March 6, 2012

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


Erika Baker said...

I think your request for mutual love instead of mutual accountability highlights the problem.
You can legislate accountability, you cannot legislate love.

I can see why the Covenant route appears to be the only way forward to Rowan.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...


laudable Practice said...

Tobias, many thanks for this meaningful engagement with those of us who support the Covenant.

I do wonder, however, about your reference to +New Hampshire's consecration: "How different things would be if in the wake of +Gene's election if the other provinces had simply minded their own business ..."

Is there not a sense in which the episcopate, irrespective of geographical location, is the business of those of us elsewhere?

Catholic communion is served, promoted and protected in a particular manner through the episcopate. Thus, if a province intended to consecrate to the episcopate a candidate who rejected an aspect of core creedal doctrine, other provinces would be right to express their concern at the likely implications for communion.

Surely there is a profound sense in which the episcopate serves the whole church and therefore the church outside the relevant province cannot be told to 'mind their own business'?

Brian (Ireland).

Fr. Jonathan said...

It seems a bare minimum to me to say that there is no such thing as love without accountability, just as it is to say that there is no accountability without love. 1 Corinthians 13 is a fine place to draw on in order to understand Christian love, but it is well worth remembering that this description comes in the midst of a letter in which Paul rebukes and holds accountable those in the Corinthian Church who have gone astray, also out of love. In fact, in chapter 5 Paul explicitly calls upon Christians to judge those within the Church. Paul himself judges the "sexually immoral" man and calls upon the church to "deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord." There is a call here for discipline as itself a form of love.

Of course, such accountability can veer into something obscene and self-serving if it is not rooted in Christ and a deep concern for the well being of our brothers and sisters. But love expressed without accountability is merely sentimentality. And in fact, such love is no love at all since it denies that the obstinate sinner's soul is important enough that I should be willing to make myself uncomfortable in order to save it.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, BC, for a perspective from abroad. I will confess to a bit of brash speech concerning minding one's business; but I do think there are limits to the extent to which this needs to be an international issue. I think the loss of a clear sense of the "national or provincial church" as the workable limit and compromise between a kind of parochialism at one extreme, and a universalism at the other marks something distinctive about Anglicanism. In my church's tradition, all bishops must be approved by a majority of all of the other diocesan bishops and diocesan clergy and lay leaders. Going further afield for the approval of bishops in remote churches, some with very different understandings and traditions, seems to press the case too far. I do not want authority over who is elected or appointed bishop in Nigeria -- though I can tell you I disapprove of some of those so elected or appointed. Anglicanism has had this "buffer mechanism" of the national or provincial level for some time, and it seems a good balance.

Ultimately, as I will say to Fr Jonathan as well, it is a matter of learning to live with difference. I reject the notion of accountability because in practice, and as it is laid out in the document, it will lead to tyranny. Christ argued for service, not oversight. It is true that Paul waffles on this issue, even in the same Epistle! (Paul seems to me often to be at war with himself...) There are plenty of churches that follow the techniques of shunning and excommunication as a means to "save" the sinners in their midst -- that was, I hasten to remind us all, the point of the auto da fe! I do not see that as Christ's way forward, or Paul at his best. "Calling others to account" is at the heart of the Covenant in Section 4.2., though phrased at the start in a passive sense, "When questions arise..." it becomes active as the question raisers are identified. (4.2.3) It is about finding fault, explicitly.

So, as an example, I would ask, in the interest of the Covenant being adopted, would you accept the delection of the problematical bits of Section 4, with which many in the Communion have found fault?

laudable Practice said...

I entirely agree on the issue of not seeking approval of e.g. bishops in Nigeria. Disapproval of a particular candidate for the episcopate is, I would guess, quite a common phenomenon! But when the grounds for disapproval move far beyond personal or cultural disapproval to matters which legitimately impact on communion, we are facing a different order of affairs. Indicating that a particular church's choice will have implications for communion is therefore something quite different from personal disapproval.

As to Section 4, I am afraid the answer is no. From my perspective, accountability is the outward working of love and communion - it ensures that love and communion have meaning and content, and really do shape ecclesial life.

