November 18, 2011


Contrary to Graham Kings' repeated assertion (scroll down to the first long comment here, the Proposed Anglican Communion Covenant is not "the only way forward." It is one of many ways sideways.

The Proposed Anglican Covenant (Part 4) attempts to manage disagreements by assigning a supervisory task to the Standing Committee of the Communion, and the power to make recommendations not terribly unlike what can now be done without a recommendation, but simply by each province on its own to refuse to have to do with innovations elsewhere that it doesn't like.

Surely this is not the only way to manage disagreements, nor even the best. The simplest way, Gamaliel's laissez faire and provinces ignoring what they don't like in other provinces (as they are free to do, and have done) seems much more likely both to keep some relative peace and lead to eventual reform or reception.

There is no need to manage disagreement. People can be quite disagreeable on their own.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


Fr. J said...

I'm afraid that the more I read of your writing on this topic the less clear I am as to what you think communion actually is. Perhaps the Covenant is not the only way forward--I certainly hope that other ways emerge, given that the Covenant appears to be DOA--but I don't understand how a "laissez faire" approach yields a higher degree of Communion. It sounds to me like burying our heads in the sand and ignoring what our brethren say and do in other parts of the world. How can we have communion if we do not have accountability to one another, if we are unwilling to be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ? How could any organization work that way?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

I am not inventing some new definition of "communion." The problem it seems to me, lies with those who appear to want something like a Confessional Church for Anglicans.

The Covenant does nothing to foster "communion" -- in fact, it provides mechanisms for conditioning or even severing it! There is no need to be "an organization" -- we are a "Communion" of independent churches. That does mean we need to listen to each other, but that does not, and cannot logically mean, that we all adopt the others' opinions. What we do is covenant to remain together, as in marriage, for better for worse, etc. And when disagreements arise, to live with them until they are resolved -- as invariably happens with church disagreements on matters not central to the Gospel. A real covenant would not have provisions for trial separation or divorce.

That is what I mean by communion. In what am I being unclear? I don't see what is so hard to comprehend about the Anglican Communion continuing as it has for the last 150 years or so, sharing a common heritage and commitment to the Gospel in our differing contexts, and allowing those secondary matters on which we disagree not to divide us -- until recently when certain intolerant folks have pretended that the Gospel is threatened by matters about which the Gospel is utterly silent.

As I have said before, if people want to work out a real structure for a common canon law for the communion, fine. I would support such an exploration. But the Covenant is not that, and is very far from being helpful towards it. It is a self-contradictory document that contains the seeds of a way sideways utterly inimical to true communion, which must perforce have an unalterable commitment to remain united by whatever bonds are agreed to. Nor is it a movement towards a healthy "organization" in any sense, as it promises "disorganization" (i.e., relational consequences) as its only effective tool. Section 4 has always rendered the Covenant a lost cause -- because in the end it is not a Covenant, but a contract. It does not provide for voluntary accountability, but external lording it over each other -- not mutual submission, but the submission of some to others. This is not of Christ. It is not even decent organization.

Fr. J said...

My use of the term organization was meant to be as general or broad as possible. Anything involving more than one person in a conscious grouping is an organization.

And really, I’m not interested in the argument about the covenant per se because I think that’s only symptomatic of the larger issue. When you say “communion,” I assume you mean a sacramental bond, an indelible joining, something rather like a marriage, as you give as an analogy. Another good analogy would be the relation of the persons of the Holy Trinity, which is made in the Covenant’s preface. A bond of mutuality and self giving. As in Ephesians 5 where the Church and marriage are so elegantly paired by Paul, communion involves mutual submission to one another, respecting each other’s unique role, and being willing to give up all self interest for the love of the other. That is the ideal for the Anglican Communion, as for any other communion that is truly of God.

Now, I can understand the argument that the Covenant does not get us there, or even that the Covenant would impair this sort of communion. I don’t share the view, but I understand it. What I don’t understand is the idea that it does not matter what kind of religion we actually practice. You say that we should be able to simply ignore each other when the matters that separate us are “secondary.” But that begs the question. You are assuming that what is primary and what is secondary is obvious to all, which is in fact the problem.

