June 7, 2011

The Latest Anglican Fudge

A number of my friends have begun to pick apart even what up until now has been perceived by many as the least problematical three-quarters of the proposed Anglican Covenant: sections one through three. It seems to me that their hermeneutic of suspicion is working overtime, and they are reading the document in the most negative light possible. Even direct citations from documents as well established in our Anglican DNA as the Lambeth Quadrilateral are being subjected to the glare of cross examination and judged sinister.

That approach would be wise if the AngCov were a contract, such as could be enforced by some coercive means. But this misunderstands, it seems to me, both the nature of the Covenant, and anything that might come from it; and of the Anglican Communion itself.

The AngCov — particularly in the much edited fourth draft now before us — should be seen in the tradition of AFDs — Anglican Fudge Documents, such as the 39 Articles (as amended in the Elizabethan settlement) and the Book of Common Prayer itself. Although these documents were designed to rule certain extreme positions off the table, the primary intent was to be as ambiguous and inclusive of the big messy middle as possible. As the clever readings the mid-19th century Anglo-Catholics applied to the Articles demonstrate, it was possible for people in good conscience to read [in] readings quite at odds with either original intent or strict construction.

Does this mean that the Episcopal Church — or anyone else who hasn’t already — should adopt, subscribe or accede to this latest batch of fudge? Probably not. Although I cannot muster either the angst or the ire towards the AngCov that my friends in the “No Anglican Covenant Coalition” (NACC) have accumulated or espressed, the reasons for adoption, accession, or subscription seem mighty thin. I say this for several reasons and in light of several things which I take as facts:

Too many provinces have already expressed disdain for one or more hard inclusions in the AngCov for it to provide an acceptable degree of chewy fudgicity — the big tent is already about one-quarter empty.

The Anglican Communion is not, and has never been, a strictly structured united entity — not that this AngCov would make it so (particularly given the confusion of purpose in section four) — but is rather a historical reality, given only a quasi-formal structure through ad hoc and pro tem invitations, recognitions, assemblies, and consultations. It barely rises to the level of a federation, let alone a unified body. The “Instruments of Unity” would better by called “Instruments of Ecclesiastical Networking.” The notion of Canterbury at the center as a hub to which various spokes are joined is a legal fiction. To go further and claim, as the AngCov does, that this office is the “focus and means of unity” is, at least on one reading, not only risible, false and absurdly dissonant with reality, but blasphemous (Canterbury is not Christ).

Depending on how one defines “communion” the Anglican Communion isn’t one. If one uses “mutual recognition and interchange of ministers” as the definition (and this is commonly the touchstone in ecumenical discussions, and their fruit) the Anglican Communion wasn’t “in communion” from the very beginning when Seabury gained his orders from non-jurors and the Canterbury-consecrated White and Provoost (and their successors) were forbidden in English law to function anywhere within the realm or colonies, and latterly when duly ordained women, first as priests and even now as bishops, were prevented from functioning in England due to the English fastidiousness towards clergy ordained abroad having to be ordainable at home. Robert Runcie coined the paradox“impaired communion” — which like “partial virginity” is more or less a contradiction in terms.

So, in light of this, I am moved to ask, as the Almighty did of Ezekiel, “Can these bones live?” Perhaps they can — but not at the insufflation of the Anglican Covenant, which is neither particularly spiritual nor manifestly holy.

I have previously used the example of the unwanted gift of fruitcake, and the unwanted gift of fudge is much the same. Not sharing the dire concerns of the NACC, I still suggest General Convention affirm parts one through three of the AngCov, when read in their best possible light, as consistent with the doctrine and discipline of the Episcopal Church, and promoting — nay insisting upon — further interprovincial discussion of the document as a whole, with special regard to the inner inconsistency and incoherence in section four.

Of course, I may think differently by the summer of 2012. But I doubt it.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


Rick+ said...

I worry though, that I am not part of "the big messy middle". My impression is that the Elizabethan Settlement and the 39 Articles certainly came to be interpreted broadly, but they weren't "AFD's" at first.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Point taken, Rick. As to the "old" fudge, the one on the Eucharist, which dates to Cranmer, is what I was thinking of primarily, the conjoined twins expressed in the words of administration. The Article on Predestination also seems a very fudgy bit, as is the one on infant baptism. But they did become even fudgier as time went on... so there's hope!

Alan T Perry said...

I appreciate your points, Tobias, and I share many of them, but I would point out a few things...

