Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Arguments for the Covenant

Paul Avis is a name to reckon with if you are looking to recommend a theologically sound, recently published book on Anglicanism to a newcomer to Anglicanism. Recently he has written on and for the Covenant. He adduces several arguments. The whole apology is here at Fulcrum. Two arguments which catch my eye are,

"Second, the Covenant is an embodiment of mutual commitment. The Covenant is not perfect and it is not completely clear to me how the ‘Consequences’ aspect of it will be worked out, if it comes to that. But I don’t think that that is the most important thing about the Covenant. The key, for me, is that by subscribing to the Covenant, Anglican Churches will signal in a serious way their intention to remain together. They will signal this to them- selves, to all the other Anglican Churches throughout the world, and to other Christian world communions, who are watching anxiously and do not want to see the Anglican Communion fail as a world-wide fellowship of Churches. Such a failure would indicate a serious weakening of Christianity and its wit- ness on the world stage. It would also bring grief and heartbreak to millions of Anglican Christians around the world."

"Fourth, the Covenant is orientated to the common good of the Communion. From mediaeval times, through the Reformation and right up to the present day, churches have used the language of the common good and applied it not only to the wider society, but to the Church as an institution[ii]. As Churches that exist in a relationship of interdependence, it seems not too much to ask of us that we consider the common good of the Christian Church as a whole and of the Anglican Communion as a part of that whole. This takes us to the heart of what is meant by catholicity. The word ‘catholic’ is from the Greek kat’ holon, ‘according to the whole’. To be catholic means to be deeply conscious of being part of a wider whole and to act accordingly. The virtues of forbearance, patience, restraint, willingness to consult and to accept a degree of accountability to others come into play here. As St Paul says, ‘Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfil the law of Christ’ (Galatians 6.2)."
What do you think?


Father Ron Smith said...

"The Covenant is an embodiment of mutual commitment" - Paul Avis -

One might ask the question: Commitment to what, exactly?

Is it not a commitment to keep the LGBT community out of the life, witness and ministry of the Anglican Churches that subscribe to it?

If so, I don't want a bar of it!

carl jacobs said...

Father Ron Smith

Is it not a commitment to keep the LGBT community out of the life, witness and ministry of the Anglican Churches that subscribe to it?

Since the Covenant is a creature of the Standing Committee, and the Standing Committee is a wholly-owned subsidiary of TEC, I'm not sure what you are worried about. The Covenant can't achieve the objectives you fear because it will be controlled by those who agree with you. It's a Judas Goat for Conservatives, and should be mercifully put down at the earliest opportunity.


liturgy said...

The eye-catching argument in favour of the “Covenant” by the theologically sound, to-be-reckoned-with Paul Avis: “it is not completely clear to me how the ‘Consequences’ aspect of it will be worked out”.

Clearly there is no explanation once one has read this why anyone would hesitate to sign up!



Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco,
Will you vote in this coming election?

It is not clear to me exactly what the consequences will be if I vote National or Labour or ACT or etc, what I shall not hesitate to vote for the reasons that it is a good thing to vote, some of the consequences are foreseeable, and other consequences will be sorted out by democratic process.

The Covenant, fortunately, talks about consequences which involve decision-making by a democratically elected Standing Committee. So the consequences are not entirely foreseeable, but the process is, and the committee overseeing the process has some people and not robots on it.

Neither is Mugabe on it, which I count, indeed, most fortunate.

Anonymous said...


The covenant is also one of the motions coming up in our Synod (Newcastle Diocese) in a few weeks. Personally I don't think our diocese will adopt it.

I would not vote it in for two reasons:
1. It is toothless - Section (4.1.3)
2. It is not needed - we have the 39 Articles, the BCP, the Ordinal and the Constitution of the Anglican Church of Australia (1961)

p.s I am predicting a Wales vs All Black Final. Though the Antipodean semi is going to be a ripper!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Joshua,
Even a toothless tiger may use its jaws to get a grip on a situation.

I am sure the Constitution of the ACA (1961) is very fine, but is it in effect across the whole of the Communion? :)

I am making no predictions for the teams in the RWC Final, save that if the All Blacks make it past an amazing Australian team, then they will win the cup, providing France is not in the final.

