Urgent? Why urgent?

Archbishop Drexel Gomez
doubling as Mephistopheles

Archbishop Drexel Gomez has set out the ugency of the task facing the Anglican Communion:

The process of finalizing an Anglican covenant needs to move forward more quickly if the Anglican Communion is to be preserved.

That was the message delivered Saturday (September 13) by West Indies Archbishop Drexel Gomez, the chairman of the group charged with formulating the pact intended to help ensure unity in basic beliefs, settle disputes, and administer discipline among historically autonomous Anglican provinces.

But why so urgent? And what is sacrificed by urgent action? After all the divisions in the church have been a long time brewing.

In 2001, in To Mend the Net, Gomez said the matter was urgent. In the Report of the Covenant Design Group (February 2007) which accompanied the Nassau draft of the covenant the matter was said to be urgent. But in neither case was any evidence of urgency given.

And now in 2008, just before the next meeting of the Covenant Design Group, the matter is said to be urgent again. It's very tiring all this urgency.
"... we are at a dangerous point in our history,” Gomez told more than 100
people attending the Festival of Faith at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in
Bladensburg, Maryland.

The danger is of division in the Anglican Church. And the only answer:
“There is nothing on the immediate horizon that offers any kind of hope to
holding the Communion together other than the covenant,” Gomez contended.
“Nothing else is on the table. If that fails, we will see only further
fragmentation and disintegration. That is not theory but reality,” he said.

Gomez noted that the covenant got a big boost at the 2008 Lambeth Conference
July 16-August 3 in Canterbury, where bishops meeting in “indaba” groups
overwhelmingly indicated their support for the concord, even as a small number
of liberals loudly opposed it.

That's the thing with “indaba” groups - you hear what you want to hear, and people say what they think you want to hear, and there is no clear way of measuring.
Would the Church of England support the covenant? “A majority of the bishops in
the Church of England, certainly at Lambeth, gave the indication they would
support the covenant,” said Gomez. “They would want to see some changes in the
text, but definitely were in favor of a covenant.”

Gomez gave a timetable for the next steps in creating the covenant.

He also observed that if the three moratoria did not hold then there may be no alternative to schism. But the creation of a North American Province did not seem to be included in the moratoria - he envisaged that new Province petitioning the ACC for admission into the company of covenanters and being accpeted, but only with new membership of the ACC. The ACC has already seen off an attempt to diminish its role in the Nassau draft and would still seem to be a significant target of the conservatives.

He addressed the thinking currently underway:

Significantly, the draft now under development is likely to reflect more of the
concept of mutual accountability than did the St. Andrew’s Draft, with a clearer
idea of how provinces might find themselves outside the Communion, according to
Gomez. “Without that, the covenant is meaningless,” he added.

He noted there had been complaints that the covenant was punitive and designed to discipline wayward provinces.

“From what I’ve heard, there are some bishops in [TEC] who are not at all in favor of the covenant concept. One said to me the whole objective of the covenant is to kick out [TEC] from the Communion,” Gomez said.

”That’s not the brief we were given.”

“Discipline is not meant to be something punitive, but it is to say that if you give your word, it is expected you will keep your word, and if you don’t keep your word, it means you are not willing to be held accountable for what you say and what you do.”
When asked how a province would be taken out of the Communion, Gomez replied, “The language we have used is that you place yourself outside by that action (of violating the agreements within the covenant).”

This is a key idea - Norman Doe sees it this way in his book, An Anglican Covenant, and Gomex says he was largely responsible for the controversial Appendix to the St Andrew's Draft - that if a Province is judged to have put itself outside the covenant then it is not being punished. The covenant is not punitive if exclusion results from the Province's own actions.

Makes no sense to me: if exclusion is done to a Province whilst that Province continues to defend itself and proclaim its covenantal innocence, then that looks and feels like punishment to me. I guess it all hinges on exactly how you define 'punishment'. (OED says 'The action of punishing or the fact of being punished; the infliction of a penalty in retribution for an offence; also, that which is inflicted as a penalty; a penalty imposed to ensure the application and enforcement of a law.')

Or, perhaps more harshly, it is immoral double-speak to pretend that responsibility for the punishment lies solely with the punished. Their actions may have occasioned the punishment but punishment is the action and responsibility of those who wield the necessary power.

Gomez is also clear that signing the covenant would pre-empt law suits in secular courts as means of dealing with division - a particularly sensitive issue in the US (and, increasingly, Canada) where conservatives are trying to leave the TEC and take the property with them.

If TEC signs the covenant, would it require its liberal leaders to suspend or
resolve all their lawsuits immediately?

“What we are saying with the covenant is that we are not dealing with the past. If a new situation emerges when the covenant is signed, it will certainly be contrary to the spirit of the covenant and to the actual terms of the covenant for persons to go outside of the fellowship for a resolution of disputes,” Gomez said.

“It’s contrary not only to the spirit, but also the letter, of the law because the covenant fixes the boundaries for the settling of disputes. And if you go outside of that, you are renouncing the covenant.”

Can (and would) any church renounce its right to seek redress in the law of the land where it feels it is being ripped off? It's a recipe for disaster as big as the covenant itself. So long as the seceeding group claimed a theological ground for leaving (or, at least, a conservative theological ground) it would enable any parish or diocese at odds with its bishop or Province to up and walk off with the physical property of a church. Should said bishop or Province seek to regain their property through legal means they would be acting outwith the covenant and therefore liable to exclusion from the Anglican Communion. At which point the departing group declares itself the truly Anglican body and therefore in legal possession of the property. Legal absurdity - property, trust and charity law of that land govern what is possible, not signing a covenant.

That's the thing about urgency - it becomes cover for partisan advantage. The cost of urgency is failure to work things through properly. The cost will be a framework for the Anglican Communion signed by the few on behalf of the many which will not be 'owned' by the church at large - let alone welcomed. It will reshape Anglicanism in only dimly perceived ways, and all the ways I perceive are to the detriment of Anglicanism.

But don't write it off yet. Not till the majority of Provinces have rejected it.

1 comment:

  1. If the Pastoral Forum fails (it doesn't exactly look good for it) then it will leave the Covenant as something desperate and without full means of operation. A punitive one will be seen for what it is, and fail in sufficiently significant places - something cannot be introduced to bind institutions in if those institutions it targets have rejected it. It then begins as a means of excluding and it would simply lead to an alternative association (that looks like the original association). Those who receive the punishment have to accept the punishment, and if it is not accepted then it fails before it begins.