Reasons to vote for/against the Covenant - Sunday

Vote for the Covenant - Sunday
The Covenant will make Provinces properly accountable to one another and to the 'shared mind' of the Communion.
Vote against the Covenant - any day.

Accountability and agreement is at the heart of why a Covenant was proposed and what it is supposed to achieve.

Yet, once again, it all depends what you mean by 'accountability' (proposed Anglican Covenant clauses 2.2.1, 3.1.2, and 4.2.1) and by a 'shared mind' (3.2.4 and 4.2.4 which seems to use 'agreement' as a synonym).

The Covenant does not define either term.

'Accountability' generally entails having to report to another body or group which has some power to act against you if it disapproves of your actions. Thus politicians are nominally accountable to voters as, more pertinently, trustees are accountable to a charity's membership.

The Anglican church is an episcopal church - that is, its bishops govern unaccountably. It may be desirable to change this - but not as a side-effect of the Covenant.

The Covenant sets up duties, commitments and processes by which Provinces may give an account of their actions and decisions - and proposed actions - to other Provinces. (Going through the central switching station of the Anglican Communion Office.) Disapproval cannot be expressed positively - because that would breach each Provinces' jurisdictional autonomy. But it may be expressed negatively by asking - or telling - an offending Province to withdraw from aspects of the Communion's work or, ultimately, from the Communion itself.

A Communion presupposes voluntary mutual accountability. The Covenant wants to convert this into a contract with clauses that say that if a Province acts, or fails to act, in certain ways punitive action may follow.  

But, to harp on an old theme, accountability between autonomous bodies is a matter of choice - it will not be achieved by contract and threat.

A 'shared mind' is a critical idea which has run through all the drafts of the Covenant. Yet it has never been defined.

No draft has set out exactly how a 'shared mind' would be determined. Would a 50% plus 1 of the Standing Committee be sufficient (or fewer if it was just those at a particular meeting)? Or unanimity amongst the Primates? Or the Archbishop of Canterbury and the General Secretary of the Anglican Communion acting together? Would all parties be advised by lawyers?

And, more to the point, would any mechanism be accepted as sufficient by those who disagreed with whatever decision these bodies came to? Historical examples suggest they would not.

In fact a 'shared mind' is a will o' the wisp - it vanishes as soon as you try to grasp it. It does not depend on what people think, it depends on how exact you need the agreement to be. General words get general agreement; the more precise the words the fewer the people who will agree.

The whole rationale of the Covenant is that Anglicans have failed to find a 'shared mind', whatever it is. We share one faith and that faith divides us. So it is at best playing with words, and at worst a church politician's playground, to make the notion of a 'shared mind' the test of what shall be referred to the Standing Committee for further action (4.2.4).
  1. Accountability between autonomous bodies is a matter of voluntary mutual submission. To add sanctions, even the threat of possible negative sanctions, compromises the voluntary nature of the compact and will inevitably encroach on Provincial autonomy.
  2. To vote for the Covenant with key terms undefined is to grant a blank cheque to ecclesiastical bureaucrats and lawyers to write the rules as they see fit. You would not sign any other contract or agreement on this basis - please don't vote for this one.

Vote against the Covenant.

1 comment:

  1. NTSS well done, this is good stuff. Agreement, accountability, a shared mind, all used in the Covenant document in a very loose, sloppy and dangerous way.