Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Anglican Covenant (iii): Possibilities

Disarray is one way to describe the present state of the Anglican Communion in which there is uproar over gay bishops (one consecrated, one waiting confirmation), non-recognition of ministries (there are places in the Communion in which ordained women or men ordained by a woman bishop or men bishops who have ordained women are not welcome to exercise their ministry), varying relationships with the See of Canterbury (e.g. no longer part of the constitution of Nigeria's Anglican Church), turmoil within North American Episcopalianism/Anglicanism, controversial episcopal arrangements in my own church (in summary terms, we can have two or more jurisdictions over the same territory), and the lurking possibility that from Sydney the Communion will finally be confronted with the question of whether our tolerance stretches to include lay presidency at the eucharist as an expression of Anglican polity. Bosco Peters offers a sweeping overview of these difficulties in our common life and draws the conclusion that the Covenant will make no difference to the mixture of diversity and division which is an ongoing characteristic of our life as a messy church.

It is certainly difficult to see how the Covenant will make any difference to the Communion if it is adopted by some provinces and not by others. In my own estimation it requires in the region of 90+% adoption by the member churches of the Communion if it is to make any difference to the life of the Communion. I offer this figure because a Covenant between members of a large body, by definition, needs agreement if it is to bind the body in any manner. Conversely, I do not see that we need hold out for 100% agreement (nice though that would be) as requiring 100% offers the possibility of a tiny minority vetoing the large majority. Having said that, however, I note two matters to ponder: (a) should 90% be 90% of members churches, each member church being one signatory, or 90% of the (presumed) numerical membership of the Communion (so that, e.g., Western Anglican churches such as Australia, ACANZP, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, England, Canada and TEC failing to sign up might not matter)? (b) could the Covenant get off the ground if Church of England, the church of the Archbishop of Canterbury itself did not sign?

This could all be put another way. If the Anglican Communion is in significant disarray (as Bosco effectively argues) and less than 90% sign up to the Covenant (my requirement for success, not his), then our disarray is underlined, indeed, set in concrete. But if the Communion signs up in near, or even total unity to the Covenant, this would be a sign that the Communion intends, albeit over time, to walk more closely together, to work on its common life, and thus, as an intended consequence, to minimise the divisions in our midst. There would be some changes required: Sydney might need to disavow further consideration of lay presidency; ACANZP might need to review and revise its episcopal arrangements; and so forth. But these changes, driven by a document called the Covenant, would not be about a stick used to beat us. They would be the result of committing ourselves to living by a common Anglican theology grounded in Scripture as received by us through our tradition and reason.

Take just one case, one I am reasonably familiar with: the way ACANZP has ordered its life through three tikanga arrangements which has led to more than one bishop having jurisdiction over the same territory. This is not, ultimately, a satisfactory expression of our unity together in Christ which, in an episcopal church, should be represented by one bishop per territory: our arrangements, I believe, are vital for the situation we find ourselves in as we work out the effects of colonization on Aotearoa New Zealand, but, measured against the gospel, they are provisional and should not be deemed permanent. Our church will have some within it, including, obviously, many Maori Anglicans, who fear the Covenant and its effects. But this is an unfortunate way to frame the role of the Covenant which is a calling back to our theological roots grounded in the vision for the church set out in Scripture. For Christians committed to Christ as the Lord of the church and resolved to live a common life in Christ, there is nothing to fear in the Covenant which should be welcomed, as should anything and everything which renews our life in Christ, even though the path of renewal is costly.

Thus the first revised paragraph of Section Four (remember the first three sections of the Covenant are now largely without demur on the part of member churches) proposes a vision for membership of the Communion that can only be disputed at risk to the foundations of ecclesiology itself:

"(4.1.1) Each Church adopting this Covenant affirms that it enters into the Covenant as a commitment to relationship in submission to God. Each Church freely offers this commitment to other Churches in order to live more fully into the ecclesial communion and interdependence which is foundational to the Churches of the Anglican Communion. The Anglican Communion is a fellowship, within the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, of national or regional Churches, in which each recognises in the others the bonds of a common loyalty to Christ expressed through a common faith and order, a shared inheritance in worship, life and mission, and a readiness to live in an interdependent life."

