Friday, March 5, 2010

Covenant: Noll on void

Stephen Noll has posted a critique-and-improvement article on the Covenant. He is particularly concerned that the Covenant in its present form makes void the great historical role of bishops in the governance of the Anglican Communion by placing so much Covenant-led governance in the hands of 'the Standing Committee'. Presupposed here is the virtue of conciliarism rather than curialism (i.e. bishops-in-council led churches are better than papal led, bureaucracy administered churches). An excerpt:

"I believe the Anglican Communion Covenant is a positive development in the history of Anglicanism. In a sense the Covenant has emerged from a theological identity crisis just as the first Lambeth did. As the GAFCON Statement forcefully points out, this crisis is more than just about church politics. It is about Gospel truth. The problem with the Covenant proposal and process, from its first appearance in the Windsor Report to the “final” draft, is that it skirts the crisis of truth in the Communion. I believe the Covenant is adequate in what it affirms – “Our inheritance of faith” – though I think that affirmation could be strengthened in a number of ways. However, the “two-track” idea is going in precisely the wrong direction, building into the governance an impossible paradox: that a portion of the Communion agrees to abide by a certain doctrine and discipline and another portion does not. The end result of such a polity will be another decade of chaos.

There must be only one track: those who adopt the Covenant are members of the Communion; those who do not adopt it are not. Bp. Mouneer Anis is right: when a sufficient number of Provinces have adopted the Covenant, the ACC and its Standing Committee should stand down and be constituted solely from Covenant-keeping Provinces.

This paper is not intended to give a precise proposal for how these two imperatives – the restoration of episcopal governance and the consolidation of the Communion under the Covenant – be incorporated into the Covenant text. It does strike me, however, that two simple but critical amendments could be made to the latest draft to put the Covenant process on the right track:

1. Replace references to “The Standing Committee” in section 4 with “Primates of churches that have adopted the Covenant.”120

2. Change the wording of section 4.1.4 to read: “Every Church of the Anglican Communion is expected [instead of “invited”] to enter into this Covenant according to its own constitutional procedures.121

These changes are minimal but crucial. Some will say: “Sign on to the Covenant now and perfect it later.”122 I myself made such an argument after the Ridley Cambridge Draft was published.123 The utter manipulation of the ACC Meeting in Jamaica, the revelations of the secret ACC Constitution, and the make-over of the Standing Committee have convinced me that I was wrong. Those who would buy into the Covenant hoping to change it from within, I fear, are like “the young lady from Niger, who smiled as she rode on a tiger.”124

The autonomy of the Anglican Provinces actually offers an alternative to the “sign now, change later” position. Since the Provinces of the Communion have the final say to adopt a Covenant, they also have the final authority over what text to adopt. There is nothing sacrosanct about the covenant drafting process set up by the Archbishop of Canterbury, especially given its final outworking. The “final” Covenant draft is not final. The Archbishop of Canterbury has endorsed it; the Standing Committee has endorsed it – without any independent authorization by the Primates‟ Meeting or the ACC.125 But Canterbury and the Standing Committee have no authority to command the Provinces to adopt it as it stands.

Adoption of the Covenant is necessarily a political process itself and as such may result in an amended version. There is a relevant analogy in the adoption of the U.S. Constitution. The draft of the Constitution was approved by the Convention of 1787. However, it became clear as ratification was taken to each state legislature that the Constitution would not pass without certain guarantees of personal and states‟ rights. Therefore the supporters of the new Constitution agreed to add the first ten amendments, the so-called Bill of Rights – as part of the overall adoption of the Constitution.126

I see no reason why a Province or a group of Provinces and their Primates should not exercise their autonomy by adopting an amended form of the Covenant. I think that a large number of Anglican bishops and churches would have no problem with the gist of the changes I have suggested. If enough Provinces and Primates adopted an alternative text, there is no reason it could not supplant the present version within the wider Communion. The Global South Provinces and Primates, or the FCA Provinces and Primates alone, could take the lead in this matter and render a great service in restoring the proper relationship of authorities within the Communion and the integrity and effectiveness of the Covenant."

The whole is here. (Numbers above refer to footnotes which are not included in my post).

I had not thought of the possibility that member churches might propose amendments to the Covenant ... but for them to be agreeable to the whole Communion they would need to line up with each other.


Anonymous said...

[Apologies: I posted this comment to the wrong thread - it is intended for this one]

I’m surprised there are still people trying to revive the covenant by patching. I’m not surprised that this is from people who appear to neither understand the theory nor the practice of Anglicanism/Episcopalianism. Anglicans are not normally “governed by bishops” (except perhaps in Nigeria, Sydney, and similar). They are normally episcopally led and synodically governed. Fr. Carrell, at a comment February 28, 2010 7:36 PM, speaks of the “bishops’ synods” in his province. This misunderstands both theory and practice in his province. Howard Pilgrim clarifies in that same thread episcopally-led, synodically-governed is not what distinguishes that province. Furthermore, the current suggested patch misunderstands the place of primates within Anglicanism. Again not surprising, as it is misunderstood within Fr. Carrell’s province.