Anonymous said...

"Even a toothless tiger may use its jaws to get a grip on a situation".

I don't believe this Covenant will do anything.

The ACA, I concure about its effect across the whole Communion, but I really only talking about the Oz context.

liturgy said...

Sorry, Peter, I am with Ron, Carl, and Joshua here.
Following your analogy with the elections: yes, I am voting. How we vote will have unforseen consequences.

If I vote National or Labour or ACT or etc can be compared to voting for the Covenant, against the Covenant, for it but making it mean something it clearly doesn’t, or etc. “I shall not hesitate to vote for the reasons that it is a good thing to vote” is no reason to vote for the Covenant.

Can we get some reasons for the Covenant based on the text. Not, as we have once again, on reasons which might be nice but do not connect with the text. Being “deeply conscious of being part of a wider whole and to act accordingly” might be nice – but it means no women priests, and no divorce, and is not a quote from the actual text.

The Anglican Communion has problems. Let’s actually start addressing the concrete problems, and not add to the problems by distracting ourselves by letting a toothless tiger loose into the mix. People confuse being busy with being effective – being busy with our toothless tiger is not the same as being effective about the issues.



Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco
I do not understand your comment when you say,

"Being “deeply conscious of being part of a wider whole and to act accordingly” might be nice – but it means no women priests, and no divorce, and is not a quote from the actual text."

On what basis do you presume the Covenant means no women priests and no divorce?

Rosemary Behan said...

You ask us what we think Peter, when we read the words of Paul Avis .. well I may of course be wrong, but I think it’s been written too late. He talks about people who ‘don’t want to see the Anglican Communion fail.’ Well that’s us. He says such a failure ‘would bring grief and heartbreak to millions of Anglican Christians around the world.’ That has already happened Peter, and that you and others can still talk about it as if it’s something in the future is not helpful.

But as to his second paragraph, can you be unaware that we ARE extremely conscious that we are members of a ‘wider whole’ the church catholic, any Christian is surely? We depend entirely on Him, but He gives us loving supportive brothers and sisters. We are also extremely aware that very little of that support or comfort comes from within our shores .. rather, as visitors here must be aware, roadblocks and unloving words such as those that emanate from other local writers on your blog are our lot. Still, it drives us to Christ.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Rosemary,
I quite agree that in many and various ways the Communion has and is failing (as also noted in this thread by others).

However the Communion has not completely failed as an organisation, witness ++Rowan's remarkable visit to Zimbabwe.

I interpret Paul Avis to mean that a failure to commit to the Covenant will mean a complete and final failure of the Communion as an organisation, capping all past and present failings.

I also interpret (say) Bosco's comments here and previously here and elsewhere as arguing that the Covenant will make no difference at all to the Communion's success or failure.

As for being part of a wider fellowship of all Christians ("all the saints"), I can only speak for myself when I say that I can and do forget that, immersed as I am in more local concerns: so your reminder here is helpful. Thank you!

As for local support, within Canterbury, within NZ: I guess we all have different experiences of that. As I move around I find Christians on all parts of the theological and church-styles spectra who fell lonely, beleagured, fearful, etc (and others who feel mightily encouraged etc) ... but I certainly hope and pray that you have support and encouragement in your present ministry (about which I hear good things)!

liturgy said...

I can add Rosemary to the list here I’m agreeing with. The fantasy that we are in full communion within the Communion is just that – a fantasy, and has been since ordaining women. Rosemary highlights that Paul Avis writes using that fantasy language.

The “Covenant” doesn’t aid unity; it in fact increases disunity. We are now not just divided for and against this or that actual issue (women in orders, divorce, etc). This is a new division that has been created: for and against the “Covenant”!

You misread my point about catholicity. I underscored that Paul Avis wasn’t working from the “Covenant” text. It is you who project my point about women priests and divorce back onto the “Covenant” as if he is.



carl jacobs said...

On what basis do you presume the Covenant means no women priests and no divorce?

