Players and audience

A persistent aspect of the debate on the Covenant is that there has barely been a debate about it - at least, not in public.

On the Comprehensive Unity - No Anglican Covenant blog JimB makes the point that
No one is advancing serious arguments for it: instead one hears about "holding the communion together." How that is to happen when as is likely a great many provinces refuse to endorse and some have effectively withdrawn now it is never explained.
There seem to be three assertions in favour of the Covenant: we need these rules and structures [comment], it's the last chance to hold the communion together [comment], there is no alternative [comment]. In England at least there's a fourth: please support Rowan Williams in doing a difficult job [comment].

Archbishop Drexel Gomez, driving force of the Covenant
I've addressed all these in a number of posts before and I'm not going to do it again here (but if you wish to follow the links, please be my guest).

Here I want to follow up Jim's point that, on the one hand, these are assertions and not arguments and, on the other, those pushing for the Covenant have utterly failed to engage their critics.

First, the superficial nature of the study guide, the refusal of the the CofE authorities to allow the other side of the case for the Covenant to be sent to Dioceses and the persistently bland official material are all part of one strategy.

Second, that in this game very few people are players. The role of the audience is to assent to the decisions of the players and not to think that they can interfere.

The strategy - part 1
One of the earliest papers I wrote on the issue was Bouncing the Covenant through the Anglican Communion (July 2007) which set out the strategy. This was a conspiracy theory. But because the Anglican way seems to be to hide things in full view it is also referenced.

The timing has slipped a little since 2007 and some of the details have changed but the strategy remains. The most substantial change is that the Instruments of Unity have not been asked to endorse the Covenant - it is now solely a matter for the provinces.

The difficulty of gaining assent was identified in the Windsor Report. Thes subsequent Towards an Anglican Covenant spoke of a decade to persuade the Communion to 'own' it but Drexel Gomez was having none of that. In February 2007, at the Primates' meeting in Tanzania, his drastically shortened timetable was agreed. Apart from the ACC's refusal to accept Section 4 as then drafted, which caused a six-month delay, the Tanzania timetable has been followed.

To labour the point: there was a deliberate decision not to encourage the Communion to 'own' the Covenant. The formal assent of the provinces was deemed sufficient, and it had to be done quickly.

Each province then had to find the most efficient way of passing the Covenant. In England in 2007 that meant debate on the principle of a Covenant but discussion of the Nassau draft (available before Synod met) was excluded. Whilst the business managers had little choice but to refer the matter to the Dioceses in 2011 it was decided that the Covenant would only need a simple majority to be accepted.

The strategy - part 2
The second half of the strategy has been to keep discussion of the Covenant separate from discussion of other changes in the Communion. These changes have taken place largely out of the public eye. This is not the same as in secret: once again, they were largely hidden in public view. (The exception was the excessive secrecy around changing the ACC's constitution.)

No document is self-sufficient. The Covenant is the coping stone of a series of changes to the structures of the Communion which have been fought over for almost a decade. It is because they lost this battle (over the role of the Primates' Meeting rather than the Covenant) that the leaders of the Global South have taken their bat and ball and gone home.

The Covenant is intended to grant significant powers to the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion. In practice this group has influence but little power. I believe that power is presently concentrated with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the General Secretary of the Anglican Communion and their respective staffs.

If you're not in the game, you're out
Players and audience
Who have been the players who created the Covenant? I guess the inner ring would include:
  • The Archbishop of Canterbury, the General Secretary of the Anglican Communion, and their personal advisers.
  • Archbishop Drexel Gomez and the members of the Covenant Design Group (inevitably unevenly)
  • Certain other primates (not sure who, but I'd certainly include Philip Aspinall and John Chew). 
Around which there would be another ring:
  • Advisers to the CDG
  • The remaining Primates to the extent that they chose to be involved
  • Members of the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion (which includes the elected officers of the ACC)
  • The key officers in each province who relate to the ACO 
  • A very few lobby groups, mostly of the conservative American genre
But this is all general speculation based on watching the process from high in the gods through poor quality opera glasses. I'd welcome contributions to sharpening the picture.

Everyone else is audience. 
Their only role is to vote through what has been decided elsewhere. The largest part of the official structures of the church are audience.

For those who knew they were merely audience persuasive argument has seemed to be the only way into the debate. But argument, no matter how cogent, is not enough.

It's not enough because the politics has been about organizational change of which the Covenant is but a small detail, however significant. The struggle over reshaping the Communion's structures has happened elsewhere.

Arguments about the Covenant, howsoever persuasive to their authors, have been entirely peripheral to the key question of the Covenant: will enough provinces sign up to consolidate the new structures in the Communion. That has overwhelmingly been the factor which has led to changes in the wording of the Covenant.

Arguments about the Covenant have been insufficient because they presumed that they would be heard if they were good enough. Those that were submitted to the ACO were duly circulated to the Design Group. There is no evidence that they had any impact.

Finally, those presenting critical arguments assumed they did so as players. Minnows, maybe, but at least in the same pool. In fact the one thing they did not address was that they - we - were largely talking to ourselves. The pool was elsewhere. We had no influence because we had no influence.

The study guide, Q&A, literature supporting the Covenant in the English Dioceses has to be bland, unchallenging, and solely supportive of the Covenant. Their only task is to ease the passage of what has already been decided. It's barely worth the time of those that prepared the papers. It is just a process that has to be gone through.

Structural deafness is the flip side of centralisation: people are listened to because of the position they occupy, not because of the quality of their contributions. People are listened to because what they say harmonises with the dominant opinion and rhetoric.

The leaders are the church, not the people. It is not news. Nor is it good for the future of the Communion.

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