May 30, 2011

Two Children, Both Boys

(in keeping with the Visitation)

Saint John was a precocious child; a womb-
borne prophet, quickening as his Lord came by
—Mary bearing Jesus standing nigh—
Leaping up with hardly any room.

Two very different boys: the first was born
just after summer’s sun stopped in the north;
the other, as the sun stood south, borne forth
into a winter world cold and forlorn.

The barn is cold; the animals stand round,
and shepherds kneel, adoring what they’ve found.
There; listen! You can hear it if you try—
the newborn John, his first breath in a cry
—a prophet's cry of joy, and not of fear—
salutes his Lord from half-way round the year.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Thought for 05.30.11

Primus inter pares — “first among equals” — is, as a term, an oxymoron that appears to convey meaning but which is a logical contradiction. In reality it is an absurdity and an impossibility. Instead of “first among equals” the Archbishop of Canterbury — or, let’s face it, any bishop or cleric — should be “last of all and servant of all.”

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
h/t to Mimi for the inspiration!

May 27, 2011

Posthumous Rooftop Shout

The Guardian’s revelations of the late Colin Slee's observations about leaks and tantrums and tears in the English Episcopal Appointment Process is almost old news at this point, but I do have some thoughts.

The reported behavior of the Primates reminds me of Basil Fawlty, whose leadership style was evident when he said, “You people swan in here expecting to be waited on hand and foot! Well I'm trying to run a hotel!!!” Or the unnamed staff person at an unnamed seminary who complained that it actually cost the institution over $10K per student over what they took in, and if only they could get rid of the students they'd have a perfectly solvent school.

This is the sort of Institutional Blindness we see far too often. The purported good of the many comes to outweigh the actual good of the few, and in the long run no one is either well served or well taught. But the Institution, ah! the blessed Institution, slouches on towards its Byzantine goal, quite the opposite direction from Bethlehem of Judea.

Let us remember a simple truth: Institutional Unity is a false God to whom quite enough sacrifices have been made to satisfy even the most jealous god. As it is an idol, it cannot even appreciate the offering, so much as to mumble a "thank you" or a "not enough."

When the idol in question is a church or communion, how much the worse. It might just be barely comprehensible in a church that completely identified its sectarian self with the sole body of Christ on earth -- if there is such a beast -- but for Anglicans?! How soon we forget that the motto of the Anglican Communion is blazoned round the compasrose as “ἡ ἀλήθεια ἐλευθερώσει ὑμᾶς.” They really ought to have spelled it out in plain English: "The truth shall make you free."

In the one conversation I had with Rowan I told him, in spite of his fears that allowing Jeffrey John to go forward might mean a walk-out of half the bishops, that the Truth might liberate the real power of the Spirit. As I put it at the time, “What would happen; what wave of opportunities for new ministry might break forth across the Anglican Communion if we were to take off our masks — all of us? What would happen if we were to be set free by truth for Truth? I am reminded of the eponymous line from CS Lewis’s great novel, ‘How can we truly know and love each other face-to-face, until we have faces?’”

Since then, however I'd come to imagine Rowan, painfully shackled as he is by his own idolatrous bondage to the false god of Institutional Unity, saying to TEC and C of E leadership, "I have betrayed my conscience and my friends for the sake of unity, and I don't see why you bloody well shouldn't do the same!"

Thus, the Slee memo comes not as a surprise, but a confirmation.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

May 26, 2011

Thought for 05.26.11

There is a huge difference between a hermeneutic of suspicion and a veil of suspicion. The former brings clarity, the latter confusion. The former exposes a hidden reality, the latter cloaks it further. One seeks honestly better to understand, perhaps to exculpate, the latter further to project, and further implicate.

This marks, in part, the difference between investigative and yellow journalism.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

May 23, 2011

With What Do You Test the Touchstone?

A major concern I continue to have in the whole Covenant process is that it seems the individual provinces are becoming (and we are no exception) closed in on their own reactions to the Covenant. There is a kind of silent auction going on, in which no one really knows what anyone is bidding until they open the envelope, if I can provide an image.

