March 28, 2012

Covenant Amendment

Now that England has said No to the Proposed Anglican Covenant — though of course they can eventually reconsider, so claims it is "dead" are a bit like those concerning that Monty Python victim I referred to earlier — some are mooting the notion that the Gafcon group or some other contingent might now sign on, and then reshape the PAC by amendment to be more to their liking. There is a fatal flaw in this plan, first raised by the ACI some while back, and it lies in the text of the Covenant itself.

The amendment process to the Covenant (4.4.2) involves and requires, in no uncertain terms, the participation and instrumentality of the full Standing Committee and Primates and Anglican Consultative Council — after all, this thing was conceived as the future for the whole Anglican Communion, and the hope and goal was that most if not all would adopt it. So the amendment process does not involve just the signatories. The signatories have the last word on amendments once passed through the digestion process described — which includes revisions to the amendments made by the full bodies — but they have no capability to amend on their own. Sorry folks: if you want to start a revolution, you will need to start de novo, or continue to beef up Gafcon into a rival Communion.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

March 27, 2012

On Rowan's Ministry, Briefly

Many are penning or blogging “post-mortems” on the ministry of Archbishop Rowan Williams, and the dance of the aspirants round the greasy pole is well under way. But I think it fair to allow him an occasional, Monty-Pythonesque “I'm not dead yet!” before the hammer blow of retirement actually descends.

I do want to offer one perspective, however, on his way of working, and its result. As a true exponent of inclusion, the Archbishop was unwilling to risk losing “conservatives” in order to provide more visible roles in church leadership to “progressives” or those who incarnated such things as troubled the “conservative” side. He was confident that the “liberals” would bear with the unhappy situation, as they had for so long, and that the “reactionary” would bolt, as they so often threatened to do. I think he also held to the “progressive” view that things will eventually come out on that side (one need not be a scholar of history to see that trend), and he was, and is, playing the long game.

I think he read the situation rightly, but in placing more value on the continued presence of the “intolerant,” fulfilled his own prophecy that this will be a long game. Only a retrospective of a generation or so will tell us if his modus operandi had a virtue that is not particularly evident this close to events.

Meanwhile, I do wish him well in his remaining time as Archbishop and Primate and Instrument — there is still an ACC meeting coming up — and in his retirement as Master of the college.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

March 24, 2012

Political Science 101

The voting in the synods of the Church of England Dioceses to date has resulted in a majority of dioceses against the adoption of the Proposed Anglican Covenant. I am happy that good English common sense has prevailed over the sometimes strained and rhapsodic appeals for the adoption of the PAC, often with little reference to, or congruence with, its actual text.

One of the things most odd about the rhetoric on the Covenant is the refrain that without it the communion will just become or be "a federation." This tune has been sung by Archbishop Rowan, Mark Chapman, and apparently now (in a tweet) by Ruth Gledhill. Allow me to make one short observation to address this concern:

The word federation derives essentially from the Latin foederis = "covenant." A federation is precisely a group of entities bound by an agreed covenant. What we are (or are supposed to be!) is a "communion" and the Proposed Anglican Covenant would have turned us into a weak federation.

Class dismissed.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG 

Cb4B 2 GC

The Diocese of Eastern Oregon is bringing "communion without baptism" or "communion before baptism" to the General Convention. You can read about it here.

My observation in response to pitching this as "radical inclusivity" is simple: The church is radically inclusive and baptism is the means by which people are included. Communion is the celebration of that inclusion, not its means.

It is supremely ironic that a church that spends so much energy (rightly) celebrating the baptismal covenant could then turn its back on its significance in what seems a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of these two sacraments, and their interrelationship.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

March 20, 2012

Meaning and Intent: Porneia in the Apostolic Fathers

Peter Carrell of Anglican Down Under (and Hermeneutics and Human Dignity) and I engaged in what for me was a fruitful discussion a while back. I hope it was for him as well. It grew out of his response to my book Reasonable and Holy and my efforts to answer some of his concerns and questions about my method and conclusions. One of these involved my reliance on rabbinic sources to try to come to an understanding of the meaning of the porneia word group, in response to the assertion by some, such as Robert Gagnon, that Jesus’ use of the word must necessarily include condemnation of same-sex relationships. This derives in part from the paired assertions that the word and its relatives refer both to any sexual behavior forbidden by Scripture (with particular reference to Leviticus 18) and that it had a broad and imprecise range of meaning, covering any kind of sexual immorality, as a few lexicons claim and a few versions of ancient texts translate. All of this stands in contrast to the understanding that relates the word to harlotry ("whore" being the meaning of the root), and the evidence that the overwhelming use of the word-group in the Hebrew texts refers either to (1) prostitution or (2) figuratively to idolatry.

My goal was to assess the accuracy of the assertions and translations, and discover what the word and its relatives actually would mean to hearers in those contexts, and if it is was as broad and inclusive as some lexicons suggest, or rather designed as a more limited category, and if so, what. Peter further wondered why, in my search for answers, I turned to the rabbinic texts rather than looking more to early Christian texts. In addition to offering an explanation, I will take the opportunity to do just as Peter suggests at the end of this exposition.

