Sunday, 24 October 2010

two more Covenant articles

Bishop Alan Wilson asks an important question: Anglican Covenant: a Tool for…?

I am slightly bemused when I am told some big signature project is perfectly safe because it won’t make any critical difference. If not, why bother? Is there anything worth doing instead that might make a difference? But a new General Synod is about to sign the C of E up to the Anglican Covenant, pretty much on auto-pilot, some say as much out of fear of giving offence as positive endorsement for its supposed virtues. Everyone else can then back-pedal, ignore it, even, depending on where they stand in the culture wars,

* because they fear it will spank TEC
* because they fear it won’t,

The Covenant then joins a select number of other magnificenti in the lumber room, like the Kikuyu declaration, and life carries on. But, inquiring minds will wonder, what kind of a tool is it? What for? Whose benefit? How?

There’s a scale for assessing tools, that runs from Swiss Army Knife to Turkey Turners…

There is also provision in the article for voting on your choice of tool.

And the second article is from Paul Bagshaw who compares this issue to that of the Church of England (Worship and Doctrine) Measure 1974. The article is titled And always keep a-hold of Nurse …. He concludes:

And the relevance of this to a Covenant is:

(a) because the CofE is a State Church it has no ecclesiology - it has had no capacity to think for itself what kind of church it is and should and could be,

(b) the CofE has had centuries of training in the arts of being subordinate and acting as though it was autonomous - it exists through a sophisticated systemic exercise of willful blindness and realpolitik.

(c) The point at which it acquired the power to determine its own doctrine was too late for it to exercise such power. From the mid-1980s ecumenical agreements and the changing shape of the Anglican Communion meant that in practice it could only make definitive doctrinal statements in concert (if not uniformly) with other churches and the rest of the Communion - see, for example, the statement on Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry.

So to adopt the Covenant for the CofE would simply be to accept a new overlordship while continuing to pretend it is superior to it. It will make sure its officers are embedded in the operation of the Covenant so that nothing potentially embarrassing comes to the light of public debate. And thus it will ensure it still doesn’t have to think about its ecclesiology - what principles - actually and ideally - underlie, predispose and can be used to judge the words, structures and action of the Church of England?

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Categorised as: Anglican Communion | Church of England

If the Church of England Synod rubber stamps the passage of the "Covenant" with little serious debate, they will present a spineless and bigoted image to the world. It will be one more nail in the coffin of the status quo. Let's hope our better angels prevail.

Posted by: Chris Smith on Sunday, 24 October 2010 at 6:25pm BST

"Turkey Turners are admirably well-intentioned but essentially useless." One of the best lines of the month!

Posted by: Bill Moorhead on Sunday, 24 October 2010 at 7:44pm BST

"Whichever way the various decision making processes go, it would be good to feel people had at least voted for something they believed in, not simply something they were too nice to ask questions about, and with (against?) which couldn't be bothered to object

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Sunday, 24 October 2010 at 10:25pm BST

The above quotation from Bishop Alan Wilson got away from me before I could comment - as follows:

This seems to just about put the situation of any discussion of the Covenant at the next G.S. Meeting into it's proper context. From my distant (New Zealand) point of view, I wonder whether the subject of what the Covenant fully entails (for example: exclusion for Provinces (such a TEC) -which have moved into the 21st century with the progressive ordination of women and gays in their local situation.

For Church of England General Synod effectively to signal a vote of 'No-Confidence' in such forward-looking Provinces of the world-wide Anglican Communion, would clearly indicate the C.of E.'s rejection of TEC's prophetic stand on such matters - in opposition to the homophobia of Provinces like Uganda and Nigeria, whose Churches actively encourage the punishment of homosexuals and those who give them humanitarian support.

Any Covenant document which ostracises TEC or any other Province, for pursuing a long-neglected path of acceptance for the minority in the Church who have long been mis-judged for their innate, God-given sexual differences, should be very carefully scrutinised before any action is taken by our Mother Church of England to enforce a questionable culture of discipline, based on an outdated policy of what constitutes a 'Christian' standard of moral and ethical behaviour.

One of the oddities of the Covenant promotion being undertaken throughout Anglicanism is that the inhumane treatment of homosexuals by the Churches of Uganda and Nigerian seems to have entirely been overlooked by proponents of the Covenant, This behaviour, surely, in today's world of enlightenment about the origins of homosexuality, should be at the top of the Church of England's agenda for reasoned discussion.

