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


Christopher (P.) said...

Good analysis, Tobias. But one thing rises in my mind: granted that the powers to exclude are already granted to the Instruments, yet when they now do exercise their (already existing) powers, it's seen as a remarkable, deeply momentous occasion. Would not adoption "normalize" that exercise of power and hence make it more likely to be used? That is, would it not perhaps inadvertantly lead to more strife and disunity?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Tobias, you write: "I have not made up my mind about whether I will vote for or against adoption at General Convention in 2012".

Could have fooled me.

Nothing you have written here convinces me otherwise.

Which is fine. Really. You may "still be thinking" but I think your mind is quite made up.

Let me just say one thing about “genetic fallacy.” It's called "context", Tobias. It's the the same way we read scripture. I am aware of the "process" of how the AC was written and who wrote it and from whom the authors sought feedback.

It's the 'process' that's flawed - along with the description of what Anglicanism is, actually.

And, you are quite right: the "Instruments of Communion" are not given any new power. They are just a new innovation, coming to us as it did from the Virgina Report in 1997 which was presented at Lambeth 1998. I know this because I was there. At Lambeth. In 1998. And, again in 2008. Which is really the genesis of my deep mistrust of "The Windsor Process" and why I think it's deeply flawed.

For one thing: Were there any LGBT people who were authors or had any input about The Anglican Covenant?

And yet, it's all about us.

I rest my case.

My suggestion as to how to proceed? Let's study all these new innovations - The Virginia Report, the instruments of communion and The Anglican Covenant - for, oh 10, 20 years or so. You know, the way we do with all 'innovations'. Like, say, the ordination of women.

Not yes. Not no. Just "We're still thinking." After all, it's a tried and true method of the Anglican way. You know. Like you're doing.

Bob Griffith said...

I appreciate your reflection, Tobias, and your wrestling with the whole affair. I tend to agree with your assessment.

Michel S. said...

Thanks for this thoughtful post, Fr. Heller -- you've assuaged one of my concern (that the Covenant might result in a power grab, rather than actually putting limits on what the different instruments can do).

I do wonder about the effect of each Province signing with different opt-outs, but maybe there is a benefit to be had from making such differences in understanding explicit and out in the open; everyone knows where they stand and can go forward from there.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Tobias. I also feel that it is better to be part of the process than to walk away and, for me, most aspects of the covenant that were really repugnant have been removed. It will be interesting to see the exact wording of the resolution(s) EmilyH

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks for the comments.

Christopher, as I see it, the Covenant, by instituting a procedure that has buffers in it -- largely the Standing Committee's role (on which TEC has two reps at present, btw, both of whom we would lose in this respect if we do not subscribe!) -- and gearing towards conversation and conflict resolution, my hope would be a decrease in strife. There may be more disunity, though, as some will not sign on as long as others do; but those fault-lines have already quaked, it seems to me.

Elizabeth, perhaps being so firm in your own conviction you imagine I must be the same. You are, however, mistaken, and allow me the privilege of speaking for myself. When I say I've not made up my mind about the Covenant, I mean just that. At this point, I would find it very difficult to vote Yes on a mere "adoption." I believe at the very least we need a clearly worded statement to accompany any subscription, as done by other provinces. If my mind is "made up" it lies in that direction; and it cannot be fully "made up" since I haven't seen what such a statement might say. That will emerge in the process of GC's deliberations. Some will wince at the suggestion of "signing statements" but I think they are a necessary evil in a Communion divided by a common language.

I don't buy your analogy with the contexualization of Scripture, since unlike Scripture the context you refer to is not the actual context of the current document. You are, in effect, decontexualizing by putting the current draft back into the world of 12 years ago. Much has changed since, not least the Gafcon exodus, itself unintentionally foretold in the Windsor Report (some have walked apart but not the ones the drafters thought).

Beyond that, the text has been massively amended, much of the amendment coming out of an open process in which, yes, LGBT persons took part. I was one of them, and unless you took no part in the response process, so were you. No one was excluded from the process of offering feedback to the revisers.

