Friday, February 3, 2012

Covenantal thoughts

Some thoughts about the Anglican Covenant

Someone has raised some questions with me about the Anglican Covenant in the context of our church, ACANZP, moving towards its General Synod in July and of our diocese moving towards a synodical consideration of the Covenant on 21 April. My responses are in italics.
If the intention is to provide a framework for dispute resolution and a covenanted description of our commitment to each other rather than behaviours... the big picture is about the possibility for reconciliation and restoration. Yes, the big picture and the long-term goal is reconciliation and restoration. Critics of the Covenant argue that the Covenant will achieve no such thing and likely will exacerbate differences in the Anglican Communion. Supporters of the Covenant argue that we got into the situation we are in without the Covenant whereas the Covenant will help clarify in the future both what Anglicans believe (hold in common as a global communion) and how we should resolve disputes between member churches of the Communion.

Since many groups (including the Dioceses of Dunedin, Auckland and Waiapu, and Tikanga Maori) have already said ‘no’ to the covenant, why should Christchurch continue to consider the matter and vote on it? Christchurch Anglicans should have the opportunity to have their synodical say about the Covenant. As a matter of fact Christchurch’s vote would signal what the majority vote of Tikanga Pakeha was, 4-3 in favour or 4-3 against the Covenant. It could be that our church (via General Synod) would like to say to the Communion that one Tikanga is in favour, one is not (and, am not sure what Polynesia is going to say). We should be careful not to presume what General Synod will do when it meets together and hears all arguments from all sides. It will make a difference to the debate knowing what each and every diocese has said in its own synod. Finally, a Christchurch vote will guide the Christchurch representatives at General Synod.

Would the signing of the Covenant by 60% of the Communion have the effect of more starkly defining those 'in' and those 'out,' Covenanters and non Covenanters? That could depend on whether the Communion deemed that the Covenant was a ‘working document’ for Communion life with that amount of support. Arguably a document that binds its members to a way of mutual accountability should be signed by over 80% for it to have effect. Either way there is an understanding that non-signers are not bound by the Covenant and there is a hypothetical possibility that on some issues non-Covenanting member churches would not have a say on those issues. (An example of such an issue could be a revision to the Covenant!)

What would the result of a 60% - 40% or any other signing mix be? A split? Possibly. It would depend on what practical outcome re the Covenant followed on from a 60/40 split.

Theologically the two ‘sides’ of the Communion are not going to agree with each other. Ever. So what mechanism allows us to stay together? Two thoughts. (1) This is unduly pessimistic. Our lifetimes are short, history is long. Dare we judge that disagreements profoundly felt will never be overcome? (Incidentally, on the shortness of one lifetime, see this lovely post). (2) Is any mechanism going to hold together in any meaningful way two sides with significant disagreement? Could the Covenant be as good a mechanism for holding Anglican diversity together as any other? Might it even be the best mechanism, even if imperfect?

It seems the Covenant cannot be that mechanism, so is it back to the drawing board? It is unlikely that the Covenant would be that mechanism if the vote is 51:49 or 60: 40. Even 70:30 may not work. Would we accept 80:20? (Incidentally, that is 31/38 member churches voting in favour). What would the ‘drawing board’ mean in the event of failure to agree to the Covenant by an adequate majority? The ‘drawing board’ could be quite radical: the end of the Communion as anything which is meaningfully a ‘communion’ and something more honestly described as an ‘association.’

Or are the issues of sexuality and authority worth another split in Western Christianity? (The Reformation should be the great embarrassment of the universal church, but since we now have upwards of 8000 denominations what is one more?). A split in the Anglican Communion would be more significant than making 8000 into 8001. The Anglican Communion’s gift to Christianity has been a mixture of the bridge it forms between Catholic and Protestant Christianity, and the promise it holds out of a reformed Catholicism being embraced by all Christians as a church most faithful to Christ. To split would destroy both the bridge and the promise. Are the issues of sexuality and authority worth splitting over? That is a key question which lies in the centre of our anguish over these matters: how are we to live as Christians, and how do we know what God’s will is for our lives are not light questions and both are touched on by the question of ‘sexuality’ and ‘authority.’

