The irascible antagonists will cry for immediate expulsion of TEC, or affirm their belief that TEC cannot sign; the anxious communionists will appeal for diocesan, parochial or even individual subscription; and somewhere in the middle the rest of us will try to read the actual document with care and set aside our knowledge of motives and aims, and address the Ecclesiopolitik of what it means to express a desire to remain in communion with some who don't want to be in communion with us.

It is a difficult state to be in. As Schrödinger's Cat was heard to mew from within her thought-experimental box: "This is not a super position to be in!"

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


Lionel Deimel said...

Setting aside our knowledge of motives and aims will be difficult, and perhaps unwise. The question of “what it means to express a desire to remain in communion with some who don’t want to be in communion with us,” however, is surely an important one. Can a church like that of Uganda conscientiously sign on to the covenant knowing that they are already “out of communion” with The Episcopal Church?

Although we are told that the covenant is intended to deal with future conflicts, does anyone not believe that certain churches would immediately lodge a complaint against The Episcopal Church should our church be foolish enough to adopt this covenant?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Reposting after finding so many typos! I really must proofread more carefully...

Lionel, I did not mean to suggest that setting aside our knowledge of motives and aims meant forgetting them completely. However, at this point, they are irrelevant to how the Covenant will actually be employed by those who agree to try it. The Covenant simply is not what the angry exclusionists wanted it to be, hoped it would be -- even if they continue to try to put a bold face on it. Note Moses Tay's dismissal of the final draft, for example.

As to Uganda, that is their decision. I think they are unlikely to sign, given their wish for a "strong" Covenant with sharp teeth, even more particularly if TEC does sign on. But that is their decision. We are only responsible for our decisions. The question for us is, are we willing to be in communion with them if they do express such a reciprocal willingness, repenting of their former ways, and agreeing to engage in mutual listening?

As to a complaint being lodged, if and when that happens will be the time to address it, making use of the processes outlined in the Covenant. As I say, this is several years off at the earliest. Much can and will change between now and then. I see no reason to be anxious at this point.

After all, ask yourself: what is the worst that could happen in such a case? Is it any worse than the worst that might happen if we don't sign the Covenant? Just what is there to fear in the Covenant after all -- other than the fear that we will in the process of covenanting forsake our commitments to our own people, and kowtow to the kakangelists in the communion. That is a very real concern, and I've made it clear that I don't believe this follows. We can and should act forthrightly, with willingness to engage our critics, without backing down. We are a member province of the Anglican Communion (we made a great mistake in withdrawing our reps to the ACC, by the way -- a foolish, cowardly move that makes no sense morally or practically.) Let us instead stand up for our beliefs and our witness, and accept what consequences may come.

However, even now I would rather not take such a consequentialist and anxious approach, but simply look at the Covenant as it is, perhaps treating it as better than it is, and expressing our willingness to remain in communion while not compromising our provincial autonomy. If others don't like that, that is their problem. As Erika pointed out in a comment on the previous post, we are called to act as adults. Calm, clear truth-telling will lie at the heart of that. As with the current mutual listening process, it is not about conversion and conquest, but respect. We have no reason to turn tale and run away just because a few provinces of the communion don't want us around any more. I refuse to give them that satisfaction.

Lionel Deimel said...


There are reasons other than substantive ones and fear of retribution to make one dislike the covenant. It is, I submit, the obvious product of a committee. As such, it is, in many places, simply badly written. It is often ambiguous or simply incomprehensible. It is sad that this is the best that the spiritual descendants of Thomas Cranmer can do.

Brother David said...

Speaking of cats, you have not regaled us with posts of HRH of late.

-frank said...

Much about events that I have read in the last several years regarding the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion can be aptly described as 'turning tales'.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Lionel, I'm well aware of the Covenant's deficiencies. But I would rather choose "fight" than "flight" as a response. I think we have the time to push back; even to say, as GC, "We can accept A B and C, but unless X Y and Z are not amended the Episcopal Church will not join in this Covenant." We simply do not have to be bullied into submission if we do not choose to be. If we end up not signing, let it be clear that it is because of the Covenant's insufficiencies, not out of "fear of consequences" -- which is what I am mostly hearing as I review the responses ("We'll get expelled"; "it is about punishing TEC"; etc.) Let's name the real problems with the Covenant, and set the model for the discussion. This is about leadership, to my mind. TEC has for far too long been "hooked" as the naughty child, and it is past time to say, No.