Tim Harris said...

Noll's article is substantial and significant. To my own mind, I have little doubt he has named the serious deficiencies of the potential 'working reality' of the covenant, as opposed to the notion of such a covenant - and all that against the backdrop of the massive loss of trust and confidence in Communion leadership and the control of meetings/task grps etc over the past half dozen years.

The big question is, if we agree with such serious reservations, what do we do? I doubt whether his proposals will get much 'take up', as much as I can see where he is coming from.

I think the ball is in the court of the Global South leadership, and especially the South to South Encounter in Singapore in April. However, any alternative approach will take significant leadership, resolve and energy, and I am not sure where that is likely to come from. It will be interesting to see if Stephen Noll will be present and has much of a voice at Singapore.

Tim Harris said...

@Anonymous. One thing Sydney is not, and that is 'governed by bishops'. Strongly influenced by personalities, some of whom happen to be bishops, certainly - but not governed by bishops. It is a commonplace belief in Sydney that most power of governance lies with Rectors in their parishes. Sydney has a strong 'muscular' leadership culture, but it is not exercised through their bishops. Even the Archbishop needs to operate within the capacity to persuade and influence end of the spectrum.

I have little hope and will to 'patch the covenant', but my wider concern is to explore what other modes of communion as 'koinonia' can break the growing spirit of independence and autonomy that I believe makes for bad ecclesiology - we just become laws unto ourselves, whether at local, diocesan or provincial levels. We have bought into the western culture of individualism bigtime, and the only way out of that is some level of intentional, committed, voluntary mutual accountability, with a recognition of the gospel imperative of inter-dependance within the Church of God.

Howard Pilgrim said...

A Nonnymouse squeeked from a dark corner and said, "Howard Pilgrim clarifies in that same thread episcopally-led, synodically-governed is not what distinguishes that province." How did he/she/it get that inference from either of my two comments?

One of the advantages annonymity gives such commenters is a complete lack of accountability for what they write. In this case someone whose own church loyalties and personal track record are hidden in the secret places where evil festers feels bold to impugn the province I love and claim my backing!

Let me state my view plainly. ACANZP is episcopally led and synodically governed, and that is one of its great strengths, whatever I might think about the quality of that leadership and governance from time to time.

Anonymous said...

Just to clear things up: the first comment on this thread was not by me.
There. I thought that would be helpful.

Howard Pilgrim said...

Backing up to the actual topic in your post, Peter ...

I thought Stephen Noll's ideas somewhat extreme, and wondered what his affiliation might be. Then I came across Mark Harris' riled post on him ( and wondered no more!

Nice to have a little background on some of these people whose opinions you commend, Peter ...

Peter Carrell said...

(Anonymous ... am lost where I made that comment ... but agree with Howard re ACANZP, we are episcopally-led and synodically-governed).

Hi Howard

If it is any comfort, I am sure Mark Harris and you would get on fine :)

On this blog an attempt is made to provide an appreciation of that which is good and fruitful in the world of ACNA, GAFCON and the Global South ... contra various blogs around the world which always dismiss this world including its claim to be properly included in the Anglican Communion. Stephen Noll, for better or for worse, is a leading theologian in that world. As a matter of fact offering him some ADU primetime goes against one of the main theses of the blog at this time, that the Covenant is a good thing ... as Tim Harris rightly observes, Noll puts his finger on some difficulties in the current version ... Mark Harris has some agreement also, though from a different perspective!

Anonymous said...

From your moderation policy and its application am I right to understand ad hominem attacks are acceptable if directed against anonymous commenters?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous
When you put it like that, no ad hominem attacks on anonymous commenters are not acceptable in general terms. In the particular case of the above comments, it is tricky for named commenters to grapple with critique from unnamed commenters.

However I shall be more alert to the trickiness of these things in future ... and am probably getting closer to not having anonymous comments!

Anonymous said...

If the content of a comment makes a good, valid and helpful point, why does it matter whether the commenter is anonymous, pseudonymous, or named and clearly identified? Surely the issue is whether you are interested in discussing ideas – independent of their source, or are you allowing ad hominem comments that destroy and militate against such open discussion? Why is it “tricky for named commenters to grapple with critique from unnamed commenters”? This is precisely the point! The personal background of the commenter, known or unknown to the responder, should play absolutely no part in the reply or ad hominems result – as happens here. Comments should be in response solely to the content of comments, not drawing in personal, extraneous information. Hence, with respect, the focus should be against ad hominems and only allowing comments that eschew this - anonymous, pseudonymous, or named.