Thursday, March 24, 2011

The annoying truth about the Anglican Covenant

David Virtue has handily published a talk by Lionel Deimel on the Anglican Covenant. Lionel is a leading progressive Episcopalian in Pittsburgh. Virtue's publication of the whole talk is here. Deimel's own commentary on excerpts from the talk (which he has published in full as a PDF) is here on his own blog. The talk as a whole is fascinating as it recounts some of the standard lines against the Covenant while not quite coming down completely on the side of TEC rejecting the Covenant: Deimel allows there is a case for TEC going with a discernible flow of Communion approval for the Covenant.

Here I want to pick up one point which I think represents an 'annoying truth' about the proposed Covenant which activists against the Covenant hurry past. Deimel's talk ends in this way:

" Rejecting the Covenant may or may not derail what seems like an unstoppable express, but, at the very least, we will not be complicit in destroying Anglicanism or paying for the destruction of our own church. In the end, our mission might be to pick up the pieces of the Anglican Communion and reconstitute them as a fellowship that is truly Anglican."

Truly Anglican! What on earth is 'truly Anglican'? Since the whole of the talk is intelligent, rational, and insightful it is right and proper that the word 'truly' is understood to mean something in this context. It is not a descriptive word thrown into the sentence as a flourish. 'Truly' has to do with 'true': there is a true Anglicanism which can be distinguished from a false Anglicanism. Further, 'truly Anglican' means some kind of definition going on as to what is true Anglicanism and what is not true Anglicanism. Indeed the sentence speaks about reconstituting broken Anglicanism, a task which implies knowledge of how to go about intentional work on Anglicanism compared with (say) letting Anglicanism randomly evolve. That word 'fellowship' implies some sense of a shared definition as well as intention. So 'truly Anglican' involves definition of what being Anglican means, and a shared definition at that. A definition which Anglicans make a decision to agree to. Finally, note that implicitly the reconstituted Anglican fellowship will not include those who do not buy into the definition of what is 'truly Anglican'.

Sounds like a Covenant with disciplinary teeth by another name!

This point has been made by me before on this blog. Despite the arguments against the Covenant sounding like the choice before us is to have a Covenant or to not have a Covenant, as long as we remain committed to being 'truly Anglican' then the choice before us is to have a written Covenant or an unwritten Covenant.

The advantage of a written Covenant over an unwritten Covenant is that we know what we are agreeing to with the former. With the latter shadowy players behind the scenes have ample opportunity to change the meaning to suit the occasion. Real Anglican democracy lies in the way of transparency with a written Covenant. True Anglican justice lies with a Covenant known to all signers and not with an unwritten Covenant the contents of which noone knows for sure.

It is an annoying truth about the Anglican Covenant that there will be a Covenant as long as Anglicans wish to distinguish true from false Anglicanism. We cannot escape the Covenant, we can only make a choice as to whether it will be written down or not.


Fr. Bryan Owen said...

This posting reminds me of the one you wrote back in early November entitled "Wrongly named international Anglican Coalition favours covenant," and it is equally as brilliant in turning the tables on the Covenant naysayers.

I agree that those who reject the proposed Anglican Covenant are themselves operating with a set of normative and perhaps even forcefully binding ideas about what it means to be "truly" Anglican, and that those ideas constitute a kind of implicit and rival covenant to the official Covenant. And so it really is much better - more democratic with less room for subtle coercion - to have it written down so that everyone can make an informed decision about whether or not to sign on.

Father Ron Smith said...

"It is an annoying truth about the Anglican Covenant that there will be a Covenant as long as Anglicans wish to distinguish true from false Anglicanism"
- Peter Carrell -

And, indeed, this has already been done - by GAFCON, in their iconic *Jerusalem Declaration* wherein certain Primates of the 'Global South fraternity have already set themselves up as arboiters pof what 'True' Anglicanism ought to be about - against the already existing ethos of 'Live and Let Live' inclusive Anglicanism, in which Provinces were allowed to propagate the Gospel in their own area in their own specific way.

GAFCON has tried to turn the Communion into something that it never has been - a magisterially dominated, proscriptive community of Churches - once held together by Bonds of Affection (post 39 Articles) in filial relationships.

That, sadly, is no more; and the idea of a another proscriptive Covenant - different from that proffered by the GAFCON - is the result. It seems the real chice will be btween one idea of 'Truth' and another. One newly-conjured theologically and dogmatically to biblical fundamentalism; and the other - in the spirit of Christ in the Gospel - open to the future.

If we must choose between the two, in order to survive as Anglicans, I know towards which I would lean.
Lionel Diemel is probably showing his preference for the least crippling of the two choices - if indeed it comes to that.

Anonymous said...

