A richer Covenant

The Most Revd Thabo Makgoba, the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town and Metropolitan of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa.

 The Province of South Africa has
partly endorsed the Anglican Covenant - it has passed the first stage of the constitutional process and will be brought to the next Provincial Synod for ratification.
The resolution was passed by an overwhelming majority, although some speakers who supported it expressed reservations. The Revd Drake Tshenkeng of the Diocese of Kimberley and Kuruman asked whether the Church was not giving “centralizing power” to the communion's Standing Committee. The Dean of Grahamstown, the Very Rev Andrew Hunter said the covenant raised the questions: “How far does diversity stretch, who defines diversity and who sets the boundaries?”
The sadness from my perspective is that Archbishop Thabo Makgoba has a rich understanding of covenant and its potential, a vision I would delight in - but unfortunately it's a vision I don't see in the Anglican Covenant on offer today.

Covenant and South Africa

Thabo Makgoba discusses the idea of Covenant in relation to the South African State and its Constitution.  There is too much to set out here in full - I recommend the Harold Wolpe Memorial Lecture: ‘Constitution and Covenant’ and 'Moral State of the Nation Address'

In the Harold Wolpe lecture he addressed the current state of South Africa.  
In South Africa, we have to learn how to become a democracy, and all of us who stood together in the past, are still feeling our ways into the new relationships appropriate to constitutional democracy. Government, political parties, the private sector, academia, the media, civil society, faith communities and so forth, now each have our distinctive and separate contributions to make to the life of the nation as a whole. We are still learning where we should stand in solidarity, and where we should be critical. We are still learning what it means to hold and to exchange legitimately diverse perspectives. We are still learning both how to deliver and how to receive criticism that is constructive. The way to pursue such maturing democracy is to abide by – or, in the words of St Paul, be subject to – our Constitution.
There is a clear parallel with the Anglican Communion (setting aside the democracy bit).  Just how Anglicans stand together and criticise one another, how we hold and exchange legitimate and legitimately diverse perspectives, is the driving issue behind the Anglican Covenant.

He sets the question in scripture and in Noah's Covenant with God:
This is a covenant for all of humanity, and for all of creation. It is a covenant about the sanctity of human life, about the integrity of the created world, and about the dignity of difference, symbolised by the rainbow. God says that people matter. God cares that his beloved children should have adequate food, clothing, shelter and so forth. God cares that everyone should be treated with complete respect by everyone else, with no-one marginalised, excluded, voiceless in the ordering of our common lives (which is, of course what democracy is all about).
Amen. Amen.  Again, the contrast of the Church with a democracy is significant.

The Archbishop draws on Chief Rabbi Sacks' speech to the Lambeth Conference which contrasted Covenant and Contract. He summarised the contrast as:
Contracts concern our interests, while covenants concern our identities. · Contracts deal in transactions, while covenants deal in relationships. · Contracts benefit, while covenants transform. · Contracts are about competition – if I win, you lose; while covenants are about cooperation – if I win, you also win.
He then talks about the right and need of the government to govern - and, vitally, the duty to listen. The government, he argues, has a duty to create and sustain a space for free public debate - and to accept criticism as well as praise. He calls for 'the effective participation of all, at every level.'  This is not easy and (he doesn't say this, I do) the experience in so much of Africa directly contradicts this vision.

The Archbishop says:
But, whatever the limitations of experience, mature democracy requires mutual acknowledgement that political opponents seek the good of the country and its people, however great the policy disagreement on the best means for achieving this. We must accord everyone freedom of speech: freedom to debate issues, to put differing arguments, to propose alternative policies, and to persuade – but never to coerce. Anyone who threatens, or intimidates – or stands by while their supporters do so – is not worthy to be a leader. Anyone who incites violence, or advocates harm to their political opponents – or allows others to do so – is a disgrace to democracy and deserves only our contempt. Anyone who pursues power to further their own interests, or the interests of those around them, is unfit to hold office.
In fact, he says,
Let me put this in other words. Effective democracy needs ubuntu. Ubuntu says, ‘I am because we are.’ Ubuntu says ‘My full humanity is dependent on your full humanity.’ Ubuntu is shared covenantal living – living through loving and caring, honesty and respect, compassion and trust. Ubuntu is upholding good morals. Ubuntu is helping those in need. Ubuntu is saying that if any other person is diminished, then I too am diminished.
And, from 'Moral State of the Nation Address'
Covenant is entirely ubuntu-shaped – we find our humanity through the humanity of others – we flourish through promoting the flourishing of others. SePedi has a proverb for this: Mphiri o tee ga o lle – one bangle makes no sound. But working in harmony can create a beautiful symphony!

The Anglican Covenant
The South African initial adoption of the Covenant may have been overwhelming but it was not enthusiastic.  
As I said in my Charge, this is not a perfect document, but it certainly offers a way of affirming our desire to live together as Provinces, within our global family;  a means of getting the balance right through an autonomy that is neither imposed uniformity, nor unbounded independence.  My prayer is that we will now be able to share our unique experiences of letting Christ hold us together in difference, within the life of the Covenant, and help it to work as well as possible. (Here)
The earlier Synod of Bishops had supported the Covenant with the observation 'It can be a tool for healing and for helping the Communion move forward.'

This is a vote for a hope.  And if such hope is realised I will happily welcome it.  

But, in my view, all the signs point in the opposite direction.  Fundamentally there is no democracy, nor any desire for effective participation, nor any valuing of the ideals of democracy.  There is no evident desire of the international leaders of the Communion to create and sustain a public space for diversity and difference, criticism and praise.

The Covenant grew from a desire to expel TEC from the Anglican Communion - an exercise of force, not the recognition that opponents seek the good of the community - and who started it is the politics of the playground, not of an adult community.

The process by which the Covenant has come about is deeply anti-participatory.

The Covenant we are presented with is a contract - a mutually binding deal by which we all focus on the things we distrust and dislike in one another.

It is not ubuntu.  

1 comment:

  1. It is not ubuntu.

    Paul, I agree. The Anglican Covenant as it now stands is not ubuntu.

    Archbishop Makgoba's words from his lecture referencing God's covenant with Noah, which includes all of humanity, are lovely. Who could object to a covenant of that sort? But that is not the Anglican Covenant.