January 10, 2012

Good Intentions

Archbishop Thabo of Southern Africa has issued a supportive response to Archbishop Rowan's recent Advent Letter urging adoption of the Proposed Anglican Covenant. He suggests we look past the present dissension over sexuality and look to possible future disagreements, and the Covenant's possible tole in keeping the peace, as all of the members of the Communion vow to remain mutually submissive.

Sadly, this continues several of the themes purveyed by those who see the Covenant as a benign or helpful document. To them I commend a careful rereading of Section 4.2, which places into the hands of the Standing Committee the capacity to commend what amounts to the essential dissolution of the Anglican Communion, or at the very least the expulstion from it of any member whose behavior is judged "incompatible." I am not making this up. It is, of course, quite true that there are already mechanisms in place to do this, at least insofar as the Instruments are concerned; that is, the Archbishop of Canterbury sets the table and arranges the placecards at both Lambeth and the Primates' Meeting, and the ACC is capable of amending its charter of membership with the cooperation of the Primates. But up until now we have not had a Damocletian Clause hanging over the Communion, and section 4.2 of the PAC places this threatening weapon over all our heads, suspended only by the narrow thread of good intentions.

As I've written before, even were it not for the punitive mechanisms laid out in the PAC under the Newspeak terminology of "relational consequences," there is something deeply wrong about the notion of mutual submission. The main problem with this idea is that it consists in practice of submission of the few, or the one, to the many. In this it stifles the Holy Spirit, which does not suddenly inspire everyone everywhere with the same insight, but always starts locally, often individually, and then spreads like the good infection it is. This is a reflection of the Incarnation itself. The PAC represents a kind of diffuse gnosticism of goodwill, which in operation will mean the submission of any new insight to the judgment of the old and possibly calcified views of a majority. It will convert the Communion into a Sanhedrin or Bet Din, the wisest of whose members will at best be able to say, Let us wait and see; and in the meantime, the decision of the body will prevail: to let these innovators be disciplined -- or crucified.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


IT said...

It seems to me that the Covenant is driven by a need to exclude, to draw the circle closer. The liberal view is to draw the circle bigger: hence radical inclusiveness.

It's the old Lakoff "strict father" - "nurturant family" dichotomy. The strict father throws out the gay son. The nurturant family holds him close.

Seems to me Christ in the stories drew the circle wider, always...what are they afraid of?

Tom Downs said...

Where would black South Africans be today if the Anglican Communion had told them to submit to the mutual accountablity of their white Christian brothers and sisters who supported appartide? Sometimes injustice is injustice and must be confronted, even if it is supported by our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Tom Downs

Dan Joslyn-Siemiatkoski said...

I really appreciate your insights and think there is much wisdom in there. However, as one sensitive to the way in which Christians talk about Judaism in our internal discourses, I would suggest you avoid using Jewish institutions like the Sanhedrin / Bet Din as negative foils. To use Jews and Judaism as described in the NT as a negative aspect of our internal current Christian arguments distorts what Judaism then and now is. This issue is what General Convention was speaking to in 2009 when it approved the resolution empowering the SCLM to investigate anti-Judaism in the liturgy. I don't want to hijack this thread because I thoroughly agree with your larger point. I just wish the rhetoric at the end was different.

Dan Joslyn-Siemiatkoski

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks for the feedback. IT, the circle drawing anlogy is helpful. There do need to be limits of some sort, but they should be porous and flexible, esp. in an area where "truth" can be elusive.

Tom, exactly. The whole notion of the church as a place primarily interested in picking others apart, and submitting to the rule of those in power is inimical to the work of the Spirit.

Dan, I take your point in part; but would be more persuaded if the situation in the Judaisms of the Second Temple era were not so similar to our own situation. I think you will find there is even within Judaism a lively critique of the rigidity of the Sanhedrin and Bet Din in that era, Gamaliel being the exceptional voice of reason. It isnt to my mind anti-Judaism to point out something that is a part of both our traditions. To ignore what our Gospel and the Talmud both say seems to me to lose an important truth about the way religious instutions work.

Scoop (Leslie Scoopmire) said...

I will admit that I do not worry much about the Anglican Covenant-- we will be who we are whether we remain in the Anglican Communion or get cast our into the outer darkness by fundamentalists, whether African or American. I've already escaped them once in my life, and I have no desire to have them try to dictate to me now.

Erika Baker said...

Scoop, my fear is that some churches will not remain who they are if they sign the Covenant. They will have given up some of their autonomy and the moment that will bite is precisely one where they want to do something different to other churches. Now, they can do it - then they can't.

The ones who don't sign will indeed remain what they are now. I'm not so sure about the ones who do sign.

June Butler said...

Tobias, as the covenant lays out the process, couldn't the result also be the submission of the many to the few, depending on which tack the Standing Committee takes in response to a complaint?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Erika, I concur, though with the caveat that the paths are open to many possibilities. Mimi, that includes the oneyou cite...