First, though, I wish to establish one basic principle, which I hope goes almost without saying. However, I had better say it just to be clear. And that is the evident truth that words change their meanings — both the meaning intended and the meaning conveyed. A word may have an explicit meaning in the mind of the speaker, but if it is capable of conveying a range of meanings, a listener may well misunderstand the speaker's intent. In normal conversation one can correct such misapprehensions, but when the "speaker" is a "writer" and the text some centuries old, other tools for understanding need to be employed. This is a particular challenge to translators of ancient texts, if they are to convey to modern readers a sense of what the ancient author intended.

So an accurate translation of a text or definition of a word requires the translator or the lexicographer to be immersed in the world and culture of the time in which the texts were written. Those familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures or classical Greek or Roman literature should not be surprised to know that there are human activities, some of them sexual, that were considered moral or morally neutral, or perhaps even virtuous, in those cultures that we now consider definitely immoral; and vice versa: there are actions considered serious breaches in Leviticus and the Pauline Epistles that scarcely raise an eyebrow in these latter days. Thus, to translate porneia (or its Hebrew equivalents) as vaguely as “sexual immorality” fails to take due notice of distinctions that careful study reveals would have been made by the speakers or writers, and easily allows a modern reader to think the ancient author may have been condemning something that we find offensive but which the author may have found neutral or even acceptable. (It may well be that this broadening has come about second hand through a broadening given to the word fornication — a standard translation for porneia. Originally a fairly narrow category, this word came, in popular speech, to be used as a synonym or euphemism for any sexual act, including between married couples!)

A case in point is some lexicons’ suggestion that porneia means “adultery.” The fact is it can be used to mean adultery as we understand it today, but this blurs an important distinction from the times of the writing. Our modern equality-of-the-sexes understanding of adultery does not match the double standard of the cultures of the biblical period. Under Jewish law a man was free to have intercourse with unmarried women (prostitutes), or to take another wife. Under Roman law, though monogamy was the rule, a man could have a mistress or concubine, or freely resort to prostitutes. Given the inequality of the sexes, married women did not have these options. Male adultery meant violating another man’s marriage, female adultery meant violating her own. In Hebrew Scripture the word for adultery (na’af) covers “sexual intercourse with the wife or betrothed of another man,” in contrast with zana, “illicit heterosexual relations but not necessarily in violation of the marriage vow,” the latter being the equivalent of porneia and so translated in Greek. (TWOT, na’af) The Greek word for adultery, moixeia, is used in the Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures and in the New Testament.

I would venture an even more precise distinction, however. There is a clear overlap with porneia and moixeia when it comes to women: a woman who strays from her husband is "playing the harlot." But a man who visits a prostitute or has a mistress is not legally guilty of moixeia — though we would consider him an adulterer, the ancients would not have done so. If they wished to cast opprobrium on such a man — and they often did, particularly under the influence of growing moralist movements in rabbinic Judaism, Christianity and Greek and Roman culture under Stoic influence — he would be tagged precisely with porneia. This is why the two words often appear together in lists of immoral behaviors, to condemn both men and women who are guilty of sexual relations in violation of marriage — but specifically to bring men under the same moral standard that applied to women, which moixeia alone did not accomplish.

See, for example the passage in Hebrews 13:4, “Let all honor marriage, and the marriage bed [be] undefiled, for God will judge the pornous and the moixous” — that is, those who are violators of their own or others’ marriages. This same pairing occurs in 1 Cor 6:9 where the employment of the pair to cover both categories is even clearer, as the words are separated by a disjunctive ou construction: neither porneia nor moixeia are acceptable. Similar pairings of the term occur in other Biblical texts, and in the early Christian writings, about which more in a moment)

But first I want to explain my primary reason for expounding the rabbinic evidence on this subject, rather than the early Christian usage. That is: the nature of the rabbinic discussion. While early Christian writers make use of the words porne and porneia, the rabbis actually engage in detailed discussion as to what the words (the Hebrew equivalents zonah and z’nut) mean, and what is included under the various shades of meaning. In short, while the meaning of the word has to be gleaned from verbal and cultural context in the early Christian sources, the rabbinic texts go to great pains precisely to define exactly what they meant — as fine points of law (halakhah).

Which brings me to the Apostolic Fathers and my other reason for not bringing them up: they add little to the discussion. The use of the porn- word group in the Apostolic Fathers is consistent with that in the canonical scriptures, though the words of this group do not appear very often. The most frequent use is paired with moixeia, in order to include men who have sex outside of marriage with an unmarried woman (whether a prostitute or a concubine). Again,this conflicts with our modern understanding of adultery as including extramarital sex by men or women, a notion foreign to the biblical and imperial Roman double-standard culture; hence the pairing in order to provide the equivalent of the modern inclusive concept of "adultery." This is, no doubt, what the lexicons mean when they say that the range of meaning for porneia includes adultery; it is adultery in the modern sense of the word, rather than in the sense that moixeia is used in those cultures. The point is that we no longer have a word that corresponds directly to what the ancients meant by moixeia, because we no longer maintain that double standard. I am reminded of the telling phrase my Hebrew professor, Dr. Richard Corney, used to cite: Traduttore traditore — to translate is to betray [apparently even this phrase!].