This leads me to wonder — I'm thinking out loud here as I so often do — if we don't need more time to engage in more dialogue with our current communion partners, a step in the process that seems to be missing from the start: we had individual feedback to the various drafts from provinces, now individual adoption/subscription/accession by the same. Why isn't there more talk about this across provincial boundaries, at least regionally? It seems odd to adopt a document that is supposed to be about wider consultation before taking action, before engaging in wider consultation before taking action, no?

Maybe what we need to say at General Convention is that TEC is still considering and "in process" about the Covenant, but that we want to consult more widely with our Communion partners, rather than simply adopting. This is in itself a "Covenant Principle" — as each province commits itself

to spend time with openness and patience in matters of theological debate and reflection, to listen, pray and study with one another in order to discern the will of God... (3.2.3)

to seek a shared mind with other Churches, through the Communion's councils, about matters of common concern... (3.2.4)

to act with diligence, care and caution in respect of any action which may provoke controversy, which by its intensity, substance or extent could threaten the unity of the Communion and the effectiveness or credibility of its mission. (3.2.5)
Shouldn't we be testing the Covenant by means the Covenant suggests?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

May 21, 2011

Still Thinking

I want to take this opportunity to clarify a few things about where I stand on the proposed Anglican Covenant.

First of all, all appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, I have not made up my mind about whether I will vote for or against adoption at General Convention in 2012. Not only will much depend upon the wording of the actual resolution or resolutions upon which the Convention is called to vote, but I am still keeping an open mind and am listening to all of the arguments pro and con. Unlike some of my friends who have been for some time dead set against the proposed Covenant, or perhaps any covenant at all, I do not believe that some form of regulation for the interprovincial affairs of the Anglican Communion must be taken off the table as somehow inherently un-Anglican.

Some of my friends who oppose the Covenant appear to me to be arguing what I would call a “genetic fallacy.” That is to say, the Anglican Covenant is tainted due to its origins in efforts to coerce or punish the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada for having done those things they ought not to have done.

While there is no denying the origins, this view does not appear to me to take account of the actual process by which we have arrived at the current text. Contrary to the assertions of some, the “authors” of the text were not all of a common mind regarding either coercion or punishment, even from the beginning. Each of the drafts of the document (apart from the last) were widely submitted for conversation and amendment. More importantly, the editorial committee took heed of the feedback from across the Communion and made significant alterations as the final document was developed.

From my perspective, almost everything I found objectionable in the original document and earlier drafts has been deleted or amended in a more positive direction. Nothing that I find objectionable has been added or introduced. I consider that the trajectory of the document is more important than its origins. That the document has been disowned by some of its originators (and others who wished to see it amended in a more coercive or punitive direction) supplements my sense that the document has greatly improved in the direction I favor.

I freely admit that I do not think the proposed Covenant is perfect. Few works by committee ever are. But the document itself is open for further amendment by those who choose to subscribe to it. As I have noted elsewhere, just as some of the signatories to the U.S. Constitution were not entirely happy with it but subscribed to it with the understanding that a Bill of Rights might soon be attached, so too the proposed Covenant remains open to further improvement — but only by those who subscribe to it. This is not, by the way, similar to marrying someone with the idea of changing them to be more to one’s liking. While some may foolishly hope for that in their marriage, it is not a part of the marriage covenant. It is a part of the Anglican Covenant.

As I say, I have been attending to the arguments pro and contra. Let me examine a few of the negative arguments. For example, it is asserted that the proposed Covenant gives new powers to the four so-called Instruments of Communion. By my reading, this is plainly false. On the contrary, the proposed Covenant lays out the roles and functions of these instruments, for the first time in Anglican history, in a document to which the provinces can actually subscribe. In the past, the Anglican Communion’s ill defined entities have functioned with little or no formal agreement binding their activities. This has allowed, for example, the Lambeth Conference to drift from its original consultative function into operating as a quasi-doctrinal body that could render decisions on the “mind of the Communion.” The present text of the Anglican Covenant restricts the Lambeth Conference to its original role. It similarly limits of functions of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Anglican Consultative Council, and the Primates’ Meeting. Should any of these bodies at any future time overstep their competence (as they have in the past) the Covenant gives grounds to call them to account. This in itself is a reason to subscribe.

