Sunday, June 10, 2012

Is the future for Covenant-less Anglican Communion more or less bleak than future of Roman Catholic church?

One of the oddest features of the arguments against the Anglican Covenant is their distinctly unAnglican character if we meaure that character against the idea of the "via media." It is worth thinking about this for a moment as we take in the news that Scotland has voted No to the Covenant (now there is a surprise), and absorb the impact this might be having on TEC a few weeks out from its General Convention, where no less than seven resolutions are on the table currently, to say nothing of its impact on our own ACANZP's General Synod debate on the Covenant in Fiji in the same month.

So a number of arguments against the Covenant invoke a fear of Romanization of the Anglican Communion ("We don't want a pope!", "There will be a curia if we have this darn Covenant"). Now, if the Communion were to be Romanized, it would be quite fair to fear. Take this blogpost in the Tablet (no less) which reminds us of the intricacies of Roman canon law as it responds to divorce and remarriage, both finding a way to prevent reception of the eucharistic elements for remarried divorcees (no matter how contrite) while offering the possibility of redefining (in some cases, at least) a real divorce of a proper marriage as an "annulment." [H/T Fr Ron Smith]. That's the stuff of Roman Catholic legal culture that is disagreeable for many Protestants, indeed even for Anglicans who vigorously deny that they are Protestants. Does any Anglican want to go down that route as the future of our church? All right, you do. But how many of your friends want to join you?

But does the Covenant take us to this Romanized Anglicanism? I assert what I have argued here many times before that the answer is "No." To try to summarise those arguments: the Covenant does not institute a Curia, a Magisterium, let alone a Pope, but it does inaugurate a means for resolving differences between member churches on matters one such church cares enough about to make a complaint, and it does so on the basis of some agreement together on what we hold in common.

Where are we left if we do not agree to the Covenant? Again, recalling some past posts here, it is my view that the Covenant is ineffective if we have some 6-8 or more member churches formally refusing to adopt it. With Scotland's No we are getting closer to that, so this question is lively. What is left? Not much in my view. We are left with a Communion which will have refused to grow closer together, thus reasserting the paramount value of individual autonomy for member churches, and, despite pleasant talk about wanting to do more things together and talk more, no means to establish what our common life is. nor to demur when that common life is undermined by yet another stage in the diversification of Anglicanism.

I suggest the Roman Catholic church has a somewhat bleak future to it if it cannot engage better with life as we find it rather than life as we wish it to be - an engagement as the blogger James Robert reminds us which should be driven more by the question of What Jesus would do than the question of what canon law means.

But I wonder if the Anglican Communion has an even bleaker future if it cannot engage better with what the 'common' bit of Communion means.

At least James Robert, as he engages with his own church's peculiar logic, can mount an argument for change because there is a wrong to be righted. In a Covenant-less Communion the best we can do as we look around us is to observe that what another church is doing is interesting. None dare call wrong what another's General Synod has called right.

On this analysis, I suggest that the Covenant is actually the via media between the tight unification with associated casuistry of canonical law represented by Rome and the unchecked diversification of of an unCovenanted Communion.


carl jacobs said...

If I may quote the famous philosopher (slightly abridged):

It's passed on! This Covenant is no more! It has ceased to be! It's expired and gone to meet its maker! It's a stiff! Bereft of life. It rests in peace! If you hadn't nailed it to the Wittenberg Door it would be pushing up the daisies! It's metabolic processes are now history! It's off the twig! It's kicked the bucket. It's shuffled off this mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the choir invisible!! THIS IS AN EX-COVENANT!!

In fact, it's been dead since the CoE torpedoed it. TEC won't even pay it a passing notice since TEC is about the embark on a civil war over funding the national church. GENCON 2012 will have much more important issues to address. When KJS reveals her plan to 'level' the dioceses in order to free up funding for 815, there is going to be hell to pay. Nobody in TEC will want to talk about the covenant when money is on the line.

So what happens next? The Communion will slowly divide into its two constituent parts. The Old Liberal Guard will chase its progressive muse into oblivion. The rest of the Communion will gather together and do just fine. When you have a shared theological foundation, you don't need a covenant. When you don't have a shared theological foundation, a covenant can't help. The theological incoherence of the AC created this problem. But the two parts of the Communion are immiscible, and so time must produce the inevitable separation.


Peter Carrell said...

Ah, Carl, when you invoke the great classics among the philosophers, then I am beat.

