What about Hong Kong?

Archbishop Paul Kwong following his election in 2007
Photo Credit: Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui

I have just read Norman Doe's book An Anglican Covenant: Theological and Legal Considerations for a Global Debate. The cover proclaims The Definitive Explanation and Guide. This may be an overstatement. (Buy it via the MCU site here.)

There is much in it that is useful. For example, Doe's point that a covenant is promissory (amongst other things) leads me to wonder about the nature of promises, and their limitation, in relationships between organizations.

Professor Doe is a canon lawyer who has worked for a single legal framework for the Anglican Communion over 20 years or more. He was a central contributor to the draft covenant in the Windsor Report and has been part of the process ever since. "He made five presentations on canon law and covenant at the Lambeth Conference 2008."

The book works within a predefined theological-juridical framework, with the emphasis on the juridical. Using a framework he developed previously he analyses 'covenant' in three groups of three concepts: (a) foundational ideas: the nature, employment and purpose of a covenant, (b) structure and substance: its form, subject matter and content, and (c) implementation: its process, adoption and effects.

The result is a conceptual analysis with discussion of the questions and opinions within each category. He homogenises the multiple sources he draws on (including some of MCU's papers), picking out comments which support, criticise or add to the point he wishes to address - but missing the overall thrust of any of the sources. Each chapter is given equal weight.

And he wholly misses the political dimension. This is a lawyer's answer to theological, cultural and ecclesiastical dispute: more law.

Hence my question: what about the Province of Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui? In their submission in response to the Nassau draft they strongly oppose the covenant. They do so, first, on the grounds that it would be a diminution of Anglican polity and of the diversity they value. They question its practicality and enforceability. Third, from their particular perspective as the only Anglican body in China,
During the years between 1984 and 1990, Archbishop Emeritus Peter Kwong, then Bishop of Hong Kong and Macao, worked tirelessly as a member of the Basic Law Drafting Committee. He succeeded not only in greatly contributing to the preservation of Hong Kong’s religious freedoms but also in forging close and enduring relationships with the senior officials of the State Administration for Religious Affairs (directly under the State Council of the PRC) and the leaders of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (the only registered post-denominational Protestant Church in China), including its Chairman for many years, Bishop Ding Guangxun – the last Anglican bishop in China.
There is no doubt that the autonomous governance of our Church, together with the affectionate but non-interfering ties with the See of Canterbury and other churches of the Communion, sit easily with the familiar crystal-clear policies of the PRC government with respect to religious affairs.

HKSKH Anglicans are bound to approach any movement within the Anglican Communion towards the centralisation of power and governance with considerable reluctance and great caution.
That is to say: the Chinese government remains highly suspicious of all religious organizations and the chance of a sufficiently good working relationship between the HKSKH and the government will be jeopardised, probably destroyed, if the PRC government believe (whatever church lawyers say) that HKSKH is subordinate to foreign control. That perception will also be enough to disrupt, probably destroy, the currently good ecumenical relations.

There is no mention of this dilemma in Doe's work. Is the covenant so important that it is worth sacrificing the HKSKH (or any province)?

Doe says, twice, that only 13 submissions out of a possible 44 were received. He also acknowledged that the United Churches (i.e. in full communion but not Anglican provinces) were ignored in the early stages of the process (the Lusitanian Church also, incidentally, strongly opposed the covenant). Yet the Covenant Design Group felt confident to ignore all submissions except those which helped refine the text. They neither went to each non-respondent province to ensure that they had a reply nor did they put any weight on the fact that 31 provinces abstained from the consultation. Normally, on such a critical question, such non-response would be fatal to the project or at least to its timetable. Yet they spoke as if they had the authority of the Communion to do so and were not going to have their self-imposed timetable disrupted.

The politics would seem to be clear: a small group with the backing of the Archbishop of Canterbury, are determined to drive this covenant through whatever the cost. Small and weak provinces can get out of the way.

Does conclusion is that to adopt the covenant would be 'a major historical development' (p. 213) that opposition is getting less (p. 217) and, last paragraph, that the covenant is no more than a well-trodden Christian path entirely consonant with scripture, tradition and reason and therefore Anglicans may be wholly reassured (pp. 220-221).

Sorry, Pluralist: you may be right about growing opposition but that's not currently killing the covenant. Doe's judgement will be more widely read and regarded as more weighty. The politics are less about numbers than about keeping the plough straight and not looking back at whatever chaos may be left in its wake.

1 comment:

  1. The point about Anglicanism is that it is neither a Church with a centralised magisterium nor is it a confessional denomination. An agreed covenant (and that is unlikely) would effectively make Anglicanism a confessional body like the Lutheran Church.

    Anglicanism is in fact 'conciliar' in nature and the bishop is 'the bishop in synod' and ergo we work our way through difficult periods of disagreement.