Some details from the Apostolic Fathers:

The root word porne occurs once, in 1 Clement 12.1, with reference to Rahab the harlot. This is the normative use of the equivalent word in the Hebrew scripture, referring to real or virtual (i.e., idolatry) harlots or harlotry.

The derivative words of this group occur a handful of times, always in conjunction with or paired with adultery. Hermas Mandate 4 1:1 gives a good example of the thinking behind this usage (note the use of fornication in these translations):

“I charge you,” said he, "to guard your chastity, and let no thought enter your heart of another man's wife, or of fornication, or of similar iniquities; for by doing this you commit a great sin. But if you always remember your own wife, you will never sin.”

This is clearly designed to rule out both adultery (as understood in the period) and resort to prostitutes or concubines.

Other examples include “vice lists” (Didache 5:1, Hermas Mandate 8 1:30) in which porneia and moixeia are paired. A twist on this in Hermas Mandate 4 1:5 deals with the case of a man with a straying wife and refers to her persistent “porneia” — which if a man tolerates makes him a “sharer in her adultery.” A similar note is struck in Didache 3:3, which is reminiscent of the proverbs concerning youth staying clear of loose women: “My child, be not a lustful one; for lust leads the way to fornication; neither a filthy talker, nor of lofty eye; for out of all these adulteries are engendered.”

Polycarp’s Letter to the Philippians 5:3 similarly quotes 1 Corinthians 6:9 as a particular counsel to youth to avoid being pornoi, as well as malakoi or arsenokoitai. This mention of the porn- root in conjunction with, though distinguished from, words commonly held to refer to male same-sex behavior (most likely prostitution or pederasty, as these were tolerated under Roman law), is echoed in the remaining uses of the word group. Barnabas 19:4 includes this trio: “You shall not commit fornication: you shalt not commit adultery: you shalt not be a corrupter of youth (paidophthoreseis).” This is echoed in Didache 2:2, which includes a long list of forbidden behaviors, including theft and murder. As I have noted before, these lists appear to indicate a distinction (even when not separated by “ou = nor” as in Didache 2:2 or 1 Corinthians 6:9) between the various items in order to include all possibilities. Ultimately, if the word porenia already included these possibilities as a kind of catch-all for any sexual indiscretion the lists would be superfluous.

It is thus clear that the early Christian use of the term and its relatives was closely related with prostitution and concubinage, equated with adultery by women, who were also classed as guilty of porneia by virtue of their straying: which for men we would call "adultery" but which the ancients distinguished from adultery on the basis of their legal codes.

To apply it to any form of sexual immorality (so judged either by the ancients or by us) is a translational step too far.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

March 16, 2012

The Wrong Model

How is one to address the issue of unity in the Anglican Communion, much less the church, without reference to Jesus Christ? Christ himself prayed, in the High Priestly Prayer in John 17, that those who would believe in him would be one "just as" he and the Father are one. This is an intrinsic part of the priestly office which Christ embodies perfectly: the bringing together of the community of the faithful.

But what is the nature of the "oneness" of God, the unity of the Father and Son? The unity of God is that of ontological relationship, not based on an agreement or covenant document. It is eternal and everlasting, and has no relational consequences or means of disengagement, because it is the relationships that constitute the essence of Who God Is.

How does this apply to church unity? The churches of the Anglican Communion have, up until now, enjoyed the connectedness implicit in our ontological relationship, along lines of descent from England, Scotland, and to a very large part, The Episcopal Church. This is what it means when we say, in the Preamble of our Constitution, that The Episcopal Church is a "constituent member" of the Communion -- that is, we are an essential part of what constitutes that Communion, and built it up over the years.

The Proposed  Anglican Covenant that is on the table, on the contrary, offers a bare-bones outline of some high points of Anglican theological and missiological thinking, while omitting other important points. It provides a vague conflict-management system that has consultation as its primary tool, and implicit threats of minimized relationships or participation as its primary means of discipline. To suggest that this bears any resemblance whatever to the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus seems a rather large stretch.

We need a model for the church based on Christ's prayer, and the mode of the Divine Who Is a Trinity in Unity.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

March 14, 2012

England and Canterbury: A Point to Note

Regardless of the Archbishop of Canterbury's feelings regarding the possible failure of the Proposed Anglican Covenant in the Church of England, under article 4.2.8 of the document, should the Church of England not adopt it, the Archbishop will not be eligible to participate in decision-making of the [Joint] Standing Committee [of the Primates and the ACC] when it comes to Covenant implementation matters under section 4.2.