I have italicised the words above which draw us to consider what our life in Christ means as Anglican together in the mission of God in the world. Do we have 'bonds of common loyalty to Christ' or not? If we do, are these to be 'expressed through a common faith and order'? If they are, my argument through these posts, contra other commentators, is that the proposed Covenant is the means to enable that expression to take place. Naturally if questions about our common faith and order never arose we would not require a Covenant, so we expect the Covenant would say something about how we respond to such questions. Thus there is now an all new section 4.2.1:

"The Covenant operates to express the common commitments and mutual accountability which hold each Church in the relationship of communion one with another. Recognition of, and fidelity to, this Covenant, enable mutual recognition and communion. Participation in the Covenant implies a recognition by each Church of those elements which must be maintained in its own life and for which it is accountable to the Churches with which it is in Communion in order to sustain the relationship expressed in this Covenant."

In other words, if Communion means we have things in common in a relationship of mutual accountability then those things must remain in common for our fellowship as a Communion to be sustained. But what if some things do not remain in common between us? Here the revised Section 4 sets out a procedure which I quote in full:

"(4.2.3) When questions arise relating to the meaning of the Covenant, or about the compatibility of an action by a covenanting Church with the Covenant, it is the duty of each covenanting Church to seek to live out the commitments of Section 3.2. Such questions may be raised by a Church itself, another covenanting Church or the Instruments of Communion.

(4.2.4) Where a shared mind has not been reached the matter shall be referred to the Standing Committee. The Standing Committee shall make every effort to facilitate agreement, and may take advice from such bodies as it deems appropriate to determine a view on the nature of the matter at question and those relational consequences which may result. Where appropriate, the Standing Committee shall refer the question to both the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meeting for advice.

(4.2.5) The Standing Committee may request a Church to defer a controversial action. If a Church declines to defer such action, the Standing Committee may recommend to any Instrument of Communion relational consequences which may specify a provisional limitation of participation in, or suspension from, that Instrument until the completion of the process set out below.

(4.2.6) On the basis of advice received from the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meeting, the Standing Committee may make a declaration that an action or decision is or would be “incompatible with the Covenant”.

(4.2.7) On the basis of the advice received, the Standing Committee shall make recommendations as to relational consequences which flow from an action incompatible with the Covenant. These recommendations may be addressed to the Churches of the Anglican Communion or to the Instruments of the Communion and address the extent to which the decision of any covenanting Church impairs or limits the communion between that Church and the other Churches of the Communion, and the practical consequences of such impairment or limitation. Each Church or each Instrument shall determine whether or not to accept such recommendations.

(4.2.8) Participation in the decision making of the Standing Committee or of the Instruments of Communion in respect to section 4.2 shall be limited to those members of the Instruments of Communion who are representatives of those churches who have adopted the Covenant, or who are still in the process of adoption.

(4.2.9) Each Church undertakes to put into place such mechanisms, agencies or institutions, consistent with its own Constitution and Canons, as can undertake to oversee the maintenance of the affirmations and commitments of the Covenant in the life of that Church, and to relate to the Instruments of Communion on matters pertinent to the Covenant."

Some would see the bite in these teeth of the Covenant as affecting relationships in respect of meetings in the life of the Communion which (as Bosco Peters reminds us) are non-binding. In other words, not much bite.

However I suggest the bite is at its sharpest at another point, in the section whose words I have italicised above, which I repeat here:

"(4.2.6) On the basis of advice received from the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meeting, the Standing Committee may make a declaration that an action or decision is or would be “incompatible with the Covenant”."

