Monday, April 23, 2012

Will the Anglican Church Down Under also Give the Covenant the Amber Light?

The result of the vote on the Covenant motion here in Christchurch is sufficiently ambiguous to place no great constraint on our General Synod representatives when they take part in the actual vote on the Covenant which counts, that is, the vote of our church as a member church of the Communion at our July General Synod. (Recall, the motion was defeated in one house but the overall vote was in favour). With respect to all who travel to Fiji for the General Synod, obviously some members will go to the General Synod intent on voting the Covenant down, others on supporting it, and some with an open mind in respect of a "for/against the Covenant" motion. Among our bishops I sense there may be a slight majority in favour of the Covenant, if only because their episcopal travels and consultations around the globe will have impressed on them the depth of the fractures in the Communion and the importance of doing something rather than nothing about this. There is also, as was made clear on all sides in our Christchurch debate, a significant commitment in our church to the future of the Anglican Communion and its well-being.

If you are agreeable to what I say thus far, you might recognise with me that our General Synod might be open to a way forward other than a straight out acceptance or rejection of the Covenant. That is, if on the floor of General Synod a motion is proposed which is not a straight up and down for or against the Covenant motion, then the result, at this point in time, is less predictable than for a motion asking for acceptance of the Covenant. Alongside that I also wonder where Australia will head on the Covenant, knowing very little about what is going on there, other than knowing that there is a conservatism in Australia somewhat unknown to us Anglicans in ACANZP in which the whole church seems able to arrive at some positions we cannot envision here, and I wonder if one such position is support for the Covenant to some degree or another. So, to get to the point of this post:

I wonder if we might find ourselves here in Down Under Anglicanism following the lead of the Anglican Church in Wales, as reported last week, as giving an amber light to the Covenant. A classic and somewhat enticing Anglican fudge, but nevertheless a way forward for those who have genuine concerns about the Covenant while also having a deep commitment to the Communion not unravelling further than it has done.

As reported on Thinking Anglicans, the 'amber light' approach is this:

"i) affirm the commitment of the Church in Wales to the life of the Anglican Communion;

ii) Affirm its readiness to engage with any ongoing process of consideration of the Anglican Communion Covenant;

iii) Request clarification from the 15th meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council as to the status and direction of the Covenant process in the light of the position of the Church of England;

iv) Urge upon the Instruments of Communion a course of action which continues to see reconciliation and the preservation of the Communion as a family of interdependent but autonomous Churches."
I cannot see anything at all in clauses 1, 3, and 4 which would be disagreeable to any of the episcopal units of our church (ditto Australia). I see in clause 2 something likely agreeable because it neither accepts nor rejects the Covenant and because it contains a hint of the final version of the Covenant being not quite as final as has been put to us thus far. To the extent that objections to the Covenant have been objections to specific aspects of the Covenant, "any ongoing process of consideration" keeps open the door on the possibility of those objections being met. (I am well aware that there are other objections to the Covenant which involve rejecting the Covenant full-stop, whether as an unAnglican things to do, or as a complete waste of time re dealing with current difficulties. Such objections are not met by the Welsh resolution).

In our church we have a particular reason for embracing the amber light approach: ACC is being held in Auckland in late October/early November, and I think it fair and reasonable if our ACC-minded folk (including our episcopal, clerical and lay reps) would feel more comfortable going into that meeting having not rejected the Covenant outright. Thus I go so far here as to say that I expect some exertion in our General Synod towards an amber light resolution re the Covenant. Working on a hint already received from beyond my own diocese, I predict that those supporting the Covenant at General Synod (but knowing the Covenant is unlikely to pass there) would vote for an amber light motion. The question would be whether the reps from the episcopal units which have voted against the Covenant feel they could reflect those decisions and the debates preceding them by voting for an amber light motion.

Whether Australia might be more explicit in its support for the Covenant is always possible, but knowing a little of the variety of forces at work in that church, I can imagine Australia also going for the amber light.

At that point the remainder of Western Anglicanism might fall like dominoes towards the ongoing consideration of the Covenant. Even by October/November this year it might seem obvious to the ACC that the Covenant's future lies in a revision of the formerly final version.


liturgy said...

