The Anglican Covenant and General Convention

The Anglican Covenant will be debated today at General Convention. Passions are running high on this and it will be interesting to follow the developments. While our own General Convention is meeting the General Synod of the Anglican Church in Aoteora, New Zealand, and Polynesia declined to adopt it. Instead, it affirmed the first three sections and added this resolution:

that this church affirms the commitment of the Church of Aoteora, New Zealand, and Polynesia to the life of the Anglican Communion, including the roles and responsibilities of the four Instruments of Communion as they currently operate.

Mark Harris on the background to the revised resolutions coming before General Convention and his own change of heart:

What we realized in the small group, and later in the whole of the Legislative Committee on World Mission, is that we are under no compulsion, save our own, to give an answer to the question of adopting the Covenant. Why, in particular, must we provide an answer now?  Now, when we are in the midst of massive efforts to re-structure and re-vision the life of this Church?  Why now when we do not need more division?  What we may want is definitive answers, what we may need is time to be together at the table.
Center Aisle’s reporting is here.
Malcolm French of The No Anglican Covenant coalition is not amused:
hird, this whole dynamic seems consistent with one of the major flaws of the Anglican Covenant.  It is a very “purple” document – concerned principally (and almost exclusively) with bishops.  It seems almost to envision a church which is both episcopally led and episcopally governed, where the concerns of bishops are the principle engine of decision-making and where the role of the laity is, as the old saw has it, “to pray, to pay and to obey.”  In the workings of the legislative subcommittee, we see a process that is driven, not by the heartfelt views of deputies, but by the combined anxieties and machinations of bishops.

If I might risk to make an outsider’s observation about process, it appears to me that the committee structure which exists in the Episcopal Church, while providing the appearance of collegial transparency in the development of legislation and resolutions may actually do just the opposite.  The subcommittee proceedings seem less a healthy exchange of views than a self-reinforcing echo chamber.  The Primus of the Episcopal Church of Scotland referred the other day to the “smoke-filled rooms” of the General Convention.  This allusion to the bad old days of political powerbrokers and machine politics should, perhaps, be a clarion call to reconsider the whole approach to “managing” the debates of the Church.

Dare I say, the Episcopal Church’s response to the Anglican Covenant should be determined by those who have been authorized to make decisions on behalf of the Church – the Deputies and the Bishops – and not by a cabal of apparatchiks, however well-intentioned.

The full text of the revised resolutions are here:
005, substitute:

Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, That the 77th General Convention express its gratitude to those who so faithfully worked at producing and responding to the proposed Anglican Covenant
(www.anglicancommunion.org/commission/covenant/final/text.cfm); and be it further
Resolved, That the 77th General Convention acknowledge that following extensive study and prayerful consideration of the Anglican Covenant there remain a wide variety of opinions and ecclesiological positions in The Episcopal Church; and be it further
Resolved, that as a pastoral response to The Episcopal Church, the General Convention decline to take a position on the Anglican Covenant at this convention; and be it further
Resolved, that the General Convention ask the Presiding Officers to appoint a task force of Executive Council (Blue Book, 637) to continue to monitor the ongoing developments with respect to the Anglican Covenant and how this church might continue its participation; and be it further
Resolved, that the Executive Council task force on the Anglican Covenant report its findings and recommendations to the 78th General Convention.
D008 Substitute:
Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring that The 77th General Convention express its profound gratitude to those who so faithfully work at encouraging dialogue within the diversity of the Anglican Communion, and be it further
Resolved, That we celebrate the great blessing of the Anglican Communion in its diversity within community as autonomous churches in relationship bound together in our differences in service to God’s mission, and be it further
Resolved, That we hold fast and reaffirm our historic commitment to and constituent membership in the Anglican Communion as expressed in the Preamble of the Constitution of The Episcopal Church, and be it further
Resolved, That The Episcopal Church maintain and reinforce strong links across the world-wide Anglican Communion committing itself to continued participation in the wider councils of the Anglican Communion, and be it further
Resolved, That The Episcopal Church deepen its involvement with Communion ministries and networks using where applicable the Continuing Indaba process: conversations across differences to strengthen relationships in God’s mission (http://www.anglicancommunion.org/ministry/continuingindaba and http://www.continuingindaba.com); and be it further
Resolved, That The 77th General Convention encourage dioceses, congregations and individual members of The Episcopal Church to educate themselves about the Communion as well as promote and support the Anglican Communion and its work.
Whatever happens in the House of Bishops, my sense is that there will be a lively debate in the House of Deputies, and that there will be little interest in passing a resolution even as weak as the proposed B005. There’s much talk already that it simply “kicks the can down the road.” Much of what’s being written and tweeted reflects the perspective French and is another example of a widespread distrust of the episcopacy.
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This week’s Anglican Covenant round-up

The dioceses of Manchester and London have rejected it bringing the total no votes to 25 (out of 44 total dioceses, with several to vote after Easter).

