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.