Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Anglican Covenant: Mostly Harmless?

Alan Perry has written an article about the Anglican Covenant, which he has titled Mostly Harmless.

I have had a number of conversations with well-informed, thoughtful Anglicans, many of them in leadership positions such as Synod members and bishops and ecclesiastical lawyers, which convince me that a large number of people have essentially adopted a narrative about the proposed Anglican Covenant, a narrative which seems to be relatively uninfluenced by anything like reading the document. Their comments typically go like this:

I don’t actually believe that the Covenant will accomplish what it is supposed to do. It won’t really address the tensions in the Anglican Communion. But I don’t believe that it is the Abomination of Desolation, either. I don’t think it’s going to have any ill effect. Recommendations of Relational Consequences are nothing to worry about.

This reminds me of the succinct description of the Earth and its inhabitants in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: “Mostly harmless.” Not to mention feckless.

I’m not sure about that assessment, but let’s assume it for a minute. What amazes me is the conclusion reached based on it:

Since it’s mostly harmless, even if it’s also not likely to produce any positive effects, I will vote to support it because by doing so we can show our commitment to the Anglican Communion and our loyalty to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Now, I am committed to the Anglican Communion, and loyal to the Archbishop of Canterbury, but I don’t grasp how this conclusion follows from the assumption that the proposed Covenant is both harmless and feckless.

Concerning the Archbishop of Canterbury, he has this to say:

And as to demonstrating loyalty to the Archbishop of Canterbury, surely supporting a proposed Covenant which we believe will eventually just sit harmlessly on a shelf gathering dust is equally ineffective. Do we participate in a charade simply to avoid hurting the Archbishop’s feelings, or to cheer him up by giving him something in the win column? Is that not to play the role of the royal advisers, praising the Emperor’s new clothes to his face whilst trying to avoid sniggering behind his naked back? In what way is that loyal to the Archbishop?

And he includes this specific reference to the Church of England:

What will happen when a woman is appointed as Archbishop of Canterbury, if some churches can’t accept her authority as an Instrument of Communion? Could a question be raised as to whether the Church of England in making the appointment was not sufficiently cautious, or failed to obtain sufficient consensus? How harmless will the Covenant look then?

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Comments

It has always astonished me that everyone seems to think about the Covenant only in terms of the disputes it arose from, not in terms of possible future disputes.

If the more liberal churches relegate themselves to the second tier of the Communion, those who are currently in the centre will become the new liberal churches compared to the others, as the Communion as a whole lurches to the right.

It is highly likely that these new liberal churches will eventually be singled out for relational consequences in a future dispute over some issue we may not yet even have thought about.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Wednesday, 4 May 2011 at 10:27am BST

I can't understand either the motive to vote yes in order to support the ABC. He is a big boy. He is an academic, he knows that he has to fight his corner and defend what he believes is right - he's had to do this all the time in his academic life. We all need to do what is right, not what will hypothetically protect someone's feelings.

Posted by: Tony Whatmough on Wednesday, 4 May 2011 at 11:49am BST

Tony
I don't think it's about protecting the ABC's feelings. The problem is that he is the head of the CoE as well as the head of the Anglican Communion and it is unthinkable that the Communion should be headed up by someone who comes from a church that has relegated itself to the second tier of that Communion.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Wednesday, 4 May 2011 at 2:24pm BST

Instead of "mostly harmless" I see the Covenant as "mostly useless" and "possibly harmful." If ever there was a salmonella-tainted curate's egg, this is one. And for the Curate to keep munching on it to please the Rector's Wife...

Posted by: Tobias Haller on Wednesday, 4 May 2011 at 4:18pm BST

Erika wrote, "it is unthinkable that the Communion should be headed up by someone who comes from a church that has relegated itself to the second tier of that Communion.

Perhaps that's so in the Church of England. However, from Anglicans abroad (the Anglican diaspora?), that's not so much a problem. For those of us who expect to be relegated to "second-tier" status ourselves, this helps us focus on the statement within the Covenant itself that the definition of who's in the Anglican Communion (at least so far) is still participation in the Anglican Consultative Council, and not participation in the Covenant (and yes, Erika, I am just as concerned as you are the this could change, and for the worse).