If the 'spectre' of homosexuality is the root cause for the punishing strategy of the Covenant process, then there is nothing to commend it to the provincial Churches in the modern world. The Gospel demands other than judgementalism as the priority of the Church of England - or any other.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Sunday, 24 October 2010 at 10:58pm BST

Thank you, Father Ron. May your strong understanding voice continue to be a motivating force in the Anglican Communion. I have read and totally agree with your writing and statements for the last year.

I do hope that you met with Bishop Kathryn on her
recent visit to New Zealand.

My prayers will continue for both you and our Presiding Bishop in the future of our communion.

Posted by: Carl on Monday, 25 October 2010 at 12:29am BST

No mention of the attitudes and practice of Nigeria, Uganda, etc. because their use of the race/culture card triggers post-colonial guilt and its strange twin post-missionary guilt. When will Rowan and those in power recognize that?
Columba Gilliss

Posted by: Columba Gilliss on Monday, 25 October 2010 at 1:19pm BST

In my view, what really condemns the covenant is that it is a very diffuse and wordy document, whose tone is bureaucratic rather than inspiring. It's not the sort of ringing text around which people can rally. Consider some comparisons. The Nicene Creed is, depending on the translation, 225 words long. The less memorable Athanasian Creed is three times the length, at 700 words. The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, which first gave birth to international Anglicanism, is a bit shorter, at 675 words. The American Declaration of Independence is 1340 words long; the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights clocks in at 1830. The proposed Anglican Covenant dwarfs all of these, running, as it does, to some 5100 words. Could we not send it back to the committee and impose a word limit on them? Say 700 words?

Posted by: John Thorp on Monday, 25 October 2010 at 7:28pm BST

That top global Anglican leaders could dare to mention this new fangled covenant as our believer salvation from various global differences ... through global policing and punishment, no less? ... is beyond common sense. When such keen minds grow so patently fuzzy that they fall back on policing and punishment, we believers must suspect that the cure is worse than the spin doctored malady. Either the covenant will be signed then ignored and fudged; or it will be applied selectively ... such that rabidly violent places like Nigeria or Uganda will simply be wrapped up in fake righteousness. Whitened sepulchres full of dead bones, indeed. So are we all, signing this covenant.

If the historic creeds and common prayer cannot allow us to agree to disagree in conscience; then the covenant will do little or nothing except collapse the global Anglican big tents.

And of course we thereby give away our real, true Anglican inheritance as a global fellowship of churches, part of whose vital charism is that NO One of them is really Rome or the Orthodox.

Alas, Lord have mercy.

Posted by: drdanfee on Tuesday, 26 October 2010 at 12:06am BST

If the Covenant would work we wouldn't need it. If it doesn't work (in keeping things together) why have it?

It is a tissue of aspirations barely cloaking a pessimistic mistrust.

Posted by: Tobias Haller on Tuesday, 26 October 2010 at 12:55am BST

Added to the list of comparatively short and pithy documents:

The Gettysburg Address is about 270 words; the original text of the US Constitution (without amendments) is around 4400 words.

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Tuesday, 26 October 2010 at 2:18am BST

John Thorp, you make a good point, and I can see the power of your argument. May I argue against it? The shorter the piece, the tighter it will be and the less room for ambiguity. I would like the Covenent to be as long as the Bible and the complete works of Chaucer put together, with as much ambiguity, discursiveness, poetry, legend, myth and contradiction as those works contain. That way, we'll all be able to live together as we used to.

Posted by: Toby Forward on Tuesday, 26 October 2010 at 8:24am BST

The Heart Sutra says it all in few words.

True inspiration.

Also practical ...

Posted by: Laurence Roberts on Tuesday, 26 October 2010 at 10:59am BST

"The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, which first gave birth to international Anglicanism..."

Actually, this is a common misconception, which I wish to correct. The Quadrilateral is a valuable document, which provides a minimal definition of what we as Anglicans see as a valid church with all the essential elements. But it did not give birth to international Anglicanism. Its original intent was to serve as a basis for negotiations of either full communion or merger with other churches. How would we recognize whether another church is minimally compatible? Answer: it has all the elements enumerated in the Quadrilateral.

How the Quadrilateral morphed into an internally-oriented document from an externally-oriented document is a question worth pursuing. I suspect it did so because we don't have anything like a concise definition of what an Anglican Church looks like, other than that it's in communion with Canterbury. So the Quadrilateral gets pressed into service. The first part of the Covenant could serve as a definition of what an Anglican Church looks like, because we are more than the minimal definition given in the Quadrilateral. We also have a heritage, a tradition, a certain distinctive look-and-feel. Snip off section 4 and bits of section 3 and you might actually have a serviceable document. Add an aspirational part, an inspiring call to mission, and it might even be useful.

