November 16, 2010

UFO Sighting

No, not that kind of UFO. This is more a Unifying Fright Obliterator, in the person of Canon Alyson Barnett-Cowan, Director for Unity Faith and Order at the Anglican Communion Office. The "fright" she is seeking to address is the negative reaction to the proposed Anglican Covenant. She proposes we need a "fair and accurate" debate — a phrase which for some Americans will be a bit too reminiscent of the "fair and balanced" news reporting provided by the Fox network.

I cannot criticize her suggestion that people read the text of the Covenant itself. But I have to say I find her characterizations of the Covenant to be merely the most optimistic reading of a perilously ambiguous text. Having been brought up on a "hermeneutic of suspicion" I have long believed that legal texts need to be read in the light of the worst, not the best, that could happen.

Let me give just one example. Canon Alyson says

Some critics in the Church of England have suggested that Provinces would become subordinate to the judgements of the Standing Committee. This is not true. The Covenant explicitly says in section (4.1.3): “Such mutual commitment does not represent submission to any external ecclesiastical jurisdiction. Nothing in this Covenant of itself shall be deemed to alter any provision of the Constitution and Canons of any Church of the Communion, or to limit its autonomy of governance. The Covenant does not grant to any one Church or any agency of the Communion control or direction over any Church of the Anglican Communion.”
This is, of course, true as far as it goes. It hinges on what one means by "subordinate." Provinces will not be forced to submit to any external jurisdiction, nor to alter their practice, nor come to a better mind about decisions they have taken. But the lack of control does not mean there is a lack of pressure in terms of "relational consequences." As the Canon puts it, rather too delicately to my way of thinking,
In a globalised world, it is no longer possible (if it ever was) for one church to act entirely for itself; decisions have ramifications, and the intention is for these to be explored together.
She also notes,
The Standing Committee... is made up of elected Primates and elected members from the Anglican Consultative Council and it co-ordinates work in the Communion. Regarding the Covenant, it would have the role of monitoring developments and has no power other than proposing to the Instruments of Communion (the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meeting) steps to be taken to encourage discussion and discernment about disputed questions among the Provinces, or, if processes of mediation have broken down, what the relational consequences might be.
First, let me note how much this reminds me of the plausible deniability in which the Inquisition cloaked itself when it truthfully claimed to kill no one — that onerous task was carried out by "the secular arm." But that leaves me to be open to a kind of antique version of Godwin's Law, so let that pass.

More importantly, there are those "relational consequences" again. There are "ramifications," there are "consequences" to not accepting the discernment of the Standing Committee and its advice to the Instruments. And what might those be? Well, let's take the Canon's advice and look to the text:
(4.2.5)   The Standing Committee may request a Church to defer a controversial action. If a Church declines to defer such action, the Standing Committee may recommend to any Instrument of Communion relational consequences which may specify a provisional limitation of participation in, or suspension from, that Instrument until the completion of the process set out below.
The only "process set out below" consists of the following:
(4.2.6)  On the basis of advice received from the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meeting, the Standing Committee may make a declaration that an action or decision is or would be “incompatible with the Covenant”.
(4.2.7)  On the basis of the advice received, the Standing Committee shall make recommendations as to relational consequences which flow from an action incompatible with the Covenant. These recommendations may be addressed to the Churches of the Anglican Communion or to the Instruments of the Communion and address the extent to which the decision of any covenanting Church impairs or limits the communion between that Church and the other Churches of the Communion, and the practical consequences of such impairment or limitation. Each Church or each Instrument shall determine whether or not to accept such recommendations.
So the Standing Committee clearly does more than merely "monitor" as the Canon puts it. It reaches decisions and makes declarations, and passes on recommendations for action to those empowered to act on them. But from a legal standpoint, at this point there is a complete lack of "sentencing guidelines." The Standing Committee is, all other claims to the contrary notwithstanding, empowered to make a "declaration" of incompatibility with the Covenant, and to recommend undefined consequences. But if provisional limitation or suspension from participation in one or more of the Instruments can result from the mere indictment of incompatibility, what will the sentence on conviction be?

What sense, after all, does it make to turn an ad hoc impairment in communion into something that looks very much like an institutional severance in communion? Since participation in the Instruments is at least in part definitive for membership and participation in the Anglican Commuion, and as the Covenant declares as well, the means by which the members "are enabled to be conformed together to the mind of Christ" (3.1.2), anything remotely resembling permanent suspension by or from those Instruments as a "relational consequence" seems to indicate a serious and debilitating breach in the Anglican Communion and the body of Christ. And the Covenant provides a mechanism to promote it, and little in the way of helping to prevent it. It is the schema for an autoimmune disease in the Body of Christ.

This is a Bad Idea. Please, England, put it down.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


WSJM said...

Yes, my child, you are an adult and you may do whatever seems good to you. But if I don't like it I will disinherit you.

Well, at least we know what kind of a family the Anglican "Communion" may become.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Was there ever a sepulcher more in need of whitewash?