Is each diocese voting so we can see if we have consensus, or will ACANZP go with majority, or will we have the signed up and the non-signed up which just shifts the disputes and animosity onto a different playing field? We are voting so that episcopal units have opportunity to share (albeit in a guiding rather than binding manner) in the decision-making of our church in an important matter. It is unknown what General Synod meeting in July would consider a sufficient basis for committing our church to the Covenant. Given a general motivation evidenced through many General Synod sessions to maintain unity in our church, it is likely that our representatives will not vote for an outcome which will lead to animosity. Alongside that we might also consider whether we think it likely that our representatives would vote for the Covenant if signs were that would make us part of a minority or that they would vote against the Covenant if that would place in a minority in the Communion.


liturgy said...

Greetings Peter

With respect, a significant flaw is the contention that we have in our recent past been a “Communion” and that we are, or are heading towards, being an “association” (or elsewhere you use words like “federation”).

Communion speaks of acceptance of validity of ministry. We have not had that since the ordination of women.

Even in the continuum of strength of ties (diocese, province, communion), at the strongest unit, the diocese, our bishop does not preach in some of her own parishes because she is a woman.

In changes made to the inherited Christian tradition (remarrying divorcees, ordaining women, blessing committed same-sex couples) churches have followed the world’s lead and lagged a number of years. I know a good priest who officiated at a person’s seventh marriage (all partners still living). That it is homosexuality that has led to what you see as a Communion crisis says more about attitudes to homosexuality and the quest for control than to any theories that are presented.

More than half of Anglicans are women, a good third of Anglican marriages end in divorce. Focusing on these issues is self-defeating. These statistics are no different amongst what you term conservative evangelicals, and hence discussions there are avoided and won’t gain traction on these issues. Homosexuals, by contrast, are a small minority, and hence an ideal focus.

The Anglican Covenant has been a huge distraction – taking time, money, and energy. Whether it is signed by 10% or 90% (you appear to keep lowering your percentage you think is needed to make it effective) is irrelevant, it will not even begin to solve the differences that divide us.

Anglicanism has a very strong culture of making promises and signing documents which are then totally ignored. Even on these pages when we’ve discussed breaches of formularies underlined by bishops I’ve been accused of straining out gnats. We struggle to know what we’ve decided, and we do not keep to the decisions we are aware of.

I am one who hopes our province will not assent (or whatever term each individual province generates to attest its relationship) to the Covenant. But even if we do, I am convinced it will not alter our province’s, diocesan, parish, or ministry unit life.

That will require energy we appear to be unable to find - having dissipated it, in part, to distractions like the Covenant.



Father Ron Smith said...

"Are the issues of sexuality and authority worth splitting over?"

- Peter Carrell -

Peter, the split has already occurred - through the departure of the GAFCON-sponsored groups in the USA and Canada; and those who have left their parent Anglican Churches for the R.C.Ordinariates

That cannot be reversed with out repentance of the schismatics.

The real question for the future of the Anglican Communion is not whether ACANZ or the Christchurch Diocese votes for the Covenant. It is much bigger than that. Can the Anglican Communion Provinces - with GAFCON or without - agree to differ on matters of sexuality and authority, wihout further splits?

The original Reformation in the
16th century was about authority; whereas this split is - as you so rightly say - also about sexuality and gender issues that were not even a matter of conflict earlier.

This is a new 'Reformation' which may be just as important for the Anglican Communion as the first.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco
If we have not been a Communion and if we are not a Communion now then I urge a change of name. Let's describe ourselves honestly and accurately. Once the name is changed I will drop all promotion of the Covenant!

liturgy said...

OK, Peter, let's start smaller and work up. At our April synod, you move the changing of the name of our diocese to "Pakeha Anglican episcopal unit in Canterbury and the West Coast" and I'll second that.