Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Anglican Covenant (ii): Hopes

Opposition to the Anglican Covenant, or simply indifference to it, seems to proceed from four bases. Base One is the belief that, when all hand-wringing explanations are made, the Covenant is simply a fig-leaf covering naked homophobic aggression against those parts of the Communion with the temerity to publicly affirm through ordination and blessing the sanctity of same-sex partnerships. In four words: its purpose is punishment.

Base Two is the belief that the Anglican way is what it is without need for further definition or description; indeed, the idea of a Covenant is "unAnglican". In four words: it will not do!

Base Three is not entirely dissimilar to Base Two because it also sees no need for a Covenant, but does so for a different reason. When all is said and done, the Anglican Communion is caput. Over. Working on a Covenant is, from this perspective, a waste of time. In four words: it will achieve nothing.

Base Four, to which I was alerted by a correspondent yesterday, again, has similarity to Base Two, and to Base Three, but with an important difference. The Covenant is a waste of time, but not because it will achieve nothing. It might in fact achieve something inasmuch as it enables the world Anglican church as an institution to totter along for a few more decades. But the Covenant is a waste of time, on this view, because God is doing something else within the context of the Anglican Communion (and beyond it). That is, God is building a new form of church (a New Reformation so to speak) with a new generation of people, freed of (say) the shibboleths of the Baby Boomers, who are zealous to obey God and indifferent to some of the concerns of their elders. Thus to focus on the Covenant is to miss where the divine action in the church and world is today. In five words: God is not in it.

So, what I am about to write is in the face of the possibilities that the Anglican Covenant is wrong-headed because its purpose is punishment, it will not do, it will achieve nothing, and God is not in it!

With the Archbishop of Canterbury, however, I share some hopes for the Covenant. In his recent introduction to the final version of the Covenant he says this,

"In other words, what we need is something that will help us know where we stand together, and help us also intensify our fellowship and our trust.

"The covenant text sets out the basis on which the Anglican family works and prays and lives and hopes. The bulk of the text identifies what we hold in common, the ground on which we stand as Anglicans. It's about the gift we've been given as a Church and the gift we've been given specifically as the Anglican Communion. All those things we give thanks for, we affirm together, and we resolve together to safeguard and to honour."

In other words, if being Anglican in the world means presenting ourselves as a global body united in Christ, then some definition of the basis of our unity as Anglicans is worth spelling out via the Covenant. In Rowan-speak a key word in the above citation is "intensify". The hopes for the Covenant are not like the hopes for Copenhagen, that somehow some form of words might be agreed to by nations otherwise resolved not to like each other. Rather they are hopes that the member churches of the Communion might not only agree to the Covenant, but on the basis of it deepen our common life together, "presenting to the world a face of mutual understanding, patience, charity and gratitude for one another", and thus becoming "a truly effective tool for witness and mission in our world".

This is a great vision for our life in Christ facing outwards to the world!

(Unfortunately the whole text of the Archbishop' introduction is littered with statements about what the Covenant is "not", and with a sense that the hopes for the Covenant lack the solidity of the hope of which the New Testament speaks. I wish the Archbishop were not so pessimistic!)

Tomorrow the revised text of the Covenant itself ...


Suem said...

I have to admit that I am one of those who think the Covenant is a "bad thing" for the Church and I blogged on this on the 18th, the day it was published.

I am not sure it does offter very concrete sanctions, but its main thrust is to threaten ostracisation and exclusion (not that that will deter TEC) and I cannot see these as Christian actions, especially under the guise of "covenant".

I do not think we can reach a shared mind - or not for some considerable time and I do not see that we can all stand still and pretend that we do. What we need to do is to "agree to differ" and still manage to extend Christ's love to each other, to talk and to listen and to remain in communion. This would be the most effective "witness and mission" to our world.

I will look forward to what you have to say about the revisions.

Peter Carrell said...

I am looking forward to what I have to say too ... as I have not yet studied the revisions so have no idea what I am going to say!!

In broad terms I agree that we need to find a way as a Communion to agree to differ. I would still see the principle (at least) of a Covenant, an agreement for our time, as being decisive in securing that particular agreement.

Christopher Wells said...

Dear Peter,

Glad to have stumbled over your blog (via your comments on Preludium the other day; ah the internet!). Your reflections here are really wonderful, and I'm so glad you are carefully engaging the Covenant.

I know you have found your way over to The Living Church's site, as you linked to Leander Harding's fine review essay the other day. Do check out our editorial and my column for this week on the Covenant, and let me know if you think we have the essentials right.

Peace in Christ, and all good wishes in Advent and at Christmas,

Christopher Wells

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Christopher!
I shall have a look at what you say (and notice links to what others have to say).