December 2, 2010

Covenant Genetics

There is a legal fiction (or perhaps illegal fiction) at work in so much of the discussion surrounding the Anglican Covenant Process. The fiction is that the Covenant is not about specific issues, but is intended to provide a way to deal with issues of disagreement as they arise. (A description far better applied to the Continuing Indaba and Mutual Listening Process.)

The problem is that the Covenant sprouts in lineal descent from the Windsor Report which just might have been used as a beginning of a neutral process had it not fatally "specified" itself as really being about gay bishops, same-sex blessings, and border-crossings, by calling for moratoria on these three doings. These "issues" became part of the genome of the Covenant Process, and have passed along to all of the descendants, even though not "expressed" in the phenotype. The Covenant appears to be a generic tool, but everyone knows it was created to deal with a particular set of problems. (That it has been attenuated, due to ecclesiastical environmental effects, in its ability to deal with those problems to the satisfaction of some of its progenitors only makes for more confusion. Some of them are prepared, upon its adoption, to do some quick therapeutic adjustments to encourage the expression of the suppressed genes.)

In the meantime, it is perfectly possible for the Archbishop of Canterbury to allow no butter to soften in his mouth, and plausibly to deny that the text of the Covenant says anything at all about punitive measures, and so on; but the process that has informed the Covenant is rife with calls for discipline, either the self-discipline of restraint or the heteronomous discipline of "relational consequences." The bad seed is there, and it will breed true in bearing bitter fruit.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


Fr. J said...

Your mention of the Windsor moratoria raises an interesting question. What is your opinion of "cross border interventions?" I don't mean here the specific situations in which parishes or dioceses attempt to leave with their property, but rather the general idea of there being more than one Anglican province inhabiting the same territory?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Interesting question, Fr. J. As a "catholic Christian" I think it is a poor witness to have overlapping jurisdictions of churches that are in communion with each other -- this is a scandal about which the Eastern Orthodox in America have been aware of for years, tolerating the anomaly (and clear violation of the Ecumenical Canons!) because of linguistic and cultural diversity. There has been consistent pressure in the E.O. community towards rectifying this situation as the various congregants move towards use of English, but it is a slow go.

For the same reason an overlap might be permissible in an Anglican Context -- to accommodate language differences. However, there appears to be no other good reason to have overlapping jurisdictions of provinces that are in communion with each other. The one place this still exists as a kind of historical artifact -- Europe -- is slowly working towards a unified solution, upon which Bp Whalon has expounded with some energy when folks point to Europe as a model for the very anomaly they are actively seeking to remedy.

But, of course, your question is only touched off by Windsor, and the actual issue it addresses, "parishes or dioceses attempt[ing] to leave with their property." That is an entirely different matter, as it is based on a purported or declared lack of Communion. I have no objection at all to churches not in communion with each other having overlapping jurisdictions, as long as they respect the canon and civil law! The question remains as to what extent such different bodies declared not to be in Communion are in fact "Anglican" -- and if they are, they shouldn't overlap, to my way of thinking. IF they aren't, well, God bless them and prosper their work, so long as they do so in accord with the law of church and state.

June Butler said...

What is it besides ordaining gay bishops, blessing same-sex relationships, and crossing borders that we must not do in order to avoid being called to account by a member of another province? We don't know, do we? As I read the terms of the covenant, any action or change by any member church is subject to objection by any other church. The covenant is truly a daft document. The signers of the covenant will be bound by rules without even knowing what the rules are. Or am I missing something?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Mimi. You are striking at the "ontological" problem with the Covenant, while I'm addressing the "practical" here: that the covenant process itself is tainted with a "majority" view not shared by a significant minority.

I share your ontological concern: it is not possible to "agree never to disagree"; and setting up a pre-nuptial arrangement for dealing with disagreements by "relational consequences" is not worthy of the name "covenant." A worthy covenant would replace section 4 (and bits of the rest, too) with a commitment "never to allow any disagreements to lead to a severance of communion or any other consequences to the covenanted relationship." The short message is in this maxim: "It is never possible not to give offense; but it is always possible not to take offense." In short, it is always possible to forgive, in the manner of Christ, even those who do not think or know they need forgiveness. It is possible not to insist that all do as I do, or think as I think. This is the way of Christ -- and it is not the one chosen by the Covenant.

June Butler said...

Those of us who followed the story, know the source of the covenant. I tend to take for granted that more people know the story than actually do. And the story gets ever longer with more and more twists and turns.

I've asked my bishop to arrange a meeting to discuss the covenant. He is considering the matter and may suggest taking up the discussion at our diocesan convention. He believes that not many in the diocese are interested in or even aware of the covenant and the controversy surrounding it, and he's right. I may be the point man(sic) to speak against the covenant if the discussion ever takes place, and I'd have to make my case in a few words in a rather short period of time.

For that reason, I look for ways to get to the heart of the matter and find a hook for those who are uninformed or on the fence to grab onto and oppose the covenant. And sometimes I despair of finding that way. That's a partial explanation for why I wander off topic at times.

As for butter not melting in the ABC's mouth as he attempts to soothe us and make us believe there is nothing punitive about the covenant, my thoughts are better kept to myself.