That might be all to the good, as it will allow him to preserve the neutrality becoming of an Instrument of Communion.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

March 12, 2012

Scotland the Brave

England is hogging all the attention in the Proposed Anglican Covenant arena these days, as their synodical process winds on in a pattern not unlike that of the Republican primaries. So it is good to be reminded that the Scottish Episcopal Church is also going through a synodical approval process. Paul Bagshaw reports that five of the seven synods have voted, and all of them have said No to the Covenant. The remaining two may do so as well.

I commend Archdeacon Simonton's long and carefully written rebuttal to the historical revisionism that forms some of the PAC's undergirding.  It is important to note, from an American perspective, the debt The Episcopal Church in the United States owes to that in Scotland, not just in the person of Seabury, but in our liturgy, the eucharistic prayer of which derived not from the pruned stub of the English 1662 book, but the rich rootstock and leafy branches of the full-blown Prayer preserved by the disestablished Scots.

There is more to the Anglican Communion than the relics of England's faded Empire, and more to the Communion than the proposed Covenant deems worth noting or celebrating.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

March 11, 2012

Some Informal Notes on "Kovenaunty"

by H. Dumpty, PhD.

I have been asked by the blog host to say a few words about the poem Kovenaunty, that appeared recently on this site. May I first say that I join K. Leslie Steiner in sharing with her what an odd feeling it is to be a fictive character offering an analysis of a literary work. That being said, I shall bear up and continue.

The poem in question is clearly a variant of one upon which I had offered commentary in an address to A. Liddell, collected in the works of Dodgson. I need say nothing here about the vocabulary found in the earlier variant, and I refer those interested to that earlier commentary.

Brittig is a time of day at which tea is taken, a particularly British, and one might say, brutish, custom, as the tea is rarely consulted about where it is being taken, and under what circumstances. To gyre, as in the earlier poem, is to spin about, and in this case is related to wimpling, a combination of whimpering and tippling, in a particularly wimpy sort of alcoholic consumption, no doubt involving brandy surreptitiously added to the aforementioned tea. The nave as locus for this bibliousness may explain its clandestine nature. Piscophobes are fearful of looking at things, particularly things they don't like looking at because they are afraid of them. Pre-Lates are people who generally arrive before they would be late, and are hence punctual. That they are misbehaving is an indication that they may be, in fact, late.

The Kovenaunt itself is a species of Vaunting Juggernaut. It moves deliberately and slowly, and is very hard to stop, as its various parts work together conventionally and conveniently towards its own ends. Exactly which clause it is that forms the catch, whether the 22nd or some other number in a series of catches, is not entirely clear from the text. The speaker, assumed to be the parent of the adventuresome "son" who assails the Kovenaunt, is not identified. Neither is the "son." Neither are you, for that matter.

The Gafcon bird is a large flightless species of dodo, noted for its loud trumpeting call, which in spite of its intensity betrays a forlorn quality. Why it should be shunned is unknown, as its own habit of shunning makes it rather inaccessible much of the time, except when invading the nests of other birds. The Bristol-patch appears to be a spot or area in which Bristols are found. Bristols are a small large-leafed shrub producing brightly colored berries bitter to the taste. The bark and leaves are used to make Bristol board, in Bristol fashion.

The corporal word appears to be a printed text; indeed it should be noted that this poem seems to recount a kind of logomachia, a dispute over words, as we shall see in the next stanza most explicitly. The "son" appears to be reflecting on the text in hand, in his mishmatched thunk, a kind of carefully contrived (mixed, meshed and matched) cogitation that ends with a thumping, of bibles or other textbooks, as a kind of "Eureka!" or "Q.E.D." The Pry-Mate tree seems an odd and irrelevant detail. This is a tree, the wood of which is used in certain shires of England for the manufacture of bundling-boards to keep married couples from marital relations during forbidden seasons, such as Great Lent, or Very Good Advent. Its appearance in the poem is likely circumstantial.

Uff is a kind of bemusement and ennui. The text examined by the "son" in the previous stanza seems to have lulled him into a torpor of sorts. Meanwhile, the brass-thighed Kovenaunt makes its appearance. Treeling is a kind of long scroll fed through a typewriter, in this case, a generic underwood. This is, by the way, the most Scripturally informed stanza in the poem: the thighs of brass no doubt an indirect (and poetically modified) allusion to the vision in Daniel 2, and the ass a clear reference to Balaam's articulate donkey. The Kovenaunt, it seems, is capable of semi-articulate speech in the same manner. One suspects an early iteration of Siri or some other voice synthesis for rendering printed text in an approximation of human speech. "Mumbled from its ass" is about right.

The "son" then attacks the Kovenaunt with his text, literally throwing the book at it, or furiously composing a blog post at a keyboard, with its click and clack. (Some have suggested an allusion to the Car Guys, but that seems very unlikely in this context, and I think the suggestion idiotic. Automotivists are always trying to read things into perfectly clear Pedestrian texts. Really, it annoys the yolk out of me. But I digress...)

That the "son" is described as vortuous, which is a kind of tortuous spinning, no doubt explains the "parent's" desire to embrace him. That the day is described as dorous, that is, received as a great gift, is clear from the expression of relief in the final line.