"It [the Covenant] is a tissue of aspirations barely cloaking a pessimistic mistrust."

Brilliant, Tobias!

Posted by: Nom de Plume on Tuesday, 26 October 2010 at 1:52pm BST

I have a short comment contrasting the India visit and the intentions of the Covenant, plus an outing for a new paint/ draw tablet.

Posted by: Pluralist on Tuesday, 26 October 2010 at 2:10pm BST

Toby makes a good point (hark at me !) and if it could be in various languages ancient and modern and with a sensibility like Lanark that would keep all the god / covenant botherers busy for years to come !

Posted by: Laurence Roberts on Tuesday, 26 October 2010 at 2:30pm BST

Whatever the Church of England is it isn't subordinate, as opposition to policies of the Thatcher era showed.

Posted by: Ed on Tuesday, 26 October 2010 at 3:53pm BST

Ed "Whatever the Church of England is it isn't subordinate, as opposition to policies of the Thatcher era showed."

I disagree: I don't remember the Church being a real force to be reckoned with under Robert Runcie, Ed. Private Eye, after all, used to maintain the delightful conceit that Runcie & the Queen Mother were in fact the same person, which is why they were never seen in public together...

Furthermore, there is really no history at all of the Church of England ever having taken a strong independent stand on issues of justice, is there? The present extraordinarily feeble failure to grasp the importance of justice as a Christian concept with regard to women and gay people within the Church amply illustrates this: so completely accustomed has the C of E been to subordination to the state's justice-making polity that it has never learnt the importance of fighting for justice itself. Hence its instinct to castigate those fighting for justice for women and gay people as troublemakers, rather than praising them as prophetic.

Desmond Tutu is hailed as a great Anglican fighter for justice by English Anglicans ony too pleased that his struggle was thousands of miles away and embarrassed by his exhortations to look at current justice issues within the C of E: Trevor Huddleston, in "Naught for your Comfort," described how one of his biggest difficulties was getting Anglicans to care about injustice, even when it was staring them in the face.

Posted by: Fr Mark on Tuesday, 26 October 2010 at 8:30pm BST

My greatest sadness about this whole "covenant" thing is the way that the word "covenant" is degraded by it - covenant is a rich theological word, not the political tool of church bureaucrats (or should be).

Does this "covenant" bear any relationship to the new covenant in Christ's blood?

And, for those of us in Anglican/Methodist LEPs, the Methodist Covenant Service bears witness to some of these rich meanings.

Posted by: Mark Bennet on Tuesday, 26 October 2010 at 10:26pm BST

The ultimate irony is that the sign of God's covenant with His people after the Flood was . . . a rainbow.

Posted by: Jeremy on Wednesday, 27 October 2010 at 1:58am BST

"I do hope that you met with Bishop Kathryn on her recent visit to New Zealand.

My prayers will continue for both you and our Presiding Bishop in the future of our communion."

- Posted by: Carl on Monday -

Thanks, Carl. Yes, I did indeed meet with Bishop Kathryn on her recent visit to New Zealand. She was in the sanctuary for Solemn Evensong at St. michael's Church - together with clergy of the parish (who wore copes for the occasion)- at St. Michael & All Angels parish church in the City of Christchurch. We were most impressed by her dignity, her graciousness and by her sermon.

While she did not mention the Covenant, I know that she is one of the people most deeply affected by the threat of its propagation. I, personally, do not think it worth the energy in pursuing. Your Bishop, Kathryn (who wore her mitre) is a deeply spiritual and catholic-minded bishop, and the Anglican Communion could do more with women of her ilk within the episcopate. We are fortunate to have access to her charismatic gifts and insights into the workings of the Anglican Communion. Our Prayers are with TEC.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Wednesday, 27 October 2010 at 5:59am BST

I believe, Mark Bennet, that this Covenant sets up a rival allegiance to that of the new covenant.

Posted by: Savi H on Wednesday, 27 October 2010 at 11:09am BST

>>>My greatest sadness about this whole "covenant" thing is the way that the word "covenant" is degraded by it

Much like the way "orthodox" has come to mean "fundamentalist."

Posted by: JPM on Wednesday, 27 October 2010 at 2:37pm BST

he ultimate irony is that the sign of God's covenant with His people after the Flood was . . . a rainbow.

Posted by: Jeremy on Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Yes, that right, yr enfys --and great to see human diversity prefigured in the Hebrew Bible.

We were taught at Sunday school to sing :

"whenever you see a rainbow
remember God is Love"

Posted by: Laurence Roberts on Wednesday, 27 October 2010 at 5:48pm BST
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