I'm afraid I also don't see the flawed description of Anglicanism that you do. On the contrary, the document is if anything an overwrought effort to include everything but the piscina. Some think the text exalts Scripture and tradition over reason, but that is not how I read section 1.2. Most of our historical documents don't mention reason at all, and I'd say that section 1.2 would likely have been quite acceptable to Richard Hooker!

As to the Instruments: the Virginia Report didn't invent them, it identified them as institutional points of interprovincial contact across the Communion. These are the primary nodes of our network, and that is what they remain in the proposed Covenant. As I noted, one of the things I regard as positive about the Covenant is that it gives the enumerated functions of the Instruments within the network, helpful in roping them in from past abuses.

Thanks, Bob G.

Michael S., I don't think we can escape the "signing statements" but I do think making such explicit calls up front will be helpful. They may, in the long run, demonstrate more about what we think than the Covenant itself.

Thanks EmilyH. I admire your willingness to tread in fields where this Tobias is unwilling to follow an angel!

June Butler said...

Tobias, I'll allow that you have not made up your mind as to how you will vote at GC. After all, who would know better than you?

Having said that, I read your post as advocacy in favor of signing the covenant, since you dismiss all of the contra arguments. Am I correct to read your words that way?

Jim Naughton said...

Tobias, do you have any concerns about the way in which objections to the practices of one member church made by another member church will be adjudicated? I do. There is nothing resembling due process in Section Four, nothing to protect member churches from harassment by other member churches, simply for the sake of keeping the member church wrapped up in an endless process of explaining itself to the Standing Committee.

I have moved toward opposition to the covenant simply because I believe that if we sign it we will never be finished fighting off the entrenched Anti-Americanism and homophobia that flourishes in so much of the Communion, and that this fight will sap the strength we need to face the very significant challenges we already face.

Finally, I think to sign the covenant requires that one make an act of faith in the Church of England, which will control the way disputes are adjudicated, no matter what the text says. Given the way it has handled issues regarding female clergy and bishops, the kind hearing it has given to American schismatics, and the cowardice displayed by its leaders in responding to the open bigotry of so many Anglican leaders, I I would find that difficult.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Tobias and Mark,

I don't think this is about "talking tough". And, I have learned, over the years, that talking to stones does not a conversation make.

I may be reading this all wrong, but it seems to me that we have been made an offer by Lambeth Palace which says, essentially, "Deal or No Deal."

There is no way to revise or amend or append the document. It's 'take it or leave it'. Passing a resolution which says, "Well, we're going to hold our nose and sign it but you have to know that we support 'all the sacraments for all the baptized' - including LGBT people and women is folly. Lambeth Palace already knows that. Once we've signed, we've signed.

Once we 'take it', there's no deal. Not with that lot. I don't see a chance of it and even if there were, based on my past experience, I wouldn't trust it.

I think this is time for us to take a stand against this tyranny and say that we will not be pressured by threat of expulsion or second class citizenship.

Which is why I am advocating for us to pass a resolution which says, "We're still thinking. Let's keep talking."

Based on my experience with two Lambeth Conferences and the "innovation" of the ordination of women, I think it's a very Anglican thing to do.

Anglocat said...

Tobias, with great affection, I could not disagree with the drift of this post more. I'm with Elizabeth, on this, but frankly even more so. Briefly, I think we have seen in the years since Lambeth 1998 how a conference and a report can assume juridic significance by fiat; now we're being asked to sign on to a juridic structure. This is, in my opinion, the embryonic form of what the ABC likes to call the Anglican Church, a Magisterium. Trust a refugee from the original: We don't want that. Richard Hooker's vision of local autonomy is far more appealing.

I do not want this "intensification of relationships" Rowan is on about, because I don't trust his excessively Catholic ecclesiology (and if you've lost *me* in this department...), and I do not trust the good faith of those who still hope to bring TEC to heel. Remember: They can't punish us unless we submit to jurisdiction. And, as Mark Twain famously said,"It is easier to stay out than to get out."

Closed said...

One of the strengths that has emerged out of all of this is the Indaba. As far as I remember that is not built into the Covenant. It seems to me that the processes of Section 4 are severely lacking not only in terms of due process but in terms of specific methods for listening, discerning, etc.