Friday, April 16, 2010

Alternative Covenant already operating secretly in AC

In less than a month ACANZP meets in its bienniel General Synod. Do not look to us, dear overseas readers, for an early rejection or acceptance of the Covenant. According to papers sent to GS members, the motion we are most likely to consider is one which we could call the "Daniel Carter" motion: kick it for touch! That is, the motion refers the final draft to the dioceses and hui amorangi for "study". Safe and sure is this approach so it is predictable that GS will vote for the motion.

But I have been musing, especially in response to a number of, let's call them "aggressive" comments on some of the blogs around the Anglican sphere, about the paradoxical way in which there is already an Anglican covenant at work (hereafter "Covenant" to distinguish it from the proposed Anglican Covenant) in the minds of some Anglicans.

Recall that some thinking about the proposed Covenant goes like this: the Covenant will bind signees together in a reformed Communion; it's implementation will likely lead to situations in which one signee complains about another signee, the gist of that complaint being that the other signee is "unAnglican" in some way defined by the Covenant; the outcome could include punishment such as suspension from the Communion; indeed the strongest theme in opposition to the Covenant concerns the capacity of its 4th section to be "punitive", and being "punitive" is something many Anglicans in Western liberal democracies are uncomfortable about. Allied with this thinking is a much vaunted prediction that an irresistible consequence of the Covenant will be a "curia" to administer it, and a "magisterium" to determine what thinking is "Anglican" and what is not.

But what is Anglican Communion life like now, according to some pundits? I suggest it goes like this: Being Anglican is a matter of sharing common values such as tolerance, liberality of spirit, openness to the leading of the Spirit, wariness about the imposition of scriptural injunctions, and respect for the autonomy of member churches of the Anglican Communion. Further, on the matter of whether member churches' autonomy takes precedence over accountability to the wider Communion, there is an absolute certainty that "no one tells us what to do": autonomy trumps accountability. Even further, there is widespread agreement among those thinking and arguing in this way that diversity of thinking and action among Anglicans is not only a good thing, but it is irreversible; so, in fact, there is very little held in common as members of the Communion. But, nevertheless, the Communion is fairly important, and, in fact it fulfils one very important function at least. That function is to authorise which are the official Anglican churches and therefore, by logic, to declare which are not the official Anglican churches.

Thus this set of ideas, which is held very very firmly and tightly by a number of Anglicans in the Communion, actually functions as a "Covenant", a covenant already secretly at work among us. Question this set of ideas, for example, and there are likely to be complaints against you (i.e. complaints made on the internet!). But it gets worse. Just as the proposed Covenant has (it is alleged) a punitive aspect, so this alternative "Covenant" has a punitive aspect. Suppose you leave a member church of the Anglican Communion, but leave determined and desiring to remain an Anglican. What will you find according to this "Covenant" at work in our midst? You will find that the door is shut on your desire. According to this "Covenant" it is only possible to be an Anglican if you belong to a member church of the Communion. You will realise this because you will be told that you are only "a claimant to the title 'Anglican'" or that you are a "wannabe Anglican" (even though you may have been a lifelong Anglican and continue to carry indelible marks of Anglican confirmation or ordination!!).

But what does this mean in respect of the Communion and its functions? Clearly the Communion functions to administer this "Covenant" and thus to declare who is an Anglican and who is not. Paradoxically, no matter how much wrath holders of the "Covenant" pour on the Communion and its current leaders, the Communion is desperately necessary because according to this "Covenant" an Anglican is someone who belongs to a member church of the Communion and a not-Anglican is anyone not so belonging. Dismantle the Communion and anyone belonging to any claimant Anglican church is an Anglican!

But note this: to determine which are member churches and which are not, to decide on applications to be member churches, there must be a Communion body which administers the notion of membership of the Communion. I think we could call it a "curia" (and, as I understand things, that "curia" is the ACC). But what will guide this "curia" as to whether an applicant for membership of the Communion is worthy of admittance or not? Of course! That would be the "magisterium", the teaching body within the Communion which informs the Communion as to what is Anglican and what is not, who is Anglican and who is not. Currently this "magisterium" in respect of the "Covenant" already at work among us is an informal network of Anglican experts (on being Anglican!), but do not underestimate their convictions, their passionate intention to promulgate their teachings in accordance with the "Covenant", and their rigorous examination of all those who question this "Covenant" (most especially if they happen to hold office as primate of a member church in the former colonies of the British Empire).

So, my humble question to the Communion is not, will we agree to the proposed Covenant, but which covenant will we live by? The proposed Covenant or the "Covenant" already at work among us.

And my last underlining observation is this: note that no matter how loud, long or lambasting are the complaints against the Communion by those asserting the autonomy of their church, they will not cease membership of the Communion for they need it to validate their being Anglican and to exclude those who they think unworthy of the title!

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