If the Covenant is that which expresses our common life together as an Anglican Communion then it is a statement of what being Anglican means in this day and age. This determines that what being Anglican means will not be set by facts on the ground laid out by individual Anglicans (e.g. through publication of heterodox theology or well publicised provocative actions such as we have seen in recent days in Auckland, NZ) or individual member churches (e.g. through deciding to permit lay presidency at the eucharist). Rather it will be set through a process in which members of the Covenanted Communion may draw attention to actions or proposed actions and seek consideration of those actions as to whether they are or are not compatible with the Covenant, that is, with our resolve to be what we are as a Communion, that is, to live a common life together in Christ. At the least this will mean that of some things labeled 'Anglican', we will be able to say , "No, that is not so. They are not part of our common life together, no matter what the newspapers say".

Perhaps, I feel emboldened to ask critics of the Covenant, we do not wish to live a common life together in Christ as global Anglicans?

There is much more to say about the Covenant in respect of matters such as who may sign up to the Covenant, what signing up would mean in terms of the constitution and canons of member churches and so on. But others are saying those things. This is what I want to say for now. Tomorrow I hope to post on a practical aspect of Covenant thinking as expressed in a recent decision of the (newly named) Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion in respect of the election of Mary Glasspool.


liturgy said...

Thank you for your gracious dialogue on the covenant. Part of the issue is concretely spelling out in plain English what we want, understand by, and expect of a “Communion” – and how that differs, for example, from a province (and a diocese, and a parish). 4.1.1 is far too vague to ascertain how tight “common faith and order” is to be.

James Dunn's book, Unity and Diversity in the New Testament, makes the clear case within the earliest church, that if the “shared core” is too large, the community will be too small, too tight, lacking diversity, if the “shared core” is too tiny, the community will be unrecognisably diverse. Jesus, Dunn suggested, was the “shared core” just Goldilocks-right. The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral has often been the Goldilocks agreement (read “covenant”?) within Anglicanism previously.

Let us say 85% sign the covenant. Following your post, this version of the covenant is such, that even according to you it cannot effect what that 85% hope it would do. I might not use your word “condemn” but I think my suggestion that it is not “fit for the purpose” certainly has a high chance of being shown to be correct. The resulting mess will be added to the current mess and distract us from the real issues.

Let us be playful. Let us fantasise 100% sign. We would have a united communion, with everyone with a common faith and order. The Anglican Communion looking like a trim, slick, united parish – rather than even the diversity of the diocese in which I serve (let alone this province). The question we would need to ask is: does this unity/uniformity enhance truth, justice, the gospel – or come at its expense?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco
We seem to be at odds over what "common faith and order" might mean!

I do not understand it to mean "uniformity" but to mean that which is agreeable to us as forming our life together. This can include diversity (though it is likely to mean understanding of limits to our diversity) and uniformity (which need not be at the expense of truth, justice and the gospel).

"Common faith and order" in Anglican contexts, for example, has traditionally incorporated a breadth of eucharistic theology, an unwavering commitment to having bishops, and a variety of robes.

I do not see why a 100% Covenanted Communion would look "like a trim, slick, united parish". But I would hope that it looked tidier than it is, have less fires lit on its margins that take up time to put out, and involve more common prayer than currently seems to be the case.

liturgy said...

Your last sentence, Peter, rather than show the solution, demonstrates the problem.

We cannot talk simplistically of centre and edge. What you consider a “fire lit on the margins” – others, in their particular context, different from yours, consider to be a light shining at the centre. And vice versa.

An example: many (a majority of?) Anglicans would consider women in ordained ministry to be against scripture and tradition, and a “fire lit on the margins”. For the sake of unity of the communion would you be prepared to abandon women in ordained ministry in our province? I would not.

Many fires originally lit on the margins have spread and are now blazing light and warmth from the centre and, had we put them out when vulnerable at the margins, we would have been working against truth, justice and the gospel – not for it.

Peter Carrell said...

Bosco, I appreciate your point about centre/margins.

While it is true that a Covenanted Communion might stifle things which begin on the margins moving to the centre, it might also provide a means for things begun on the margin moving with agreement towards the centre.

Please don't bring up the ordination of women as a counter-example! Yes, it is with us because some forced the issue. But that is no argument which of itself justifies forcing other issues.

