John Richardson at The Ugley Vicar rightly draws attention to the latest round of reasons to say No to the Covenant from the No Covenant coalition blog Comprehensive Unity. 'Rightly' because these ten reasons are not very good reasons. Here I attend to one which I find particularly odd: unevidenced, and highly ironic.
It is no. 2 on the list: "Under the Covenant, churches will be inhibited from undertaking new evangelical or mission initiatives for fear of offending other Communion churches and becoming embroiled in the disciplinary mechanisms set up by the Covenant."
Interestingly this reason, unlike the other nine, has no additional unemboldened comment.
Perhaps this reason needs no further comment; or, perhaps this reason is so vacuous, no additional comment can be given!
Nevertheless this reason for saying 'No' is worth examining: on the face of it, if this reason is based on truth about the Covenant, then the Covenant is truly a terrible thing.
There is, in fact, no evidence for this reason for saying 'No' to the Covenant. Further, it is highly ironic: 'disciplinary mechanisms' speaks of a Communion with rules. But every member church of the Communion has rules. Every member church gets on with mission and evangelism within the framework of these rules. Are the No Covenanters saying, or trying to say that rules in a church or Communion necessarily inhibit mission? This is a very odd position to take for an Anglican group. If member churches having rules does not impede mission, why should a Communion having rules impede mission?
In any case, this reason skips a step in Covenant thinking! The Covenant is not concerned with fear of giving offence, but with common accord as member churches of one Communion. The only fear a member church need have in respect of the Covenant is the fear of stepping out of common accord, for instance on the meaning of mission, or understanding of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. To step out of common accord could be to risk a member church asking a question as to whether this step is consistent with shared Anglican understanding of mission and gospel. Actually, there is nothing to fear here, because we would want to be in common accord with one another in a Communion, wouldn't we?
You can see the response coming a mile off: but, but, but, Anglican diversity and all that, we might not be in common accord as we do our thing and they do their thing; we have the Spirit, they have the Spirit, the Spirit can lead in two different directions at once, but that blasted Covenant will set up a perilous situation where diversity will become uniformity, and the Spirit will not be monotoned down to a shadow of its former rainbow self ...
In other words, the real reason for saying 'No' to the Covenant is that we do not agree that Anglicans should be accountable to one another for assertions as to what Anglican mission means because whatever our life in common means, it does not mean accountability for our common life.
As often asked by me on this blog, do we want to be a Communion with things in common or a Something in which diversity knows no bounds?
Those wishing for the former should welcome the Covenant as yet another bond. Those wishing for the latter should be saying 'No' to Communion fullstop.
Well, we are not "in accord" at the moment, are we? So it is a bit daft to say,
"The only fear a member church need have in respect of the Covenant is the fear of stepping out of common accord."
Then naturally there is already fear, because this covenant has been brought in specifically over the issue of sexuality as an attempt to force conformity. Forced conformity is not the same as being "in accord" and we are not talking about hypothetical situations.
Are churches which sign the covenant going to be made to take punitive action against their openly gay clergy (sack them?) and watch the effect on their LGBT faithful? Or face "relational consequences".
I think the Church should hang its head in shame over this covenant, although I do agree with you that many of the reasons given in the "ten reasons" document are rather vacuous and do not address the real issues.
I agree that the Covenant viz a viz homosexuality would be stronger for its effect on the Communion if one starting point when signed is a common accord [which need not be conformity] on issues re homosexuality.
You are right that there is not a common accord.
Of course the common accord the Covenant aims for is not common accord with each other but common accord with and in the mind of Christ. It should be that any church not in accord with Christ hangs its head in shame.
I am glad that we are in common accord about the vacuity of many of the reasons given for not signing the Covenant!
It is very dangerous when any of us believe that we and only we know the mind of Christ and are willing to take action against our brothers or sisters because their understanding does not accord with ours.
But, if you are going to do that, I would rather you do it honestly. I would rather you said, "you do not have the mind of Christ. I do and therefore I will exclude you", than to say, "sign this piece of paper, and then I can exclude you for taking a different line from myself - a line of action that you have already embarked on!"
It is not decent, it is not even common human decency and the church should hang its head in shame.