As with all texts, of course, I abide by my position that things mean precisely what I take them to mean, and neither more nor less. So this is not only my considered opinion on this poem, but my inconsiderate opinion as well. You may take it, or, on the other hand, leave it.

March 10, 2012

Essential Fault

The most significant failing in the current rash of pro-Proposed Anglican Covenant propaganda is the disingenuous assertion that this proposed document is crucial or definitional for the future of Anglicanism and the Communion. This is false for two primary reasons.

First, the PAC may well determine the future shape of the Communion, if it is adopted, but only for those who adopt it, as even its supporters assert. If everyone signed on — which may have been the hope at its inception — things would be different. But in practice it seems that the Covenant will become the determiner of a very different Communion from the one we have known until now. As the Archbishop of Canterbury and others admit, there will be "tiers" or "tracks" — though these are nowhere referenced in the document itself. The reality is that the PAC will not save or preserve the Anglican Communion, it will fundamentally change it in ways that introduce (or confirm) division between some of the Communion's current members.

Second, though pitched to the Communion in some of its language, the text itself provides for inviting non-Anglicans to adopt it (4.1.5), and affirms that any church that withdraws from the Covenant is not thereby withdrawing from the Instruments of Communion or repudiating its Anglican character. (4.3) By its own text, therefore, the Covenant cannot be understood as fundamentally or uniquely Anglican.

Which indicates that this half-baked document needs to go back into the oven prior to a second serving. There is no rush, and many of us aren't that hungry.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

March 8, 2012

Supreme Court on Freedom of Religion

In an earlier post, I had said that I did not think the requirement that health insurance including contraceptives being available to the employees of church-related institutions violated the constitutional right to the free exercise of religion. This afternoon I came across a passage from the SCOTUS Opinion on Employment Division v. Smith (1990) and think it supports my view, though the circumstances of the case were very different. The Opinion was penned by Justice Scalia.

Here is a portion I think relevant to the contraception discussion (read the full document if you wish.) :

We have never held that an individual's religious beliefs [p879] excuse him from compliance with an otherwise valid law prohibiting conduct that the State is free to regulate. On the contrary, the record of more than a century of our free exercise jurisprudence contradicts that proposition. As described succinctly by Justice Frankfurter in Minersville School Dist. Bd. of Educ. v. Gobitis, 310 U.S. 586, 594-595 (1940):
Conscientious scruples have not, in the course of the long struggle for religious toleration, relieved the individual from obedience to a general law not aimed at the promotion or restriction of religious beliefs. The mere possession of religious convictions which contradict the relevant concerns of a political society does not relieve the citizen from the discharge of political responsibilities.
(Footnote omitted.) We first had occasion to assert that principle in Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145 (1879), where we rejected the claim that criminal laws against polygamy could not be constitutionally applied to those whose religion commanded the practice. "Laws," we said,
are made for the government of actions, and while they cannot interfere with mere religious belief and opinions, they may with practices. . . . Can a man excuse his practices to the contrary because of his religious belief? To permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself.
Id. at 166-167.
Subsequent decisions have consistently held that the right of free exercise does not relieve an individual of the obligation to comply with a
valid and neutral law of general applicability on the ground that the law proscribes (or prescribes) conduct that his religion prescribes (or proscribes).
United States v. Lee, 455 U.S. 252, 263, n. 3 (1982) (STEVENS, J., concurring in judgment); see Minersville School Dist. Bd. of Educ. v. Gobitis, supra, 310 U.S. at 595 (collecting cases).
I would argue that this seems that the general health care insurance requirement, which is valid and neutral, and not explicitly religious, would not be held as a prohibition of the free exercise of religion. I'm also pleased to see that Justice Scalia makes the argument I did concerning withholding ones taxes out of a religious objection to the fact that some of those taxes are used for warfare.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Not again: Golden Apples

Yes, this is another comment on the Covenant. (Contrary to what some say, I do not spend all my time thinking about this. I'm a fast writer; what can I say.) I do want to clarify something I've said before, and that is, I am not opposed to the idea of a pan-Anglican Congress to explore some kind of common agreements. I am clearly opposed to the current Covenant Proposal because I think it was drafted, revised slightly, and proffered in too much haste for something as important for our life together as a Communion of churches. It's tepid reception is evidence of others similar thinking.

I and some of those others have suggested in its place a series of Anglican Congresses with all orders of ministry, including the laity, and representing the whole Communion. It is vital to understand that this is not necessarily to come up with a more centralized government. The concern is finding effective ways of working, and the reliance on Lambeth, for instance, which might have been of use a hundred years ago, is not helpful in the present day. The Primates' Meeting is even worse — the notion that one person can speak effectively for an entire (in some cases multi-) nation-church is a bit absurd. I would if anything see a beefing-up of the ACC as a mission-oriented body more concerned with facilitating relationships between the provinces — not governing them.