Dahveed... she is currently engaged, but I'm sure we will have a visit e're long...

Frank, thereby hands a tale!

Anglocat said...


I agree that "flight" is the wrong response. I believe, however, that "fight" means not signing this Covenant. Within two days of TEC's ratification, we will be up on "charges."

Don't sign, don't leave. The AC relegates us to second tier status? That's their decision. We simply do not fund any AC activities. Let 'em have a garage sale for Lambeth 2018.

Fr Craig said...

"what is the worst that could happen in such a case? Is it any worse than the worst that might happen if we don't sign the Covenant? Just what is there to fear in the Covenant after all -"

I agree, TH. I hope we don't sign it, but if we do and action is taken against us - so what? It will have no effect on TEC's mission and ministry (other than, one supposes, to save us a ton of money that would otherwise have gone to support AC...)

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks again, A.C., and Fr Craig -- that's what I'm getting at. The fact is (and most Anglicans know it) TEC is central to the work and identity of the Anglican Communion. We should not give in either to false humility (tho real humility is always good!) nor to the P.R. about the "growth" of the church elsewhere -- is it healthy growth? I think we should seek to stay engaged, without compromise, until we are told we are no longer welcome. And if that happens, then will be the time to shake the dust from our heels and move on.

WSJM said...

I remember becoming aware of the Anglican Communion as a youngster and a young man. We loved C. S. Lewis (he was "one of us"). I had the privilege to meet, while they were "on tour" in the US at various times, Archbishop of Cape Town Joost de Blank, Bishop of Johannesburg Ambrose Reeves, and Mission Priest at Sophiatown Trevor Huddleston CR (later Bishop of various sees), back in the days of apartheid. I gained a wonderful sense of God's blessings on and in the Anglican Communion. I remember the Anglican Congress in Toronto in 1963 that gave us the vision of MRI (no, not that MRI!) and resulted in networks of "companion dioceses." My own diocese has a long-standing three-way companion-diocese relationship with a diocese in the Scottish Episcopal Church and with one in the Anglican Church of Southern Africa. I understand we are developing one with a new diocese in the Episcopal Church of Sudan whose first bishop did some graduate study in Iowa.

These are all wonderful relationships. Do they depend upon whether or not any of us have acceded to the document called the "Anglican Covenant"? I don't think so. Do we all agree with everything our partners say or do? Not everything; but we are still partners in mission. Are not relationships like these what the Anglican Communion is really about? I think so.

I am not in favor of the Anglican Covenant. I think it's unnecessary and has the potential for much mischief. I post Lionel's "No" poster on my own blog. But I think you are right, Tobias -- it cuts both ways, should it (God forbid) come to that. Are there Churches in the Anglican Communion who disapprove of, or are even enraged by, things The Episcopal Church has said and done? Apparently so. Are there things that other Churches have said or done that we in The Episcopal Church disapprove of, and may even be enraged by? (Not to mention any names....) In a true covenant we would all agree: "Let's just not go there."

MarkBrunson said...

The Covenant is a sow's ear, and you cannot make a silk purse out of it by pretending it can be used so.

The whole stated purpose of the Covenant is to bind us. If we go in and sign with the attitude "So what if they do x?" then we have lied. To do that is to kill a little of our own souls. If we are not serious about the de facto purpose of this covenant, which is to corral all of "anglicanism" into a narrow neo-con understanding of Christianity, then we will have lied by signing it, whether we choose to call it prevarication, dissembling, diplomacy or even charity. We will have lied, and that is more than ample reason to refuse to sign it.

If it is signed, then it will be a clear signal, to those inside and out of TEC that our bishops, deputies and clergy tell us one thing and mean another.

