Saturday, February 4, 2012

Has Covenant energy expense been worth it?

A commenter to my previous post suggests that the Covenant has led to a lot of expenditure of energy, making among other observations this statement,

"The Anglican Covenant has been a huge distraction – taking time, money, and energy."

I want to argue a contrary view to this estimation which I am sure is shared by many Anglicans.

Let's think, for instance, about how a common view opposing the Covenant is expressed (in my words): "The first three sections are okay, we could sign to them, but section four is unacceptable." The Covenant as a circulating draft has had the interesting effect (I argue) of focusing Anglican minds on what we believe together in common (sections 1-3) and has led to a strong recommitment to affirming orthodox, creedal doctrine. Prior to the kerfuffles of the past decade would global Anglicanism have engaged in such an exercise in affirming orthodoxy? If it had would it have led to such agreement?

Simultaneously through this past decade I suggest we have seen less willingness on the part of dioceses to vote for or to accede to bishops better known for how little they believe than for how much they believe. (For evidence recall the bloke in the US whose theology was quasi-Buddhist whose election as a bishop was not confirmed; think also of where the John Spongs and John A.T. Robinsons (Honest to God version) are working as active bishops in today's church ... hardly anywhere, maybe nowhere).

If global Anglicanism is reaffirming that it is a Christian movement which adheres to doctrinal orthodoxy rather than celebrates ever increasing diversity of theology and/or believing as little as possible, then Covenant time x energy x money has been worth it.

This does not mean that all is well or going to be well with global Anglicanism. The rejection of section 4 of the Covenant is diversity asserting its dominance in Anglican thinking. Worse it represents a strange hesitancy, perhaps even a loss of courage. When we live in our member churches with canons and constitutions which permit (reasonable) diversity unexpectedly we seem to be scared that a form of canons-cum-constitution (which is what the Covenant is for the Communion a global Anglican organisation) will not permit (reasonable) diversity. If we do not support the Covenant with a sufficient majority for the Covenant to be a working document in our global life then at the very least the Covenant is an idea whose time has not yet come.

There is a certain negativity in finding out that we are not ready to be what we could have been (a genuine branch of the universal church), but that result (if confirmed by the rejection of the Covenant) will be worth knowing ('Whatever Anglicans are, globally they are not and do not want to be a church'). The time, energy and money spent on the Covenant will have yielded a sure result which will influence our ecclesiology for decades if not centuries to come.

Not the ecclesiology this writer wants to pursue, but never mind, it could be time to explore the Protestant character of Anglicanism with greater appreciation!


liturgy said...


1) It surprises me that the time, energy, and money has been worth it to produce sections 1-3 when that is mostly a short listing of a minimum knowledge one would expect of a reasonably-educated teenage Anglican, a confirmation candidate, or someone joining our church. It takes little effort to find it in the teachings of our province, and I’m sure of other provinces.

What was even more surprising was the inadequacy of the earlier drafts.

So to your questions: “Prior to the kerfuffles of the past decade would global Anglicanism have engaged in such an exercise in affirming orthodoxy? If it had would it have led to such agreement?” Sections 1-3 were already in the teachings of each province. To validate your point, please point to something specific in sections 1-3 and then to a specific province that does not have that particular point in its teaching already.

2) I do not think you can demonstrate a causative relationship between time, energy, and money spent on the Covenant and that “this past decade I suggest we have seen less willingness on the part of dioceses to vote for or to accede to bishops better known for how little they believe than for how much they believe.”

3) “we live in our member churches with canons and constitutions which permit (reasonable) diversity unexpectedly we seem to be scared that a form of canons-cum-constitution (which is what the Covenant is for the Communion a global Anglican organisation) will not permit (reasonable) diversity.”

I repeat a previous point of mine. In our province people vow and sign up to canons etc. There is little effort to know what these are, or to work through them in training, study, and formation. When they are known, and are underscored by bishops, even on this site without surprise or comment, the keeping of them is called “straining out gnats”. The ignoring of our canons happens at the “highest” levels of our church.

Yes, we have canons, it’s fair to say, as you do, that we “live with” them. We may end up “living with” the Covenant.

But it will make no significant positive difference.



Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco,
Indeed it would be difficult to prove causative links so I am not making a proposal that can be proved with certainty (and, logically, it is also not possible to prove that without the Covenant we might not have gotten to where we are at etc).