Then there are those at the other end of the spectrum, many of whom have already said they can't participate in the Covenant until everyone has come to agree - with them! - who have already taken the position that "the road to salvation doesn't go through Canterbury" - and neither does the future. For them, they're interested in who sits in Canterbury only so long as they think that person would agree with them, whether the Church of England is "first-" or "second-tier."

So, I fear that for all Canterbury's anxious support, the Covenant-as-presented will not sustain either the Anglican Communion or the "primacy of love" that many of us still have for Canterbury out here across the water.

Posted by: Marshall Scott on Wednesday, 4 May 2011 at 6:09pm BST

"...the Communion should be headed up by someone who comes from a church that has relegated itself to the second tier of that Communion."

Oh! The Church in Wales had better look out then ....

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Wednesday, 4 May 2011 at 6:33pm BST

"...the Communion should be headed up..." There is the problem. The ABC is not the head - he is not in charge and nobody is in charge. Putting someone in charge seems like the goal of the Covenant and it is entirely novel in the Anglican Communion. It is entirely contrary as well - it leads to the Worldwide Anglican Church... a whole new creature. This is why, as Tobias Haller says, the covenant is probably harmful.

Posted by: Scott on Wednesday, 4 May 2011 at 9:01pm BST

Marshall and Martin,

do you not think that this is what's behind the uncritical support for the Archbishop? That this is where the loyalty comes from?
To me, it's the only thing that makes sense of it.

And yes, I could easily imagine a time in the future when a possible candidate for Lambeth Palace will be avoided as too politically divisive, as not "orthodox" enough, if he comes from a second tier church.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Wednesday, 4 May 2011 at 9:34pm BST

"I don't think it's going to have any ill effect. Recommendations of Relational Consequences are nothing to worry about".

If this statement is, indeed, typical of the attitude of responsible people within the Church of England towards the prospect of embracing the Covenant in the C.of E., then what purpose can the Covenant serve - that would not be negative towards TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada, which have initiated important reforms (towards the inclusion of LGBT persons in the life and ministry of their Churches) that the Covenant process would invoke 'relational consequences' against?

I think the 'consequences' - of being different in attitude from others in the Communion on issues of gender and sexuality - could be deleterious to the future health of the Anglican Communion. So why would we go ahead with the Covenant containing these 'relational Consequences'?

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Thursday, 5 May 2011 at 12:10am BST

Erika, you ask, "do you not think that this is what's behind the uncritical support for the Archbishop? That this is where the loyalty comes from?" Actually, I can imagine that this is where the uncritical support comes from - certainly within, and perhaps to some extent beyond the Church of England. My only thought is that it's rather parochial, reflecting a rather specific perspective of the role in the Anglican Communion not only of Canterbury but of the Church of England. I suppose I'm not so surprised that many in the Church of England might have such a perspective, reflecting the history of the Church of England, even among those who recognize that it doesn't represent the *present* of the C of E. We also have a parochial perspective in the Episcopal Church, reflecting the extensive wrestling with theological anthropology that was central to more than 200 years American Christian history - not to mention civil history (and never underestimate the importance of differences among Christians for American civil history!).

So, I can believe that people think that way, and might make a decision about this Covenant draft based on that thinking. I just think there are some facts they aren't taking into account.

Posted by: Marshall Scott on Thursday, 5 May 2011 at 3:05am BST

I could easily imagine a time in the future when a possible candidate for Lambeth Palace will be avoided as too politically divisive, as not "orthodox" enough, if he comes from a second tier church. - Erika Baker

The only candidates that will ever be considered for Lambeth will be from inside the C of E. While there are a limited number of other countries from which a possible Archbishop could come, as s/he has to be a subject of the British Crown, they are few in number and, outside Wales and Scotland, highly improbable.

And the original comment was about the head of the communion (whatever that might mean) being from a second tier country, specifically England if the CofE rejected the Covenant.