Others opposing the Covenant apply an essentially fatalist vision for the future in which TEC (and presumably ACoC) will almost assuredly be tossed out or relegated to some kind of diminished status in the Communion. It is not evident to me that the current text promises such a fate. When it is observed that refusing to adopt may more likely assure such a consequence it seems to me that the argument for rejection loses its force, or become something along the Pyrrhic line of, “You can’t fire me; I quit!” My impulse is fight rather than flight, and for a little guy I can be surprisingly pugnacious. I will also refuse to move to the back of the bus. Should such extravagant nonsense happen, the Covenant provides a platform for contesting such claims and I will take my stand on the Gospel, which in my opinion supports the actions of TEC thus far. I strongly opposed early drafts of the document as the work of bullies; most of the bullies have now left the stage, and even if they all remained, I am ready to face them down. And perhaps the stone that these builders rejected might become the basis for positive growth.

Still others see the Covenant as limiting the actions of the provinces in their own internal government and functioning; but by my reading, the document actually places limits only on the scope of action of the inter-Anglican bodies, and to the extent those bodies govern them, the external and interprovincial activities of the sundry provinces. They may make requests and recommendations, but the freedom of action of the various churches and provinces is left entirely in their hands. Thus, for example, the Archbishop of Canterbury could withhold invitations to the Lambeth Conference, or choose not to appoint representatives to the bodies over which he has charge from provinces deemed to have acted in ways “incompatible with the Covenant.” The ACC could, with the consent of two-thirds of the Primates, amend its schedule of membership to remove an errant church. The important point is that these are not new powers, and the “Instruments” already possess them, and in some cases have already used them. The Covenant does not grant these powers, but restricts and disciplines them, to some extent, to a process involving the Standing Committee and its recommendations.

On the matter of the ACC, a critique has been made concerning the reference to its role in determining the composition of the Anglican Communion. However, it seems clear to me that the reference to the membership schedule of the ACC is designed to restrict the invitation for adoption to those churches or provinces currently on that roster [4.1.4]. This prevents individual dioceses, or novel entities such as ACNA or AMiA from adopting the document as full signatories. (Individual dioceses can of course say they adopt the Covenant, but at this point that simply means they accept it in principle.) There is a provision [4.1.5] for non-rostered entities to be invited to adopt (a significant change from the draft to the final version).

Finally, I will not reflect at length here on the various possible consequences of adoption versus rejection. I will say that it appears to me that the consequences of rejection may be more serious than those projected for adoption. Since any of the negative consequences to the Episcopal Church (removal from all interprovincial bodies, etc.) can already happen whether we adopt or not or whether the Covenant is widely accepted or not, it seems to me that focusing upon the consequences of our rejection of the covenant may make for better use of our time.

I am not simply thinking of negative consequences to TEC. Our refusal to adopt might be seen as a repudiation of the Anglican Communion (I’m not saying it would be that, but that it might well be seen that way.) But I am more concerned about the effect on the Communion as a whole, if we choose to “walk apart” and go our own way. As Clarence said to young George Bailey when he saw the effect his absence had, “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” I’m also reminded of the fate of the Dwarves in Lewis’ The Last Battle, and of his vision of Hell in The Great Divorce, inspired by a quote from George Macdonald: “The first principle of Hell is, ‘I am my own.’” In this vision of Hell people are free, perfectly free, to move apart and away from each other off to infinity.

