Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The extraordinary claim of the opponents of the Covenant

In a completely surprising move (not!) the Archbishop of Canterbury has come out at the General Synod of the Church of England with a powerful, knowledgeable, and clear address in favour of the Covenant!

The Covenant is not what its opponents constantly deride it as being:

'The Covenant text itself represents work done by theologians of similarly diverse views, including several from North America. It does not invent a new orthodoxy or a new system of doctrinal policing or a centralised authority, quite explicitly declaring that it does not seek to override any province's canonical autonomy. After such a number of discussions and revisions, it is dispiriting to see the Covenant still being represented as a tool of exclusion and tyranny.'

As often stated here at ADU, the alternative to the Covenant is continued disintegration of the Communion:

'It is an illusion to think that without some changes the Communion will carry on as usual, and a greater illusion to think that the Church of England can somehow derail the entire process. The unpalatable fact is that certain decisions in any province affect all. We may think they shouldn't, but they simply do. If we ignore this, we ignore what is already a real danger, the piece-by-piece dissolution of the Communion and the emergence of new structures in which relation to the Church of England and the See of Canterbury are likely not to figure significantly. All very well, you may say; but among the potential casualties are all those areas of interaction and exchange that are part of the lifeblood of our church and of many often quite vulnerable churches elsewhere. These relations are remarkably robust, given the institutional tensions at the moment, and, as I've often said, many will survive further disruption. But they will be complicated and weakened by major fracture and realignment.'

The Covenant is realistic: it offers the possibility of something better than division but does not promise that unity in the Communion is easily achieved:

'The Covenant offers the possibility of a voluntary promise to consult. And it also recognises that even after consultation there may still be disagreement, that such disagreement may result in rupture of some aspects of communion, and that this needs to be managed in a careful and orderly way. Now the risk and reality of such rupture is already there, make no mistake. The question is whether we are able to make an intelligent decision about how we deal with it. To say yes to the Covenant is not to tie our hands. But it is to recognise that we have the option of tying our hands if we judge, after consultation, that the divisive effects of some step are too costly.'

Lest we forget: Anglican opponents around the globe protest much about the Covenant. It is not what it seems, it is punitive, it is unnecessary to the future health of the Communion itself. Oh, and by the way, we are Anglicans through and through (and, in North America, we are real Anglicans, not like the ersatz crowd over at ACNA).

Interesting then to ponder this: these real Anglicans, these thoroughgoing Anglicans with the Communion's best interests at heart, know better than the Archbishop of Canterbury what those best interests require!

Given that the Archbishop of Cantebury is the cornerstone in human terms of the Communion, since it is defined in terms of communion with the See of Canterbury, and that the ABC by virtue of roles in the Communion and its meetings knows more about the Communion than any other living Anglican, it is an extraordinary claim opponents of the Covenant are making: we know better than the Archbishop of Canterbury what is good for the Communion!

Yet I am not without hope. In this last week the leading opponent of condoms offered a smidgeon of a sign of changing his mind :) If he can see the light, so can opponents of the Covenant.


Brother David said...

know better than the Archbishop of Canterbury what those best interests require!

the ABC by virtue of roles in the Communion and its meetings knows more about the Communion than any other living Anglican

WOW! I am flabbergasted by such claims.

Peter, I am sorry, I cannot share your assessment/opinion of the man or his office. There are so many examples of where this man has not a clue.

And I am not convinced by his circular arguments in favor of the Covenant. It either has teeth or it does not. The current argument is that it does not. If it does not, then for many of a conservative persuasion it is not fit got purpose. If it does, then for those of us who are of a progressive persuasion, we are not inclined to sign up to our own warrant of exclusion.


Let me ask you a question Peter. What is your fantasy of what would be the next steps after everyone signed onto the Anglican Covenant? What would the Global South's steps be? What would happen to the actual Anglican provinces in North America?

liturgy said...

"the emergence of new structures in which relation to the Church of England and the See of Canterbury are likely not to figure significantly"

You mean the Church of Nigeria.

& now we have the he knows more so he must be right argument :-)

And can we please stop it with the condom analysis - it weakens your strong good post. The pope has not changed his approach to condoms whatsoever. The issue in the papal positions stories is not the pope, the issue is the media's coverage of the pope and its inability to understand religion generally.

Fr. Bryan Owen said...

" ... it is an extraordinary claim opponents of the Covenant are making: we know better than the Archbishop of Canterbury what is good for the Communion!"

Too often, accompanying that claim is some of the most over-the-top ridiculous to vicious rhetoric imaginable. And so we have charges that the Covenant is "a product of as Stalinist a process as could possibly be imagined", that it is "a homophobic power grab" and "an unmitigated evil," and that the Archbishop of Canterbury is a "criminal."