You make it sound as though there is only one side of Communion affairs claiming to know the mind of Christ in such a manner which excludes the other side.
Many Anglicans in North America have departed TEC feeling excluded through the process in which TEC (effectively) claims the mind of Christ on homosexuality.
How to work out what the mind of Christ is? One way is to test any such claim with a wider grouping of Christians. Again and again, however, through this last decade or so we see a determined unwillingness for that claim to be tested re homosexuality; along with a determined repudiation of the one very wide gathering in which the claim was tested and found wanting (i.e. Lambeth 1998).
Is it a fear of exlusion which drives opposition to the Covenant? On the face of it, yes. But I suggest something deeper at work: a fear that the challenge to the mind of Christ (as represented in Scripture and tradition), which is being raised by desire to conform more closely to change in Western society, will be found wanting.
So gracious and inclusive and patient has the ABC been with those raising this challenge that the Communion is running a high risk of losing the majority of Anglicans in order to accommodate those supporting the challenge. Far from the process towards adopting the Covenant ending with exclusion of TEC etc, it could well end with the (effective) exclusion of most Anglicans.
In short: nothing is easy here.
And please do not presume that I write thinking I have the mind of Christ, and you/the ABC/the PB do not. We search for that mind together, and it may not yet be discerned by any of us, yet!
I don't know, there may be people in TEC who wish to exclude or expel other parts of the Communion-could you give me an example?
I wish I could see this covenant as benevolent, but I really don't. I suspect my own Church of England (which has a large number of gay priests and bishops) will become more and more like the RC church in that the "official" line will be very conservative and the practice at the grassroots will be very different. I personally find this hypocritical.
I am tempted to leave and join an organisation such as the Methodists, who do allow for a range of conscientious opinion on the issue, but I believe Anglicanism is worth fighting for - and I have always been Anglican.
I will continue to speak out openly and to be involved in organisations which try to ensure the voices of LGBT Anglicans are heard and that clergy and lay people are supported.
Perhaps the Covenant will facilitate my voice being heard, but I don't think it will.
Do you? Honestly?
I also find it rather strange that you speak of,
"a determined repudiation of the one very wide gathering in which the claim was tested and found wanting (i.e. Lambeth 1998),"
when so many Conservatives repudiated Lambeth 2008 in the strongest of terms. Their reason for this repudiation seemed to be that their brothers and sisters in Christ had not been disciplined or expelled (even though one was markedly excluded!)
To walk away is to exclude oneself. If I finally decide to walk away, I hope I will have the grace not to moan! It will have been my decision that I can no longer stay in company with those with whom I disagree, then I break communion with them. At the present, I do not say that, I would like to stay and talk. I do not think the covenant will facilitate any "listening process" though. I don't think it is about finding any kind of shared mind, I think it is about imposing a particular view on everyone and then taking action against them.
I do wish someone could convince me otherwise!
Many Anglicans in North America have departed TEC feeling excluded through the process in which TEC (effectively) claims the mind of Christ on homosexuality.
Actually Peter, two Anglican provinces in North America have arrived at very similar stances regarding human sexuality and the "mind of Christ" for themselves by following the slightly different canonical processes of their two provinces.
The small minorities who have left the two provinces have done so over sour grapes that their position at the end of the canonical processes was not the position that was affirmed in the two provinces, not because they were excluded.
Their position lost because the agreed processes actually worked, unlike your disingenuous representation of what occurred at Lambeth 1998, where the agreed process and many years labor, which was resulting in a centrist position, was highjacked and the far right 10.1 railroaded through.
I quite agree that TEC does not want to exclude anyone, and voices keep protesting when that is alleged: hence my use of words like 'effectively'. Leaving Anglicans are leaving because despite the line of being inclusive, they and their theological commitments are not being made to feel welcome. In other words I am challenging an easy appropropriation of the 'if they leave that's their problem, nothing to do with us' line.
Is it not disingenuous to make claim that the C of E has so many gay clergy (including many bishops) yet is likely to become more conservative? If there are so many, how could the C of E become more conservative?