First, I started to pick apart sections 1-3 back in January, e.g., here and here. I've also addressed the idea of adopting sections 1-3 and not 4.

You suggest that insisting on clarity for section 1-3, and criticizing the fudge therein, "would be wise if the AngCov were a contract, such as could be enforced by some coercive means." But that's the point. The proposed Anglican Covenant is a contract. At least, Professor Norman Doe has said as much. And there is a coercive means of enforcement: Section 4.2.

And don't get me started on the fact that the Covenant doesn't seem to be clear on what "communion" means, apparently using it in a variety of ways without ever offering a definition.

I'm sure there's much in the fudge that we can affirm, particularly because in so doing we don't actually have to mean the same things. But once that fudge becomes the basis for imposing "relational consequences" through an ambiguous, arbitrary and demonstrably unjust process, the fudge becomes toxic.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you, Alan. Yes I know you were early off the mark in critiques of the F3S, and I've enjoyed your comments. It is just that the critiques have picked up a bit recently.

We are likely closer on this than you realize. Note that I'm not calling for adoption of any of the Covenant by TEC at this point, but rather an affirmation of basic reconcilability with TEC doctrine and discipline. Although there are things I too don't like in the F3S I am able to see where the fudge lies.

We are also, I think, of one mind on the lack of clarity on the meaning of "communion" -- which surely goes beyond the Covenant into the whole life of our peculiar institution.

Where we part I think is on the extent to which we may disagree on Norman Doe's take on the document. He has, I think, a vested interest in pressing for compliance (the nature of a contract). I don't see that the rest of us need buy his interpretation, which is, after all, simply an interpretation.

As I see it, section 4.2.5, by acknowledging a Covenanting Church may "decline" to act in accord with a "request to defer a controversial action" and all is cast in terms of recommendations, we are in a world of persuasion, not coercion. As I've noted elsewhere, since the "relational consequences" (including arbitrary temporary "suspension") have already been imposed without any covenanted agreement, I don't see that their imposition with such an agreement in place is a step in the wrong direction. It may not be due or just process, but at least it is less whimsical.

That is still no reason to adopt in my mind. It is rather like saying the restaurant food is not very good but the portions are generous!

In any case, this is where common ground is broadly found: S4 is and always has been the fly in the ointment, and is toxic to any possible good that might emerge from the F3S of the AngCov.

In the long run, frankly, I don't think we would be having these discussions in the absence of S4. (I'm trying to imagine how far the Lambeth Quad would have gone if it had had a section 5 detailing consequences for anyone deemed to have run afoul of the Scriptures, Creeds, Sacraments and Ministry?

What do you think of the suggestion to continue study in an interprovincial setting. My concern up to now has been that the process has been hub and spoke with the drafters and the feedback, and more or less everyone in their own box since, with little cross-provincial exploration.

Lionel Deimel said...

I can understand the notion of accepting Sections 1–3 as an Anglican fudge. However, I am bothered by the status (or, actually, non-status) of reason and laypeople. (As a reasonable layperson, I have a personal stake in this.) On the other hand, there is really no need for Sections 1—3 in the absence of Section 4. They exist only to provide an excuse for imposing penalties under Section 4.

The General convention should express our intention to remain in the Anglican Communion, insist that we not be excluded from Anglican bodies, and reject the Covenant categorically.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Lionel. I don't so much see the absence of reason but its presence. It is, after all, explicitly mentioned several times, as is the work of theologians and scholars (including laity!). Sounds reasonable to me, and it is more than can be said for the BCP or the 39 Articles! Also important to note that whenever the text refers to "synods" in much of the Communion that includes clergy and laity; as does reference to "the faithful" -- a rather Papist turn of phrase, but nonetheless a reference to the laity.

I have a more sanguine view about the F3S than you do. I see some important safeguards woven in that are only assumed in our current guiding documents (such as the reference to scholarship including lay scholars.) I also appreciate the limits placed on Scripture by these means. The Marks of Mission are also a big plus. Having all of this in a single document makes a good deal of sense.

I don't think these only have value if a coercive mechanism is in place. But there is clearly more work that needs to be done even on the F3S, which is why I will (unless things change) oppose either outright adoption or rejection, and instead support affirmation of the F3S concurrent with further study.

As for your wish to insist weI would we rather continue to ask challenging questions than simply say No. The longer we keep talking the more the arc of righteousness will be extended. Time and truth are, I believe, on our side.

Alan T Perry said...