Some might say the Anglican Communion is doing just that. It is obvious to me that the old Communion has indeed fractured. But that doesn’t mean that what remains cannot be mended, or that even the fragmentary pieces are worth keeping together in a brown-paper sack for some future repair. I do know this: the healing cannot begin by ignoring the wounds, and the mending cannot happen if the pieces are further scattered. I choose to live in hope rather than fear, in the promise rather than the anxiety. As the old poem says, “I will not cease from mental toil...” until, as the Rule requires, as a deputy I must cast my vote.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

May 20, 2011

Belize and Belief

Religious leaders in Belize have taken a typical stand against the decriminalization of homosexual acts. They base this on the usual litany of religious freedom and the threat to society they deem to be inherent in any movement towards toleration of this particular diversity, complete with the full panoply of slippery-slopism. As the signatories, including the Anglican Bishop of Belize, put it,

...Activists have promoted and steadily expanded this right to trump universally recognized rights to religious freedom and expression...
Of course, rights are, well, rights. It's no good trying to play them off against each other. Freedom of religion and religious expression does not mean the freedom to dictate that others must think as one does or be punished. Nor does it mean freedom from living in a society some of whose policies one may find disagreeable. Nor does it mean the freedom to act in an uncivil way and still reap civil benefits such as tax exemptions and government contracts. Besides, religion is a lifestyle choice, not a personal reality. If one wishes to establish a hierarchy of human rights, then surely rights pertaining directly to the human person (life, liberty, property, association) must take some priority over rights concerning beliefs —which of course no law can effectively forbid! It is the expression and practice of beliefs that is at issue, on both sides.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
h/t Episcopal Café

May 17, 2011

The Fire of Justice

Blessed Thurgood Marshall
Written today by the hand of Tobias Stanislas Haller.

May 16, 2011

Capacity and Potentiality

If we are concerned about what the Anglican Covenant might mean, it is better to be part of the body that makes the determination as to what it does mean.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

May 14, 2011

A Personal Practice I Commend

To make people feel interesting and listened to, actually take interest in and listen to them.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

May 13, 2011

The (Other) Covenant

...The Baptismal Covenant, that is.
One would have to be living under a rock to be unaware of the prominence of the Baptismal Covenant of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer in our current ecclesiastical life and discourse. Not only is it regularly recited as part of every baptism, but it is also used in most Episcopal parishes as part of a public reaffirmation of baptismal vows several times each year. More than that, it is often cited as undergirding a particular baptismal theology that is brought to bear on issues apart from baptism itself.

I have long been aware of an inner misgiving about the extent to which the Baptismal Covenant has been employed outside of the context of baptism and reaffirmation. It was only on reading Dr. Ruth A. Meyer’s essay in the Chicago Consultation’s collection of essays on the proposed Anglican Covenant, The Genius of Anglicanism, that my misgivings took on a more precise form. This was not due to anything she said in particular, but the text stirred my mental pot. Her essay was designed to contrast the Baptismal Covenant with the proposed Anglican Covenant, and to explore the meaning of the word covenant itself. Hence the pot-stirring.

Long story short, it seems to me upon reflection that our Baptismal Covenant — in particular in the last two questions which form its coda — has exuberantly wandered into areas that are not necessarily baptismal, nor indeed necessarily Christian, and that this has distorted our baptismal theology by incorporating elements which, while certainly not inimical to it, do not properly belong to it. The liturgical revisers have gone a Milvian Bridge too far.

Let me elaborate: In case you don’t trust your memory, here are the two “questions” in question.
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
They were added to the rite, along with the other questions (but one — more on that anon), as a coda to the Apostles’ Creed, as identifying “some of the principal commitments that are inherent in the baptismal life.” (Prayer Book Studies 26, Supplement, p 98.) That these virtues should be practiced by all who are baptized is beyond question, but to coopt them as particularly baptismal is to some extent to water down the principal and truly characteristic features of baptism. The irony is that the same study document includes a chapter on “the Breakdown of Christendom” while the revisers were still within the thrall of that world-view. For obviously the commandment to love ones neighbor is Jewish, and the concept of the respect for the dignity of every human being is a feature of many if not most philosophical and religious traditions, perhaps most importantly rabbinic Judaism. One would certainly hope that all baptized persons will practice these virtues — what one would also hope is that any human being would practice these virtues whether baptized or not.