The point is that the world is moving away from pyramidal or hub and spoke orientations to networks — and the Anglican Communion is ahead of the curve as an essentially networked structure to start with. We could be the Christian Polity of the future and not even know it — or squander it in a premature grab at a dazzling prize: a golden apple of distraction in the race towards the higher goal! 

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

March 7, 2012

Cameron on the Covenant

As part of the full court press to convince more English dioceses to support the lagging Anglican Covenant, Bishop Cameron has weighed in over at Fulcrum. Give him a place to stand and he may use St. Asaph's as a fulcrum to move England!

I've already said perhaps more than need be about the Covenant in these last few days, largely in response to the stream of arm-twisting from the English episcopate and like-minded folks. At least Bishop Cameron cites a few portions of the actual Covenant text, which is more than most of its supporters are willing to do, and I will not engage in a point-by point response to his Five Theses.

For as with the Covenant itself, the main problems lie in the last section of his essay, in fact, in his last line:

A “No” to the Covenant says: We can’t say what it means to be an Anglican, we want to be able to ignore our sister Churches when it suits us, and we won’t mind if up to half the Communion walks away.
On the contrary:

1. We can say what it means to be an Anglican, and this document fails to do so in many significant ways. (The lack of explicit reference to Reason, though as Chapman points out, this is assumed. Assumptions aside, surely a word ought to have been spoken! Then there's the reference to the 39 Articles and the 1662 BCP, which are not in fact seminal for all of the Anglican Communion, but only "bits" of it.)

2. We do not want to ignore our sister Churches, but we also do not want them to ignore us -- and the Covenant establishes a formal way in which churches can be ignored, while offering precious little towards encouraging the dialogue it purports to favor. (I will put in a bid for the Continuing Indaba as an already proven positive way forward, Covenant or no. We do not need the Covenant in order to have dialogue and to take each other seriously.)

3. We do mind if half of the Communion walks away, but better that than urging any of the Communion out by "recommending relational consequences" -- and if the Covenant does not lead to that being done, neither does it prevent it.

In short, the Proposed Covenant is not suited to the task. It will not accomplish or encourage the things it says it hopes to do. This is why it is being so widely rejected; which in itself is an important point for something so supposed to be geared towards consensus-building.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

March 6, 2012


with apologies to Lewis Carroll.  I mean, serious apologies...

'Twas britigg, and the slithy coves
Did gyre and wimple in the nave;
All mimsy were the piscophobes
As the Pre-Lates misbehave.

"Beware the Kovenaunt, my son,
The jaws that bite, the clause that catch!
Beware the Gafcon bird, and shun
The frumious Bristol-patch!"

He took his corporal word in hand:
Long time the mishmatched thunk he thought --
So rested he by the Pry-Mate tree,
And looked at what he'd brought.

And as in thoughtish uff he stood,
The Kovenaunt, with thighs of brass,
Came treeling from the underwood,
And mumbled from its ass.

One, two! Three, four! And as before
His corporal word went click and clack!
He left its head, assumed quite dead,
And dragged its brass thighs back.

"And hast thou brained the Kovenaunt?
Come to my arms, my vortuous son!
O dorous day! Catchoo! Cachet!
Thank goodness that is done."

'Twas britigg, and the slithy coves
Did gyre and wimple in the nave;
All mimsy were the piscophobes
As the Pre-Lates misbehave.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Alternatives to the Covenant

It is sometimes asked — with somewhat increasing desperation --- "If not the Proposed Anglican Covenant, what?" For me the difference between the proposal and what I would rather have seen is that between mutual accountability and mutual love. Accountability operates from a negative pole, a pole of critique and fault, and seeks — for all the talk of mutuality — the submission of one criticized to the one making the critique. Love, on the other hand, puts up with the other no matter what, bears all things, hopes all things, does not find fault — or if it finds a fault, accepts it as part of who the other beloved is. We see both strands in the Pauline Corpus, but it seems to me that the "better way" is that described in 1 Cor 13, to which I hope all will recognize I've alluded.

There has to be more to the Communion than "dispute resolution" and "fault-finding" — towards which, in Section 4, the present Covenant is explicitly geared and reaches its climax. Many of us who do not accept the proposal — and many in the "broad consultation" to which the Archbishop of Canterbury referred in his lecture, but whose input was more-or-less ignored on this essential problem — would be perfectly happy with, or at least could tolerate, the Covenant sans Section 4 or at least the most problematical "bits" of it, to use the Archbishop's language.

The real issue is that the consultation was not complete prior to sending this draft out for a vote. It's rejection by a wide margin — terribly telling in something meant to be a basic constitutional "way forward" — is the reality of the people of God saying this is not the way in which they wish to go.

+ + +

Meanwhile, some Covenant supporters continue to downplay the language of Section 4 and remind us it is only about recommendations and things that "may" be done.  I must remind us all that Lambeth 1.10 was also a set of recommendations, and it is largely the reason we are in the mess we are in, when some provinces chose, after careful study, not to accept the recommendations, and others began asserting the theses of Lambeth as if they were writ on tablets of stone.

