Thursday, December 24, 2009

Anglican Covenant (iv): Effects

Although the Covenant is not yet in effect (since no Anglican church has yet signed its agreement with it), a possible effect of the Covenant in place is signaled in this resolution of the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion (published simultaneously with the final draft of the Covenant):

"Resolved that, in the light of:

The recent episcopal nomination in the Diocese of Los Angeles of a partnered lesbian candidate

The decisions in a number of US and Canadian dioceses to proceed with formal ceremonies of same-sex blessings

Continuing cross-jurisdictional activity within the Communion

The Standing Committee strongly reaffirm Resolution 14.09 of ACC 14 supporting the three moratoria proposed by the Windsor Report and the associated request for gracious restraint in respect of actions that endanger the unity of the Anglican Communion by going against the declared view of the Instruments of Communion."

With this resolution the Standing Committee indicates that the Covenant in place is likely to change nothing about the sense that a partnered gay or lesbian person elected to episcopal office in the Communion is 'incompatible with the Covenant' (see S4.2.6).

I will assume, for the purposes of this post, that for the foreseeable future this view, that a partnered gay or lesbian person elected to episcopal office in the Communion (or indeed, out of the Communion, in, say, a church seeking to become a member of the Communion) is incompatible with the Covenant. I will also assume for the purposes of this post that the Covenant is signed by member churches in such numbers that it is effective as a means of ordering the life of the Communion (my personal estimate of the numbers required is 90+% of current member churches).

(One further thing I ask readers to note is that I am a supporter of the Covenant because I think a number of ways in which life in the Communion has diversified or threatens to diversify need limits or constraints placed upon them, not because it will solve one major presenting issue. The 'gay issue' may have catalysed the process which has led to a Covenant, but it is not the only reason for having the Covenant. Here, however, space and time limit my focus to one or two implications of the Covenant for the 'gay issue'.)

A small bevy of questions immediately arises (though, for me, the one question which will not arise is whether TEC would draw back from electing partnered gay or lesbian people to episcopal office). Will TEC be able to sign the Covenant and confirm such elections? If TEC does not sign the Covenant what will that mean in respect of a range of matters from the considerable gifting of funds TEC makes to the life of the Communion? Would TEC (already an international network of churches) form an alternate Communion? Would TEC seek as far as possible to be an active, though unCovenanted member of the Communion?

On the one hand we can see that, even the most positive answers to questions above being given, one likely effect of the Covenant being adopted is that some division between TEC and the remainder of the Communion takes place. On the other hand we cannot see what the life of the remainder of the Communion as a Communion will look like. We should not assume that TEC would be ungenerous to the Communion in regard to funding. Conversely, if funding were withdrawn, we should not assume that meetings of the Communion could not take place. But we should accept now that the future could be very different. (Teasingly, we could observe that if one effect of the Covenant is that a member church is dis-invited to a meeting it does not amount to much if the meeting cannot take place for lack of funds!)

Some will have little or no regret about a division of some kind taking place between TEC and the Communion - some that is, who are tired of the Communion's constraints on TEC, and some who are tired of TEC's thorny presence in the life of the Communion. Others are very concerned that we could get to such a point. For some there is incomprehension that so insignificant a matter as a person's domestic life could be constructed into a matter over which division takes place. For some the incomprehension is that TEC could persist in thinking it could continue on a path it has been told is divisive while believing this would be without consequence to its relationship with the Communion. For others their concern is that the Communion seems unable to agree to disagree on an issue which concerns basic human dignity; and, one might add, on an issue which is compatible with the basic autonomy of member churches to order their own life according to their constitution.

To reflect in this way is to recognise that the presentation of the Covenant exposes a multiplicity of disagreements in our Communion over homosexuality. It is not just that we disagree about partnered relationships; we disagree about how that disagreement should be handled in our life as a Communion; and we disagree about whether it would be a good or bad thing if we finally divide over it.

From one perspective the Covenant is a shadow over our life: all these disagreements are in our midst. But from another perspective the Covenant is God's searchlight exposing our many weaknesses.

To know our weaknesses is to have a foundation for building new strengths. Can we do this? Will we do it?

[Later: have just discovered the internet existence of this from ACANZP.]

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