Again, I am troubled by the way you talk of the Covenant (will it be benevolent to your point of view etc): the question is whether the Covenant serves the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ or not. If the response is then that 'my' gospel is different to 'your' gospel, do we not have a major problem, possibly unbridgeable (because there is and can only be one gospel)?
I am entirely unpersuaded by your take on Lambeth 1:10. It presumes that otherwise sane men (perhaps even some of the women as well) temporarily lost their good sense while the 'far right' overtook their minds.
Lambeth 1.10 was voted for because it made eminent sense measured against the backdrop of Scripture and tradition, as well as a number of statements made preceding the conference by other conferences.
So, finally we come to the 1998 Lambeth Conference. During the first two weeks of our three weeks together, Bishops spent considerable time working on particular questions. I chaired Section 1, which had the overarching theme of 'Called to Full Humanity'. Some 200 bishops opted for this Section, of whom 60 signed up to consider human sexuality. Let me tell you, these 60 spanned the broadest spectrum imaginable, from the hardest line conservatives to the most radical liberals!
Someone calculated that we devoted 800 bishop hours to this thorny subject. It was the most difficult group of the whole conference – there was huge pain and division as discussions began. But 800 bishop hours later, we had thrashed out a common position.
The result was the 11 carefully crafted paragraphs of Theme 3 of the Section 1 Report. I am making these available to you, so you can see how we managed to be completely honest about the breadth of views on which we could not agree, and yet also find considerable agreement on wider issues, and on a way to go forward together. We recommended that the Conference Resolution should not go into details, but merely accept and affirm our report, and refer it to the Provinces for discussion. The rest of the 200 Bishops of the Section agreed with this approach, recognising that it resulted from refining in a real crucible of fire.
Now this is where clumsiness prevailed. The Archbishop of Canterbury found himself under considerable pressure for there to be a fuller resolution on homosexuality. Contrary to all the usual normal procedures for handling resolutions, a draft was presented, and then debated and substantially amended in an hour-and-a-half plenary meeting, of over 600 bishops, spouses, observers, guests, and all in the full glare of the cameras.
The result was Resolution 1:10. Though it does commend the report of the subsection, the points that follow did not arise out of the long hard wrestling that we had done, and did not reflect the way that, despite such differences, we had managed to enunciate our differences in ways that allowed us to keep working together. It was as if our 800 bishop hours had never happened!
For all that resolutions are advisory and not binding, some of its clauses, those which 'reject homosexuality as incompatibly with Scripture' have taken on a life of their own. Other clauses, including those advocating continuing listening and also monitoring work in the area of human sexuality – alongside all the rest of the resolutions of the Conference – are given nothing like the same prominence!
What grieves me most, is that through not holding to the internal processes of this Instrument of Unity, we have undermined, and so lost our grip, on the assumptions of unity in communion that underlie our common life.
The Most Revd Njongonkulu Winston Hugh Ndungane
Archbisop of Cape Town & Primate (Ret)
Anglican Church of Southern Africa
Lambeth 1998 would not be the first or the last conference where a contentious issue works along well in the pre-plenary process(es) and then change enters under the full glare of all gathered.
It is a long way from observing that the pre-plenary process did not lead to the plenary endorsing the outcome of that process to proving that (1) the far right hijacked things, (2) otherwise sane people felt compelled to vote for something they did not think they should vote for.
" ... the real reason for saying 'No' to the Covenant is that we do not agree that Anglicans should be accountable to one another for assertions as to what Anglican mission means because whatever our life in common means, it does not mean accountability for our common life."
I think you've hit the nail squarely on the head here, Peter. And thank you for bringing John Richardson's piece to our attention.
I continue to believe that the No Anglican Covenant Coalition comes across as a forceful push for a "believe whatever you want, do whatever you want" libertarian approach to the Christian faith, as though such a free-for-all very loosely held together by liturgy is what it means to be truly Anglican. And I continue to believe that such a libertarian approach to the Christian faith plants the seeds for yet more division and schism.
Issues of sexuality may be just the beginning. Based upon what I've been reading, I think the push to make communion without baptism normative comes next. And after that, I wouldn't be surprised to see a "progressive" push for a more "enlightened" Christology that denies the hypostatic union by including views which the Church has historically rejected as heretical. I will resist those pushes within the Episcopal Church. But I fully expect "progressives" to react to negative responses from outside TEC as "unAnglican."