I agree, Tobias, that we probably wouldn't be having these discussions without section 4.2. Without the dispute-settling mechanism (about which I raised serious doubts in 2006, in agreement with Paul Bagshaw's earlier work) there would be no issue with the ambiguity of sections 1-3. I think the fundamental problem is that the proposed Covenant has been drafted by theologians, who are accustomed to writing in ambiguous language to allow for the broadest possible interpretation and buy-in, but will be interpreted by lawyers, to whom ambiguity of drafting is anathema.

You just can't tack a punitive process onto an ambiguous definition of what is in and what is out.

I think Lionel is also correct, however, that sections 1-3 exist as a pretext and support for section 4. If you want to discipline people, you have to have a definition of what it is that they did wrong. The trouble, again, is that the definition needs to be clear.

I agree with you that more study and refinement might well be in order. I am not unalterably opposed to some kind of document that outlines the relations of the member churches of the Anglican Communion (tho' I would need some pretty serious convincing) but what's on offer is not ready for prime time, in my view.

Part of the problem is that the whole enterprise of developing the Covenant has skipped a number of steps and has been characterized by a desperate haste. I have always thought that the manufactured urgency of this prject has been a recipe for disaster.

So, by all means, study some more. But we must recognize that there is no mechanism now to amend the document. Adopting it in the fantasy that we can immediately amend it is pointless. Fix it first, if that is possible, then let's contemplate adoption. Otherwise, we have two options: study it some more, or reject it.

I don't relish the optics of either option, but I cannot vote to adopt what is on offer, given the opportunity to vote.

Marshall Scott said...

Tobias, you reflected, "I'm trying to imagine how far the Lambeth Quad would have gone if it had had a section 5 detailing consequences for anyone deemed to have run afoul of the Scriptures, Creeds, Sacraments and Ministry?" I wonder if it didn't? That is, the purpose of the Quadrilateral was to set parameters, if not exactly perimeters. And, of course, there has been, at least until recently, relational consequence: only recently have we begun again to explore mutual recognition with the Methodists; and we've acknowledged clear limits in our conversations with Presbyterians (and wonder how the ELCA didn't!).

Now, setting parameters can be worthwhile, even in (perhaps especially in) the process of establishing family values. Nor need those parameters be isolating (or, for example, we could have no conversations with the Presbyterians at all!). So, I have agreed with you that some form of a gathering document might be worthwhile. In that light the intent expressed in the Preamble of the Anglican Communion Covenant is worthwhile and reasonable. We have to sort through, at least to the point of our decision, whether it meets that intent within its own terms (and I do feel that, in addition to Section 4, there are some issues in Section 3.2, the Commitments, that are troubling), and whether we think the application we predict and expect will meet that intent. You think it can, and Lionel thinks it can't, and neither of you - nor any of the rest of us - with any certainty.

I think there is value in waiting and studying further, combined with some clear (if nonbinding) expression of willingness to continue in communion. Affirming Sections 1-3 without "adopting" might well do that; or may not. I can still appreciate the concern, from Lionel and others, that the acceptable parameters in the Covenant text might still be misused.

MarkBrunson said...

If it's simply fudge, then we've no need to apply.

Some of us who oppose this vile covenant, Tobias, truly do believe that you let yes be yes or no be no. We either stop politicking, or stop pretending that we have anything to offer beyond any other social club.

Enough fudge. The ACC's eaten itself sick on it.

Frank Remkiewicz aka “Tree” said...

Fr. Haller,
Seems to me that not only did the Conelonialists make the fudge, but they then ate the fudge and moved on. We are left to accede, acquiese and/or adopt something that really does not exist.

While we continue t ospin ou wheels on something that makes no sense, wass fatally flawed from the beginning, the Coneloonialists work their less thaan playful magic to remove, exclude and otherwise destroy The Episcopal Church in the United States. Too dire? Read the Chapman Memo again -- read the writings of the Archduke of ACNA, the likes of Luke Orombi and Mr. Venables.
If the Communion never was a communion, let's stop going to the rail.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks for the further comments. This is the kind of conversation I find very helpful in getting ideas and reflection out on the table.

Alan, I think we are on the same page, if not the same paragraph. You have put your finger on an important issue -- the reason I opposed the Covenant in principle from the beginning: the "design towards constraint." It buys in far too much to the Legal Fiction that is the Communion. I'll blog more on that today; but from my view the rot set in with the false humility of "interdependence." Either we are autonomous or we aren't. It is Humpty-Dumptyism to play with notions of "conditional autonomy." As I say, more anon, from a historical perspective. You are also spot on about the haste factor. As I noted a few posts back, we are not engaging in the processes the Covenant itself mandates for the adoption of important changes in our way of working. Therefore we must temporize. Q.E.D.

