Study Guide, Q&A, C-

On the No Anglican Covenant site there are a couple of  new resources (amongst quite a lot of material). The official Covenant study material [official site] has been posted as well as the series of four talks by Caroline Hall which are well worth reading (they're a bit scattered but start here).

I've only skimmed the official material and my immediate response is not that they're partisan, that was only to be expected, but that they're so bland.

The Study Guide (pdf) can be summarised, not unfairly I think, as the text of the Covenant headed by the rubric Read each section. What do you think? It's certainly no aid to critical thought.

The Q&A paper is more help to study.  But I got cross in the opening section with a quote from Rabbi Jonathon Sacks in a call-out box.  In it he recommends a covenantal approach as an alternative to power or money - as though it will be possible to dispense with either.
Imagine, for a moment, you have total power, and then, in the fit of craziness you decide to share it with nine other people. How much power do you have left? You have 1/10 of what you began with. 
Study guide
Stuff and nonsense! Power is not a zero-sum game. Never has been.

The whole concept of 'empowerment' embodies the perception that power distributed is power expanded - and the cynicism about the ways 'empowerment' is used embodies the practical reality that those who share power don't give it away. In Sacks' mathematics what you are actually left with is 9 people feeling better because they have 1/10th of a unit of power and 1 person feeling smug because he (of course) still has 10 tenths.

The Sacks' quote adds,
... love, friendship and influence are things that only exist by virtue of sharing them with others. And those are the goods I call covenantal goods ... 
Leaving aside the fact that power also fits this description, placing this quote in a Q&A about the Anglican Covenant is deeply cynical. What has the Anglican Covenant to do with love and friendship? The Covenant was created because love and friendship had shriveled away. A key motivation of the Covenant was the desire to expel provinces from the charmed circle of friends - not to love them into submission. Its function is to replace 'love, friendship and influence' with a treaty-like document and law-like processes. It is the obverse of what 'I call covenantal goods'. This is a crude attempt to spray around some nice, soft, cuddly words to see if the underlying corpse can be made to smell a little sweeter.

Question 4 is interesting, and may not be exactly on the script:
 How will the Covenant deepen our Communion?
The Anglican Communion is more than a federation of churches. It is a ‘Communion’ with a shared life, not simply a shared set of beliefs. The Anglican Communion Covenant is not therefore only a doctrinal statement. It reminds us of the practice of Christian life in the form of certain virtues and disciplines (openness and patience; prayer, study and debate – section 3.2.3). ... (emphasis in original) 
 More than a federation. Virtues and disciplines. To  my mind that's a different emphasis to Question 9 Will the Covenant strengthen central control within the Anglican Communion? There the answer is: look at the text and see that autonomy is explicit. But even in Q9, with its 'however' and 'although' there are hints of a desire to qualify what the words actually say. Perhaps the problem is that for every critic who points to centralising powers as a bad thing there's another who looks at autonomy (and therefore the absence of the power to penalise errant provinces) as a bad thing. They can't win. And they won't.
10. Why might people be nervous about the Covenant?
... Some are concerned that the Covenant makes new and considerable demands on the Instruments of Communion. Much may depend on how the Covenant is received and used.
Others suggest that the Covenant will make tensions and divisions within the Communion even more visible.
At present, the Anglican Communion has no way of collectively identifying which disputes might potentially lead to the fracture of our Christian body, and which are less damaging and divisive. If we are to enhance the unity of the Communion and work towards the healing of the Church, we need a way of identifying which are the really serious problems.
We also need a description of how we are going to set about dealing with those problems. The Covenant tries to do just that. The Covenant describes and clarifies the nature of our mutual commitments and the form of life required to begin the process of discernment towards deeper communion and a more intense participation in the life of God made known in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.  (my paragraph breaks and emphases.)
Of course how the Covenant is received and used is critical - so why is there no public discussion of it?

The second point, the visibility of disputes, is odd. I find it hard to believe that our leaders cannot tell which disputes are serious without a Covenant, and I don't see how a Covenant will help. When provinces outside the US started to ordain people to act as Anglican missionaries in the US, did no-one think 'this could be serious?' Would a Covenant have helped polish their glasses?

The fact is that, when it comes to disputes, there is no a priori division between what is serious and what is adiaphora. You can only tell afterwards: who would have thought that the Methodist Church would split over putting an organ into a Church? Or that a meeting of missionaries in mid-Africa would spark the Kikuyu crisis?

And Q7 What will happen if the Covenant is broken? doesn't address the criticism that the Covenant will create means to split the Communion which do not currently exist.

A centrally import element has been missing from all the discussion of this question of potentially Communion-fracturing matters: that no issue is sufficient to split the Communion.

What can split the Communion is a combination of four things: (a) pre-existing divisions in the Church (the fuel), (b) a clear focal point (the issue), (c) organization - of battalions within the church (the will) and also the prior organization of the church which establishes the lines along which any conflict will flow (the battlefield), and (d) one or more parties' willingness to declare this is the will of God.

Disputation is the normal condition of the Church, and church. It is the declaration of an absolutist stance which is destructive of communion - and you don't need a Covenant to hear that.

Order and Chaos, 1950 M C Escher
Finally, in the same section, the chaos card. Do you remember Hosni Mubarak, once of Egypt, who kept repeating that he must stay in power or else there would be chaos? It seems a popular argument, if entirely self-serving:
It is important to stress that there are already ‘relational consequences’ of certain decisions made by particular provinces of the Anglican Communion. Those consequences are frequently chaotic in nature. 
These resources are feeble. That they come in the name of the Inter-Anglican Standing Committee on Unity Faith and Order is embarrassing. I can only deduced that nothing else was politically acceptable. And if that's the case then embarrassment is the least of the problems.

1 comment:

  1. And let's not forget the commission for the Anglican Covenant in the Windsor Report:

    This [Lambeth] Commission recommends, therefore, and urges the primates to consider, the adoption by the churches of the Communion of a common Anglican Covenant which would make explicit and forceful the loyalty and bonds of affection which govern the relationships between the churches of the Communion. (Windsor Report, 118)” (My emphasis)

    The Anglican Covenant has nothing to do with love and friendship, if it speaks to forcing loyalty and the bonds of affection? What an absurd concept.