The problem with the word "may" is that while it seems tentative, it is actually a word of discretionary empowerment. When that power is used, and when the "mere recommendation" is followed by "consequences" for failing to assent through deferral of ones actions, and those consequences include possible removal from the only formal mechanisms the Anglican Communion possesses — in short, when the "may" becomes "is" — the recommendation "simply" has all the formal content of a demand.

I was reminded yesterday afternoon of the parable of the pig and the hen considering their respective contributions to the farmer's breakfast. What is merely a "recommendation" from Canterbury's perspective is seen as a "demand" from those on the receiving end. How different things would be if in the wake of +Gene's election if the other provinces had simply minded their own business, and Canterbury recommended they do so? Instead, Lambeth 1.10 was brandished as the "mind of the communion" — taking little or no account of those who voted against it, or of those who only voted for it because they saw it as a compromise.

The Proposed Anglican Covenant is not the way forward for the Anglican Communion, either as a Communion, or for the sake of its members, or for our ecumenical relationships.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

March 5, 2012

Canterbury Pitches; Anyone Catching?

The Archbishop of Canterbury is continuing his advocacy of the Proposed Anglican Covenant in a YouTube video uploaded today. I commend it to your viewing.

It seems to me this video capsulizes well the dilemma about the Covenant, and the mixed message it sends: it is, in Canterbury's view and by his account, somehow very important to our future way of life together, but it only consists of a set of agreed principles and recommendations concerning disagreement about acts that might create tension over those principles. It has no specific requirements or authority.

Of course, the very reason we have tensions in the communion derives from the fact that not everyone is prepared to accept recommendations when they feel the recommendations are misinformed or misguided, or harmful to the local work of their own church. This is precisely why the recommendations contained in Lambeth 1.10 have led to such a great tension in the Communion — and the notion that further recommendations being in place might have prevented those tensions, or might prevent other tensions in the future, is by no means evidently true. It is, I think, plainly false.

The Archbishop asserts that failure to adopt the PAC will somehow lead to our "impoverishment" as a communion; that it might lead some of the weaker provinces to feel abandoned; that it might add levels of further confusion to our ecumenical relations. He offers no real evidence that such a reaction to the PAC will produce these effects, and I for one see no evidence that this is the case; or that the adoption of the PAC will enrich our common lives, support the weaker provinces, or clarify our ecumenical relationships. It is, after all, only a set of recommendations, or so the Archbishop says.

In short, this seems to be one more effort to skew the voting in the Church of England's diocesan synods. I earnestly entreat the voting members to listen to what the Archbishop says, but also to do something he fails to mention: read the text of the Proposed Anglican Covenant, in particular section 4.2, and see how well you think it matches his rosy portrayal.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

March 4, 2012

English Episcopal PAC-men

Thinking Anglicans has highlighted an open letter from the Bishops of Oxford and Bristol concerning the Proposed Anglican Covenant and urging its adoption. By the voting record, Bristol appears to have been very persuasive on his home turf. Oxford has yet to cast a ballot, and it may be moot by the time they do, as it is possible, though unlikely, a majority of Church of England dioceses will have rejected the PAC prior to Oxford's Synod.

Paul Bagshaw has penned a thoughtful response to the bishops' asseverations, and I need not say more than a Bravo to his thoughts. I do want to note one of my chief complaints with Bristol and Oxford on this, however, and that is their statement

A luke-warm response, or worse, rejection, of the Covenant in the Church of England would meet with bewilderment in the wider Communion. Some would ask with the prophet Isaiah, “Can a mother forget her children?” ... It would also impoverish the Church of England. Our church life and mission is infinitely the richer for the relationships we share around the Communion. The Covenant offers us a precious opportunity to consolidate those relationships and to demonstrate our commitment to one another as churches. Let’s not miss this opportunity offered to us in our time.
Aside from the hand-wringing about forgetful mothers, it seems very odd to suggest that a Church of England rejection of the Anglican Covenant will in any way be seen as a desire to distance itself from the Anglican Communion! I say this for two reasons:

First, a number of England's "children" have already made it clear they wish to have nothing further to do with the PAC because it isn't punitive enough; and a few have expressed their reservations about it because it is punitive at all. It has little or nothing to do with relationships with the Church of England.

Second, and like unto it, is the reality that the Covenant has no mechanism for improving relationships, and only explicit threats for diminishing them, in the text itself. It is full of good intentions towards "commitment to one another as churches" but when it comes to brass tacks it is all about the management of difficulties through the imposition of "relational consequences." The carrot is only a picture of a carrot for future reference, while the stick is real. Rejecting the Covenant is the surest way to indicate a desire to continue to live in peace, and to consolidate relationships without any coercive "consequences" imposed as a result of disagreements that have arisen, or may arise.

