Covenant - Plan B?

Why is there no Plan B?

First and foremost there is no Plan B because the Covenant is a political process not a technical one.

In the broadest sense the Anglican Communion is already covenanted together. The intention is to get a sufficient proportion of members to assent to a reallocation of power in the Communion. There is no official Plan B (and no possibility of conceiving one) because to do so would fatally undermine the political process of driving this goal forwards.

And all the energy put into critiquing the Covenant proposals simply reinforces the idea that it alone is the future.

Second, there is no Plan B because there is no other place a Plan B could emerge. There are lots of places a multitude of plans could emerge from - but no place with the status to be able to say: here is an alternative. This was, after all, a key intention of the Eames Commission - to populate the high ground of Anglicanism with as many of the belligerents as was politically feasible thus pre-empting alternative schemes. No other group can say 'we have responsibility for the future of the whole communion' without meaning 'we want the Communion to follow our sectional priorities'.

Third, there is a Plan B - it's called GAFCON and FOCA (for whom, incidentally, I don't see a separate website). In effect this is the creation of an alternative high ground. Only it's not a Plan B for the Communion but instead of it.

What would a Plan B look like?

1) An analysis of the problem.
An analysis is essential - but not because it gives any clue as to a solution. An analysis of the problem is, in effect, a statement of political perspective on the issues. It will need to be sufficiently detailed to be credible to a neutral reader and, much more important, it will need to include all (or as many as possible) of the differing groups' own analyses of the problems they face - even their key words and phrases - to keep them reading to the next section.

But there is no need to go into too much detail because it's not important. After all, we're in this mess because the problem is intractable. It's tendrils reach into every part of the body. Therefore all that a more precise analysis does is to tell people more precisely how hopeless the whole thing is.

Nor will a fresh perspective on the problem help - it will have almost no-one's assent no matter how perceptive and brilliant it might be. (Except, perhaps, under one set of conditions: when there is complete political stalemate or exhaustion and the great majority are looking for a sideways move to get them out of the mess the initial conflict got them into.)

The point of a Plan is not to solve the problem. It is to shift the problem into a different frame so that we can get on with living with the problems in a different way, at least until the next intractable problem comes along.

2) Biblical, historical and theological underpinning
This is the language of legitimacy. Any innovation must have legitimacy grounded in scripture (both plain-sense and critically interpreted to gain the widest acceptance), in historical development to show that what is proposed is only a small step forward on a continuous path and therefore not really an innovation and, third, in theological discourse to conform the proposal to the language of the experience of God customary in everyday ecclesiastical discussion (and definitely not to technical academic theology).

The degree of precision is important. The task is to put forward sufficient legitimation of the proposal but not much more. Whatever you say it will be picked apart in every aspect, probably every word in an important document, by people fully qualified to do so. This doesn't matter. Unless there are real howlers (and even if there are sometimes) all the analysis and critique will simply serve to show that these are the right grounds for action and the task is refinement not replacement. And, anyway, you can change your mind later should some other ground for legitimation look more politically attractive.

To put forward more grounds for legitimation than you need - or too little - risks the whole package being dismissed, and the only thing that would sink a proposal is for it to be ignored.

Because this section is about legitimacy it will necessarily be developed alongside the Plan itself but articulated subsequently. It is post hoc legitimation of the plan which is chosen primarily because it is politically expedient. Therefore it must be suffient to persuade the people who must first be persuaded on other grounds.

3) The Plan
The plan can be whatever you think will work.

But 'work' here means 'obtain sufficient assent from the people who will have to implement it.'

The plan needs to be described in outline. Again, too much precision and it will drown in its own detail, too little and the proposal will be dismissed as irrelevant.

The detail and the practicalities can follow after. If a plan looks like it might be a runner the first thing that will happen is that everyone and their uncle will tell you all its flaws and why it won't work. A few of these comments will be helpful in refining the plan but much more important will be the evidence that people have engaged with making it work.

4) What happens next
Long before your plan is published you should know who is to take forward the proposal, who will fund it, and have some kind of timetable for future action to move from paper to implementation.

Therefore all the key people (that is, anyone with the power to scupper the plan) should be well briefed before the final text is agreed so as to ensure that they will back the proposal publicly no matter what reservations they may still have. This is, after all, an 'outline' plan - and those who have reservations know both that the details are critical and that they will be able to interfere with the detailed planning behind closed doors and in good time.

It is for this reason that planning should not be conducted in public.


So, to Plan B:

An alternative is, of course, to do things in public. How else can an inclusive church be constructed?

The legitimation of this plan is thus built into my definition of the problem: we are an inherently exclusive church.

And it could be a non-plan: a flexible framework within which enables the church to thrive in its own localities and does not seek to order the church prescriptively.

This would entail a much more extensive reallocation of power (but no disavowal of power per se). It would make those with power accountable to those living out the church in their communities.

And it's just a personal fantasy of the possibilities of church - so it's no threat to anyone.

More to follow.

No comments:

Post a Comment