Saturday, April 21, 2012

Not today: Covenant goes down in Christchurch

I haven't much to add to Bosco Peters' report on our Covenant debate today. It was a good debate. We had plenty of time (too much really, as we ran short on other things later in the day). We voted in as decisive a manner as one can do (by houses) and the outcome was the motion did not pass, defeated in the house of clergy, although passed in the house of laity.

For what it is worth, here is my mover's speech:

"Madame President, and members of Synod. On the night before he died, our Lord Jesus Christ prayed strategically that his disciples ‘may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they may also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.’ [John 17:21]. In this prayer Jesus connects the communion within the Godhead with the communion of all believers and integrates it into an apostolic strategy for God’s mission to the world. Later, Paul writing to the Ephesians discloses the divine vision for the history of the universe when he says that God’s plan for the fullness of time is, ‘to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth’ [Ephesians 1:10]. Unity, harmony, fellowship and communion between Christian believers is not an optional extra but the heart and soul of the corporate life we are called to in Christ. It is vital to our witness to Christ and when we are divided we blight that witness and dishonour God.

The Anglican Communion Covenant is a document which sets out the possibility for a new development in building fellowship and communion between the member churches of the Anglican Communion. For over a hundred years the Communion was blessed with a common life which held together without much in the way of paperwork but with deep ‘bonds of affection.’ But in recent decades, and especially in the last decade, those bonds of affection have frayed, and relationships have broken down. Instead of strengthening our common life around the globe, we have worshipped at the altar of diversity. The prayer of Jesus that we might be one has been drowned out with assertions of the independence of member churches. Our rights to do what we see fit in our local contexts have replaced any sense of obligation to work with the divine plan for the unity of all things. In 1963 the Toronto Anglican Congress pressed on Anglicans the obligation in Christ of Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in the Body of Christ. The Anglican Covenant is the Communion nearly 50 years later taking up that obligation and doing something concrete about it.

The Covenant consists of four sections: (1) Our inheritance of faith;  (2) The life we share with others: our Anglican vocation;  (3) Our unity and common life;  (4) Our covenanted life together. In these sections we re-state what it means to be Anglican, we recommit ourselves to being a Communion of churches intent on being an expression of God’s one, holy, apostolic and catholic church, we express our commitment to the importance of all other Anglicans, we enter into ‘a voluntary commitment [by] all churches to listen to others before acting’ [Mark Chapman], and, finally, we recognise the need for mediation and conflict resolution when conflicts arise.

In 2010 our General Synod passed a resolution which approved in principle Sections 1-3 of the Covenant but raised a legal question about one aspect of Section 4. That legal question has not received a clear answer but it seems not to be a problem. General Synod also referred the whole Covenant back to each episcopal unit prior to the Covenant coming back to this year’s General Synod for adoption or not. Today we consider the Covenant knowing that friends and colleagues in other episcopal units and in other churches have rejected it, but also knowing that some member churches of the Communion have approved it, more in fact than have rejected it. I want to be quite blunt about my assessment of the rejection of the Covenant by those friends and colleagues elsewhere: I think they have either rejected a perception of the Covenant and not the Covenant itself, or they have asserted their independence as self-governing bodies without due consideration of the obligation in Christ for mutuality and interdependence in our life together. I want to suggest that we should consider the Covenant on its merits for ourselves whatever other bodies have made of it. I further suggest we consider whether or not the Covenant expresses a vision for relationships between churches in our international Communion of Anglican churches which is in accord with Christ’s prayer for unity. Today we ask whether this vision is our diocesan vision or not.

The Covenant is a challenging document because it does not only say things in the first three sections which nearly all Anglicans seem agreeable to; it also says in Section 4 that we should be accountable to one another for whether we uphold what we believe in common. It is on these matters of committing to listen to one another, being accountable to one another, holding in covenanted love for one another our catholic character as Christians that the Covenant is most controversial. In its fourth section the Covenant sets out a mechanism for resolving those occasions when listening, being accountable, and holding one another in covenanted love proves too hard and thus conflict arises. Section 4 has excited some as draconian in its punitiveness, concerned others about its alleged centralising tendency for the management of the Communion and angered others in its weakness as offering no real consequences for those who act in unAnglican ways. Stephen Kuhrt, writing recently on the Fulcrum website, said,

“No one on either side has yet been able to say how ‘a centralising strait jacket that will impair freedom and innovation’ can simultaneously be ‘a toothless proposal designed to produce constant dialogue and no action’.”
I suggest that Section Four is pitched perfectly when it provokes such contrasting and counter-balancing allegations and accusations. Personally I have no problem with adopting Section 4. Today’s motion recognises the degree of controversy surrounding this section. It invites us to take a lesser step than wholly adopting Section 4 when it says in Part 3 of the motion, “Supports in principle the adoption of section 4.” We could amend this part of the motion by omitting the words “in principle”. I would support that. But let us discuss together whether the Covenant is our vision for Anglican global fellowship and see where that takes us.