It is sad Peter that you do not see the betrayal and that because of it that we can never trust you lot again. And we will not in the lifetime of this generation.
And for that very reason we will oppose pushing an Anglican Covenant down our throats as long as is possible.
We may be living in parallel communions, David! In the communion I live in no one is pushing any covenant down anyone's throats.
As for not trusting "us", that is quite a few untrustworthy Anglicans around the globe, not all of whom are on the payroll of right-wing financiers.
Peter, although I value you as a friend and colleague, I do feel compelled to protest at the stubbornness with which you dismiss the evidence presented by David in this thread and so many others over the last decade regarding the perverse process that lead to the motion known as Lambeth 10.1. For you to discount all such evidence, blithely appealing to the necessary wisdom of the majority of bishops at that meeting, and lauding the occasion as the one definite time when the liberal case regarding homosexuality "was tested and found wanting" displays an unsettling contempt for the process of dialogue and engagement we are all called to engage in together. I wonder that David and Suem have the patience to keep responding to you.
800 bh (bishop hours)!
Wow, when you factor in the superior intellect, profounder piety, better sartorial taste and knowledge of cocktails and canapes, that is off the scale! Not since the Council of Nicea (est. 25,000 bh, but old standard, no Americans, only retsina) has so mch raw episcowattage been concentrated in one place!
Poor old Ndungane, what became of him?
After its years of liberal ledership, the South African Church seems to be rebuilding its links with the rest of Anglican Africa.
"an unsettling contempt for the process of dialogue and engagement we are all called to engage in together"
Oh, my. Unsettled? Try an antacid. Some facts from 1998: A resolution was proposed. Bishop Richard Holloway, now no longer a Christian, tried to derail this on procedural grounds. This was defeated. Resolution 1:10 was passed 7-1 - a pretty decisive indicator of the mind of those present. Bear also in mind that ECUSA (as it was then) had vastly more bishops present proportionate to its numbers than any other church (c. 200 Ecusa bishops for c. 2.3m members vs. c. 90 Nigerian bishops for c. 17m members, also Ugandans, Tanzanians etc).
If anyone has "unsettling contempt", it has been Tec since 2003 that has repeatedly ignored the voice of the Anglican Communion and played games with words, through the whole sorry saga (Windsor, DeS, Dromantine etc etc) before breaking even its own feeble undertakings with the election of Mary Glasspool.
I find it strange that a resolution with such strong support (as Al M reminds us) is subsequently castigated because of the process which leads to it. Many a fine resolution of Synod has wriggled and squirmed its way through procedural motions and attempts to subvert, pervert, and revert it. What counts is the final wording, not the process.
The final wording of 1.10 is (1) consistently upheld by Communion bodies since; (2) more or less (as I understand it) the benchmark followed in our fine upstanding sister church across the Tasman; (3) pretty much in line with the positions subscribed to by the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.
But it still could be wrong! I concede that, but it could be wrong on the basis of its content being wrong, not its prior process, and certainly not on the basis that some people, otherwise no doubt very fine and wonderful, allege that otherwise sane people took leave of their senses, manipulated by Far Right money!
And just before you ask me to be ever more patient with the patent nonsense that is being served up in favour of 'process' over 'content', I would remind you Howard that you could be verging on asking me to ditch my affection for two fine bishops at 1998, one related by blood, and the other by shared ministry journey, in favour of two people I have not met :)
Peter, what I want from you is not quite "asking me to ditch my affection for two fine bishops at 1998, one related by blood, and the other by shared ministry journey." Keep your affection for them by all means, but also consider the possibility that they might have participated in a serious injustice (c.f. your latest post) by which a majority of bishops who had not been engaged in an agreed listening process completely disregarded and overruled a report generated by those who had.
My diocesan bishop at the time, with whom I had a relationship of mutual respect rather than affection, returned from Lambeth 1998 with a much different story than you probably heard. You might like to check it out with him out sometime, now that you live closer to his neck of the woods. Meanwhile, please be less confident in the importance of 1.10 as an expression of the common mind of the Communion at that time. Rather, it was a major impediment to further engagement and a significant factor in TEC's subsequent distancing from the majority opinion in which you put such trust.