My point re the Covenant and orthodoxy around the Communion is not that the Covenant says anything particularly new (as in missing or forgotten in member church constitutions) but that people affirming sections 1-3 seem to be doing precisely what was not previously happening: going beyond lip service commitment to doctrine and making strong commitment to it. This is a positive development; as is the gradual elimination from the episcopal landscape of the likes of Spong.

liturgy said...

We will just have to agree to disagree, Peter.

I do not think that if our province signs up to the Covenant, and it ends up somewhere in our massive blue ring binder of stuff, that this will mean that people will end up "affirming sections 1-3" or doing something stronger than they currently do: make strong, solemn, public vows which they, often many times throughout their life, repeat and sign allegiance to.



Peter Carrell said...

Or acknowledge that I may not be a clear communicator, Bosco!

It is not the end placement of the Covenant in our blue folders which is helping us to renew our commitment to common Anglican doctrine. What I am trying to say is that the Covenant is engendering a debate about what it means to be Anglican. In that debate (as played out on countless posts and comments on the internet, as well as in other arenas) I see Anglicans verbally and explicitly owning up to our common doctrine (rather than pushing the line that doctrine doesn't matter, the great thing about being an Anglican is how little one has to believe and so on). It is as though Anglicans are recognising that if global Anglicanism is meaningful then it does require some commitment to commonality in belief. Some of us think our global commonality is further helped by the Covenant being signed up to; others do not.

As someone wanting to sign up I can live with losing that argument if the gain is that Anglicans distance themselves from Spongian teaching, determine to elect no more Spongs, and generally take some pride in how much we believe together. I think that gain is perceptible (though not provable).

Lionel Deimel said...

The Covenant controversy is a pissing contest among people in pointy hats. Most of the people sitting in the pews couldn’t care less about it and certainly aren’t affirming anything. One day they will wake up and ask the people in the pointy hats why they wasted so much time, money, and energy on a worthless piece of paper. This assumes, of course, that there are still people left sitting in the pews.

Chris Nimmo said...

Has the covenant debate been worth it?

Absolutely not - because all the debate has been about the wrong things. It could have been an exercise in recommitting to the fundamentals of our faith (sections 1 and 2) but instead it's been a debate entirely about politics and organisations. That means that TEC and others have been able to dodge the actual issues at stake.

In any case, what is the Anglican Communion? If it is merely a "global Anglican organisation" then I see little value in resuscitating it. Lambeth, the ACC and the Primates Meeting have approximately zero impact on the worshiping lives of Anglican (indeed, I'd never heard about ACC or PM before a pre-Synod meeting last year.

In the preamble to the Convenant there's a bunch of theology about the meaning of "communion", but "communion" does not equal "Communion".

I'd like to think that the Anglican communion is an expression of the body of Christ distinguished by its love of Sections 1 and 2 (and bits of 3) of the Covenant, but I guess now we'll never know!

Father Ron Smith said...

I suppose one of the major points about whether or not ACANZP signs up to the Covenant might relate to the reality of: What difference would it make to Anglican life here in Aotearoa.N.Z./Pacifica".

I think, very little - except that any further explorations into the mystery of our gender/sexuality make-up - like the program in TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada, to open up the tent of the Church to those on the margin (or in the closet) - could be further compromised if we signed up.

This is why I think we should not sign up to any agreement that would further isolate our friends in North America. Semper Reformanda

There will always be differences of opinion on the importance of Biblical literalism. But as long as we can keep those differences in some sort of open discussion context; there ought to be a way of maintaining koinonia- between those who really want to identify with one another as 'Anglicans'.

Regarding arguments about 'rogue' bishops; they have always been around. Intellectual debate will reveal differences of opinion that to some traditionalists seem 'a trip too far'. However, heterodoxy needs to be a possibility in order that othodoxy might be discovered by trial and error. Ask the Popes!

Paul Bagshaw said...

What is certain is that, if the Covenant does come into being, there will be a significantly greater financial cost.

My guess as to where costs will arise (with no figures) is here:

Ultimately these funds will have to be raised from worshippers.

So should there not have been some public estimate of costs - or even discussion of the question? Could the absence of this information possibly hint at an unwillingness to account to funders?

If it must be, it must. Yet, even if the money is felt to be worth it, it will come at another cost - still greater distance from pew to decision makers.