I like your neat phrasing, "When you have a shared theological foundation, you don't need a covenant. When you don't have a shared theological foundation, a covenant can't help."

Though I suggest that even within broad agreement (say, among evangelicals) there is plenty of room for disagreement (e.g. Calvinists and Arminians), and thus within a common structure, some need for a mechanism for living with, if not resolving differences.

Father Ron Smith said...

The real question here might be: "What is deficient, say, in the theology and praxis on ACANZP that needs to be adjusted to meet with the theology and praxis of the GAFCON Churches?

For any other Province to sign up to a disciplinary governance Covenant relationship with the GAFCON Provinces (who wouldn't sign up to such a relationship anyway) would be betraying our own provincial openness to Gays and Women - which Gafcon seemingly will never accept!

It may just be that there will be two 'Anglican'-type Communions: -
The original, Lambeth Quadrilateral one; Unity in Diversity, around Canterbury; and; the 'Jerusalem Statement' one; conservative Gafcon around Kenya/Nigeria.

Until, and unless, there can be some sort of acceptance of one another's distinctives in theology and praxis over human sexuality issues; the Covenant won't work!
After all, it takes 2 to tango!

Anonymous said...

I think if there is any re-alignment within the Anglican Communion it wont be a simple liberal /cons split. There are plenty of issues that divide the so-called conservatives..women as priests and bishops,anglo-catholics and evangelical as well as more arcane inter-evangelical divisions which I confess are rather opaque to my Michael Ramsey-esque liberal catholic churchmanship.
Perhaps if the whole thing does come apart at the seams the holy Spirit might invite us to re-visit Lambeth 1948 which envisaged a rather different future for the Ang Comm than what has happened.Who knows..perhaps in ( say) Tanzania Anglicans /methodists and Lutherans might form a United Church on the South India model thet might well be better for the health and future of Tanzanian christianity than membership of the Ang Comm or some Global South bit of might even ( mirabile dictu) develop a doctrinal basis utilising ecumenical agreements that is more attractive than a rather defensive and historically backward looking Jerusalem Declaration...who knows..

Perry Butler Canterbury

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron and Perry,

I think, Perry, you are more on the money here than Ron.

There are plenty of disagreements among conservative Anglicans, including the nuanced differences currently between GAFCON/FCA and Global South.

There are plenty of differences among liberal/progressive Anglicans. I cannot see our church (for an instance) swallowing hook line and sinker the total of liberalism/progressivism at work in TEC, though some of our number go down that path a long way (and perhaps Ron you are as advanced down the TEC path as any of our friends and colleagues in ACANZP?).

Anonymous said...

""What is deficient, say, in the theology and praxis on ACANZP that needs to be adjusted to meet with the theology and praxis of the GAFCON Churches?"

A great deal. Lack of Bibilical authority. Lack of respect for Scripture. The political corruption of left wing "social justice" commissars. The political corruption of the Treaty and extremist Maori ethnic nationalism. The theological corruption of liberalism.

"would be betraying our own provincial openness to Gays and Women - which Gafcon seemingly will never accept!"

GAFCON has no position on women's ordination and includes members from both pro and cons. So women's ordination is not an issue as far as this is concerned.

While there are plenty of differences between conservatives and Evangelicals, I stand by my view that the Jerusalem Decleration is the best instrument for a strong theological foundation for the future.

Vague "lets please everyone" ecumenical statements are the kind of approach that got the Communion into trouble in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Not sure that ARCIC ( for example) pleased everyone..far from it. yet it seems to me ecumenical convergence on ,say, the eucharist ,has been a real theological gain. Are we to be stuck in the Reformation controversies forever? Is there never the possibility of theological convergence? £5 yrs ago I attended a seminar at the Gregorian University in Romeat doctoral level on "The Eucharist in Reformation controvery and ecumenical convergence. " At the seminar (led by a jesuit Luther scholar) were anglicans /lutherans and the Church of Scotland.I have to say it was a highlight of my theological training. Rather glad in the current climate that Im retired and the wrong side of 60. Icabod! perry butler

Father Ron Smith said...

Good Comment, Perry. At the present moment I feel I have more in common with our sisters and borhters of the Roman Catholic Church than I do with the likes of the Gafcon conglomerate.

Our essential unity is in our common Baptism and our participation in the Eucharist - there is no other basis stronger than these for commitment to Christ and the Gospel of Love.

"We are one bread, one body, for we all partake of the One Bread".