"For the sake of unity of the communion would you be prepared to abandon women in ordained ministry in our province?" To me that is a non-question. No one is even hinting that the Covenant will lead to the possibility of a reversal of somethings as embedded in the life of the Communion as the ordination of women. Ordained women are part of the common life of the Communion, notwithstanding that some Anglicans do not accept the ordination of women. I cannot imagine the circumstances in which the matter would be 'unity' versus 'abandonment'. But if you insisted on putting the question: no, I would not so abandon.

liturgy said...

The danger IMO is to stop listening to what each other is trying to say and polarise the discussion.

I personally find your second paragraph surprising, because I just don’t see church history, or history generally, going: “hey, there’s this really cool stuff happening at the margins, some people lit a fire there, we’ve got this agreed pile of beliefs and practices that this is contrary to but let’s move this new thing systematically into the centre and incorporate it without giving the originators a hard time.”

So I used ordaining women as an example of what was once a “fire lit on the margins”, not because it will be undone by the covenant, but because, as your third paragraph indicates you realise, it’s a good example of something you (we) would be unwilling to give up – and hence can be seen analogously in relation to the current situation of a bishop in a committed same sex relationship – about which many feel passionately now and argue for with similar integrity and intensity.

IMO that is one of the primary issues precipitating the covenant – and the covenant (accepted or not) will not solve that issue. It just moves the pieces on the board somewhat. The issue itself will not go away.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Suem
I appreciate your critique: it highlights a very fair response to my question, that one could be against the Covenant and for the common life of the Communion. (My question in spirit, but clumsily worded, was intended for those I find are critical of the Covenant and seem willing to walk apart from other Anglicans).

We disagree on whether the Covenant is essentially a response to differences re gay Anglicans and, to a lesser degree, ordained women: I think it is a response to an ever diversifying array of theologies - an array which has led to public examination of where we stand on gay Anglicans etc. One reason I am in favour of the Covenant is because I think there are limits to diversity!

I would also disagree that the Covenant is necessarily against honest discussion. The actual procedures set out in S4 mean that disagreements noticed by the Communion will have to be discussed.

The bishops of the Communion, by the way, are quite countable, whatever their sexuality - they number less than a thousand I believe :)

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco
I take your point that "margins" needs nuancing (in my own thinking): ordination of women began on the margins and moved to the centre, with a far from initial welcome by the centre.

Nevertheless I would like to see some ability to put out fires on the margins before they begin! My particular case in point is the fiasco up in Auckland: Anglicans keep returning like a fetish to public questioning of basic doctrines with inappropriate language; the media loves it; we get distracted ...

Suem said...

"I think it is a response to an ever diversifying array of theologies - an array which has led to public examination of where we stand on gay Anglicans etc."

That may be true, Peter, but I do not think the covenant would have come about if not for the actions of TEC in consecrating Gene Robinson, no matter what differing theologies we propounded.

As for gay bishops, I suppose any number can be counted, but only if people are prepared TO stand up and be "counted" - and only one bishop (and one would be bishop)has the honesty, and to be fair, the support, to do so.

I do think this covenant is there to appease traditionalists. I don't think it will do so. Many of those in the ACNA have (I believe) their own vested interests in it and have glimpsed opportunities for power within a new structure.

I echo Liturgy in saying that this document does not enhance truth, justice - or the gospel of Christ.

Suem said...

Hi Peter,

You also say,

"One reason I am in favour of the Covenant is because I think there are limits to diversity!"

If this translates as "I cannot be in communion with those who express their homosexuality in active sexual relationships " - why not just say so?

I CAN be in communion with those who would advocate the death penalty for such, although I would challenge, argue against and oppose those views.

If Canterbury feels the official church cannot be in communion with active gay people, why doesn't it say so as well? Why doesn't it then expel TEC and sack all the gay priests it relies on?

This covenant is an attempt to exclude TEC but to claim that they excluded themselves - "they wouldn't sign" etc.

It looks like bullying to me and maybe this is an overly negative reaction, but I do feel deeply negative about our ability to act with Christian love towards each other at this moment in time.