However, I do note that there is a mechanism for amendment in the document itself. Whether movement to amend would be successful -- from either POV -- is another matter. From the evolution of the editing, the GAFCON have seen the writing on the wall. The AngCov is now as "strong" as it ever will be.

Marshall, good point; though these are failures to meet parameters established beforehand, not consequences for subsequent violations. As to possible misuse, yes, that is quite likely.

Mark, I'll be reflecting a bit more on this later today. Right now my No is No. But it does not rise to the level of Lionel's No which I take to be against any Communion-wide agreement or governance. I'm not sure I'm that far along, though I do dislike the idea, and think it dangerous, as the old model of fellowship and autonomy provided enough insulation for local variation. The problems begin with Lambeth 1867!

Fred, I think the GS has painted itself into a corner with which they are happy, as am I! There is no way they can accomplish the Chapman goal; though our complete refusal to remain in conversation at the Communion level might add steam to their engine. This is why we dare not walk away -- we need to stay at the table, though we do not need to adopt the Covenant to do so.

Lionel Deimel said...


I like where you are going, even if you do not agree with me completely. (Does anyone?)

You are spot on regarding autonomy, and TEC should preserve its autonomy at all costs.

It not true that I am “against any Communion-wide agreement or governance.” I think we should have a more explicit understanding of how Communion churches behave toward one another. See my post of more than four years ago, “The Covenant We Do Need.” The issues I addressed in April 2007 are not even mentioned in the Anglican Covenant that is out for adoption.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Lionel. It is interesting to me that most of the points you cite in your "needed" covenant are actually already present in the DNA of the Communion. Several of them appear in prior Lambeth Conference resolutions (not to give any authority there... )

Some kind of basic ground-rules for interprovincial relationships would not be a bad idea. But you are right that the present offering does not provide those concise specifics, but is geared more towards uniformity of practice -- the very thing provincial autonomy protects. And that is deeper in the Anglican DNA than the urge to uniformity.

Alan T Perry said...

Yes, Tobias, there is a mechanism for amdendment, though it was only added to the last draft after criticism that there wasn't one previously. That's the sort of oversight that would not have happened if the drafting process had been more careful. But maybe that's a quibble.

Curiously, the amendment process specifies that any amendment becomes "operative" once three quarters of the Covenanting Churches adopt it, but nowhere is there any requirement for a minimum number of Churches to adopt the Covenant in the first place for it to come into effect. Instead, it comes into effect immediately for any Church that adopts it. (s 4.1.6)

So theoretically, once four Churches have adopted the Covenant, three of them could conspire to amend it. (Of course, the Standing Committee could prevent that from happening, given that their approval is required before any amendments can be made.)

By all means, let's stay at the table. I am not interested in walking away from the Communion.

I look forward to your further comments.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Alan. I've just posted my follow up.

It's very clear to me that part 4 is a mess. I'm still confused about the doublet between 4.2.5 and 4.2.7 -- apart from the change of "may" to "shall." Also 4.2.5 refers to a "process" which does not really appear to be "set out." It's a mess of haste.

As to amendment, one of my thoughts early on was the cynical hope that if enough middle of the road to progressive churches adopted, it would be fairly easy to amend. I'm not sure you are familiar with the "Briar Patch" of Br'er Rabbit, but I doubt Gafcon are playing that particular game. Still, it is an unworthy, and not to say, risky gambit. The Covenant might be more of a Tar Baby than a Briar Patch... Better keep talking...

Alan T Perry said...

I agree that section 4 is a mess. Trouble is that those responsible for moving this Tar Baby along don't seem either to realize that or to care.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Indeed, Alan. The "pay no attention to that man behind the curtain" is getting tiresome. I mentioned some of the technical problems in section 4 to a Covenant supporter recently, who not only didn't see them as problems, but simultaneously couldn't explain what they meant, or why they worded the way!

In certain areas, "It's the thought that counts" doesn't cut it!

Frank Remkiewicz aka “Tree” said...

Fr. Haller,
I knew somewhere in there we would agree. Now, we go about our business aware of but not dealing with the Anglican Communion and allow them to do whatever it is they are going to do. We have things to do, see Matt 25.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Fred, I still plan to stay involved in Anglican Communion affairs -- just not marriage at this point!

Seriously, some of what the Communion does actually involves some of those ministries. That is where we should focus our attention.