In the absence of the rule of law

Mark Harris

Preludium (Mark Harris) has a couple of posts (here & here) from correspondents pointing out that the Southern Cone has no capacity under its own laws to recognise and receive into its jurisdiction foreign individuals or parishes (let alone dioceses).


2. The Executive Council of the Province of the Southern Cone has voted to receive the bishop and clergy into their midst "for pastoral reasons"... NOT the institution of the Diocese, as even in the Southern Cone they realize they can't
do it.

(Note: A constitutional amendment needs to be approved by the Provincial Synod [I believe it requires 3/4 majority], then be submitted to the ACC for review, and then be approved by each one of the Dioceses. If one of the Dioceses does not approve the amendment, it fails.)

Mark Harris points out that it doesn't really matter because Pittsburgh is merely on its way to a new 'Orthodox' Province (strange how a necessary characteristic of the church can be used in such an insulting manner).

It doesn't really matter for another reason too: canon law is almost unenforceable. Individual breaches of canon law can be punished only so long as the individual does not have widespread political backing. Otherwise the applicability of law depends on the willingness of those with power to limit their own power by abiding by previously written law. Archbishop Venables (I put words in his mouth) would no doubt argue that the urgency of the situation and the seriousness of the challenge requires extraordinary and extra-legal action. Or, in my words, personal judgement aligned with personal power enables the destruction of previous conventions and agreements.

Laws are created and enforced by the continuous assent of those who agree to be bound by them. In the absence of a police force with the capacity to use force against offenders there is no recourse when that assent is withdrawn. (Anglican Religious Police - ARP?).

The argument for a covenant has been that the current (legal and conventional) arrangements have broken down and a new agreement is needed. Protests that Lambeth 1.10 has been treated as definitive when it is merely advisory is the converse: objection to a broad (but not universal) assent to a new framework.

At least three responses are visible.
  1. Distressed complaint that people no longer play by the rules. In practice this has been the response of many liberals for whom the rules, for the most part, remain adequate - and, for the most part, they probably have sufficient majorities to modify the rules in a liberal direction within the existing constitutions in the north/west. (I.e. liberals are conservative.)
  2. Appeal to higher rules - Scripture, the Church Catholic, or divine law. This looks opportunistic to liberals. To conservatives it is a willingness to critique everything - culture, church, individual lives - according to non-personal criteria handed down by God. (I.e. conservatives are radical).
  3. Expedience: spatchcock together sufficient agreement to keep as many people as possible on board - keep them talking - until such time as a new network of agreements can be established. In practice it is the powerful - those with the political capacity to veto any new agreement - who must be kept together while ever no agreement is in place. (Bloggers are utterly irrelevant - less than mosquitoes in a swamp.)
All three are visible. I have argued elsewhere against the proposed covenant that it has no foundation in Anglicanism (1) and that any new agreement must have widespread assent (3) not merely that of the few. I have also wondered at the arbitrariness of the conservatives' appeal to Scripture - a narrow reading of sexuality and no equivalence on matters of finance (2).

In fact all three are reasonable responses to rapid, global and cultural change. The character and quality of religious expression is being re-written in ways that no-one can predict or comprehend. It is being re-written in the everyday actions of clergy and congregations in every part of the world. Not until it is all over (and new troubles arise) will it be possible to give a coherent explanatory narrative to these events.

But there is a smaller thing which I believe to be important - to look at jurisprudence within Anglicanism in a way which moves off the unsustainable pieties of divine law arguments and which sets canon law in the context of power, politics, and the assent of the governed.

I know why we don't - it is too undermining of episcopal, even archiepiscopal, power to remind those with power of the consensual context in which they make decisions. And for that very reason I think debate on Anglican jurisprudence is essential.

Anyone willing to fund me?

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