June Butler said...

The Anglican Communion's Department of Unity Faith and Order resembles more and more the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of the Roman Catholic Church, which, of course, began life as the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition. Perhaps, as Tobias suggests, the comparison is odious, but whence came the power of whomever to remove the members of the Episcopal Church from the ecumenical councils in which members of the WWAC are presently engaged?

Apparently, no one in the ACO detects the irony (or hypocrisy?) that other denominations with whom the AC engages in conversation permit partnered gay clergy and bishops, but members of the councils from TEC are not allowed to participate in the discussions.

What am I missing?

Muthah+ said...

Thank you Rev. Sir!

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

I find the phrase about "relational consequences" pure Gestapo dentist. It seems to rather simplfy the reality of relationships.

Let's take a presently uncontroversial subject about which there is rather more in the Bible than hoosexuality.

Imagine one diocese renounces slavery in the US, 1850. This will play out rather well relationally with Yankee liberals and Southern slaves, presumably. But rather worse with the slave owners (South) and disappointed would-be slave owners (North). People who believe slavery is in the bible and commanded by God will want to walk separately, whilst the few abolitionists in antebellum Southern States will be delighted.

A perfectly average Comittee of 15 primates meet. Which relational consequences will they privilege, and how, and on what grounds? Does it rather depend on which 15? When their obiter dicta are delivered, what about the minorities who have been found to be in breach of the covenant (even though they didn't by definition know they were when they didn't because they couldn't have because the committtee of 15 hadn't yet discussed the matter, assuming their judgment was right when they did.)

I'm massively confused.

June Butler said...

Tobias, in my previous comment, I asked a question to which I now believe I have the answer. It was Kenneth Kearon who removed the TEC people from the ecumenical councils, and he had the right to do so, as he acted with the blessing of the ABC, who appoints members to the councils.

Of course, I could be wrong.

JCF said...

When I first read her "Covenant Communion MIGHT not have prevented OOW", I was gobsmacked by her underwhelming reassurance.

...but is it possible that (subversively) that was her intention? ["Damning With Faint Praise" and all that? O_o]

Paul said...

This whole discussion reminds me of another Biblical narrative, that of the Amphictyonic period. The Hebrews had no King, because their only King was God. But the Hebrews wanted a King, because everyone else had a King. So they appealed to the prophet (Samuel?) who tried to talk them out of it. You are going to regret this, he said. You don't know what you are in for, he said. But the people insisted. They wanted to be like all the other nations in the region. So they got their King, Saul. That didn't work out so well.

I think we are dealing with a number of primates who want their own pope. Personally, I don't have the slightest envy for the Roman system. I think the amphictyonic structure of the original Anglican Communion was just fine.

SCG said...

I read her statement and sighed heavily. I have read the text, and read it again, and read it a third time. The sections you highlight are the ones that concern me the most. And I'm growing weary of the counter-argument being either name-calling or poo-pooing our concerns by saying it doesn't say what it says. Has George Orwell been writing the script from the Great Beyond?

Frank Remkiewicz aka “Tree” said...

To quote a famous poet of our times:
"Ya don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows."

Marshall Scott said...

I took the good Canon's admonition and looked again at that Covenant as proposed. When I did, I realized that there is no automatic relationship between being a church of the Anglican Communion and a signatory church of the Covenant. It's not really two tiers, but two bodies, one new and one old, with some (perhaps a lot of) overlap.

One way or another, it's more confused than she suggests. that confusion should make it harder for any church, including the Episcopal Church or the Church of England, to sign on.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks for all the comments. I've been so busy scribbling new thoughts I've had little time to respond.

Mimi, so true. We have fine full communion relationships with Lutherans and Moravians -- why are our own siblings so much more troublesome or troubled?

Muthah, yr welcome!

Bp Alan, I love the image. You hit on a crucial irony -- it's all about relationships, but it's the relationships that will suffer, or be the leverage. Manipulation, and toxicity come to mind! Do they study Family Systems in the C of E -- US clergy have to do an intensive course prior to ordination, in a clinical pastoral setting such as a hospital or prison. Actually your scenario about slavery is just about right: TEC prior to the Civil War, judiciously avoided taking a position to keep the peace, and it was only the actual outbreak of war that forced the unwilling creation of a new "national church" for the new "nation" (not recognized in the Union as such, so the bishops names were still read at role-call!)

JCF, I've commented on that strange notion in a later post. OoW would not have happened -- and hasn't she noticed that OoW2Episcopate hasn't happened!?!

Paul, a great image. Carry on, Samuel!

SCG, don't you know that war is peace?

Fred, it seems to be blowing hot and cold about now...

Marshall, yes. This is one of the strangest identity crises in the Covenant. It makes no sense whatsoever except as providing a kind of special "club" or "inner circle" for those who want "enhanced communion" quite apart from the Anglican Communion. It is madness, and Pharisaic madness, at that!