RE: "I agree that those who reject the proposed Anglican Covenant are themselves operating with a set of normative and perhaps even forcefully binding ideas about what it means to be "truly" Anglican, and that those ideas constitute a kind of implicit and rival covenant to the official Covenant."

I think that those on the left who are rejecting the Covenant are operating with a different agenda than you might think, Bryan.

[Or maybe you already know this.]

See -- one doesn't have anything binding and written down until one has *gained the necessary power to enforce one's views.*

The left isn't "there" yet with regards to the AC, so the fallback position is "we don't need anything constraining" -- right now.

Once power is gained then the cry goes up for constraining documents. ; > ) But until that day occurs, then the cry goes up for loosey-goosey.

So I actually think that the left are just fine with no distinction between "true" and "false" Anglicanism within the Anglican Communion right now.

I don't know, even, if all of us are operating under desires to "define true and false Anglicanism" either. I couldn't care less who calls themselves "Anglicans" or "true Anglicans" . . . what matters is who is in what recognized grouping.

People may call themselves anything they please -- I myself prefer to call me a Buddhist and there's not much that Buddhists can say about it. What matters is -- am I allowed into the recognized Buddhist organizations as a Buddhist and may I be a Buddhist teacher in that recognized organization.

Ultimately, in an organization where there are two antithetical and mutually opposing worldviews about major issues and values, that organization will not stand as it was formerly constituted -- it is a part of the "law of the universe," the nature of identity, not to mention the Pauli exclusion principle. The more antithetical the worldview, the less able two or more competing worldviews are able to take up the same space.

The question -- and the interesting part to me in all of this -- is how the inevitable reconstitution and deconstitution takes place.

Blonde Fully Orthodox Yet Also Moderate, Inclusive, and Progressive Buddhist

Peter Carrell said...

You are no more a Buddhist than I am :)

Anonymous said...

How dare you Peter Carrell -- I am so!!!!

I have a Theravada -- yet Mahayana too -- understanding of the Three Jewels, all tinged and interconnected by my progressive and hopeful vision of humanity's future.

I have read a number of the Dalai Lama's works, as well as a large raft of the Dharma and -- while of course in their contexts I'm sure that they are helpful to the impoverished and somewhat pre-modern natives over there in India or wherever [Israel? Pakistan -- somewhere "easternish"?] -- over here in America we have re-imagined them to suit our particular needs and society's progressive movement towards a new and shinier future.

As you know, the Four Noble Truths are a very fluid thing. For example when he [or rather they, over a period of centuries, who were at one time "Buddhas" during the time that they were patching "his" "writings" together] says "life means suffering" I think we can safely understand that in those contexts -- where life involved, you know, maybe not having much food and some occasional flies -- life *meant* "suffering" -- but must it "mean suffering" now! Whoa -- not so fast Nelly!

"Suffering" really is a premodern and primitive concept. But if we recognize that "life" in those days meant "little food and the occasional flies" than we can certainly see that "life means suffering" means no such thing here in the 21st century, but still maintain the Spirit of the concept in our hearts, in a metaphorical sense. That is "Life -- [in old-timey, less-modern days back before wifi] -- meant suffering" and this I feel sure that we can all agree with.

I do object to the use of the word "Truths" in connection with "Four" and "Noble." Surely we can all agree that there are truths, but I don't think we can really use that word with the words "Four Noble" very successfully any more. The implications that somehow there are any special truths having to do with noble ones is, I think, rather passe in these enlightened times.

But at any rate, I am a staunchly committed, traditional, orthodox, and progressive Buddhist and I quite frankly cannot imagine why you -- a rationalist white male Anglican who has frankly bought into an oppressive rhetorical system anyway -- can have much to say about it. You are -- by virtue of your identity -- unable to speak into my experience as a Buddhist anyway.

Sarah, Moderate Inclusive Blonde Buddhist

Peter Carrell said...

If you are not going to agree with my definition of a Buddhist then you might be less of a Buddhist than I was trying to graciously and inclusively get you credit for :)

Fr. Bryan Owen said...

Interesting points in response to my comments, Sarah. There are, indeed, manifestations of the will to power afoot within the Episcopal Church these days.

As for Buddhism, perhaps G. K. Chesterton said it best in his book Orthodoxy: "Christianity and Buddhism are very much alike, especially Buddhism."

Anonymous said...

Hah -- so two members of the patriarchy weigh in, one of them quoting yet another member of the patriarchy.

I rest my case, and I flounce away, then.

Blonde Inclusive Matriarchal Progressive Yet Fully Orthodox and Traditional and REAL AUTHENTIC Buddhist

Anonymous said...

Blonde Inclusive Matriarchal Progressive Yet Fully Orthodox and Traditional and REAL AUTHENTIC Buddhist"

We preferred you when you were simply Blonde Inclusive Matriarchal Buddhist Orthodox - initially, at least.