Go to the marriage analogy again for a moment. Let’s say that the husband in a marriage decides that he likes to flirt with pretty girls down at the bar on Friday nights. His wife feels that this is an act of infidelity and tells him as much. But he doesn’t think it is, because he’s not actually taking these girls home and sleeping with them. He will not yield to his wife because he doesn’t think he’s doing anything wrong, and she cannot simply ignore what he’s doing because to her it’s just as bad as anything else he could do. How in this situation does this couple recover? What do they turn to in order to face their problems?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you, Fr. J. I think you have summarized what I mean about Communion. (I have to say I'm not keen on the Trinitarian analogy -- either to the Covenant or to marriage -- but that's another issue. I don't see any evidence of "mutual submission" in classical Trinitarian theology, which seems to me to emphasize the "sourceness" of the Father... but as I say, that's another issue.)

The problem I have with concepts of "mutual submission" is that in fact what we end up with is some people demanding that other submit -- usually that a minority must submit to a majority. So it isn't "mutual" but simply the old concept of "majority rule." Or if not, how not? I find the talk about "mutual submission" therefore to be a bit disingenuous, and would rather leave it to the side and honestly say that the Covenant is about the submission of all proposed innovations to majority review. Which, as I'm trying to point out, is what we actually have now, in that no province need adopt the innovations of any other. No one in the GS is being asked to "submit" -- mutually or otherwise -- to anything done in the North. It's just that they don't like what is happening in the North, and reading the North's actions through the lens of Imperialism. Which is why I emphasize the need for the North to reassure, and act in humility, in making it clear that what we decided need not be decided elsewhere.

My problem with your argument is that you shift to the "what kind of religion" issue. I agree with you that the issue is "What is primary and what is secondary." My solution is to allow time to do its work -- to remain patiently in conversation without trying to prove that one side is right or the other wrong, but are committed to remain together in spite of the disagreements --- as, after all, the other "parties" in this are not being asked to "submit" to anything; and nor should the "innovating" party be asked to submit in a kind of admission to error.

Your analogy with marriage is helpful. In that case what has to be decided is, "Is flirting truly a violation of the covenant of marriage?" The fact that the husband thinks it not, and the wife does, is something they will have to work out -- or live with. If they can't live with it or deal with it between them, they can go to counseling or court.

The Covenant, in effect, creates a "marriage tribunal" -- and my point is that in doing so it opens the path to divorce. And I see no need for that, since people are free to "walk apart" if they choose to now, as indeed some in the Blobal South have done. It is they who are abandoning the Communion: and I don't think the Covenant would prevent that unless all submitted to them. That is where the problem lies -- in those who demand submission by others.

Erika Baker said...

The difficulty is that in this example the husband has to provide good reasons for why he believes flirting to be harmless, while the wife merely has to complain about a vague “hurt”.

This is also where this example isn’t very helpful, because it is quite obvious why a wife might believe that her husband’s flirting threatens their exclusive relationship, whereas it is far less obvious to see how a far away religious province is “hurt” and affected by gay partnerships somewhere else.

If the two provinces were indeed as close as husband and wife and shared as much, there would be a greater claim. But despite the marriage analogy, the relationship is usually far more like that between a group of cousins than between two people who share every intimate aspect of living together day in day out.

At the very least, if we must have a tribunal, there would have to be a provision for throwing out a case before it comes to court.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you, Erika. You echo some of my unstated difficulty with this analogy. Perhaps a better one would be a husband who smokes cigars to which his wife objects.

But even in the more extreme example, folks seem to have forgotten the point behind "for better, for worse." It is only in the latter half of the last century that the "innocent party" even in cases of adultery was allowed to marry after a divorce.

Even so, as you rightly note, the connection of the member churches of the WWAC is more like siblings than spouses -- and fraternity is even more irrevocable than marriage. We are all adopted children of our Father in heaven, and should treat each other as such. This is also why we don't need a Covenant to "establish" or monitor a connection that already exists. Above all we need to get away from the "libido dominandi" which is what I see at the heart of our current strifes.

Fr. J said...

Given the position you're taking, then, respectfully, I would ask you to consider using some other term besides "communion" to describe what it is you are hoping to see. Communion implies oneness, and what you seem to be saying is that oneness at that level is impossible. The Anglican Communion should function something more like the Lutheran World Fellowship or even the World Council of Churches, bodies that share some things in common but are not necessarily in communion.