I certainly hope that the rest of the dioceses in the Church of England actually take the time to read the PAC before suggesting it be adopted, rather than the smooth words of those who seem comfortable in believing that this proposal is absolutely necessary but really changes nothing. Sed contra, It will change everything, and give us nothing.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

March 3, 2012

The Sign of the Diner Parking Lot

Three more Church of England dioceses voted today on the proposed Anglican Covenant, and only one of the three accepted it, while the other two said No. This brings the total out of 44 to 8 in favor and 13 against. More votes next week; and you can follow the tally at Modern Church. In theory this could all be over by St Patrick's Day.

I have begun to wonder to what extent the merits or demerits of the Covenant itself are really the basis for voting up or down at this point. The voting has long been cast, in the wider Communion, in other extraneous ways — as a show of loyalty either to the Archbishop or the Communion itself, for example. Many who support the Covenant, as my friend Mimi points out, rarely cite the actual text, but point to the "idea" of the Covenant. (I've noted this somewhat gnostic trend myself.)

For something so important (i.e., "the only way forward") to do as poorly as it has so far -- even if it were to rally and finally be adopted by a majority of synods (and provinces) in the end, surely indicates that there is no fundamental consensus of support. It should be clear to all by now that the proposed Covenant is not "the future shape of Anglicanism" and is a flawed document put forward for final action too soon, and with too little attention paid to the feedback in the review process.

Its supporters have thus already lost a key "selling point" just on the basis of reception so far; and that may be having a kind of reverse band-wagon effect. Who goes to the diner with only a few cars parked outside? Let's keep driving, dear; there's bound to be something better down the road.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
h/t Thinking Anglicans

March 2, 2012


I've been thinking a bit more about the essay from Fulcrum casting the Anglican Covenant in terms of a marriage contract. Even if I believed that it was wise more strictly to order the relationships of people who are having difficulty ordering their relationships, I think this author has the wrong relationship in mind. Marriage is spoken of in the church — but it is not the marriage of the members of the church to each other or the symbolic marriage of one church to another church. Rather the church's members, or the various churches, all have one Lord — one husband. It is no accident that the Hebrew Scriptures presented God in the form of a patriarchal husband with several wives, even portraying Israel and Judah as sisters.The various churches are more like the wives and handmaids of Jacob, and their various quibbling offspring — family squabbles being quite natural in such a setting, more characteristic of historic Christianity than otherwise, I think.

One of the critiques aimed at those who support same-sex marriage is that it represents a confusion between marriage and friendship. (I do not think this a fair assessment, as most couples, mixed- or same-sex, know the difference between their spouses and their friends.) It is therefore ironic that covenant supporters actually seem to make this mistake: portraying as spousal what is at base fraternal.

In short the churches of the Anglican Communion are not, and ought not be, married to each other. We are siblings or friends, not spouses, to each other. The church is not spousal to itself or its members, but to its Lord, as the Bride of Christ. Within the church and between its members we rejoice in our brother- and sisterhood. To arrange a marriage would be incestuous, and distort the proper relationships we have as children of one Lord, united in one Faith, adopted in one Baptism.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Maxim for 3.2.12

All have the right to testify but only one the right to prosecute or judge.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Conviction is not Truth

Strength of conviction is not proof of rightness — it says more about the person than the premise.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

March 1, 2012

Covenant Adrift

The Church of England Diocese of Sodor & Man today joined 10 other C of E dioceses who have already said “No” to the Anglican Covenant. This means that a full quarter of the dioceses (11 out of 44) have voted against the proposal, and a bare 16 percent (7 out of 44) in favor. There are still 26 dioceses to go — three more voting this Saturday — and a considerable change in proportion will be required if the Covenant is not to perish in its homeland. I can hardly imagine a better burial place. Whatever the rest of the voting shows, no one will be able to argue that this is a consensus document. There isn't even consensus about the thing — how can it be a means to an end it cannot find even for itself?

Meanwhile the folks at Fulcrum continue to produce articles I can only describe as deeply disingenuous. The most recent continues the gob-smackingly wrong analogy with marriage. How many marriage liturgies do you know that contain explicit language on the procedure to dissolve the marriage? It is exactly the "prenuptial" quality of the Covenant that makes it essentially unworthy of consideration. Far from being idealistic, the Anglican Covenant is steeped in a world of real-ecclesiastik and the coercive suasion of a majority over the actions of those who refuse to accept as law what is barely even a consensus. And from a purely pastoral perspective, it is hardly wise to urge an engaged couple having difficulties to marry in haste as a solution to their problems. In any case, the Communion is much less like a married couple than like a fractious family of siblings — who belong to each other whether we get along or not.

One thing the article says is true: the Anglican Communion is going through difficult times. The proposed Covenant, however, does not demonstrably present a solution to the difficulties, beyond a mechanism to do officially what up to now has been ad hoc: instituting impairments to communion by committee instead of by the actions of those offended themselves. People can be disagreeable enough without programming disagreement.

Whatever else this may be, it is not marriage — or at least not a marriage I would like to be party to.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


An Anglo-Catholic ringtone... enjoy!

MP3 File

Right click on the mp3 link and choose save link as... then rename and copy to your mobile... On Android phones you put the file in the ringtone folder. Nor sure about other models. — Tobias