Ironically, many who throw this kind of rhetoric around are quick to remind us of the Baptismal Covenant promise (in the American Prayer Book) to respect the dignity of every human being!!!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi David,
I do not have any particular post-Covenant unanimous signing up fantasy. I would imagine that further moves by TEC towards formal same-sex blessings would be challenged. But I do not presume that a TEC that signed to the Covenant would necessarily continue on such a pathway. If it did I don't see any particular value in second guessing how the process of consultation etc would end.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco,
I take your point that my comments right at the end of the post are a distraction - I may yet delete them!
(I disagree with you on whether the Pope has said something significant or not. While I agree with you that Catholic doctrine has not changed, and that the media has beaten up on the story in various ways, I suggest that the media has not gotten it wrong that the pope has said something important. In theological terms he has laid down a statement which in the fulness of time the Romans will come back to as bit by bit they evolve themselves out of the tortuous place Paul VI placed them in re contraception).

My argument, as I presume your :) indicates you recognise, is not 'the he knows more so he must be right argument' but the 'she who knows less should be careful about claiming to be right argument.'

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bryan,
++Rowan always seems more Tolstoyan than Stalinist!

liturgy said...

Standing by your misinterpretation of the pope’s interview statement, Peter, and linking it to the “Covenant”, does not inspire any confidence in your interpretation of the “Covenant”.

You claim that “In theological terms [the pope] has laid down a statement which in the fulness of time the Romans will come back to as bit by bit they evolve themselves out of the tortuous place Paul VI placed them in re contraception.” The pope has made no “statement” of any significance whatsoever. He was chatting in an interview – that’s not how popes make significant statements. He was not talking about contraception whatsoever. Have you actually read Humanae Vitae? Do you understand the principle of double effect? Nothing the pope said in that interview in any sense even begins to re-examine Humanae Vitae. Your claim is akin to suggesting a table will bit by bit evolve itself into a kangaroo.

As David is pointing out, the logic in the rest of this piece is almost equally as flawed – so leave the linking in.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco,
Bit by bit the table can become a kangaroo. An obvious headstart for the table is that both have four limbs!

"The Vatican's spokesman said that the Pope intended that the change of policy should apply to anybody with HIV/Aids, on the basis that preventing another person from being infected was the lesser of two evils, even it meant averting a possible pregnancy."

Of such small steps are bigger changes made!

How would you change Humanae Vitae if you were Pope (i.e. change that part which prohibits the use of artificial contraception, not least because you know that millions around the world ignore it, and other millions' lives are made worse by abiding by it)? You are intelligent. You would not take it on directly. You would have to introduce subtle shifts in thinking (i.e. what Roman thinking about these matters ought to be). You would do it in an ambiguous fashion so you could backtrack if the furore was negative and go further forward if the response was positive. You would do it in a way which was coherent with some nuanced questions already raised by sophisticated colleagues in moral theology. You would make it look like it wasn't a change when it is. You would inspire people such as Damian Thompson to run the story as a matter of 'clarification'.

Benedict XVI has done all these things. He is a smart guy!

Father Ron Smith said...

Having just read the account of the Queen's Speech to the English General Synod, Peter, I notice that she has reminded members that religious people have no monopoly on 'virtue'. Perhaps this ought to be understood in terms of your friends in ACNA and the Global South's attempts to high-jack the Communion with their 'sola Scriptura' agenda, which they believe enables them to claim a superior place within (or, indeed, outside of) the Communion. Their *Jerusalem Declaration* says it all.

Archbishop Rowan's address, on the other hand, was defensive of the need for a Covenant - in order, naturally he thinks, to keep the Communion Partners together. A worthy thought in the ideal situation but I'm afraid that the Global South have gone a step too far already in their haste to separate themselves from the *taint* of TEC and the A.C.of C., whom they consider to have 'sinned against' their (GS)idea of what the Communion should be all about.

Naturally, Archbishop Rowan is cautious. He is trying really desperately to keep the family together on his watch. He feels the weight of his 'Primus inter pares' role, and is conscious of what Rome and the Orthodox might think if he presides over a broken Church - hence the need for The Covenant process.

The sad reality is that, though he personally has, in his book 'The Body's Grace', affirmed the place of homosexuals in the Church; he is faced with the puritanical demands of conservative parts of the Communion (GS and ACNA) to expel TEC and the A.C.of C., those Provinces of the Communion that have already ordained gay and lesbian bishop, and approved of the blessing of same-sex unions.

Ideally, the two parts of the Communion should be able to live together in diversity on such matters. However, the puritanical paranoia of G.S. and ACNA have forced Rowan and the ACO to raise up a coercive Confessional Covenant as the only way of bringing 'peace' into the Church.

It is my considered opinion that this is a move all too late. The damage has been done, by the GS ordination of episcopi vagantes to invade the 'alien' territories of TEC and the A.C.of C. It may just be too late to put the genie back into the bottle.

Andrew Reid said...

Hi Peter,

It's interesting that the ABC defends the covenant against the claims it is too punitive, undermines autonomy, stifles new initiatives etc. I'm not yet aware of him defending it against the Global South/GAFCON claims that it won't deal with the current crises in the Communion, because it is too weak, comes too late in the game and the SCAC is completely discredited to oversee its implementation. Andrew Goddard did his best last week, but the ABC seems to be trying to win over the "left" rather than the "right" to the Covenant.
Andrew Reid

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron,
Even since you made your comment, the GAFCON Primates statement of intent not to attend the Primates' Meeting underlines your 'genie out of the bottle' conclusion!

Hi Andrew,
++Rowan might be biased. Or the right might be wrong!