I still think it does no good to say that the problem is just that those pesky folks in the Global South do not recognize that what they are upset about is not really a Gospel issue. And that doesn't have anything to do with majority versus minority, though that card does sometimes get played (inappropriately, in my opinion). It has to do, rather, with a disagreement about the very nature of the Gospel. And this disagreement is not simply confined to sexual ethics, though that is where we end up spending much of our time.

In a fellowship like the WCC, these sorts of disagreements may be less important since the goals are different. Ecumenical partners can disagree about many things and still partner wherever they can find common ground. I can serve the poor with Roman Catholics, Pentecostals, or even Mormons just as easily as I can with other Anglicans, despite being separated from them in many other ways. But then again, the same could be said about Muslims and Sikhs. So what then is the point of the Anglican Communion? Why should it exist at all? And why do geographic boundaries matter at all? Shouldn't ACNA be just as viable as TEC? If it really doesn't matter, then why not support ACNA's full right to be a participant in the global fellowship?

Finally, on the topic of Gospel values, do you really believe that issues of sexual ethics and marriage are not at the heart of the Gospel? What I mean is, if it is true that gay and lesbian sexual unions can be just as blessed and holy as heterosexual unions and that the denial of this is sinful, then shouldn't that be just as true in Uganda as it is in the United States? Why would you want to continue to be in fellowship with churches that teach something that is objectively and fundamentally at odds with the truth?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Fr. J., you have hit on something very important here. And I would say it has to do with the "character" or "personality" both of a church or communion and of individual persons. And that is the ability to live with ambiguity and lack of uniformity.

The model of Anglicanism to date has been one that expected uniformity within provinces while allowing diversity between them on non-central issues. This produces some tension as issues have to be categorized as central or not. But I think there are objective means to do so, such as reference to the Creeds.

I do not accept the (IMHO) rabid claims by some that TEC has fallen into apostasy or heresy, or that there is fundamental disagreement about the very nature of the Gospel. These claims rest in large part either on very uncharitable and decontexualized quotations from our PB (which in their context are no more revolutionary than Lumen gentium) or pointing to the actually extravagant statements of isolated wild-men like Jack Spong. I do not think it can be shown that TEC has forsaken "Gospel values."

I believe that TEC is completely uniform with the rest of the Anglican Communion in all matters of core doctrine. (I do have my doubts about some of the more extreme evangelicals who insist on a single understanding of the Atonement, but let that pass.) There are clearly differences on some matters, but it has yet to be shown how these are Gospel values.

It seems to me, with respect, that you want not a communion of churches but a single world church, with uniformity in all things you think are central --- which includes some things others do not see as central. I am content to remain in a communion that, over time, settles what things are central and what are not. This may reflect a difference in "character" or "personality" between us and the type of church we are part of.

Thus, while I am very much opposed to the view in Uganda, I believe, in humility, that it is not my task to tell the Ugandans what to do. I will tell them I think they are mistaken, but will live with the fact that I am "not the boss of" them. Nor do I want such a boss to appear on the scene. The fact is that I want to remain in communion with them because they are my brothers and sisters in Christ, not because I agree with them. And to me that is a Gospel value.

I thought I laid out the rationale for national or provincial organization in my talk. If instead the church is to break down into affinity groups -- or more than it already is -- I don't think we will have any sense of communion at all, but really just a "brand name." And some will accuse others of false advertising.

And to my mind that is the difference between communion and the quasi-legal mess of pottage that is the proposed Covenant, which explicitly expounds limitation or dissolution of relationships.

Erika Baker said...

Oneness does not mean "being of one mind about everything". If we return to the previous analogy of marriage, husband and wife becoming "one flesh" does not mean that they become clones of each other or that they never disagree about fundamentally important issues. They are no less husband and wife, no less “one flesh” if one eats meat while the other is a vegetarian for moral reasons and they passionately disagree about the morals of eating animals.

I wonder what happened to the earlier understanding that there are first and second order issues?
Is there ever a point at which a second order issue can formally become a first order one?
Is there a mechanism by which this happens?

I still don’t understand why sexuality has been elevated to be of such major importance.
Why should it be impossible for me, a member of the CoE, to live with Uganda having a different view of same sex sexuality when I can live happily with US Christians in TEC who support or accept the death penalty?
Of course it is true that the death penalty is as immoral in the US as it is in England. Just as female genital mutilation is as sinful in Europe as it is in Africa….. the list of possible moral outrage is endless!
Are we really to elevate all these things to “presenting issues” and sit, each in our own little church, nurturing our own sense of moral superiority over and against all others?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you Erika. Well said.

