In good Jesuit fashion, I have been trying over the last couple of years to think through the cost/benefit ratio presented by the Anglican Covenant, and the prospect of The Episcopal Church signing it. To put it bluntly, it seems to me that its only conceivable benefits correspond exactly to its costs. In response to the old legal question cui bono? a voice cries out, Nemo.
Let me be more specific: the two most widely cited benefits of the Anglican Covenant are, first, to be able to speak in ecumenical dialogues with a unified voice; and, second, to be able to avoid controversy through a mechanism designed to generate consensus. I submit that both of these urged (and related) goods come at the cost of equally weighty (and twinned) evils.
As far as ecumenical dialogue goes, there is already sufficient univocality in the Anglican Communion on issues of creed and doctrine. The same can be said for most of Christendom, with the exception of some churches’ parochial dogmas. As we all know it is primarily the form of church government that creates most divisions between churches, especially as to who is in charge. All current divisions within Anglicanism, largely over matters of pastoral or moral theology — ordination and marriage — are also present in the wider ecumenical sphere. What is more, a number of our active ecumenical (or even closer) partners tend to share TEC's more innovative position. The same can be said of the churches of Porvoo. Are they the Chopped Liver of Ecumenism?
But to get back to the cost/benefit: the only way to speak with a single voice on these very matters would be for the Communion to abandon its actual identity as a chorus of voices singing in parts, and put on the identity of a monophonic choir. Now, I enjoy Gregorian Chant as much as the next monk, but the Anglican Communion, in spite of the significant role Gregory played in its creation, isn’t really all that good at singing in unison (except on the minima hammered out in the Reformation and Elizabethan Settlement) but is rather good at polyphony, rich with the cultures of many nations and tongues. Is it worth giving up our actual richness in order to please — whom, exactly? And will it please them? And whom do we offend in the process, such as all of those ecumenical partners who are already actually working with us?
The second evil is related: as the process laid out in part four of the Anglican Covenant, however attenuated since its teeth were pulled from the text in the revision process, retains a subtext of coercion as a means to consensus — coming to agreement by attrition, picking off the voices in a parody of the Farewell Symphony. Again, we stand to lose the very richness and variety that form such a characteristic element in Anglican identity — particularly the freedom in matters of rites and ceremonies, which, the last time I looked, appears to cover ordination and marriage.
Is it worth replacing the full-course banquet that is Anglicanism with such a mess of pottage? In the long run, the question remains, What does it profit the Anglican Communion to become a whole-world-church at the cost of its soul?
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG