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


Erika Baker said...

This is a genuine question. Apart from not inviting some people to Lambeth, when have there last been "relational consequences" for a member church of the Anglican Communion?

I'm asking because if some powers exist in theory but have fallen into disuse, then to resurrect them with a lot of public noise is almost the same as creating new powers.

My second question concerns your statement that some of those powers have already been exercised even without "advice or recommendation" from a clearning house.

Is this what is proposed now? Nothing more than the power to advise and make recommendations, or will the Standing Committee be given the power to implement its own advice?

Lionel Deimel said...

The “Windsor Process” and the writing of the Covenant has already wasted enormous resources. How can you even consider adopting the thing and spending even more effort trying to make it reasonable?

The Covenant is a bad idea badly executed. Just let it go.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Erika, far more troubling to me than the Lambeth disinvite was the request for the duly elected representatives to the ACC to refrain from voting. This was a "request" and our delegates complied. Personally, I think that was a mistake, but of course, I could be wrong. This is to say nothing of all of the other impairments at the level simply of interrelatedness, most of them ad hoc actions by several African provinces who have refused to have anything to to with TEC or its money, to my mind to their own detriment (or their populations').

To your second question, Yes. That is what Section 4 proposes, the power to make recommendations to the Instruments. All implementation still lies with the Instruments under the current proposal, and no new features are added to the Instruments by the proposed Covenant.

Lionel, whether you like it or not, the Covenant is on the table. If I felt it were disastrous in its present form -- as I did of the earlier drafts -- I'd have no problem simply saying, No, as you have. But to say No to what has finally, after an extended period of revision, which has actually amended the document in most of the ways I thought it needed to be amended (though not all), and when at this point three of our closest Communion partners have already signed on (Mexico, Japan and Brazil) and none of our Communion dis-partners have signed on, and signing on is the only way to be part of an amendment process that might just well produce a truly useful document, seems to me to be not a productive option. Perhaps it is the difference between a glass half full or empty --- but there is more than a year to go before the vote, and I am keeping an open mind and hope others will as well.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Erika, I forgot to mention the dismissal of TEC representatives from a number of Inter-Anglican and Ecumentical bodies. These are examples of the sorts of relational consequences already possible -- the same ones that might be put in place at the advice of the SC, but not at its action.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Comments have disappeared due to a glitch with Blogger. This may be just as well since in one of my replies to a comment I spread a bit of misinformation from something I'd picked up in conversation. Although the Church in Brasil had spoken favorably on the first three sections of the Ridley-Cambridge Draft of the Covenant, they have not yet voted on the current version. In addition, Japan has not yet actually voted, though the positive urgings of the Primate may move in that direction. So far Southern Aftica, the West Indies, Mexico, and just recently, Southeast Asia, have adopted the Covenant. Other provinces are at various stages.

The SE Asia adoption is interesting in that they claim (wrongly in my view) that accession to the Covenant necessarily entails a pledge to abide by the recommendations of Lambeth 1998.1.10. Frankly I think it long past time to push back on the false claim that this Lmabeth resolution necessarily expressed, or expresses, the "mind of the Communion." It was a patchwork compromise adopted in bad faith on both sides, as subsequent actions have shown.

Marshall Scott said...

Tobias, as concerned as I am about Southeast Asia's "signing statement," I'm more concerned that they describe their adoption as "accession." It would appear that they do understand this to be a document that will supersede in some sense their constitutional structures. That is inconsistent with the document itself, of course; but, then, so is their "signing statement."

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you, Marhsall. I noted your comment on accession elsewhere, and I think you have a good point. This is not a "treaty" or even really a "governing document" but precisely a "covenant" -- an agreement between and among signatories, whose ultimate meaning and application can only be determined by the signatories as a group -- and the things they can't agree on will remain unsettled. (Hence the argument that the Covenant merely reifies our divisions rather than mending them!)

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

And the latest: now the Church of Ireland has subscribed.

Daniel Weir said...

I am gradually being persuaded that adopting/subscribing/whatever to the covenant may be the better choice. I am, however, concerned that the mechanisms in section four may produce a lot of triangulation as offended parties complain to the standing committee rather than speak directly with those whose actions have offended them. Perhaps a General Convention resolution that accepted the covenant ought to contain clear statements about our reservation and our commitment not to use the mechanisms in section four.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you, Daniel. I do think we may see a good bit of triangular dancing; The best king of dance would be the Indaba, however... and the Covenant would provide an avenue for that as well as for complaints.

Mike R. said...

Gafcon has already declared they will not sign on. It is pointless to adopt a document when it's originators have already demonstrated theynwill not live by it. It is further pointless to adopt a document hoping to change it in the future. That is the same fallacy as hoping you can change your partner after getting married.

The diminution of the role of Reason and Nature in section one make this an unsignable document, as does acknowledging the fictive four. We should not endorse what we do not believe.

SE Asia' s resolution makes it clear that they are comfortable in committing violence against scripture with their cherry picked list of texts to form some new moral code. Do we really want to muck about forever with this nonsense?

We should not endorse this at all in it's present form and again since GafCon won't it is dead anyway.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Mike, several points:

Just because the originators of a document no longer like it and won't accept it because it doesn't do what they wanted it to do, doesn't prevent others from seeing its possible utility. It is no longer a tool designed for exclusion, but to create a new forum for the discussion of differences.

The goal is not so much to amend the document as to implement it in positive ways. If we sign on we have that opportunity (as well as the opportunity to amend. If enough of those who don't like Section 4 sign on that is a way to get rid of section 4. Mike, this is not like marriage, but like electing people to office who have the power to make and implement laws. Walking away does nothing.

Just because a document doesn't mention Reason doesn't mean that Reason is going to go away.

The "fictive four" are only fictive to the extent that their powers are by consensus, not by grant. This document does not grant any new powers to the instruments; it directs the Standing Committee to make recommendations to those Instruments. Whether anyone does what the Instruments say or not is absolutely unchanged in this present document.

Mucking about with this nonsense is part of our covenanted life together. I refuse to abdicate my understanding, or walk apart, just because someone else sees things differently than I do. The primary value of the Gospel is more important.

It is dead in the form its originators intended. It is alive to the extent we give it life. Resurrection is possible.

Jeffri Harre said...

So essentially you are advocating signing to have a place at the table. We've certainly seen how well that works in the wake of 2006-B033.

Nor is the term "covenant" likely to keep it from being enforced as a contract or a treaty.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Jeffri, don't know what you mean about 2006 B033. That was a whole other kettle of fish; personally I voted against it (as a deputy at the time.) Whether it "worked" or not is yet another matter. It did appear to buy us some time, and time has proved useful.

What exactly do you think might be "enforced" that couldn't be put in place now, without the Covenant? I don't see, as I say, any new powers being conferred that are made "enforceable by this document. What are they?

Martin Reynolds said...

Hmmmm, I am closer to Tobias in my thinking on the Covenant than I am to many others. Yet for some reason I find it chilling, not of the best, the creature of its strange and twisted recent history.

In discussions here in Wales I asked my colleagues to put aside the last few years wrangling and consider if this was the sort of document we might have produced in an attempt to bind us more closely together and advertise our Anglican charism to others - I don't think many thought it was what we would have written.

This has been a wrong headed process from the moment Rowan (disastrously) decided to call an emergency meeting of the Primates in response to the election of Gene.

Everything subsequently has compounded this very poor call, leaving our communion more deeply fractured as a result. So, I find it difficult to endorse anything that this process throws up. I am still wailing in the wilderness to turn around and go back to the beginning, acknowledge this has been an unmitigated disaster and start again. I have just a few ideas about what to do then .....

Yet Tobias is essentially right in that it doesn't do as much as some claim it does.

Reading the most recent declarations from those who have acceded or subscribed the Covenant it seems is that the whole process may turn ever more farcical and bring ever more disrepute on us all as our Churches find ever more elaborate ways to qualify their assent to what the Covenant proposes.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you, Martin. You are so right that the Windsor Knot is at the root of our problems, or perhaps the sickly fruit of Lambeth 1.10.

I keep re-reading sections 1-3 and find so much in them that is commendable, and actually very Anglican, and much of it things we've said already elsewhere. It is a far from perfect document with a clouded history: but doesn't that sound a bit like Anglicanism as a whole? Perhaps we are seeing ourselves as we really are, and it is not the neatness of Calvin or the elegant hierarchy of Rome, but a mix of gadfly and busybodiness shot through with an inkling of the Gospel?