What I am suggesting in all of this is that at least some of our current confusion about the nature of baptism may be a result of the this revision. The revisers were keenly aware of baptism as a “border rite” marking “the boundary between Church and not-Church”; and that “being a good member of society does not necessarily support being a good Christian” (ibid., 38). Yet that did not prevent their falling precisely into the Christendom trap by including two general (and admittedly important) aspects of human virtue as the tail end of an explicitly Christian — perhaps the most intrinsically Christian — act.

It appears that in the process of creating the revised baptismal rite, those responsible lost sight of the basic context: the double meaning of baptism as remission of sin and incorporation into the church. The revisers had so lost sight of the “sin” aspect that in the proposed version (Prayer Book Studies 26, p. 13) they omitted the question, “Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?” (It made it in to the 1976 Draft Proposed Book.) They did include the questions that concern the Christian life, qua Christian, that is, as part of the church: the apostles’ teaching, fellowship and worship, and the responsibility to proclaim the gospel. But the following questions, while, as I say, commendable in themselves, are hardly peculiar to baptism.

What exactly is “Christ” in all persons? If this is shorthand for “the divine image” well and good — but is that either what “Christ” means or what people will take it to mean? Doesn’t this usage, particularly linked with an originally and profoundly Jewish commandment (“love your neighbor as yourself” — Leviticus 19:18) form a kind of Christian supersessionism if not triumphalism? What is “Christ” in my non-Christian neighbor? (I may well be comfortable thinking that way, as I acknowledge Christ to be “the divine image” in perfection; but would my Jewish, Buddhist, or Muslim neighbor, to say nothing of my atheist friends, consider that an honor? In an increasingly pluralistic society, this now seems a kind of flabby or semi-conscious imperialism.

Even more, the call to respect the dignity of every human being is incumbent on every human being in virtue of their being human — it is a responsibility of our common humanity, not something additional taken on at baptism. To respect the dignity of every human being is not uniquely — or sad to say even characteristically — Christian. It is in fact profoundly disrespectful of the dignity of non-Christian human beings so to co-opt this universal human mandate as part of our peculiar Baptismal Covenant.

This overgeneralization or “spread” has had, it seems to me, the unfortunate consequence of muddying the baptismal waters and confusing or confounding being “a decent moral human being” and “being a member of the body of Christ” through initiation into that body by baptism. What purports to be a “baptismal theology” becomes another instance of Christendom at work, of a generic form of humanism.

This is by no means intended as a slap at humanism! I consider myself a humanist, and perhaps that explains my touchiness at seeing what appears to be a Christian co-option of a virtue that predates it. The failure to keep the distinction between humanism and Christianity has continued the 19th century blurring whereby “Christian” becomes not a marker denoting membership in the Body of Christ, but the very kind of vague compliment describing “a good person” that I find so repellent when used in phrases like, “that’s very Christian of you” or the converse, “you are being un-Christian.” It reminds me too much of The Worst Sermon I Ever Heard, which began (and I can remember it verbatim because it was such a shock after having heard Isaiah 1:17 as part of the first reading), “The corporal works of mercy are uniquely Christian.” (The sermon ended, “We mustn’t be like Zacchaeus, climbing trees to get away from Jesus...” Yes, it was that bad.)

But I digress. I sense we are experiencing unintended consequences, and a baptismal theology that has lost its roots in incorporation into Christ. Is it any wonder people are seeing no problem with “Communion without baptism” — if what baptism is about is being “a decent moral person” whose dignity ought to be respected as such — who are we to say that sacramental baptism should be a prerequisite to sacramental communion? If baptism is primarily about how one acts, rather than who one has become by means of it, we are treading deeply Pelagian waters, it seems to me. (Also noting that, as the tradition has it, while baptism is a prerequisite for participation in communion, so is being a moral person, living “in love and charity” with ones neighbors.)