Bonds of affection are important, and will keep me engaged with your blog. However, when it comes to reading the sneering triumphalism of your anonymous sidekick, "Al.M.", I shall definitely have to double my dose of antacids!
I have no problem at all with accepting the clear and undisputed facts of Lambeth 1.10 inasmuch as the process of reflection by the pre-plenary groups was heading one way and the final resolution by the whole plenary was different.
I do have a problem with this being an 'injustice'. Such a judgement is easy to make but is unfair to accepted practices of making decisions, namely that no plenary resolving body is bound to accept the recommendations of any lesser body.
A different charge is implicit, even explicit here in your, Suem's and David's comments, namely, that the final wording of 1.10 does not reflect the discerned and tested leading of the Spirit. Again, this is possible, but the Spirit works in various ways, including sudden inspiration, and through the convolutions of human decision making processes. There is, in fact, no intrinsic reason re process why the final wording cannot be accepted as 'of the Spirit.'
A test of whether the final wording is 'of the Spirit' could be in its reception in the wider church in the years subsequent. In twelve years since, yes, TEC in various ways has signalled its non-receptiveness, a number of bishops have disagreed with their own vote at the time, and others have offered significant recriminatory comment upon proceedings. But, no, there is no Communion body which has denied or rejected 1.10, there is much reference by notable Communion leaders to 1.10 being the mind of the Communion, and it remains an important premise in the development of the Windsor Report and then the Covenant.
Clearly we have significant dispute in the Communion over the veracity of the wording of 1.10 and its reception is not unanimous in agreement. But the problem is not with the process but with the content of the resolution.
Incidentally, how might a different process have ended? Would you not agree that it would not have been the opposite? That is, we would not have had at Lambeth 1.10 a resolution which spoken of homosexual practice being compatible with Scripture. At best, I assume, we are talking about the possibility that the resolution might have been descriptive along the lines 'some think it compatible, some think it not'. I suggest that in that particular conference even such a bland resolution would not have received majority support, no matter the process.
Peter, you write,
"If the response is then that 'my' gospel is different to 'your' gospel, do we not have a major problem, possibly unbridgeable (because there is and can only be one gospel)?"
Well, there is only one gospel, which is the message of salvation, that God so loved the world that he sent his only son that all who believe in him might not perish but have eternal life."
If you think that the gospel of Christ revolves around human sexuality then you do indeed have a different understanding of the gospel than I do!
If you believe the gospel is about salvation through faith in Christ, then we share the same gospel, but we disagree about a peripheral "issue" and how to approach this in terms of our Christian lives and response to others.
I would be saddened if you thought that we believed in different "gospels" just because we differ on this issue. I certainly do not think that of you!
Remember, there are many other things we might disagree on - such as whether we should pray to the saints, or whether divorced people should be allowed to remarry, or whether it is right for women to teach in church - I do not think these differences would lead us to say we have different gospels?
So, why do we have a major problem, and why is this "unabridgeable"? Why am I seen as believing in a false gospel? Or perhaps you are not saying that? If so, forgive me, it is how it sometimes comes across.
I was hypothesizing a possible response from you. Your actual response is different, viz. we have the same gospel of salvation.
In that case my musing is why then can we not both then work with the Covenant as an aid to the work of that one gospel?
This time I will not hypothesize as to what your answer might be!
it is how it sometimes comes across.
To me it is how it often comes across. Not that I recall Peter having said it himself straight out, but he identifies with and quotes many folks who have. And he has never, to my recollection, challenged one of them when they have come right out and claimed it in a comment here on his blog.
Hi Suem and David
Let me try to answer carefully the point you raise about 'false gospel'.
(1) I think I try not to charge any commenter here with subscribing to a false gospel.
(2) I accept that some commenters here do make that charge, and I do not challenge them. The latter probably has as much to do with allocation of my blogging time as anything.