If nothing else, the covenant has succeeded in uniting all sides against it. And this question illustrates the reason. Liberals imagine the Covenant as a dark tool of reaction that will be used to roll back the innovations of liberalism. They see it as a means of imposing the 'dead hand of orthodoxy' onto the enlightened vanguard. Conservatives respond "Don't we wish. It's a castrated solution intended to preserve institutional unity at the expense of Truth, and it will be under the control of the Liberals in any case." So conservatives see it as a subterfuge - a means to diffuse the conservative attack on liberal heterodoxy.

The problem is in the structure of the covenant itself. It is written to be acceptable to both sides in the conflict of mutually exclusive alternatives. The covenant tries to satisfy both sides without really satisfying either. It is an attempted compromise for a problem that brooks no compromise. It can't be strict enough for conservatives and loose enough for liberals. It's by necessity ambiguous and so both sides project their own worst expectations onto the outcome.

The Covenant is doomed to fail. It's like trying to repair a hole in the hull of a ship with duct tape. It can only hold for so long. The only way to solve the problem is to address the root cause of theological division. The Anglican Communion must decide what theological path it wishes to follow - whether to the right hand with GAFCON or to the left hand with TEC. Yes, that means division. But you can't hold two mutually exclusive religions in the same organization forever. A house divided against itself cannot stand.

This is the fundamental error Paul Avis' apology. He incorrectly identifies the conflict as a conflict over morals. It is rather a conflict over essential doctrine. The conflict about morals is entirely derivative. The fundamental problem is that the two sides don't agree on what Christianity is. The covenant as currently constructed does not address that essential conflict.


liturgy said...

There is only one point I would add to your thoughtful analysis, Carl. You are right, there is a hole in the ship. But the “Covenant” isn’t trying to repair it with duct tape. There is no mention of the hole – not even a mention of the ship. The “Covenant” is spending time and energy putting lots of duct tape on a post on the beach rather than acknowledging the ship and starting to actually do something about the hole. That’s why I think those in favour of the “Covenant” don’t tend to talk about the actual text, but talk about other stuff not in the text – because it’s a bit obvious when you start talking about duct tape and posts that it’s not going to solve the hole in the ship.



Father Ron Smith said...

I could affirm the Covenant without Section 4. Such a Covenant would still affirm the spirit of Gospel openness to women and gays - which is what the Anglican Communion is seemingly still uncertain about.

Of course, such a Covenant would likely still not attract the more conservative people who want a code of discipline against Gays' and, in some cases, Women's leadership. To my mind a Covenant without Section 4 could still help the rest of us to stay in concord as Anglicans who embrace Scripture, Tradition and sweet Reason. The present Covenant set-up pleases no-one. Only a revised, more eirenic version would suit the ongoing mission, inclusive of all Children of God.

Mark Baddeley said...

I am one of those who was basically positive towards the Covenant. What tipped me the other way was the resignations of ++Anis and ++Orombi and the letters they wrote that gave a window into what is going on behind the scenes in the leadership of the instruments of communion.

From that perspective, my thoughts on the Avis' article are:

1. He's basically wrong in his assessment of the options.

He says:
First, the Covenant is the only realistic option on the table.

In what sense is it realistic? Enough Provinces have either indicated "no" or have kicked the can years down the road, to indicate that it doesn't have enough support. Why is this the only option - what about basic plan issued by the Primates Meeting a few years back?

It is classic Yes Minister strategy - give someone one or two choices and say, "Well, it's your choice Minister, but it's this or nothing."

2. He ignores the history of what has happened. The primates meeting issued a plan to address the problem. It was a plan quite in line with what the previous Lambeth Conference had indicated on the matter. As an instrument of communion at least on a part with any other instrument that should have had a significant influence on how matters then developed.

++Williams essentially ignored it, and then stopped calling Primates Meetings until he then called it but restructured it along more indaba lines. This was the same technique that was used with the recent Lambeth Conference.

The two instruments of the communion that, by virtue of the fact that they were composed of senior leaders (Primates and Bishops) had the most autonomous voice to Lambeth, were changed into small encounter groups where no clear voice from the group as a whole on the issues could be given.