Post-mortems on the covenant abound.

In the end, Anglicans have discovered what another ecclesial body might have told them from the start: in the present age, a text cannot hold Churches together in the way that a person can. Given that no text will be perfect, a degree of affection is needed to persuade people to subscribe. An individual can earn that affection; a text (poetry excepted), never — especially a text monitored by a standing committee that few understand and none recognise. Time and again in the General Synod, affection for Dr Williams carried members along; but he was absent in the diocesan synods, and the link was broken. So, what now? One of the paradoxes of our age is that, just as communication around the Communion becomes easier, attention has become more local. In the UK, as elsewhere, the perception has grown that an engagement with the surrounding culture demands more energy than before, as economic and cultural forces drive a wedge between, if not Christianity, then at least church culture as it is generally perceived. Messy Church, Fresh Expressions, etc. are some of the more obvious attempts to meet this challenge. People instinctively wish to avoid church ties that look to be time-consuming and restricting. The dangers are obvious. The quiet agenda behind the Covenant was that it would reassure ecumenical partners, Rome in particular, that Anglicans had a mechanism to stop the sorts of surprises that have scuppered unity in the past. As for the benefits, the Communion might wish to embark on a little theological investigation into whether the Holy Spirit works through restraint or surprise, and how it ought to respond to either. But the command to see Christ in each other has not gone away. The rejection of the Covenant must not signal any loss of the affection that binds Anglicans, they have always claimed, together.

All we are left with, as a diverse family of churches, is to talk with people directly rather than about them. This could be a great opportunity to think through the implications. The Anglican communion works wonderfully well as a network of people, but makes a lousy vatican-on-sea. If top-down doesn’t work, what does? It may be time to take stock, some would say grow up. But how?

In a not-quite postmortem, the Archbishop of Capetown (South Africa) wrote a letter to the Archbishop of York (voting will take place in York on April 28):

We need to know that we are not alone, that we are part of a wider belonging, when life is hard. But we need it too when life is easy – requiring interaction with perspectives and preoccupations beyond our own, recognising God speaks in many ways, one of which is through other members of the body of Christ. We cannot grow into becoming the people we are called to be without also growing into the relationship to which God calls us within Christ’s body.

Now, some will say, all this can happen without the Anglican Covenant. And there is of course considerable truth in this. But it seems to me that the Covenant has the potential to help us do it far better – provided we commit ourselves to making the Covenant work.

Mark Harris provides commentary on the Archbishop’s letter.

Whither Communion?

In the wake of a majority of dioceses of the Church of England voting against the proposed Anglican Covenant, it’s appropriate to ask what this portends for the future of the Anglican Communion. In fact, it’s not clear what the fallout from diocesan voting will be. At the very least, it means that the Anglican Covenant cannot come before this particular General Synod. In other words, a best-case scenario would put enactment of the Covenant down the road at least five years. In the meantime, how would an approved Covenant work if the Archbishop of Canterbury were head of a national church in which it isn’t valid?

But these matters are for others to ponder. There’s a bigger question on the table, one the Anglican Covenant was meant to answer: “What sort of thing is the Anglican Communion?” Or to put it in slightly stronger theological terms: “What is the nature of our communion or unity?” The AC’s answer was to strengthen the centralizing tendencies in communion and to create institutions and means for creating boundaries and discipline. It is in the nature of human communities that there is a strong tendency toward centralization. There is also an almost impossible to avoid temptation to strengthen community by defining the limits of that community (both in terms of drawing clear boundaries and excluding dissidents or nonconformists). The Anglican Covenant, no matter how much some might argue the contrary, was an attempt to draw such boundaries and exclude dissent.

Are there other models for unity available? Tobias Haller cites one such possibility, located in the High Priestly prayer of John 17 “so that they may be one as we are one.”

As Haller points out, unity here is posited not in terms of some sort of agreement or covenant, but in the nature of God: the Church is one because God the Father and God the Son are one. Haller sees this as an ontological reality. God is by nature communal and relational–that’s what the Trinity is all about.

The fact of the matter, however, is that relationships of this sort are relatively easy to support theologically; they are rather more difficult to incarnate. Christianity has struggled from the very beginning with unity and difference. Indeed, the Gospel of John itself bears eloquent witness to early Christian difference and conflict.