(3) I do not subscribe to the view that "All is Well" in the Communion, i.e. that we all believe in the one gospel despite many apparent differences. I think it is possible that an Anglican can believe in and/or promote a false understanding of the gospel.
(4) The primary challenge as to where a false gospel might be present is in my heart and mind. I could be wrong at any point in my communications here or in the pulpit or classroom.
(5) I do not have a conception running around inside my head that either of you subscribe to a false gospel: I do not know you or your views well enough to come to that conclusion ... and I do not generally through my life run round categorising people according to the criterion 'true gospel' // 'false gospel'.
(6) If we appear in a particular thread to have an unbridgeable chasm in our understanding of the gospel, it could be that one of us has a wrong understanding. And it could be me :)
I can imagine two much better outcomes than resolution 1.10 at Lambeth 1998, Peter. They could simply have passed no resolution at all, given the manifest lack of agreement at that stage. Even better, they could have adopted something like this...
"We have prayed, studied and discussed these issues, and we are unable to reach a common mind on the scriptural, theological, historical, and scientific questions that are raised. There is much that we do not yet understand. We request the Primates and the Anglican Consultative Council to establish a means of monitoring work done in the Communion on these issues and to share statements and resources among us.
The challenge to our Church is to maintain its unity while we seek, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to discern the way of Christ for the world today with respect to human sexuality. To do so will require sacrifice, trust, and charity towards one another, remembering that ultimately the identity of each person is defined in Christ.
There can be no description of human reality, in general or in particular, outside the reality of Christ. We must be on guard, therefore, against constructing, any other ground for our identities than the redeemed humanity given us in him. Those who understand themselves as homosexuals, no more and no less than those who do not, are liable to false understandings based on personal or family histories, emotional dispositions, social settings and solidarities formed by common experiences or ambitions. Our sexual affections can no more define who we are than can our class, race or nationality. At the deepest ontological level, therefore, there is no such thing as "an homosexual or "an heterosexual; there are human beings, male and female, called to redeemed humanity in Christ, endowed with a complex variety of emotional potentialities and threatened by a complex variety of forms of alienation." "
O wait! That was what they rejected, in favour of the precipitate closure of discussion expressed in 1.10!
Jolly good thing that resolution was not agreed to, Howard!
(1) This motion clearly recognises the precarious nature of Anglican unity c. 1998.
Would this motion if become the resolution of the conference deepened Anglican unity?
(2) Not at all. This motion would have left a wide open door for each member church to do its own thing, based on the lack of a common mind as to what was right/wrong, up/down etc on the matter. We would have been in turmoil soon enough if this motion had prevailed.
(3) The application of this motion is very weak: monitoring and stuff. That would have happened and been pulled together into a decisive outcome for Lambeth 2008. Yeah, right!
In short: difficult situation any which way.
"why then can we not both then work with the Covenant as an aid to the work of that one gospel?"
If I felt that the Covenant was about facilitating respectful discussion and a "listening process", then we could! I will still try to do so, but I think I will have to do this with the Covenant as a barrier to communication, not an aid. I think the Covenant is about fear and conformity.
You said before,
"I am troubled by the way you talk of the Covenant (will it be benevolent to your point of view etc."
I would not expect a Covenant to be benevolent to my point of view, but I would expect it to be benevolent to all of us in this situation, not for it to favour those who wish to see no change in the current situation - and in fact want to see TEC made to repent and retract - or be excluded. The covenant has been handcrafted to appease those who want action against TEC and to deter through fear and disapproval any who would follow in their path. It is not for all, or at least that is what I believe.
I wish I did believe the Covenant was "for all of us"! However, I will still keep trying to work together because I believe the gospel is for all of us.
I am not usually inclined to follow the hallowed precept of St Gamaliel, but I think we can fairly conclude that, despite the wish of Lambeth 98 to pull Ecusa back into the fold, and the vast and frutiless expenditure of time and money since, they have gone their own way, insisting that the Holy Spirit is leading them, and rejecting the clear majority of the Communion. Very well: let them go, in their Neo-Montanism. The debate was never about homosexuality per se, but about the fundamental reconfiguration of doctrine and Scripture that modernist theology represents. Homsexuality was only ever the tip of the iceberg.
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