Wishing you a blessed and peaceful Christmas.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Suem

We will probably need to agree to disagree on some aspects of this discussion - I do not think, for example, that the Covenant is simply here in our life for consideration because traditionalists need appeasing!

A couple of questions are raised by you:

(a) ""One reason I am in favour of the Covenant is because I think there are limits to diversity!"

If this translates as "I cannot be in communion with those who express their homosexuality in active sexual relationships " - why not just say so?"

I would not just say so because the translation is not accurate. The limits to diversity I have in mind include attempts in some quarters to introduce lay presidency at the eucharist, and in other quarters the persistent attempts to reinterpret the meaning of our creeds (Spong etc). I am in communion with "those who express their homosexuality in active sexual relationships". Within that communion there will be disagreements, as you yourself note, which can and should be discussed.

(b) "If Canterbury feels the official church cannot be in communion with active gay people, why doesn't it say so as well? Why doesn't it then expel TEC and sack all the gay priests it relies on?"

My answer (without, you understand, actually being a pen pal of the ABC) is that the official church is in turmoil over the question of communion with active gay people. That turmoil is such that restraint is being asked over some things (election of gay or lesbian bishops) but not such that gay priests are being sacked. Out of the turmoil, and the negative response (it seems) of TEC to the request for restraint, TEC and the Communion may part ways. It will be a point of interpretation whether that is an 'expulsion' by the Communion or a 'refusal' by TEC.

Suem said...

Well, that seems reasonable. I am glad to hear that "limits to our diversity" does not mean you cannot be in communion with actively gay people.

I think TEC believe they have already practised gracious restraint for long enough and are not prepared to sacrifice the ministries of gay people or compromise their integrity by discriminating any longer. I support them in this.

Spong, incidentally, is not in line with my thinking theologically at all - but I personally would not be "out of communion" with someone who read and valued Spong's ideas and have some friends who think he is wonderful!

liturgy said...

Peter, you write: “I would like to see some ability to put out fires on the margins before they begin! My particular case in point is the fiasco up in Auckland.”

This reinforces my primary point: if I am right - the covenant will not do what supporters of it think it will do for them. It just is not “fit for the purpose” Signing the covenant will not prevent your “fiasco up in Auckland”. The way you need to deal with your distress over that is to file a complaint under the normal Title D canonical procedures. Have you put in your formal submission yet? There is no need for interference beyond our province.

If you are right, and the covenant will impact right down to a parish’s right to put up a billboard, then I think those fighting against signing a covenant have even more reason to be concerned and double their efforts.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco,

I am somewhat guilty of insufficiently explaining my points!

Of course the Covenant, by itself, is not a fire fighting instrument re every little spark, flame, or fire that shoots up out of parish life!

What I should have taken more words to explain goes like this: IMO Anglican churches for too long have tolerated the eccentric and the esoteric taking place; there has been little or no application of discipline to questioning of doctrine in ways which bring the character of Anglicanism into disrepute, both from a doctrinal perspective and an ecclesiastical perspective. As a result all kinds of weird and strange things have happened in the name of the Anglican church.

The Auckland fiasco involves a mixture of both: a church and its vicar thinking its okay to question doctrine via the method of pillorying the beliefs of other Christians, concomitantly diminishing the glory of God.

Yes, one could bring a charge in terms of our Title D. But you and I know that these can be difficult to make stick, especially trying to pin down why a form of words constitute an assault on doctrine rather than an affirmation of it.

The Covenant, I suggest, offers the Communion and its member churches an opportunity to review our capacity to tolerate the eccentric and esoteric in the name of diversity by recognising that it is in fact important to work more on what we hold in common. In turn I hope this would change the culture of Anglican churches such as our own. This need not exclude the possibility of the St Matthews-in-the-City parishes from doing that work on the margins of church and society which can be warmly applauded; but it might mean we have less fiascos, less books published by bishops which turn out to be heterodox if not heretical, and so forth.

It might be a vain hope.