That, Tobias, is why it must not be signed. There's no subtlety to be parsed out here beyond the subtleties of the outcome of dishonesty.

Wrong is wrong.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Mark, I see your point, but I have to disagree as to your reading of the Covenant as it now stands. While it is true that Gomez and Radner among others had clear motives in crafting the document, the feedback process has removed virtually all of the "sting." Radner and the ACI are still spinning the text as if it were unchanged, but there is no reason to believe them.

They are spinning this way specifically as a last ditch effort to scare TEC from signing. They know the reality of the communion -- that even at ACC-13 the vote would not have gone as it did had TEC not foolishly abstained. The majority of the Provinces of the Communion simply do not want to expel TEC -- that is the fact on the ground that the angry exclusionists do not want us to pay attention to. The Covenant as it now is proposed is about a way forward, not about reliving the controversies of the past.

This is not about dishonesty or dissembling, and I'm beginning to resent your accusations along that line. Rather, it is about complete honesty. With very few quibbles (such as a reference to the 1662 BCP and the Articles of Religion -- now relegated to a footnote) there is little to object to in the Covenant text, as far as a "neo-con" view is concerned. In fact, all the stuff dearest to the neo-cons has been removed or nuanced (remember how they howled at the inclusion of the phrase "cultural context" in relation to Scripture when it was added to the Ridley draft? It's still there! -- which is why a number of them have already turned their backs on, or at least sideways to, the Covenant.

I am not saying we should definitely sign, by the way. What I am saying is that we have the time to look at this whole question, gauge the reactions of other provinces, and so on, before this comes to General Convention in 2012. I may or may not be a Deputy at that point (I am planning on running, but have no guarantee of election.) Canada will be considering the document later this year. I think it will come to the C of E soon, too -- and how it fares there will be determinative to the extent that if it is not adopted by England it is dead. Their reflections and reactions will be illuminating.

So there is no rush to say, "We won't sign!"

Lionel Deimel said...

Some “quibbles” have, I think, the potential to work mischief. Consider, for example: [1.1 Each Church affirms:] (1.1.3) the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as containing all things necessary for salvation and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith. This is taken from the Lambeth version of the Quadrilateral, not the Chicago version. What, exactly, does rule and ultimate standard of faith mean? Some will use this to insist on uniformly literalist interpretation of scripture.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Lionel, I think this is a good example. ¶1.1.3 is about the sufficiency of Scripture as understood in Anglicanism -- that is, nothing can be required as a matter of faith that cannot be proved from Scripture. This is what is meant by "rule and ultimate standard of faith." As to the content of that faith itself, one needs to refer to the previous and following clauses ¶1.1.2 and 4 where it is made clear that the content or substance of the faith resides in the Creeds. Thus this is not a "sola scriptura" fundamentalism, but classical Anglicanism; which, in fact, I see as our bulwark against the fundamentalists.

This clause will certainly open discussions, but I think we would have to go very far afield to find any "mischief" flowing from it. I am, to be frank, more concerned about the language in 1.2.2 than 1.1.2, but even that is an area for discussion and exploration.

Marshall Scott said...

Tobias, apropos your next post, this is something that might be further defined by a codicil - or, perhaps by a reference to the resolution on interfaith conversations that we passed this Convention.

Lionel, recall that our bishops signed off, if you will, on the Lambeth language after creating their own in Chicago. Do we want to explore that sort of division within something that we think everyone should affirm?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Marshall. In addition (and perhaps this was percolating in my brain as I was thinking about the "signing statement" or codicil approach), TEC actually did act on the LQ in 1982, in this form:

Resolution A-47A, 1982
Resolved, the H of D concurring, That the 67th General Convention of the Episcopal Church reaffirm the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral as found on pages 876-878 of the BCP as a statement of basic principles which express our own unity, and as a statement of essential principles for organic unity with other churches, and affirm the following as an explication of that basic document without denying anything contained therein: that

1) The Holy Scriptures of the O and NT are the word of God as they are witness to God's action in Jesus Christ and the continuing presence of his Holy Spirit in the Church, that they are the authoritative norm for catholic faith in Jesus Christ and for the doctrinal and moral tradition of the Gospel, and that they contain all things necessary for salvation.

