Comprehensive Unity: The No Anglican Covenant Blog

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Jonathon Clatworthy's Response to Carrell

Jonathon Clatworthy, who is General Secretary of Modern Church in England has written a post discussing the Matthews article and Peter Carrell's post about it. I have edited it very slightly to fit it into the general template of this blog. Jonathon is very busy this weekend and I have undertaken to get his response published. Any errors are mine.



This is a response to Peter Carrell’s fascinating article on his blog.

Carrell quotes his bishop, Victoria Matthews:
Section 4 of the Covenant exists precisely to ensure the kind of listening, communication, and relationship that is presently missing in the Anglican Communion. ... the Anglican Covenant will act as a midwife for the delivery of a new Anglican Communion, a Communion that has its gestation in relationship and deep listening.
Carrell, explaining that he has not checked his views with her but thinks he is supporting her case, enlarges:
The Covenant provides a way for communication to be renewed, 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). Some member churches will choose not to be placed in the position of having to listen to others (i.e. continue according to the present status quo). Those who choose to commit to real (i.e. actual listening to each other) fellowship will form a new Anglican Communion. The Covenant is the founding document of a (re)newed Anglican Communion.
Thus Carrell makes it quite clear that he wants to replace the present Anglican Communion with another, consisting only of those willing to listen.

So what would enforced listening be like? Campaigners and oppressors choose their words to emphasise what they want to emphasise, but also to hide what they want to hide. What does ‘enforced listening’ affirm, and what does it hide?

The infamous Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference not only referred to ‘homosexuality as incompatible with Scripture’ – the bit endlessly quoted – but also called for a process of listening to gays and lesbians. An official Anglican ‘listening process’ was set up. At the same time British and North American Anglicans have been endlessly reminded that they are outnumbered by the Global South and should therefore listen more to their views.

If you think white and I think black, we can listen to each other without changing our minds, though the process of relating to each other may help us demonise each other a bit less. If you are very anxious to reach agreement and I am just a little bit interested in reaching agreement, we may end up compromising on dark grey. If we do, we will both feel dissatisfied – and we will have gone way beyond just listening.

The absurd notion of ‘enforced listening’ is therefore being used as code for something very different. What? In these texts neither Matthews nor Carrell spell it out; they simply expect the Covenant to achieve it. What the Covenant proposes to achieve, however, is quite different. It offers a formal process for one province to object to actions by another, and gives power to the Standing Committee to decree the answer. In performing this task the Standing Committee will of course have to listen to both sides, but any final judgement it makes is bound to dissent from at least one of the positions, thus excusing Anglicans from listening to it.

If we look at what has been happening in the Anglican Communion over the last 15 years there has indeed been quite a dialogue of the deaf – a failure to listen – but there are substantial theological reasons for the failure. World Anglicanism contains radically different theories about how we should resolve our differences. According to one, Scripture is the supreme authority. Being directly revealed by God it is known with certainty, whereas human reason is flawed. In recent debates the appeal to scripture has been used to insist on biblical statements about gay sex and how the Church should be governed. From this perspective, no amount of personal experience or psychological research measures up to the certainties contained in scripture: true Christians may listen to liberals, provided that they are not influenced by them.

According to another account, often described as ‘Classic Anglicanism’ because it has characterised the Church of England through most of its history, reason is a gift of God as well as Scripture, and has a proper place in discovering new insights in doctrine, ethics and church government. Personal experience, psychological research and critical scholarship of biblical texts all have a proper place, and the Church’s public discourse weighs up the arguments for and against the beliefs under dispute.

This explains the failure to listen. World Anglicanism contains two contradictory theories about how to resolve disagreements. According to one we look up the answer in the Bible; according to the other we use all the resources available, including the views of Anglicans we disagree with. Because the two sides have different accounts of authority, each side listens to the arguments of the other but thinks it lacks authority.

Given these differences, how can Anglicanism survive?

Because this is a disagreement about how to resolve our disagreements, we have no common foundation upon which to go about deciding how to resolve them. This leaves two possibilities. One is to side with one or the other. The Covenant as envisaged by the Report would have turned Anglicanism into a fundamentalist sect, suppressing all dissent from the views taken by the most litigious churches. Or Anglicanism could side with the Classic Anglican tradition, insisting on open debate as normal and inviting churches to leave if they find it unacceptable. The Covenant as it stands could in theory produce either of these effects – all would depend on the Standing Committee’s ‘recommendations’ – in practice I think its resolutions would turn out to be inconsistent.

The other alternative is to emphasise that Anglicanism is a communion of churches, not a church itself, and leave each province to determine its own theology. This would mean Americans putting up with African archbishops supporting legislation to imprison or execute gays, and conversely Africans accepting American gay bishops. And being equally tolerant with whatever new issues the future throws up.

For church leaders to think they can enforce listening, while making no attempt to address the theological causes of disagreement, merely reveals that they are operating like bureaucrats only interested in the smooth running of their institutions, without any regard for the more substantial questions about how humans can and should relate to God.

Jonathan Clatworthy
General Secretary
Modern Church


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