Easter Season greetings, Peter,

As a minor point – I think this may be the first time you let your readers know “Recall, the motion was defeated in one house but the overall vote was in favour”. I think that some of your readers may struggle to make sense of what you mean.

We were not told the numbers that voted each way in each house. We were told that, had we not voted by houses, the motion would have carried (again no numbers given).

It was you who called for a vote by houses.

Had you not done so, I am certain someone would have called for voting by houses.

So - the motion was defeated. Full stop. End of story.

More significantly: whatever our diocesan synod had decided does not determine what our diocesan general synod representatives will vote in July. With respect, I think the “Covenant” is such a significant step having “a slight majority in favour” would IMO not give it the moral weight it needs. However, should GS/THW vote in favour of the “Covenant” with only “a slight majority in favour” – I will, of course, be bound by that result.

Most importantly, I agree with you that GS/THW pass a motion affirming our commitment to the unity of the Anglican Communion. I mentioned such from our own diocese in one of my speeches – we are passionate and agreed about unity, just disagreeing about the means to that.

Personally I would phrase things differently to your suggestion, as I would also note (again possibly minor) that our province does not formally recognise “the Instruments of Communion”.

Also importantly, there is no “formerly final version” of the “Covenant”. There are now covenanted Anglican Churches, and there are not covenanted Anglican Churches. The CofE and AANZ&P belong to the latter group, for example. The suggestion that “the Covenant's future lies in a revision” looks like it will lead to further chaos and division. The half a dozen covenanted churches, it has been made clear repeatedly, are the ones who determine any revision now. That decision has been made. Why would they revise their covenant and what process could possibly work out how to revise it to the satisfaction of the un-covenanted Anglican churches?! Yes, we, uncovenanted churches, could produce a revised “Covenant” with some signing up to that – resulting in even more divisions.

No – the “Covenant” is fatally flawed – and we now have to live with the two-type Anglican Communion it has created.

Christ is risen


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco
Various points and observations you make are taken in good spirit.

To clarify what I mean when talking about a 'formerly final version' of the Covenant: I imagine that if out of 38 member churches (say) a dozen approve (and then with varying language re accede, subscribe, etc), a dozen reject, and the remaining fourteen give it the amber light, then the penny will drop within ACC, the ACO, the new ABC, and any other bodies of Important Anglicans Individually, Collectively or Instrumentally :), that the Covenant needs a revision not actually provided for within the text of the Covenant. To put it bluntly, on this scenario, either a new version will be drawn up and a new attempt made to secure 90% plus agreement OR it will be quietly dropped as an idea (even though technically some churches have signed it and faithfully live out their lives and relationships in the light of that). As you know I have written on more than one occasion here that I do not think the Covenant has much effect if it is not signed up to by a very high majority of member churches (minimum 80%, desirable 90+%).

As one final note, I am interpreting Wales' further 'consideration' to mean some kind of consideration of revision of the text, but I would be more than happy to be put right by a Welshperson if I am wrong.

Father Ron Smith said...

I think, Peter, that your hopes for a revised version of the covenant will still be doomed to failure.

Bearing in mind that the more vociferous voices against the Covenant are to be found in the GAFCON Provinces due to meet in the home territory of the Church of England this month. There will no doubt be some grand-standing there about GAFCON's unwillingness to live together with TEC and the A.C.of C. - or any other Province that dares to initiate some action without their explicit permission.

The more progressive Provinces, I believe, would not stand for that ethos of exclusion. Therefore, to my mind, the Covenant is already a 'lost cause' - better left in the receptacle beyond the 'Out' tray.

I agree with Bosco, that our General Synod should emulate some of the English Dioceses, which, though rejecting the Covenant, have recorded their desire to remain 'in Communion' with those Provinces of the Communion who want to live together, seeking Unity in dynamic Diversity - a very Anglican trait, and a blessing - rather than a combative instrument for disunity.

Diana and I are off to sunny Hawkes Bay for a week, so things will be quiet from our neck of the woods in the interim.

Christ IS Risen, Alleluia!

liturgy said...

I totally agree with all you say in reply to me, Peter.