2) The Apostles' and Nicene Creeds are the forms through which the Christian Church, early in its history under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, understood, interpreted and expressed its faith in the Triune God. The continuing doctrinal tradition is the form through which the Church seeks to understand, interpret and express its faith in continuity with these ancient creeds and in its awareness of the world to which the Word of God must be preached.

3)The Church is the sacrament of God's presence to the world and the sign of the Kingdom for which we hope. That presence and hope are made active and real in the Church and in individual lives of Christian men and women through the preaching of the Word of God, through the Gospel sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist, as well as other sacramental rites, and through our apostolate to the world in order that it may become the Kingdom of our God and of his Christ.

4) Apostolicity is evidenced by continuity with the teaching, the ministry, and the mission of the apostles. Apostolic teaching must, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, be founded upon the Holy Scriptures and the ancient fathers and creeds, making its proclamation of Jesus Christ and his Gospel for each new age consistent with those sources, not merely reproducing them in a transmission of verbal identity. Apostolic ministry exists to promote, safeguard and serve apostolic teaching. All Christians are called to this ministry by their Baptism. In order to serve, lead, and enable this ministry, some are set apart and ordained in historic orders of Bishop, Presbyter, and Deacon. We understand the historic episcopate as central to this apostolic ministry and essential to the reunion of the Church, even as we acknowledge "the spiritual reality of the ministries of those Communions which do not possess the Episcopate" (Lambeth Appeal 1920, Section 7). Apostolic mission is itself a succession of apostolic teaching and ministry inherited from the past and carried into the present and future. Bishops in apostolic succession are, therefore, the focus and personal symbols of this inheritance and mission as they preach and teach the Gospel and summon the people of God to their mission of worship and service. And be it further

Resolved, the HD concurring, That this 67th General Convention commend to the Anglican Consultative Council this commentary as an explication of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral to guide this Church in its ecumenical dialogues.

MarkBrunson said...

I am sorry that you feel such resentment, Tobias.

For my part, I resent being asked to participate in what can only become a magisterium and serves the ambition and goals of a few people. I resent the implication that - somehow - because this is "church," it is going to all work out just fine because everybody really is "just being honest." I resent being made to feel that - somehow - those of us who believe that ends cannot necessarily justify means are defective.

But, you're point is taken, as well. I won't bother you again.

MarkBrunson said...


I apologize for my over-emotional response, but I can't respond otherwise where this "covenant" is concerned.

It's frustrating. I can't argue logically enough about my opposition to it, because I don't have a textbook point to begin from. I can give you all the symptoms, but can't sum up why this is a disease.

This is because what I have is a feeling, a conviction, that this "covenant" is an instrument of evil. True evil. And I have the experience to know that I ignore and discount such convictions at great peril.

I'm tired of being the blogosphere's Cassandra, but I can't give up, though I really, really want to. All I can tell you is that signing this covenant will be a disastrous thing.

There. I've put it out there, and I'll be dismissed as a nutcase, but it's the only appeal I have left.

Don't let us do this!

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Mark, I understand your frustration, and to a large extent share it. I have from the beginning said I think the Covenant is a bad idea. However, there it is. I do not think we can simply walk away from it -- I think we need to take Jesus' example and "pass through the midst of it." I agree so far as to say I think it possible that the Covenant could be an instrument of evil -- I used the word "Satanic" in another post.

That being said, my concern is that if we walk away at this stage we are sealing our fate and in the long run creating more problems for ourselves down the road. We have not, at this point, had any formal discussion of the Covenant as it now stands, and I think we need to do that before we make any decision about whether or not to sign -- which won't happen until 2012 in any case. My recent thinking about composing a "signing statement" -- the process of which might allow us to see why we ought not sign, seems to me to be a positive way forward. To use another analogy, I think condom distribution is more effective than "abstinence only."