So my question is not, Have these two questions improved our ability to live as moral human beings? I hope they have; indeed, I think perhaps they have. My question is, What has over thirty years of hearing these questions and proclaiming our assent done to our conception of baptism?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

May 11, 2011

The Anglican Covenant — Let's be clear

The proposed Anglican Covenant doesn't really do anything new. It seeks to put what up until now has been a form of discipline by adhocratic shunning into a moderately more formal structure in which there would be a central clearing house for making recommendations about the nature of the shunning and its extent. But contrary to what some have suggested, the Covenant establishes no new powers; rather it gives to the Standing Committee (of the Primates and the ACC) the function of a suggestion box or complaint department, with the ability to consider complaints and make recommendations to the bodies who have the limited ability to ask folks not to attend, to disinvite, and, at the most extreme, to remove from the schedule of membership altogether. These are not new powers, and some of them have already been exercised even without advice or recommendation from a clearing house.

So what the Covenant proposes is not so much new as differently organized. It is primarily about form rather than content, and what content it offers for the credenda of Anglicanism are nothing new.

I do have minor palpitations about the Standing Committee's charge to make "recommendations." Having observed how the "recommendations" of Lambeth 1.10 have morphed into consensus, then the "mind of the communion." and apparently virtual mandates, I am already bitten once, and so twice shy of setting up a new adhocracy specifically charged with making further "recommendations."

Nor is it clear that, significant portions of the Communion expressing little interest in adopting the Covenant, that any reorganized adhocracy is in fact going to emerge. It seems as likely that the usual suspects will continue to engage in the messy bilateral or multilateral clusterbuck of the fictive system already in place.

This seems to me to be the reality of the present situation. It does not appear to me to commend the Covenant or to stand against it. But it is also clear that any further ability to shape the Covenant into something better will only be undertaken by those who adopt it in its imperfect form. Were TEC to sign on, I would argue for increase in the section on mission, a shift to discipleship (rather than discipline), and recognition of the growth of actual on-the-ground structures for dialogue, such as Indaba as tools for working through difficulties as they arise, rather than the assumed "go to your rooms" approach that comes in handy with children. And if all but the Gafcon contingent (who are already announcing the next steps in solidifying their own coalition) adopt the Covenant with an eye to its improvement, that is a direction I could support.

Either that or scrap the whole thing and start over. It is already not a Covenant for the whole Communion, and whether there ever is one is doubtful, though time will tell.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

May 4, 2011

Unanswered Questions (and the Covenant)

Bishop: "I'm afraid you've got a bad egg, Mr Jones."
Curate: "Oh, no, my Lord, I assure you that parts of it are excellent!"
"True Humility" by George du Maurier, originally published in Punch, 1895. [via Wikipedia]

Alan Perry, in his usual wise and witty way, has taken a look at the suggestion that the proposed Anglican Covenant is, as “the late Douglas Adams” said of planet Earth, “mostly harmless.” I confess that I have myself been somewhat of that mind, though it now appears to me that rather than “mostly harmless” it would be better to describe the Covenant as “mostly useless” and “possibly harmful” — depending. Depending on what I will get to in a moment.

But first of all let me repeat something I have said about the Covenant for some time: if ever there was a Curate’s Egg, this is one. A few parts of it are passably good, but even the best bits seem to be a bit underdone — or perhaps, given the long stretch of committee editing, overdone.

Further, the Covenant as a whole does not appear to answer some very pertinent questions — which anything purporting to be a roadmap for the future of Anglicanism really ought to have answered. This is a map with uncomfortably large portions still labeled Terra Incognita — if not, “Here be dragons.” And the primary unanswered questions have to be, “What is the Anglican Communion exactly?” and “How does the Covenant relate to that Communion?”