For the ACC and the Standing Committee, one needs to read the resignation letters I mentioned. But an awful lot of power seems to have been concentrated into the hands of one body (the new Standing Committee) simply by some moves by Lambeth behind the scenes.

Mark Baddeley said...

3. With that in mind, when Avis says:

The Covenant is not perfect and it is not completely clear to me how the ‘Consequences’ aspect of it will be worked out, if it comes to that. But I don’t think that that is the most important thing about the Covenant.


Fourth, the Covenant is orientated to the common good of the Communion.

Then he has begged the question. Things like this can have profound changes on the Communion. This isn't like choosing a political party, Peter, this is like voting to a wide-ranging amendment to a country's constitution when the supporters of the constitution really have little idea of what the effect of the amendment will be.

If you don't know how the consequences will be worked out, then it is simply staggeringly gullible or arrogant to just assert, the way that Avis has, that the covenant is orientated to the common good. "We don't know what the effect of this will be, but we know that this will promote the common good." Say what?

What are the consequences for doing something that someone else doesn't like? Who gets to report you? Who gets to decide if the accusations have merit? Do you get to defend yourself? How? What body will make the decision? Who is on the body? How do they get to be on the body? What criteria do they use to make their verdict? What consequences can they decide upon?

The devil really is in those details. The protections, the checks and balances, the criteria that stops it just being some people protecting their mates and crunching groups they don't like - all need to be clearly spelt out.

As it stands it is a typical English 'fix' - "trust us, we're gentlemen and we'll do the right thing behind closed doors." It gives too much of a free hand to those with institutional power to do whatever they want without either accountability or scrutiny. And those on the receiving end simply have to trust the 'Code of Conduct' of those with the power. It's a system set up by Bishops, in other words.

Mark Baddeley said...

4. It again changes the nature of the problem:

The key, for me, is that by subscribing to the Covenant, Anglican Churches will signal in a serious way their intention to remain together.

Is the basic problem the Anglican Communion is facing that Anglican Churches don't intend to remain together? Is that the real problem? If it is, yes the covenant might be part of the solution. If that's isn't the underlying problem, then it is either irrelevant, or part of the problem by obscuring the real problem.

It's similar with this paragraph, although the problem is even clearer there:

Fifth, it is significant that the Covenant does not propose any additional doctrinal tests for the Anglican Communion. It contains doctrinal matter, but this is presented descriptively. The Covenant simply describes the existing doctrinal stance of Anglicanism in a broad and uncontroversial way. Nor does the Covenant advocate any particular ethical tests, with regard to Christian morals. It functions crucially in the realm of behaviour: how we should act towards one another when we are in a relationship of ecclesial communion. It is concerned with the virtues that belong to relationality. I think it is difficult to argue against the Covenant on this score, unless one thinks that the virtues of mutual forbearance and mutual responsibility are inappropriate for Christian churches.

Avis can appeal to the history of the church in using the language of the common good to support the covenant, but then skip over the history of the church when facing problems of this nature.

When has the church ever seen that the way to face the kind of problem we're facing is to studiously not set up doctrinal or ethical tests? Where, in the early church, the middle ages, the Reformation or post-Reformation era, is that ever seen as even remotely Christian?

There's nothing wrong with the virtues of mutual forbearance and mutual responsibility. What's wrong is making those two virtues the basic issue.

Has the relationship been torn because someone did something wrong? (Either TEC by approving active homosexuality by appointing an openly actively homosexual to be a bishop, or TEC's critics by opposing that move.)

Or has the relationship been torn because people weren't sufficiently committed to being with each other enough? (And so homosexuals should be willing to be second class for an indeterminate time in the interests of peace, and those who think that active homosexuality is a serious sin should act as though it is not.)

Those are two different analyses of the basic problem. The covenant is addressing the wrong problem, and I think Avis' article makes that really clear. He is pushing us towards a vision of church that has no allegiance or call greater than its commitment to stick together. It is a profoundly narcissistic and inward-looking vision of the Church. It sees the institution as an end in itself. "The good" is to keep the current formal structures going.

But those formal structures can't be ordered to a good beyond themselves - because that would then start to move us back towards those terrible doctrinal and ethical tests that are, as we all know, utterly opposed to relational virtues of mutual forbearance and mutual responsibility.