And we do, after all, expect accountability in various ways at present in our ecclesial life - the accountability of priests to their diocesan bishop, of a bishop to the college of bishops, in our relationships between dioceses within a province (as you yourself indicate with reference to the consent process in TEC for consecration to the episcopate). Accountability is not, therefore, an alien concept to Anglicanism.

Fr. Bryan Owen said...

I appreciate this exchange about some very important matters pertaining to our common life as Anglicans and I am eager to read more responses to your comments, Tobias.

In the meantime, one note of clarification. You wrote:

"I reject the notion of accountability because in practice, and as it is laid out in the document, it will lead to tyranny."

Are you rejecting the notion of accountability within the Church and the Christian life per se, or only the notion of accountability as you understand it to be laid out in the proposed Anglican Covenant?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

BC, thanks for the feedback. The problem I have with this approach, which seems to me to be the Covenant's modus operandi, is the whole issue of the "order of affairs" and when something has "implications for the communion" or not. I could well say that much of the clamor over +Gene is an example of "personal disapproval" writ large. I do not consider same-sexuality, as Chapman does (with others, it's true), a "first order issue." The problem is that the Covenant, as framed, allows any possible issue to rise to that level IF someone -- anyone -- complains, and the Standing Committee permits it. IF they don't, however, we will then be back at the same level of ad hoc and independent action we have always lived with. So I don't see the Covenant solving anything, but rather assigning tasks -- and that in itself is not a New Way, just different folks.

Your unwillingness to jettison Section 4, in spite of the wide rejection of it across the various provinces, "left and right" -- including some otherwise favorable to it -- should give you pause for thought and a foretaste of the problems the Covenant will not be able to solve. It will not necessarily "ensure" anything since it is all recommendatory.

My larger point is to reflect on the absence of such language from, say, the marriage liturgy, which only speaks in positive terms; even the times that are of sickness or "for worse" gone through with utter commitment to irrevocable communion. Why is that not a better way forward? I'm not against accountability -- but the Covenant in fact falls short of real accountability, and ultimately opts for excision rather than a closer embrace. It is also important that what one is accountable TO be very clear, and the Covenant is surely short on that level of clarity, and leaving things in the end up to the Standing Committee falls very short.

Erika Baker said...

To me, the Covenant reflects the relationship between parent and child more than the relationship between consenting adults.
You do as we say and if you don't we shall be accuser, judge and jury in one and you will have to live with our recommendations regarding your future.

In fact, this model is discredited even for parent-child relationships.

The much cited accountability is entirely one sided.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Bryan, I was writing to BC when your note arrived. I think I've addressed some of your question. Just to clarify, it is the form of accountability laid out in the Covenant that I find troublesome, not accountability in general.

Though, that being said, I prefer to emphasize commitment rather than accountability, especially in a covenant-type document, because I prefer to emphasize the positive. In short, "faithfulness" seems to me to be a covenantal Christian virtue, "accountability" a more secular, contract-oriented sort of attitude, and a neagtive one at that. As I say, we don't married couples do not vow to be accountable to each other, but faithful to each other. These are, to me, significant differences, and I wish the PAC drafting committee had heeded the rather constant criticism from many that it sounded too much like a pre-nup.

Finally, speaking purely for myself, I do not want anyone to be accountable to me. I think we all should be accountable to God, serving each other in his Name. The implicit giving in to the libido dominandi and the need to control flourishes well in ecclesiastical contexts, and I think has to be avoided at all costs.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Erika, thanks, again I was writing as you were posting...

You've hit on the real problem: the accountability is "mutual" in name only. It will always be the "violators" who are "accountable" to the "offended" -- as determined by the central committee. And as I say, what will happen when the "offended" feel un-supported by that committee?

The proposed Covenant provides a mechanism for discontent.

JCF said...

The proposed Covenant provides a mechanism for discontent.

That's the long and the short of it.

To wit: Church A will judge Church B for having a bishop who is [x]. While Church B will judge Church A for having a bishop who is [anti x].

And on and on and on...

Where there is trust and "bonds of affection", no Covenant is necessary. Where there is NO trust and "bonds of affection" are but a turn-of-phrase, no Covenant is sufficient (and is, in fact, counter-indicated, as a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure).

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

JCR, we are in agreement about the engine of discontent -- it runs on friction.