November 30, 2011

Noises off...

The Archbishop of Canterbury has issued an Advent Letter to the Primates of the Communion, and in it made some comments about the proposed Anglican Covenant, in which he clarifies that

it outlines a procedure, such as we urgently need, for attempting reconciliation and for indicating the sorts of consequences that might result from a failure to be fully reconciled...It alters no Province’s constitution, as it has no canonical force independent of the life of the Provinces. It does not create some unaccountable and remote new authority but seeks to identify a representative group that might exercise a crucial advisory function.
Once again we are presented with something "urgently" needed, but which ultimately creates nothing new, more, or other than a procedure for giving advice as to how to get along, or face the consequences of not getting along. One of the reasons the Archbishop offers for adopting the Covenant is the supposed greater "coherence" following these advisory processes will bring about, allowing us better to interact with other Christian bodies.
We should bear in mind that our coherence as a Communion is also a significant concern in relation to other Christian bodies – especially at a moment when the renewed dialogues with Roman Catholics and Orthodox have begun with great enthusiasm and a very constructive spirit.
But, of course, this "coherence" will only arise if and when disagreeable provinces of the Communion settle their disagreements — for which the Covenant, once again, provides only advice and the exercise of what amounts to peer pressure to conform — or those who continue to resist this pressure are edged out of being "representative" of Anglicanism towards these other supposedly more "coherent" ecclesial bodies.

The Archbishop also asks a question, and then assumes his question has no takers as he rushes back to square one.
I continue to ask what alternatives there are if we want to agree on ways of limiting damage, managing conflict and facing with honesty the actual effects of greater disunity. In the absence of such alternatives, I must continue to commend the Covenant as strongly as I can to all who are considering its future.
I can, of course, think of any number of "alternatives" to what I continue to see as a deeply flawed and, by its own self-confession, ineffectual effort at conflict management:
  • Reliance on the Covenant for Communion in Mission from IASCOME
  • Restoration of the purely consultative function to Lambeth, with a staunch refusal to adopt any resolutions at all, other than those that directly empower mission and ministry
  • Expansion of ministry and mission cooperation between provinces, focused not on the mechanics of the Communion or disagreements on policies, but on doing the things Jesus actually commanded
  • Continuing to provide forums for the sharing of views between provinces, as in the Continuing Indaba and Mutual Listening Process which is “a biblically-based and mission-focused project designed to develop and intensify relationships within the Anglican Communion by drawing on cultural models of consensus building for mutual creative action.”
That last one sounds like a particularly good alternative, doesn't it. I could go on, but I think the picture is clear. I note that two of the alternatives listed above are on the Anglican Communion website. It is not as if these things are hidden away or unavailable. Whatever role the proposed Covenant might take in the future of the Anglican Communion, it is by no means the principle player, and could well simply be put in the category of offstage sound effects.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


June Butler said...

Nothing new here. Vote for the covenant, and move along.

I don't know whether the Orthodox churches care about the coherence the Anglican Communion, and if Rome is concerned, I don't really care.

Thank you for your suggestions for alternatives to Rowan's TINA (there is no alternative) defense of the covenant, which I always believed was nonsense.

What an Advent letter!

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Mimi; I have to say I don't see why Rowan has placed so many eggs in this fragile basket. The continued hammering away in this Advent letter seems a bit last-ditch, as English dioceses turn their thumbs down -- and I get the feeling this letter is aimed at the domestic audience as much as it is to the "Primates."

June Butler said...

Tobias, I've thought more about Rowan's heavy investment in the covenant, and, at this point, I don't see how he could back away from it. I fear he's painted himself into a corner.

JCF said...

it outlines a procedure, such as we urgently need, for attempting reconciliation and for indicating the sorts of consequences that might result from a failure to be fully reconciled...

War is Peace!
Freedom is Slavery!
Ignorance is Strength!

Big Cantuar is Watching You...


MarkBrunson said...

Either Rowan's stupid or he thinks we're stupid.

First, why is it soooooo important !!!!! . . . ! that we have some way of dealing with "these issues" (don'tsaygaysdon'tsaygays;notp.c.notp.c.) to maintain the coherence of a Communion that has never cohered, as he admits by saying that it has no force over the canonical structures of independent provinces?

Secondly, how absolutely, abysmally dense do you have to be to believe there is any - and I mean any - dialogue with either the Roman Catholics or the Eastern Orthodox, who have consistently, publicly and very definitely said that we can never, ever, ever be one with them until we submit to be them?

As these are the two issues consistently presented as "case solved!" by the ABC, ACC, and the rest of the alphabet, I can only conclude that either they are clinically insane, or that this is a move to create a (British, naturally) Magisterium and an Anglican pope; i.e. - a power grab by sad little men with no more power at home and remembering when they had an empire on which the sun never set, exacerbated by a sort of little-man syndrome because the ABC's Welsh and wants to prove he can do better than English predecessors.

Brother David said...

We should bear in mind that our coherence as a Communion is also a significant concern in relation to other Christian bodies – especially at a moment when the renewed dialogues with Roman Catholics and Orthodox have begun with great enthusiasm and a very constructive spirit.
There is so much intellectual dishonesty here on the part of Rowan. He removed the representative of TEC from this process, not because TEC is in conflict with certain other provinces, but because TEC's stance on the inclusion of all the baptized would confuse the Romans and the Orthodox about the true Anglican position. It is not about unity, but uniformity.