Father Ron Smith said...

Am I the only one on this site who thinks that the institutional split began with the invasion of other territories by marauding African Primates who see their mission as 'purifying the Anglican Communion' - a task which it has, in its own opinion, inexorably continued to do - despite contrary opinion?

The creation of GAFCON was, I believe, the defining moment when the Communion began its inevitable crumbling - just like watching a merchant ship's hulk today on the Astrolabe Reef of the Tauranga Coast in New Zealand. It is not known, tonight, whether it will survive till sunrise tomorrow! The probability is that the ship will break in two - one part remaining on the reef, and one part left to re-float or sink. Now which of these two parts of the Vessel of the Anglican Communion will remain immovable (and therefore inert) on the reef, and which will survive to either sink or swim is anyone's guess. The break-up will be tragic.

Peter Carrell said...

You might be the only one, Ron.

Others would wonder whether a pure Anglican territory would have required any 'invasion.' Most likely not. So the question is, who was responsible for the impurities?

Track that 'reef' down and you will have determined a significant amount of the responsibility for the Anglican shipwreck.

Father Ron Smith said...

Your very use of the word 'impurities, Peter, betrays your judgement on the forward-looking initiatives of, at least, TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada, for their openness to the LGBT community in the Church and the World.

Purity, in your eyes, must have a lot to do with heterosexual baby-making, which is possibly not the sole purpose of God's gift of sexuality (read the Song of Songs). But your view, I guess, is a view of many who access this site. Some of us, however, do not consider homosexuals to be impure, per se.
We see them as children of the same God who creates heterosexual persons; with the same basic needs and gifts as anyone else.

One of the real 'impurities' in the realm of spirituality, is to judge people - on the basis of their sexual-orientation - as somehow less 'pure' than others. Sexuality has other purposes than the making babies. In the words of the old Prayer Book, marriage (and the gift of sexuality) is for the mutual comfort of the negotiating parties.
This is one reason why Christian Gays want to be allowed to commit their lives in faithfulness to one another in the bonds of marriage.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron,
There seems to be something of a fixation in your comments about the LGBT community, as almost anything I say is analysed in terms of this community!

You will have to ask the African bishops exactly what impurities in the Communion they are and have been attempting to purify the Communion of, but I imagine possibilities range from impure doctrine, to a gamut of sexual infidelities, a Western culture which (say) in its marketing strategies often relies on sleaze and titillation to boost sales, to a grimy gospel needing its cultural accretions cleaned up, through a complacency about mission and evangelism which has gotten many Anglican churches stuck in the miry clay, through to an impaired vision of the holiness of God, ... well, you might get my drift, I hope: lots of possibilities for thinking the Anglican Communion, especially in the West, could be cleaned up, none of which is fixated on one community in our midst.

Please stop making my words say things to suit your view of the world, when I am speaking of different things, of things in general, and may be even nothing in particular, and certainly without fixation on one and only one subject.

Father Ron Smith said...

I'm sad, Peter, that you - together with the campaigning Primates of GAFCON - are accusing Western Churches (esp; TEC and the A.C.of C.) of the only brand of impurity worth being militant about.

I am not the only person obsessing about homosexuality in the Anglican Communion. This appears to be the main subject consuming the GAFCON Primates - arising out of the Sola Scriptura mis-understanding of human biology.

There are other impurities that need to be cleansed from the Churches of the Communion, and one of them is that the notion that heterosexuality is the one and only context for acting out one's basic loving relationships with other significant human beings. This is called, usually: 'homophobia'.

Another 'impurity' is that of the culture of misogyny, that is being practised and taught in certain Provinces of the Communion, where patriarchy flourishes without restraint - on the understanding that it is Bible-based and therefore 'de rigeur'.

You see, Peter, I do not consider sexuality to be the only sphere of impurity. Doctrinal im-purity is sometimes the fulcrum of mistaken prejudice against other human beings. and this is rife in mostly non-Western societies and churches.

Wrong judgement can be as sinful as any sexual 'impurity'. And we all are guilty of it!