Remembering that as far as appointments to Lambeth go, the crown (or whoever is advising the crown on this these days) is only appointing a domestic prelate. THe role of Canterbury as a centre of Anglicanism is in no way what the English (in this case) crown has to consider. Or, based on the record, does consider. After all, the only one of the current Archbishop's predecessors who might have been considered at the time of his appointment to have had any knowledge, experience or interest outside England was Michael Ramsey: all the rest were domestic appointments chosen because they were deemed the best to fill local shoes.

The appointment, that is, is a domestic matter and totally separate from the external status of the CofE.

So any likely candidate will come from a second tier church, if the CofE is second tier, and that is not likely in the least to concern the people making the appointment. It might concern other members of the COmmunion of whatever tier, but not those doing the appointing to Canterbury.

Posted by: John Holding on Thursday, 5 May 2011 at 4:18am BST

Tobias my friend, how can it possibly be a curate's egg? I have yet to find any parts of it that are adequate, let alone excellent.

Posted by: Malcolm French+ on Thursday, 5 May 2011 at 5:11am BST

"So any likely candidate will come from a second tier church, if the CofE is second tier, and that is not likely in the least to concern the people making the appointment. It might concern other members of the COmmunion of whatever tier, but not those doing the appointing to Canterbury."

The governing bodies of the CoE are now asked to vote for the Covenant. They're not voting for the next candidate for Lambeth.
They know how volatile the Communion is, they have lived through the desaster of the almost appointment of Jeffrey John as Bishop that was foiled because of political opposition to it. Opposition from precisely the kind of people who are likely to be in the first tier of the Communion.
They know that the next incumbent in Lambeth will also be the head of the Anglican Communion, however separately the two appointments come about.

The Covenant is designed to bring peace and calm to the Communion. I do not believe that those asked to vote on it now will take the risk to vote on anything that has the potential of bringing more of the same political scheming and unrest that has caused the problems in the first place.
Especially not if they believe that it will, essentially, be a harmless tool anyway.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Thursday, 5 May 2011 at 10:10am BST

The only arguments in favor of The Anglican Covenant that have ever made any sense to me are from those who say that the purpose is to remove the Americans & Canadians from the Anglican Communion (the bishop makes the excellent point that this could have an impact on pending court cases in these countries). Since I don't support this result, I also don't support the Covenant. (QED)

Posted by: Prior Aelred on Thursday, 5 May 2011 at 10:19am BST

The whole point of the curate's egg cartoon was that you cannot have "excellent" parts of a bad egg.

Posted by: John Roch on Thursday, 5 May 2011 at 11:19am BST

@Ron Smith: The "quoted" comments are an amalgam of comments I have heard, not just in England, but also in Canada, the USA and elsewhere. So, although it does strike me as a common attitude in the Church of England, it is not unknown outside the C of E.

@Malcolm French: I think the title is adequate and three or four of the semi-colons are excellent.

Posted by: Alan T Perry on Thursday, 5 May 2011 at 11:31am BST

Thanks John Roch... yes, that is the point. The Curate is simply being politically correct to avoid offending the Bishop. As Alan pointed out, this is for some about expressing "loyalty" to the Primate of All England -- including some Anglophiles at some remove from his metropolitan authority!

Posted by: Tobias Haller on Thursday, 5 May 2011 at 3:02pm BST

The cartoon was actually titled "True Humility"

Posted by: John Roch on Thursday, 5 May 2011 at 4:14pm BST

For those, like me, who had no idea what the reference to curate's egg was:

http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/163300.html

Posted by: MarkBrunson on Friday, 6 May 2011 at 10:18am BST

Since the appointment of 2 new Flying Bishops for the Church of England, this brings our attention to the fact that PEVs were a Provincial innovation that was never agreed upon by other Provinces of the world-wide Anglican Communion.

Surely their continuing propagation at this time - when the Covenant is being seriously considered as a tool of discipline calculated to homogenise Anglican institutional behaviours within the Communion - can only draw attention to the prospect of a serious undermining of the proposed covenantal relationship. that could be just one more cause of division. Sauce for the goose...etc?

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Sunday, 8 May 2011 at 11:48am BST
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