Comprehensive Unity: The No Anglican Covenant Blog

Friday, October 7, 2011

Enforcing Nice A Response

Peter Arnett, a legendary TV and print news reporter famously wrote
“It became necessary to destroy the town to save it,” a United States major said today. He was talking about the decision by allied commanders to bomb and shell the town, regardless of civilian casualties, to rout the Vietcong. [“Major Describes Move,” New York Times, February 8, 1968.]
It awakens my sense of irony to note that Mr. Arnett is a New Zealander. I have no idea if he is an Anglican, but his description of the US (failed, we now all know) strategy in Vietnam is apt for the defense of the Anglican Covenant mounted by Peter Carrell and his boss, Bishop Victoria Matthews. They stand willing destroy the communion to save  it. While Matthews’ defense of the Covenant achieved only incoherence, Carrell peels down the layers and give us clarity. The picture is really, really ugly.

Matthews intends the Covenant to do exactly what I have said in my posts it will do: destroy the Anglican Communion. The difference between us is that, as Carrell explains, he and Matthews anticipate a new Covenant-based Anglican Church that will take on the role of the Communion and exclude bad people, thoughts, originality—and this is key—pesky North Americans, with their liberal ideas, and annoying Africans who think they should have a say in Communion management. I see disaster, a church that replaces Anglican comprehensiveness with exclusion.

In his key paragraph, Carrell says
If I am correctly interpreting +Victoria’s argument, then the Covenant is a sheep-and-goats moment for global Anglicanism. To one side will be those member churches who choose to not commit in this new way, churches which will not stop listening to others, but which will always listen when it suits and not when it does not.
This new “Anglican Covenant Church,” a name that I think has just been invented by Carrell, will be all the things we who oppose the Covenant have been arguing against. It will impose a supra-church canon law, an utterly arbitrary decision process, a curial “Standing Committee,” uniform unyielding confessional standards, and above all, terminally bland niceness.

Somewhere in Section 4, Matthews and Carrell find an enforceable requirement that the churches listen to each other. If I understand their somewhat opaque reasoning, “listening” means limiting progress to the least common denominator.

Carrell describes the “new way” the Covenant will, he thinks, create.
... that way is to force those who claim to be in Communion to actually listen to one another and thus to be in relationship with one another (that is, an actual working relationship).
Somehow, forcing someone to listen creates “relationship,” although Carrell does not say how.

My sense of irony is also awakened as I consider Dr. Williams, who would not let +Robinson, or any LGBT voice, be heard at Lambeth, and who will not treat our presiding bishop as a bishop, enforcing this “listening” they describe.

But force may not be required. Both Matthews and Carrell seem quite content to visualize this new bland-leading-the-bland replacement as a small, but nice, church. Indeed, excluding most of the Global South, most of North America, and parts of the UK (Scotland, Wales, and perhaps Ireland) won’t leave much. And, in case England finally wakes up and declines to adopt the Covenant, Carrell is even willing to consider a new, small church without fellowship with Canterbury! Lest anyone forget, fellowship with Canterbury is the standard definition of membership in the Anglican Communion. Not so, it appears for the new “Anglican Covenant Church.”

If this vision actually prevails, will some of those who have said they are in stay in? I can imagine Mexico reconsidering. Did the Mexican church really sign up for the “Anglican Covenant Church?” Do its members, recently independent from TEC, really want an international Curia (sorry, “Standing Committee”) forcing them do things? Are their bright, educated, and pastoral bishops really prepared to submit themselves to required niceness?

Paul called us to curtail our liberty in God to support the weak among us. Many in TEC, Anglican Church of Canada and other churches have been willing to do that. They also, however, hear Jesus calling them to do justice. It is all a delicate balance. But it not in Matthews’ and Carrell’s anticipated   new church: one is told what is nice and one had best do it.

The thing is, I agree with Carrell and Matthews. Section Four, indeed the entire Covenant if adopted, will kill the Anglican Communion. Despite my doubts, it may give birth to an, “Anglican Covenant Church.” And that new body will be a church, not a communion, with canon law, a Curia, a ruling archbishop, and homogenized, bland, and static theology.

I predict that if this vision turns into reality, at least initially, it won’t be all that nice. For a shrunken church without most of the Canadian and American money that now sustains the Communion, I can only see politics—politics that determine, eventually, what Section Four means, how much of the Anglican Communion Office staff is retained, and who is in and who is out. In short, I predict the new “Anglican Covenant Church” will be a copy of the ever fragmenting, ever schism-ridden “Continuum.*

What is amazing is that anyone thinks this is a good idea!


* The “Continuum” is the collective name for the pseudo-Anglican churches that emerged from the “St. Louis Declaration, ” crafted after TEC began to ordain women. That document pledged unity, and failed utterly. The most current listing I know of the many churches in the Continuum is in the “Not In Communion” section of Anglicans Online.

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Blogger JimB said...

My friend Rev. Lauren has written another blog post on this topic that references this one. She is a great writer and I commend it to you at this site. Enjoy!


October 7, 2011 at 7:18 PM  
Blogger Peter Carrell said...

Hi Jim,
I am interested in a Communion where we really listen to each other, and we really listen to each other because we have taken time to consider whether or not we are going to sign up to being those real (not pretend) listeners, and we show we are really serious about this by committing to a relationship with one another in which, should we be tempted to go back on our commitment to listen, we will force each other to live up to the commitment we have made.

Quite where you get a lowest common denominator theology, a Curia and all that from what I wrote, I am far from clear. (I quite understand that such concerns are flowing from various interpretations of the Covenant, but my focus is on listening to one another in order to deepen relationships as a Communion).

As for whether there will be many signers up to the Covenant, here we may be in considerable agreement: I do not think we would have much of a Covenanted Communion if (say) it comes down to a dozen member churches. Certainly it would be awkward if England did not sign up!

But here's the thing: how is the "No Covenanted" Communion looking as that future is being played out? You know, the one where various member churches are doing their own thing, Global South is meeting in China and implying they are heading in a direction away from anchoring to Canterbury? It is not clear to me that a No Covenanted Communion will be much of a Communion!

October 19, 2011 at 9:20 AM  
Blogger JimB said...

Hi Fr. Peter,

I think any relationship that requires a "force each other" provision is not much of a relationship. Let me use, if I may, the marriage analogy. In Italy, when divorce was illegal, you did not get fidelity; you got the, "arrangement." People who were not listening to each other could be "married" ("covenanted") with partners they had not seen in years.

My point—and I do have one—is that no one can "force" either an individual or a church to honor a relationship, even when the parties have promised "before God and this congregation here present" to be in it and listen to each other. The Covenant is attempting an impossible task, badly.

All law can do is penalize. Canon law is no different. Law can tell parties what they should do, and it can provide a basis for exclusion, imprisonment, or execution. It cannot make anyone relate.

The covenant now before the Communion is a bad document. It does provide for a curia, the "Standing Committee." And if one reads Singapore and GAFCON's position papers, they want to move curial functions, with additions, to the Primates' Meeting. They want this not to make the listening better but to shut up the North Americans, and any other "liberal" voice, including some in your church. That is not about listening.

This Covenant, with its convoluted canon processes will indeed enforce the least common denominator. Any creative thinker on any side of a disagreement will likely find herself or himself declared "unAnglican." Prophets, as our Lord observed, are generally treated badly by institutions.

The exclusion of Southern Cone and North American members from committees by the Archbishop of Canterbury is instructive and shows how we will get to bland, nice, least-common-denominator thinking. Note that Dr. Williams managed to move us that way by eliminating both conservative and progressive voices. Trim from the edges inward, and you are left with nice, with the least common denominator.

I agree we should all pay attention to each other more. And I agree that we progressives have some fence mending to do with traditionalists. Fence mending however does not begin with "OK, we are going to all be bound by rules, so we can complain about anyone who is not on our side and exclude them." That is, in short, the Covenant.

We live in a flat world: we must drop the idea of archbishops and bishops making everyone behave. We must instead consider the areas where we can agree as a basis for conversation. If we find mission, the stuff of simple, flat networks, (dare I say it) Lambeth-staff-free networks, we do not need canons and covenants; we need working agreements and common goals.

I do not know where the Covenant-free choice leads. I can tell you that we are destined to get to it without much leadership! Few of us are thinking about it, and we should; we are on the way to that state. Given the votes on the Covenant so far, we all should think about it! My few essays on the topic (on my own blog) have elicited little or no comments.

Thanks for your response. I hope I have clarified my original post. I respect your desire for committed relationships; I just cannot see how we get them without mutual respect, for which the Covenant is not needed.

With love, anything is possible; without love, nothing is possible.


October 20, 2011 at 4:45 PM  
Blogger Peter Carrell said...

Hi Jim
(In a spirit, might I say, of friendly disagreement!) Perhaps there are two senses of the word "force" in relation to canons: (1) I feel forced to obey because if I don't I will be disciplined, might lose my ministerial position, whoa, might even be deposed and defrocked! (2) I am forced to recognise (e.g. against how I feel right now) that I have signed declarations vowing to minister according to the canons and constitution and thus I must force myself // I concede the bishop may force me to ... use the prescribed liturgies, visit the sick when I would prefer to bury myself in my study etc. Simplifying, the first could 'force through fear' and the second 'force through obligation'.

With respect to the member churches and the Communion I find that in a member church such as my own, just occasionally the obligations we have to the canons and the constitution need to be brought into play to "force" errant or potentially errant clergy as to their obligations (e.g. some of our clergy do not agree with the ordination of woman and we have forced (or "forced") them to recognise that whatever they believe in their hearts about this, they should not be teaching in public against the ordination of women while holding an episcopal licence-and-having signed declarations of subscription to the canons). My general point about the Covenant and "force" in respect of the Communion is that if canons and constitution are important to member churches (as they seem to be), why not for the organisation of the Communion as a whole? In each case, member church and Communion, most of our life together works best if we work on the basis of mutual respect, commonalities, etc, without recourse to canons and discipline thereof. But stuff happens ... and those canons can be useful!

October 20, 2011 at 9:12 PM  
Blogger JimB said...

Hi Fr. Peter,

Certainly we are indeed in friendly disagreement. On my own blog I spend some time talking about the marketplace of ideas, a concept which is almost an article of faith in my life. I believe that one may disagree passionately without being enemies. Otherwise, I would give it all up.

So we come here to the core. In your initial post, you visualized a new thing, an “Anglican Church,” I think we really need a new name, cf. an “Anglican International Church,” arising from the death of the Communion, based on the Covenant. I think that vision is consistent with what Bishop Matthews suggested.

If I understood, the argument is that the Communion is not working. The more basic assumption is of course that it should, “work.” The Communion's history is a group of churches who share the historic Book of Common Prayer arguing on this point. The Archbishop of York set an early precedent refusing to attend the first Lambeth Conference precisely because he feared (correctly I think) that some would try to use it as a foundation for a “super church.” The proponents of the conference, including its chair assured him that would not happen. It has.

I suggest that as a Communion it is working. It is declining to be a hierarchical Church, and is opting instead for the rather messy, but liberating life of autocephalous networking. Where will that take us? I do not know, and I am old, so I may not see it. But it is the working model of the future.

Part of the problem I and other members of the coalition, find with your post, Bishop Matthews article, and indeed the entire “The Living Church” series is that you are writing about a non-existent covenant. We are opposing a real Covenant. The one we oppose, the only one on offer, is a blueprint for the death of the Communion, and its replacement with a hierarchical, international church. I think my comments about the nice, repressed, least common denominator church are reasonable when one considers the impact of the only Covenant before us.

What we need is a formula for networking, for a Communion based on the idea of music by anyone, choreography by anyone, libretto by Cranmer. I wish that was an original formula but I read it on a semi-public mail list HoB/D and I cannot now find the author! I hope he or someone who read it will identify the author. We have the prayerbook, the Quadrilateral and the faith. What more do we need?


October 22, 2011 at 12:41 PM  
Blogger Peter Carrell said...

Perhaps I should begin with a caveat, Jim, that what I am writing here is 'me' - I am not sure what +Victoria thinks, for example, about an 'Anglican International Church.'

I like what you say inasmuch as you capture something I believe strongly: that this is a crossroads in the life of the Communion. It either goes forward into a deeper commitment in union, an 'Anglican International Church' is not unfair in its description of that deepening of our ecclesial life (it is unfair if it smuggles in charges of Anglican papalism etc); or, the Communion goes forward into a looser version of 'communion', a network such as you outline via musical imagery.

Quo vadis?

Why am I not keen on the looser version? Being blunt I think it will unravel to the point of going out of existence. There would be a 'networked' Communion for a while, but the obvious parts to peel away will peel away (Global South, GAFCON), the few African and Asian bishops interested in the network will be drawn deeper into (so to speak) a Global South Communion, such Communion drawing into its life Sydney, some of Ireland, perhaps even some of New Zealand ... Lambeth 2018 might have half the Anglican bishops, but 2028 would have a third or less, numbers depending in part on whether TEC can sustain all its current dioceses, some of which are quite small and getting smaller.

What particularly troubles me about the future of the "Anglican Communion [Trademark]" is that it could become a caucus of the Caucasians!

Anyway, I think you put the choice before the Communion well.

October 22, 2011 at 8:11 PM  
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