June 26, 2011

How to Approach the Covenant

Mark Harris has penned a thoughtful reflection on the state of the Anglican Covenant, in particular in light of the finally released opinion of the Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons. (All such committees and commissions are very conscious of the fact that only the General Convention can speak with final authority on the meaning of its own documents; which may in part have been behind the, shall we say, shyness about the release of this report. No harm done, and it is good to see their thoughts, even though they are not the last word.)

One of the long-term concerns about approaching the Covenant is the awareness that its genesis was in part in response to actions of the Episcopal Church (and the Anglican Church of Canada), and given our unwillingness to refrain (after a season of restraint) from acting on our best determinations, some have said that we cannot in good conscience sign the Covenant.

This seems to me to lay too much emphasis on the genesis and not enough on the deuteronomy -- that is, on what the Covenant actually says.

As I see it, the way to "not cross our fingers" is to reject Lambeth 1.10 and the Windsor Report as authoritative from the start, and to reaffirm that the "mind of the communion" is not settled on the matters on which some seem to think it is. And to reaffirm our belief that the "objectionable" actions of TEC are in fact in accord with Scripture, Tradition, and Reason, even to the extent and in the manner described in the Covenant. And then move forward from there, whether we adopt or refuse or commit for further study. In other words, to take a stand and allow our response to the Covenant to be informed by that stand.

This approach is possible because, unlike the Jerusalem Declaration, the Covenant does not address specific issues, specifically not the specific issues that brought us to this place. (Hence its rejection by some who wanted a specific checklist on the hot topics, much in the manner of the classic confessions). It is up to us to make our case, or re-make it, if need be, and then have the courage, if the case cannot be accepted, to say, then fare well -- we have no wish to be part of a Communion which imposes doctrinal conditions that cannot be proven from Scripture, itself a violation of a timeworn Anglican touchstone. (Obviously there is disagreement across the communion, and no true consensus on the sexuality issues: a result of this very lack of convincing proof of the moral wrongness of same-sex marriage or the ordination of men or women who happen to live in such covenanted relationships.)

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


Deacon Charlie Perrin said...


I'm sorry bu the Covenant should be allowed to die. It is misbegotten as well as being unnecessary in any true Communion.

WSJM said...

Thank you for this very good essay, Tobias.

I particularly like your "way to 'not cross our fingers'" paragraph. However, rather than saying "reject Lambeth 1.10 and the Windsor Report as authoritative from the start" (much though I'd be happy to do that, but it would be accused by some of being typical Yankee arrogance), let's simply point out what Lambeth 1.10 is, and is not. You are of course quite right that it is not "authoritative" in the sense of an Anglican magisterium. According to my reading of 1.10, it "commends," "upholds," "recognizes," "calls", "cannot advise," "requests," and "notes." It also might be worth pointing out that the folks who are most vigorously wetting their gaiters over TEC and ACC actions are totally ignoring, and in many instances flagrantly contradicting, the statement made in 1.10.c. They need not to be allowed to get away with that.

Tempted though I am to simply reject the whole silly Anglican Covenant business, it might be perceived as, and might actually be, simply participating in the same urination match that others have initiated. Yes, take a stand. And then "commit for further study." (It is appearing that the Covenant is currently not faring very well in "further study." Surprise.) Anglicanism has traditionally gotten a lot of mileage out of the concept of desuetude. ("If you ignore it long enough, maybe it will go away" sometimes actually works!)

LKT said...

Amen to that.

One of the things that is driving me crazy is how "the Instruments of Unity" seems to have become a settled fact, despite the fact that this formulation is merely a construct given by, as I recall, the Virginia Report (am I remembering correctly?) and then reiterated in the Windsor Report. And no one seems to have said boo about it.

As for Lambeth 1.10: how anyone can look at that sausage-making and say "The Anglican Communion has spoken and is clear and settled in its thoughts on the issue of human sexuality" is beyond me.


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Deacon C., the General Convention committed TEC to engagement with the Covenant ptocess, and I think we need to do that. Frankly, I think the proposed Covenant will not survive or be widely adopted, or if it is, be of much effect. I think many already see it as ill-suited to any helpful end.

WS, I wish I shared your optimism, but I have sung that song about Lambeth 1.10 for years -- i.e., its language is purely recommendatory. The problem lies with those who refuse to accept that the language is weaker than they imagine. Thus, the poison, to my mind, lies in the whole idea of Lambeth passing resolutions it has no authority to adopt. That is what we ought to affirm, "without neglecting the other." This need not be done with quite the tone of ire in this post, and I'm all for "softly, softly" and diplomacy and tact, and the avoidance of micturational combat, but I think the points need to be unambiguous, and not so delicately shaded as to be capable of misunderstanding or misapplication (the very problem with Lambeth 1.10!) And yes, long live desuetude! Buy for desuetude to work people need to be encouraged to set certain things aside -- such as the notion that Lambeth is a doctrinal commission for a spurious "Anglican Church." That sentiment seems to be on the rise rather than the wane, and needs to be undercut with due attention to detail.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Laura. That is the insidious effect of institutions: once they come into existence they need to DO something, and when they really have nothing to do they start to act outside their mandate, and so it goes... I was pleased to see Lambeth pulled back in 2008 to something resembling its original purpose as a locus for fellowship and sharing.

Brother David said...

As I was glad Padre T, that the Primates Meeting also pulled back to an understanding that it has no power here and returned to the idea that it is a retreat for primates to enjoy fellowship, study and prayer together.