The problems begin right in the Preamble with “We, as Churches of the Anglican Communion...” This is the sort of language one finds emerging from a broadly representative Council or Convention, introducing a conclusion to which a gathered body has come; not from a select committee cobbling together a text submitted to various rounds of “feedback” and then submitted to the “We” for approbation. In other words, from the very beginning this document seeks to put words in the mouths of those who have not yet signed it. Worse than that, it presumes an agreeable “We” when in fact it is now abundantly clear that a significant number of the first person plural have no interest in adopting the thing at all.

I have noted before the strangeness of a text purporting to be for “We” of the Anglican Communion which assures that failure to sign, or withdrawal after signing [4.3.1], need not indicate a church is not part of the Communion (though “recognition of, and fidelity to, this Covenant, enable mutual recognition and communion” [4.2.1]). Moreover, the document unhelpfully states that other non-Anglican Communion churches might be invited to adopt the Covenant, which would not in itself bring with it “any right of recognition by, or membership of, the Instruments of Communion.” This is one of the reasons I say the Covenant fails clearly to define what it means to be Anglican. Though it does quote the standard definition at 4.1.1, it seems to be both an afterthought and discordant with the rest of Section Four. The Anglican Communion has, like England itself, survived without a written constitution to this day, and the Covenant is not a clarifying step forward, but a source of further confusion, and perhaps division. Since the communion already exists, will this document “enable” it or disable it?

However, taking that traditional definition in hand, it seems to me it can be said that the reality of the Anglican Communion has about it aspects historical, confessional, and relational. The historical is mercifully beyond our power to alter, though it can be, and has been, spun in a dozen different directions from the very beginning. Suffice it to say that the Anglican Communion is not and was not the result of a definitive constitutional plan, but is an outgrowth of the colonial and missionary work primarily of the Church of England, and later and to a lesser extent, the Episcopal Church in the United States. That much is, I think, factual beyond dispute.

The extent to which the Anglican Communion is confessional is a matter of greater debate. The Articles of Religion were definitely framed with an eye to setting doctrinal boundaries, and were adopted as such by the various historical heirs of the Church of England. The fact that they have fallen to desuetude down through the years can hardly be contested, but it is absurd to claim that the churches of the Anglican Communion do not have some minimal doctrinal positions in common that distinguish them from other streams of the Christian tradition. “Confessional” may well be too strong a word to describe our present state, or even the rather cluttered yet sadly patchy tapestry offered by the Covenant, but Anglicans do have theological and ecclesiastical opinions not shared by other traditions, a few in direct opposition to some of those other traditions, and which distinguish Anglicans from them.

In the long run, the Anglican Communion is primarily relational — given the history and doctrinal traditions, it is ultimately made up of those who wish to be part of it, whether through the “accidents” of history, or the late-coming “Instruments of Communion” or simply on the basis of “showing up” and taking part in bilateral and multilateral mission and ministry down through the years. And this is where the proposed Anglican Covenant opens the door for the greatest possible harm: for it will use communion, or the withholding of communion, as its primary disciplinary tool, under the chillingly forbidding phrase, “relational consequences.” It will ironically bring about the very thing it was supposedly designed to prevent: division in the communion.

You will note above that I referred to “possible harm” and alluded to dependencies. In the end, the Covenant will be harmful only to the extent that it is employed in a disciplinary way, as destructive to the relationships of the communion — which is to say, of communion itself. If the severance or diminution of communion (though I’m not sure what partial communion could possibly be!) is the only way to discipline those who are creating tension in the communion, then it seems to me better not to introduce a mechanism that could produce such a result.

On the other hand, since only those who adopt the Covenant have any chance to help guide it in a productive, rather than a destructive, direction; and further, since at this point among the most vocally opposed to it are those who also most wished to employ it in this surgical fashion, this may present a reason for those who really do want to encourage the communion to stay together in spite of disagreements — at least among those who wish to self-select togetherness over institutionalized schism — to adopt the Covenant with the understanding that Section Four shall never be appealed to or employed, and perhaps to move for its amendment or removal.

Ultimately, it depends... Like so much of life, it depends on who shows up. Like any party, it is the guests who will make it a success or doom it to failure.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG