Comprehensive Unity: The No Anglican Covenant Blog

Monday, December 27, 2010

An Interesting Book

Bob Smith, a retired US jurist has written and Lionel Deimel has published on his blog, a little book on the question of how one deals with the Biblical texts alleged by some to make any acceptance of lesbian or gay persons “unchristian.” This issue is intertwined with but separate from the questions of polity that currently trouble our communion.

In 2003, “traditionalists” and “evangelicals” were openly excited that Gene Robinson’s impending consecration was coming. They believed (and wrote) that this finally was an issue that would “rouse the pew lumps.” That is, homophobia would be the lever they could use to break the church and take over the remains.

Their project continues to this day. Mr. Smith’s booklet is an important, readable contribution to understanding one of the issues that has become intertwined because of the cynical use by some of homophobia.

When those of us who oppose the so-called “covenant” and other moves towards a centralized bureaucratic “church” speak up, the answer is seldom on point. Rather the conversation is forced to the issue of “gay bishops” or “gay marriage.” Bob Smith takes that “issue” on and “does the theology” answering the question of “biblical condemnation” and Paul’s views head on. It is a short, readable work and I commend it to you. You can find Lionel’s comments and links here

Jim’s Thoughts

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Can fairness be attained with the proposed covenant Part 2

Alan T. Perry, Priest: Anglican Church of Canada, Canon: Christ Church Cathedral, Montreal and recognized expert on Canon Law, has published Part 2 of his discussion of Natural Justice and the proposed.Anglican Covenant concluding that "The proposed Anglican Covenant does not meet the standards of Natural Justice. It is intrinsically incapable of rendering decisions
which are demonstrably fair."
Does the proposed Anglican Covenant satisfy the standards of Natural Justice, or the Duty to be Fair? We have already seen that, from the perspective of the first principle of the Duty to be Fair, “Hear the other side,” the vagueness of the process for settling disputes (section 4.2) (“the process”) combined with the high degree of discretionary power given to the Standing Committee raises some serious concerns about whether the process will be demonstrably fair. If there were a mechanism to propose changes to the proposed Covenant, I would suggest adding a clause to the procedure that might say something like, “the Standing Committee and the Instruments of Communion shall respect the principles of Natural Justice when conducting the process in this section.” Such a clause might help address the concerns that I previously raised.

Now we turn to the second principle of fairness: nemo judex in sua causa debet esse (“No one must be the judge in his own cause”) - the rule against bias.
In the proposed Covenant we find only one stated restriction on who may participate in the process: “participation in the decision making of the Standing Committee or of the Instruments of Communion in respect to section 4.2 shall be limited to those members of the Instruments of Communion who are representatives of those churches who have adopted the Covenant, or who are still in the process of adoption.” (s. 4.2.8) (And what, exactly, does “still in the process of adoption” mean here? Does that include all the Churches of the Anglican Communion that have not yet voted not to adopt the Covenant?)

It would seem obvious, but it is not stated, that the representative either of a Church that has “raised a question” pursuant to s. 4.2.3, or of a Church about which a question has been raised, should be excluded from participating in the decision-making processes. They should certainly be heard, but they should not be making decisions. But what about an Instrument of Communion that raises a question? Is it proper for that Instrument or its members to be making decisions about the question that it has raised? Would that not be the same as being the judge of its own cause?
In effect, then, the only solution would be to bar the Instruments of Communion from raising questions at all, for there is a similar difficulty if any of them raises a question. But even that would not solve all the problems of potential bias in the process. Jones and de Villars list five types of bias which are included in the rule against bias (pp. 403ff). The first four are personal and the fifth is structural. They are:
financial interest in the outcome of the dispute;
relationships with persons involved in the dispute;
outside knowledge of or involvement with the matter in dispute;
inappropriate comments or behaviour;
institutional bias.

In law, it is generally not required to demonstrate an actual bias to prove that a decision is unfair, one must only demonstrate a “reasonable apprehension of bias,” which means that the test for bias is quite strict. So with that in mind, let us examine these five type of bias in light of the proposed Covenant’s process for resolving disputes.

Read it all here

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Can fairness be attained with the proposed covenant?

The Revd Canon Alan T Perry, an expert in canon law (he claims ever a student), has published the first part of a commentary on the proposed Anglican Covenant's dispute-settling process from the perspective of Administrative Law

He has published the first of a two-part analysis of the proposed Covenant from the perspective of the Duty to be Fair (which is essentially Natural Justice outside the realm of a judicial proceeding). In this analysis, exploring the applicability of the Duty to be Fair to the proposed Covenant and the principle of "hear the other side", he concludes that fairness might be achieved provided the Standing Committee exercises its very great discretion properly, but that there is some doubt that this will happen in the absence of guidelines to promote and guarantee fairness. If fairness is achieved it will be more a matter of good luck than of the deliberate design of the dispute-settling process in the proposed Covenant.

The enquiry concerning fairness is important for three reasons:
fairness is an important consideration in Christian faith and the canonical tradition, allied with questions of justice (hence “Natural Justice”); a decision felt to be unfair will be rejected and will only increase division in the Anglican Communion, counter to the stated purpose of the proposed Covenant; aside from being the right thing to do, protecting fairness would lend credibility to the proposed Covenant’s procedures.

As Jones and de Villars put it, “Justice must not only be done but must manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done. It increases the confidence of the parties and the public in the decision-making process. It also produces better decisions.” (p. 454)

Read Part I here

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Ten Reasons Why the Proposed Anglican Covenant Is a Bad Idea

People who visit the Resources page of the No Anglican Covenant Web site can easily be overwhelmed by the number of links to commentary and other materials. Recognizing this problem, the No Anglican Covenant Coalition has been working on a succinct list of reasons to oppose the Covenant. We are pleased to make that list available today.

“Ten Reasons Why the Proposed Anglican Covenant is a Bad Idea” may not offer my own (or anyone else’s) top reasons for opposing adoption of the Anglican Covenant, but it surely offers some good reasons. There are others. This new list should be helpful to those who are not yet familiar with the issues around the Covenant, as well as those organizing presentations opposing the Covenant.

Readers are encouraged to tell us which reasons seem most important to them and what important reasons they feel were left out.

The No Anglican Covenant Coalition has prepared files from which handouts of “Ten Reasons Why the Proposed Anglican Covenant is a Bad Idea” may be printed. Files for a one-page handout on letter-size or A4 stationery can be found here.

“Ten Reasons” follows. There is additional commentary below.

Ten Reasons Why the Proposed
Anglican Covenant Is a Bad Idea

  1. The proposed Anglican Covenant would transform a vibrant, cooperative, fellowship of churches into a contentious, centralized aggregation of churches designed to reduce diversity and initiative. The Covenant would institutionalize the “Instruments of Unity” as never before and would give extraordinary power to the newly enhanced Standing Committee.

  2. Under the Covenant, churches will be inhibited from undertaking new evangelical or mission initiatives for fear of offending other Communion churches and becoming embroiled in the disciplinary mechanisms set up by the Covenant.

  3. The centralization of authority envisioned by the proposed Covenant is cumbersome, costly, and undemocratic. In an era in which power and authority are being distributed in many organizations in order to achieve greater efficiency, responsiveness, and accountability, what has been proposed for the Communion seems out of step with current thinking regarding large organizations.

  4. Although the proposed Covenant is offered as a mechanism to achieve unity, its immediate effect is to create divisions. Churches that cannot or will not adopt the Covenant automatically become second-class members of the Communion. The inevitable application of the disciplinary provisions of Section 4 will likely further distinguish between “full” members of the Communion and less-than-full members.

  5. The proposed Covenant is dangerously vague. Sections 1–3 of the Covenant, which are seen by many as innocuous, leave much room for divergent interpretations. Section 4 makes it all too easy for any church to “ask questions” about the actions of another, which may then be subjected to unspecified “relational consequences.” There is no sure measure of what behaviour is likely to be acceptable, no checks provided against unreasonable complaints, and no guarantee that “consequences” (i.e., punishments) meted out will be commensurate with the alleged offence.

  6. The proposed Covenant runs counter to the gospel imperative of not judging others. It is all too easy for Communion churches to complain about the sins of their sister churches while ignoring or diverting attention from their own failures to live out the Gospel.

  7. The proposed Covenant encourages premature ending of debate. Rather than taking the advice of Gamaliel (Acts 5:38–39) and seeing how controversial matters play out, the Covenant evidences an eagerness to “settle” them. This is an unfortunate temptation to which the Communion seems subject. It has too quickly concluded that “homosexual practice” is “incompatible with Scripture” and that adopting the Covenant is “the only way forward,” neither of which is either intuitively obvious or universally agreed upon.

  8. The notion that we need to make “forceful” the “bonds of affection” is fundamentally flawed. If we need force and coercion to maintain relationships between Communion churches, there is no true affection, and the very foundation of the proposed Covenant is fraudulent.

  9. The proposed “Covenant” seems more like a treaty, contract, or instrument of surrender than a covenant. In the ecclesiastical context, a covenant is usually thought of as an agreement undertaken in joy and in an atmosphere of trust—baptismal and marriage covenants come to mind. The proposed Anglican Covenant, on the other hand, is advanced in an atmosphere of anger, fear, and distrust, and with the threat of dire consequences if it is not adopted.

  10. The proposed Covenant is not the only way forward; there are better options. The Anglican Communion would be better served by remaining a single-tier fellowship of churches, allowing disaffected members to leave if they must, while keeping the door open for their return. Any alternative position cedes too much power to those willing to intimidate by threatening to walk away.

It may be helpful to think of the reasons given above in terms of one-word descriptions. The ten reasons describe the Covenant as
  1. Radical
  2. Reactionary
  3. Impractical
  4. Divisive
  5. Vague
  6. Judgemental
  7. Impetuous
  8. Insincere
  9. Misnamed
  10. Suboptimal

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Friday, December 10, 2010

Covenant: vague process for dispute resolution

The Revd. Alan Perry, Priest of the Anglican Church of Canada, Canon: Christ Church Cathedral, Montreal, and Canon law expert, raises a series of questions about problems of vagueness in the process for resolving disputes in the proposed Anglican Covenant:
The proposed Anglican Covenant exists primarily to create a framework for the settling of disputes in the Anglican Communion. Arising as it does in the context of a protracted dispute over local decisions about the inclusion of sexual minorities in the sacramental life of the Church, and of border-crossing interventions from other Churches, it is no surprise that the proposed Covenant reflects this conflict. So how does it propose to deal with conflict?


Section 4.2, “The Maintenance of the Covenant and Dispute Resolution” sets out the mechanism by which disputes would be regulated in the future. The euphemism for lodging a complaint is “Raising a Question.” (4.2.3)

A question may be raised concerning either the meaning of the proposed Covenant, “or about the compatibility of an action by a covenanting Church with the Covenant.” This is the last we hear about questions concerning the meaning of the proposed Covenant, so it is clear that such questions are really not the focus of the process. So let’s focus on the second class of questions, compatibility with the Covenant.

The first thing to notice is that the proposal specifies clearly who may raise a question: a Church itself, another covenanting Church, or an Instrument of Communion.

Presumably when a Church raises a question, it is likely to be a pre-emptive reference to determine whether a course of action it proposes will bring down the wrath of the Communion. In Canada our Parliament periodically refers proposed legislation to the Supreme Court to determine the Court’s opinion as to whether the legislation will be constitutionally valid. So, I assume that the raising of a question by a Church about its own proposal is along similar lines. What’s not clear is the mechanism within the Church for posing the question. Presumably it would be a matter of the particular polity of the Church. In some Provinces, the Primate would possibly have the authority to raise a question. In others, it may require a resolution of the General Synod or equivalent. Some churches might consider giving their highest court the authority and mandate to raise questions, though of course, that would be a change to a canon, which section 4.1.3 assures us is not implied by the adoption of the proposed Covenant.

For an Instrument of Communion to raise a question, there is also no specified mechanism. Again, it might be a matter of the nature of the specific Instrument. The Archbishop of Canterbury could easily just write a letter to raise the question. And the Anglican Consultative Council could adopt a resolution to raise a question. But what of the Primates’ Meeting and the Lambeth Conference? Since they are not legislative bodies, but deliberative bodies, how do they decide to raise a question? A resolution is the obvious answer, but what happens when, as in 2008, the Lambeth Conference is not considering any resolutions? And, anyway, how would the possibility of raising a question appear on the agenda of any of the three collective Instruments of Communion? Presumably, a Church would petition the convenor or president of the relevant Instrument to consider raising a question, but why use a middleman when the Church can raise the question itself?


At least now we know that the Standing Committee is in charge of the question and its process. So what next? Well, first “the Standing Committee shall make every effort to facilitate agreement” presumably by whatever process it chooses, given that no process is mentioned. Question is, wasn’t there already some kind of process to attempt to reach a shared mind? What’s the difference between that and facilitating agreement? At least the Standing Committee isn’t on its own here, for it “may take advice from such bodies as it deems appropriate.” It’s not clear, of course, whether such advice should be solicited by the Standing Committee, or might just arise, ex nihilo, from some body or other, whether celestial or terrestrial. In the latter case, it seems the Standing Committee can determine whether to listen to the advice or not. Not that there are any criteria to guide the Standing Committee with respect to the appropriateness of the body offering the advice. (Is it just me, or does the Standing Committee have a huge amount of discretionary power?)

To find out more about the proposed covenant and its lack of clear process read more here

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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Christian Today Takes The Low Road

In his article in Christianity Today, John Martin uses the vote dishonestly. He writes, "With the vote at well over two-thirds in favour and near unanimous support by the Bishops (all voted for with one abstention) the odds of the Covenant faltering now seem remote." In fact the vote was not on an approval of the Covenant but on a motion to send it to the diocese.

There can be any number of reasons a delegate voted yes on the motion. The comments before the vote and many after, make it cleat that some voted yes merely to express loyalty to the archbishops, others for the covenant, still others because they believe the diocese should have an opportunity to discuss and vote.

Martin rather arrogantly ignores the vote of the GafCon primates which was on a resolution that says they won't attend the next Primates meeting and do not approve of the proposed covenant. At the moment, were the proposed covenant approved by the Church of England, it would mean full fellowship with Mexico and no one else. In fact I think fellowship with Mexico is important. But to suggest it will make the Church of England credible in Roman Catholic eyes is not a stretch, it is a fantasy.

Martin falls into three errors: he simply assumes the English diocese do not matter; he ignores the content of the motion and he (arrogantly) assumes all the national churches will follow the English bishops. In fact as both liberal and conservative churches have already demonstrated not a lot of other member churches are going to blindly follow.

The manifold benefits Martin claims will come from the synod vote are ethereal.


A very good comment on another blog

I know that while this group has something to contribute: others do too. Sometimes they write particularly well. That leads to this blog post which has a lot to say about our current issues. Fr. Benny is an astute observer of the current scene and I recommend his blog to you.

Jim's Thoughts

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The effect of the Covenant on mission

Deputy Lisa Fox of the Diocese of Missouri reflects on the relationship between the Diocese of Lui in Sudan and her diocese:
My Diocese of Missouri is in a companion relationship with the Diocese of Lui (Episcopal Church of Sudan). Before the governing bodies of Missouri and Lui adopted the covenant between our dioceses, it is my understanding that the bishops had frank conversations.

There are many differences in our dioceses.

The Diocese of Lui uses a Moru translation of the 1662 CoE prayer book, and their translation is a very Protestant one in which the Eucharist is merely a "memorial" of the Lord's Supper.

The Diocese of Missouri celebrates the Eucharist as a sacrament, informed by the liturgical renewal of the past century.

The people of Lui tend to read the Scriptures more literally than do we in Missouri. LGBT persons are ordained in Missouri, while that isn't on the radar in the Diocese of Lui or anywhere in Sudan.

We have very different ways of counting our "members."

However, we have a healthy relationship, between our bishops, congregations, and individuals. There is deep sharing between us as dioceses and individuals. We recognize and accept the differences, but we are brought together by our respect for each other and by our respect for one another's churches.

The current structure of the Anglican Communion allows us to do that. We can differ, but still love and support one another. We can and do respect the different contexts of how we minister in Missouri and Lui.

I believe it has been a blessing to our Diocese of Missouri to understand and walk with the people in the Diocese of Lui. I hope the reverse has also been true.

The proposed Anglican Covenant would, I fear, bring an end to this "diversity within unity." That Covenant would give each province a right of "veto" over any other province's movement. Many other people have written more articulately than I can about the loss of unity in the enforcement of uniformity.

This much I know: I have learned a great deal about Christian faith from my brothers and sisters in Lui, when I was there in 2006 and in our communications since then. We would disagree about some philosophical/theological/theoretical matters. But we are bound together in love, fellowship, and mission.

For the life of me, I do not understand those who support a Covenant that would reduce our respectful and diverse fellowship to a curia demanding "uniformity of belief."

I've been a kibitzer on the Bishops and Deputies listserve (HOBD) since 2003, and hope to contribute to our dialogue now that I've been elected a deputy.

Gratefully --

Lisa Fox
L4, Diocese of Missouri

Personal blog: My Manner of Life

Lui blog

The Episcopal Majority

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Thursday, December 2, 2010

Web Site and Blog Improvements Coming

Based in part on suggestions from visitors, we will be making various changes to the No Anglican Covenant Web site over the next few days. The changes are mostly to help visitors navigate the site and learn what is available.

One change has already been implemented. At the top right of the body of most pages, a BLOG link has been added to the right of the existing SEARCH link. Clicking on BLOG takes you here to the Comprehensive Unity blog. There is also a link from the blog to the Web site, though it is a bit obscure. Click on the words WEB SITE in the blog description under the banner, and you will be taken to the Web site.

The search function on the Web site, by the way, searches not only the Web site, but this blog as well. It does not, however, search documents linked to from the Web site but hosted elsewhere.

In its short life, we have made a number of improvements to this blog as well. The latest change gives visitors the option of returning to the home page or moving forward or backward in the sequence of posts. The links for these functions can be found below the post(s) currently displayed. Links to posts prior to the first one displayed are always visible in the sidebar under the label PREVIOUS POSTS. Note, however, that the monthly archives are displayed only on the home page.

A navigation tip about this blog not everyone knows: Clicking on the banner takes you to the blog home page, and clicking on a post title takes you to the permanent home for that post.

As always, your comments and suggestions are welcome. You can send e-mail to us or simply leave a comment on this post.