I conclude with some words of St Paul: ‘Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind ... Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among you which is yours in Christ Jesus’ [Phil 2:2-5]"


Anonymous said...

It was a good debate, graciously expressed, Peter. I appreciated - as one of the opposition - how much of substance you said in the limited time available. Cheers,

liturgy said...


I tautoko (support/reinforce) what Lynda said (above). Thanks.

I have updated my blog post with a link to this post.

Easter Season blessings


Peter Carrell said...

Thanks both of you!

Father Ron Smith said...

Peter, you did well under the circumstances. As one with only a PTO and no vote, I was sent outside with the non-jurors, and only got the news this evening.

I thought the debate was good and well presented. Condolences on the result. I hope you sleep well tonight You did your best.

Peter Carrell said...

I like your humour, Ron: "non-jurors"!!

I did sleep well, just not for long enough with duties this morning for an early Administration of the Lord's Supper.

Anonymous said...

Alea iacta est. The Rakaiacon has been crossed.
Liberals will continue their institutional grip on the fast-decaying Anglican churches of the west, including NZ.
The FCA, meeting this week in London, is where the new Anglicanism is being reborn.
Can't imagine what Richard Ellena will say in Westminster Abbey!


Edward Prebble said...

Peter, let me add my endorsement to comments above, saying "Well done for a noble effort"

Some six months ago, when Auckland and Waiapu synods voted to reject the covenenat, you described those votes as 'predictable'. Given your excellent efforts, given the strong evangelical minority in Christchurch, and given +
Victoria's known support, I predicted that a pro-Covenant motion would have passed in your synod.

Why do you think it failed? (If you feel that is an unfair question to put to the mover, feel free to 'pass').

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Edward,
Good question. It failed in the house of clergy and not in the house of laity, and we were informed that the total, overall vote was inf favour, so the question would be, effectively, why did it fail in the house of clergy? At that point I would say, well, I think on a labelling basis (!!), you are indeed right: the evangelicals among the clergy are a minority (and then, not all evangelicals were in favour of the Covenant, some were not present, etc), there were non-evangelicals (if I may so speak) in favour of the Covenant (which might cancel out some factors in the previous clause, so, in the end ... I think it failed because insufficient clergy were convinced of the merits of the Covenant. In hindsight I think that might have been predictable :)

Anonymous said...

Beautiful writing Peter. Perfect.
I suspect you could convince me of about anything God wished you to : )

And I wish there were more like you and Bosco, I'm still disappointed that our religion(s) is(are) so far from Jesus yet the people who follow Jesus best in their own real life get hurt so much...

All these 'debate' problems are the perfect things Jesus can solve: don't worship money or social position, love and accept each other, pray to God not just religion or idols, and seek God quietly with decorum and discretion...pray in secret....

The worst church I was ever in was so unpleasant I got up and left, yet there was a painted banner on the back wall which came from kinder days: God is Love.

The people who invited me there still write me encouraging letters...

Peter Carrell said...

Dear Anonymous, It is a rule of the blog that commenters name themselves. I make an exception in this case to demonstrate that flattery can get you just about anywhere. But, in future, please name yourself.

Anonymous said...

"It failed in the house of clergy and not in the house of laity"

So the laity proved wiser than our ordained church leaders? ;)

Peter Carrell said...

I am not inclined to disagree with you, Shawn :)

Father Ron Smith said...

God's wisdom is always wiser than the wisdom of men/women. Deo gratias!

Martin Reynolds said...

"For over a hundred years the Communion was blessed with a common life which held together without much in the way of paperwork ....."

Whereas my contention has always been that it was mostly the wallpaper that held the Communion together ...... ;-)

Gillian Trewinnard said...

Hi Peter, it seemed to me that one of the reasons the motion did not find more favour was that it asked Synod to affirm Section 4 of the Covenent in principle, a thing which, when you look at the introduction to section 4, did not seem possible. Therefore, to vote in favour of the motion seemed to bind one to supporting Section 4 with vague misgivings only, when in fact many of us had more than vague misgivings about that section. Lovely to hear you and all the other debaters that day.

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Gillian.
I think you make a good point re the wording of the motion.