Fr. J said...

I am not interested in establishing a "world church" in the sense of some sort of uniform jurisdictional authority. But I do believe the creed when it says that the Church is "One." I believe very much in subsidiarity, and I have no problem with local churches running their own affairs (right on down to the diocesan level). In fact, I would be quite nervous about some sort of supra-global structure in which there was a pope like figure at the helm. But the Church is still essentially one, which means one faith, one Baptism, one Spirit. That doesn't mean we all have to be carbon copies of one another, but the faith of one church must be the same as another if they are truly to be "Church" together in the creedal sense.

Just one more question and I'll let it rest. Of Uganda, you say, "I want to remain in communion with them because they are my brothers and sisters in Christ, not because I agree with them. And to me that is a Gospel value." And you indicate that you do not believe that the Church in America has the right to tell the Church in Uganda what to do in relation to how they treat same-sex unions, even if it is a universal moral truth that same-sex unions can be equally blessed as marriage. My question then is, are there any moral issues that are, in your opinion, central enough to the Gospel that it would be worth breaking communion over? If, to use an entirely absurd example, the Ugandan Church began to ritually murder children and claim that this was in keeping with the Gospel and that it was a local, non-central issue, and they were certain and unyielding in that conviction, would you still maintain communion? If not, why not? What would be the basis upon which one moral claim becomes central and another secondary?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Fr. J., for the further elucidation.

As to your test case, I think the tipping point for me would have to be something both (1) important and (2) about which the Scripture was unambiguous. I don't think same-sex marriage is either -- unlike, for instance, adultery. I don't think there is any doubt about the ritual murder of children. Now, of course, the Ugandans have no apparent doubt about same-sex marriage -- so they are free, to my mind, to complain about it as much as they like -- and to withdraw from communion as they have seen fit to do. I think they are wrong, but they have that right. I hope they do not pass the proposed draconian law, and I have spoken against it, and I think a higher tribunal than the Anglican Communion Standing Committee will stand over them at the last, for any lost due to their actions -- as to mine.

But I can only apply criteria with honesty to my own judgments about right and wrong, importance or not, Scriptural or not. I think a rather high bar exists, but I think ritual murder of children meets my test.

MarkBrunson said...

This argument is why "church" fails.

Communion is always, first, with and about God. He is the First, the Only. Oneness is through Him and only Him.

What you're arguing here is middle-management procedure for a corporation with offices worldwide. Please, don't confuse it with the Body of Christ!

Erika Baker said...

For me, the criteria would be whether an official position of a church was a direct violation of the Creeds or the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral.
These are a corner stone of our faith, the Creeds about our status as Christians, the Quadrilateral about our status as Anglican Christians.

I wanted to add the Ten Commandments here, but we have already moves so far from a blanked ban on not killing people that we can't actually claim that our churches adhere to them in the very literal way some churches try to impose rules about sex and sexuality.

The interesting thing for me is that with "you shall not kill" we have been able to understand the moral complexity and the many layers of "killing" and we have abandoned a literal reading of it in favour for interpretations that try to preserve the moral purpose of the Commandment.

And so maybe the Ten Commandments are important after all. Because in Tobias’ example of the ritual murder of children it is quite clear that a moral evaluation of the purpose of “you shall not kill” clearly shows which category of killing this falls into.

So maybe we’re back at the very simple and very basic – is anyone being harmed? If so, who is being harmed, what would happen if they weren’t being harmed?

That clearly shows that it is possible to support soldiers killing in the defence of a country while it is not possible to support the murder of children.
In the same sex sexuality debate, the only people being harmed are gay people who are being treated as morally inferior and condemned to lives of loneliness and of living with the contempt of those around them.

The moral case for charging interest on loans would be much harder to make.

So what we would need to exclude anyone would be a large majority of national churches to be so outraged by a particularly immoral change in doctrine that they are jointly moved to complain. We would then need an independent tribunal that would have to assess whether the complaint does, indeed, constitute a violation of the Creeds, the Quadrilateral and the Ten Commandments.

If it does, a case for excluding the offending church can be made. If it doesn’t, then we’re dealing with a second order issue.