Many of those rejoicing over the Covenant’s apparent defeat produce slogans like: “Communion, yes; covenant, no,” or express sentiments like “Now, let’s get back to deepening Anglican unity through bonds of affection and missional zeal” (as Bishop Chris Epting tweeted this morning). It’s not clear to me what the Anglican Communion will look like in the future, if the centralizing structures lose power and influence. How will such lateral relationships be created and nurtured? I suppose the companion diocese program is one such possibility, but one wonders whether dioceses divided by culture, language, and geography, can truly build strong bonds of affection, especially given the economic realities facing the church here and worldwide.
One other comment–perhaps it’s time to get rid of the notion of instruments (symbols?) of communion as well. Such things often lead to lazy thinking and help to avoid the hard work of building relationships. When people appeal to the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, I’m reminded of lessons I learned studying North African Christianity in the third and fourth centuries. We appeal to universal notions of unity when the reality we experience is far from unified and when we need outside assistance to press our point. Perhaps we would do well to focus our attention on the local, strengthening those relationships and bonds of affection, and let the global take care of itself, at least for a time.

This week’s Anglican Covenant Round-up: It’s looking grim for the home team

There was more voting in Church of England dioceses. The tally now stands at 20 against, 12 in favor. Twelve more dioceses need to vote. A total of 23 yes votes is required for the Covenant to come before General Synod.

The Bishop of Liverpool gave an address at his diocesan synod outlining his concerns with the covenant. He concludes:

The Church of England and the Anglican Communion have over the centuries developed a generous embrace allowing seekers to taste and see the goodness of God. Within our borders, within the borders of what Cranmer described as that “blessed company of faithful people”, there is a generous orthodoxy. There is space for the seeker to breathe, to enquire, to ask questions, to doubt and to grope towards faith and to find God. That I believe is a space within the Body of Christ worth preserving. The
Covenant will change the character of the Communion and, I fear, the Church of England.

Five of the seven dioceses in the Scottish Episcopal Church have rejected the covenant, meaning that it won’t be participating in any structures created if the Covenant succeeds, although the provincial synod could still move towards approval.

More covenant commentary here.

This week in Anglican Covenant news

Last week, three Church of England dioceses voted down the covenant; one narrowly approved it. Details here. Complete results of the voting so far is here.

Overall, it looks like it may be heading for defeat. If it passes, it will be a very close thing, proving that it lacks widespread support (the bishops are fairly united in favor, but clergy and laity are less enthused). This turn of events has given rise to considerable comment

From Tobias Haller, here and here.

The letter from Diarmaid MacColluch to the Church Times is priceless.

As momentum against builds, the forces in support continue to marshal lame arguments in support.

  • From the Bishops of Bristol and Oxford. Tobias Haller’s response.
  • the Archbishop of Canterbury has issued a video in support (surely a sign of growing desperation)
  • other essays in support linked from Thinking Anglicans

Diarmaid MacCulloch’s video response to the ABC:

Mark Harris on the “scramble for votes

All this suggests increasing desperation on the side of the covenant’s supporters. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine the effects to the Anglican Communion’s leadership if it isn’t approved by the Church of England General Synod–and for it to be debated there it needs a majority of yes votes from the dioceses. It’s clear that its primary constituency in the CoE is the bishops. They support it overwhelmingly, while both the laity and clergy are split narrowly between supporters and opponents. Hopefully, the close votes in CoE diocesan synods will allow many who are somewhat swayed by the lame arguments of the ABC et al, to resist whatever “bonds of affection” they may feel, to resist the temptation to submit to the leadership’s requests.

Anglican Covenant Roundup

It seems the Anglican Communion Covenant is losing momentum. Arguments in favor are becoming increasingly shrill and unreasonable. Its popularity in dioceses (in various national churches) is quite low. Given General Synod’s rebuke to Archbishops Williams and Sentamu over women bishops, it would seem not even an appeal to the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury will be able to sway the Church of England.

Our own General Convention will also be taking it up this summer, and I suspect many of the same arguments used to defend the covenant in England and elsewhere will be marshalled here. But to do  so would only play into the hands of those who see nefarious plots by bishops to consolidate power behind every bush.

Tobias Haller reports that two more English dioceses (Leicester and Salisbury) have voted no. According to his calculations that makes 5 voting in favor, 9 against. (Portsmouth has also voted no).

The eminent historian Diarmaid Macculloch is opposed. Marilyn McCord Adams has joined him as Patron of No Anglican Covenant. Giles Fraser also chimes in on the anti- side.

Peter Doll wrote an essay: doll.  It evoked all sorts of responses. From Jonathan Clatworthy. From Tobias Haller. Tobias again. Lionel Deimel weighed in.

Two CoE bishops demur.