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


Br Richard Edward Helmer BSG said...

I think I could support this, especially as it makes a positive suggestion process-wise for the Communion and steers clear of the "hold your nose and vote" tendencies of the current pattern.

Closed said...

Yes. The pushiness to get this thing done is itself suspect to how it is Anglicans tend to do things. It again speaks to process or how, which matters as much as the what.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thank you, Tobias. Now yer talking.

Anonymous said...

Dear Tobias,


Both for your book, Reasonable and Holy which I found both challenging and enjoyable. And for your recent conversation with Elizabeth on Telling Secrets. I am so pleased that she sees away forward with her resolution.

I am on the General Synod here and am in touch with others to see if we might propose something similar when the time comes.

Can I have an email address to keep in touch? Mine is rector at


Fr. J said...

It is hard to imagine a more fair process than the one that the current covenant draft went through, up and until the last meeting of the ACC when the northern churches were able to manipulate the system to make highly questionable changes. Still, overall the process has been open, honest, and fair. The thought of engaging in more "dialogue" at this point is troubling, not because I dislike dialogue, but because it seems like the only thing it would accomplish is to simply continue to postpone the inevitable. There comes a time when people just need to decide who they are. Are we interested in being a part of a global communion of Christians or not? That's the question before us, and weeks or months or years of more conversation will not change this.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks to all.

Fr. J. My critique of the process to date is not that it is "unfair" but that it is not modeled along lines similar to what is laid out in the covenant itself. Everything has been "hub-and-spoke" instead of "organic network" and apart from the ACC meeting there have been few opportunities for real dialogue between provinces: what we've seen is a series of collated monologues, and the reactions thereunto.

I'm not sure what the "highly questionable changes" or "manipulation" you refer to are, but that gave us the current text, and if you are uncomfortable with it, as indeed many are, especially section 4, then further discussion across provinces is certainly warranted.

What, after all, is the rush? We are "a part of a global communion of Christians" and the covenant will not make us more so. On the contrary, it seems instead to be introducing yet another point of division.

People in general are relatively comfortable with Sections 1-3 (though there are a few problems even there; e.g., calling the Archbishop of Canterbury a "focus and means of unity" [3.1.4.I] is both theologically questionable and practically risible). It is section 4 that seems both inwardly confused (why both 4.2.5 and 4.2.7?) and contradictory to the rest of the Covenant itself (4.1.5 is in opposition to the Preamble as to the nature of its purpose).

Some real dialogue across the communion might be more productive than the Covenant itself.

Fr. J said...

Several questions spring to mind, but the two most important, it seems to me, are: 1) What would be the shape of such a dialogue? From what you have said, I'm inferring that your problem with the process was that it was somehow too centered on the instruments of unity. But the working group that produced the covenant text came from across the Communion, included laymen as well as clerics, and held within it a disproportionate number of westerners, including two members of TEC. Likewise, the working group gathered input from across the Communion. I was involved in that discussion in my former diocese, as I take it you have been in your diocese. In our group, we had quite a spirited discussion, including people from across the church and of many perspectives. So who is missing? What group have we left out? And how would you suggest bringing them in?

And 2) What would be the goal of such a dialogue? I don't doubt that there are things that could be worked out better in the Covenant text. There are certainly things that I'd love to see strengthened or worded differently. But a document that holds the input of so many people is always going to have this aspect to it. Frankly, given the number of hands in the pot, it's amazing how much consensus there actually has been. The covenant is not so much about a piece of paper as it is about a communal relationship. If it's just about the paper, we have already lost the Communion. So again, what would this longer conversation be for? What would its specific goals be? As I said, I'm all for discussion, but discussion ad nauseum is, well, nauseating after a while. More discussion might sharpen the edges or flesh out the details, but it won't change the core of what's being presented. And if it's a change in the core that you want, then the answer is to vote against the whole project.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Fr. J., these are good questions. Let me essay some answers.

1) What you describe has not for the most part been dialogue across provinces. There was some recognition of differing points of view on the drafting committee, but I very much doubt that either Ephraim or Katherine thought of themselves as "representatives" -- nor did TEC appoint them! They "gathered input" but that is not the same thing as dialogue. In your comment abover you critiqued the only mechanism (the ACC) currently useful for dialogue including all orders from all provinces -- and even there the dialogue was limited by time and intent as there is so much other work for that body to accomplish. What you describe in your diocese is similar to what has happened in mine; but the point is it is "within" the diocese. It isn't that groups are left out but that they aren't talking with one another. There has been no real interprovincial consultation and dialogue -- which the Covenant says should happen on any weighty matter.

I would suggest, falling short of a pan-Anglican constitutional congress, like an expanded ACC geared to this particular subject. Falling short of that, we could adopt the Indaba model of numerous smaller "trialogues" -- although for a "constitutional" document doesn't the former make more sense? If this Covenant is really all that important, should it not ultimately arise from a real intentionality across the board rather than submissions to a central committee?

2) It is clear there is fairly wide consensus on sections 1-3, although they too have a few problems that should be worked through. But the real problem is section 4, which seems to many not in fact to point towards "communal relationship" as in fact a threat of consequences to relationships. That is, after all, what it says. As someone observed in my diocesan town hall, sections 1-3 sound like marriage vows and section 4 like a pre-nup. So there is some clear need to think through this inherent incoherency in the document itself. A longer conversation might well help to repair this significant incongruity. If section 4 is what is keeping people from signing on, then clearly it is what is killing the covenant as a whole. Thus section 4 seems to be in opposition to the "core of what's being presented" and needs to be addressed. If we want a more perfect union, we don't provide for dissolution or withdrawal. If we do, then we're talking loose confederation, not a communion. That's the ptoblem with section 4.

musculars said...

Yes by all means, hoist it on its on petard!

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Musculars, if the Covenant cannot bear examination and adoption by its own standards then it isn't worth the paper it's printed on.