And is he really so naive as to think Roman enthusiasm has any significance. Dialog with the Roman Church is everyone else moving closer to the Roman position, it always has been and it always will be, there is no compromise involved.

Daniel Weir said...

There continue to be mission partnerships between our dioceses and dioceses in member churches that have broken communion with us.

Paul (A.) said...

If your title reference is to the play, Tobias, when do we get to the second act to see what happens backstage as the show progresses to London?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks for the additional thoughts. Mimi, I think you are right about being "stepped in so far" that a turnabout is difficult. Not impossible, I claim, but I don't know that RW has the talent or the courage to do so. Of course, he may still actually believe this is the way forward -- and as we know he is not alone in that.

JCF, I'm not sure RW's resignation will accomplish anything. I'd rather the experience metanoia, thougth as I say, that appears unlikely.

Mark, I do think there are other explanations than stupidity, but I'm not sure they are more attractive! As to the ecumenical note, you and Bro David are spot on: dialogue with Rome and the East is always and only on their terms, and though they would actually prefer to have more "coherent" interlocutors it is only because submission then becomes more tidy.

David, I'm not so sure it is dishonesty, though it could be. I think it is that drive after uniformity, which RW seems not to be able to distinguish from unity. That, I think, is where the real problem has always been: with those who see uniformity as the visible sign and certification of unity. That is, as I've shown elsewhere, a profoundly unAnglican sentiment -- it is very Roman, however!

Daniel, that is the reality that continues to give me hope.

Paul, I wasn't thinking of the play, but rather the phenomenon to which it gave rise. Such things as doorbells, crashes, crowds, and so on, are important elements in a play -- but they don't make it onstage. Rowan, it seems to me, wants to make the story about the machina instead of the Deus!

Deacon Charlie Perrin said...


Tony Blair admitted he was really a Roman Catholic after he left 10 Downing Street. Perhaps Rowan will do the same after he leaves Lambeth Palace.

Father Ron Smith said...

I tend to think, Tobias, that if the discriminatory Section 4 were deleted; which would virtually mean a different type of Covenant; those of us in the Communion who really want to live together (Unity in Diversity) could well form a new, typically Anglican, Alliance - if need be. However, the idea of a disciplinary magisterium does not resonate with most reformed and catholic parts of the Communion.

It's going to be very interesting when the ACC meets here in Aotearoa New Zealand next year. Our Church is almost 50/50 - meaning that, as a Province, we may not be able to support the idea of a Covenant.

Erika Baker said...

Tobias, I have asked this on Thinking Anglicans too and I'll just cross post for once.

I'm confused about this talk of alternatives and whether there are any or not.
Tobias' suggestions are very good, but they only become alternatives if someone is genuinely willing to look at them.
And they all are different versions of "live and let live" while concentrating on what unites us.

But the Covenant arose out of the recognition that this, precisely, is what a large number of national churches are no longer willing to do.

If they were, those alternatives would not be needed. As they aren't, those alternatives won't work.

So - is it the Covenenant or bust after all?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks Erika. I think it depends on what the goal actually is. If the goal is to keep the communion wholly together just as it was, it is too late. If the goal is to find a way to "manage dissension" -- which is what the ABoC says the Covenant is -- then I think there are clearly alternatives, such as I've laid out. I just don't think that turning over to the Standing Committee, or any other select body, the power to decide what is "Anglican" or not, and then asking people to enforce their own sense of response or "consequences" is not a terribly well-ordered way to manage dissension.

So the alternatives I present are not alternative ways to keep the Communion together, no more that than is the Covenant itself. They are ways to deal with the fact of the lack of consensus in the communion. As I posted my maxim yesterday, "Better an honest disagreement than a false consensus." If some "walk apart" because they are unable to live with the reality of a lack of consensus, as we have seen happen with portions of the Global South (and not, I think, "large numbers" but a minority of the Communon), there is no way of pulling them back except by paring off another minority -- if that's the approach, it doesn't manage disagreement, but makes it "go away" by removing those who disagree from the forums of discussion. Not, to my mind, a positive thing to enforce, even if it is a reality that takes place on its own. My sense is that none should be expelled, but some can choose to walk apart.

So it is not the Covenant or bust. The "bust" has happened. What is now in play is finding the best way to gather the shards that remain.

Erika Baker said...

Thank you very much Tobias.
So could part of the incomprehension that seems to reign between supporters of the Covenant and those who don’t want it be due to a different interpretation of its purpose?

It seems to me that you are talking about the Covenant as a mechanism to facilitate understanding between the remaining Provinces, whereas I suspect many of the supporters are still trying to ensure that as many as possible remain in the Communion and see the Covenant as a tool to achieving that.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Erika, that is likely where part of the division lies, but it is a fuzzy border.

My view is that on the face of it: that is, in its actual text, and also as the ABoC describes it, the goal of the Covenant is not to keep the communion together, but to manage dissent and conflict in the hopes of minimizing future division. The Covenant itself provides for selective "division" or diminution of relationship, if I can put it that way, as a way to promote greater unity among those who remain. It is to that model that I offer other alternatives.

There is no way to keep a body of people together who want perfect consensus when consensus doesn't exist. As differences of opinion must from time to time arise, short of willingness to abide by the lack of consensus, no peace is possible.

Another maxim: Only those willing to live with tension are worthy of marriage.

That's what makes a covenant -- and why the present draft fails as such.