June 17, 2011

Canadian Report Proves Text of Covenant Sucks

I have written a number of posts about the defects of the Anglican Covenant. (I won’t try to list them all here. See the Table of Contents for my blog.) Others have done the same. (See, for example, the commentaries listed on the No Anglican Covenant Web site.) Somehow, however, neither my essays nor those of people whose work I much admire, have really succeeded in making a definitive case for rejecting the Anglican Covenant.

Today, however, the Anglican Church of Canada released a document that, although it does not draw the obvious conclusion that the Covenant should be rejected because it is incompetently written, most definitely establishes that it is incompetently written. One cannot, in fact, read “Legal and Constitutional Issues Presented to the Canadian Church by the Proposed Anglican Covenant” without concluding that the text of the Covenant is a train wreck.

The report is the product of the Governance Working Group of the Canadian church. The same body also issued an Executive Summary that provides, in two pages, a good sense of the conclusions contained in the full 33-page report. “Legal and Constitutional Issues” has four main sections. (These are numbered 1 through 4 in the Executive Summary but A through D in the report.) They are
  1. Lack of Definitional Clarity. Many of the terms used in the Covenant are undefined and are often used in different contexts or with clearly different meanings. This makes it virtually impossible to say definitively what the text means. (Examples: “communion,” “a shared mind,” “relational consequences”)
  2. Procedural Concerns. The unnamed authors of the report find myriad problems with Section 4. The procedures described are not defined with any precision, institutionalize conflicts of interest, and fail to incorporate basic fairness principles. Criteria on which actions are based are unspecified, as is the significance of situations likely to arise.
  3. Constitutional Issues for the Canadian Church. I do not pretend to understand the full discussion here, which involves a church polity that seems more complex than that of The Episcopal Church. Nevertheless, certain questions raised in this section of the report are clearly relevant for any Anglican Church. (Examples: Is the Covenant “doctrine”? How does the Covenant relate to fundamental documents such as a church’s constitution and canons?)
  4. Consequences of Non-Adoption. The discussion about what would happen if the Anglican Church of Canada failed to adopt the Covenant is especially interesting. The conclusion: virtually nothing. The authors conclude that the only significant result of rejecting the covenant would be the inability to participate in disciplining other churches. On the other hand, the Canadian church would thereby be free from prosecution under the Covenant. Actually, this section may be unduly sanguine.
I urge you to read the full report. Except for the third section—for non-Canadians anyway—it is an easy and enlightening read. It is difficult for me to imagine a rational person reading “Legal and Constitutional Issues” and not concluding that the Covenant is so poorly written that it is foolhardy to consider its adoption.

That said, I’m sure there are supporters of the Covenant who will be unmoved by the Canadian analysis. These people mostly fall into one of two groups. The first group—the bishops of South East Asia are in this group—see the Covenant as a weapon against heresy. That it is an imperfect weapon is irrelevant; a poor weapon is better than no weapon at all to these folks. The second group—I suspect that many English bishops are in this group—are of the why-can’t-we-all-just-get-along school. For these supporters, the Covenant is an article of faith—God will somehow make it all work out in the end. Personally, I have more respect for the first group.

I find the Canadian report devastating. Regular readers of this blog are likely to as well.

South of the Border

Meanwhile, there was an interesting Covenant-related development in The Episcopal Church. Executive Council ended its three-day meeting in Maryland today, and Episcopal News Service ran a story about the meeting. The article included this interesting item:
[The Executive Council] heard a report from Rosalie Ballentine, council member and chair of its Anglican Covenant Task Force. She said that there were “a few” among the 64 responses the group received from a request for comment on the final draft of the covenant who would approve the covenant in full. “Almost all” respondents objected to Section 4, which contained a disciplinary process, she said. Ballentine also said that the group will not yet release a report it requested from the Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons outlining the changes that would be needed if the General Convention decided to sign on to the covenant. “We’re reluctant to have it out there” because some people may assume that decisions have already been made, she said. The report will eventually be appended to the task force report to General Convention. Council will receive a draft of the Blue Book report in October, according to Ballentine.
Ballentine also said that the group will not yet release a report it requested from the Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons outlining the changes that would be needed if the General Convention decided to sign on to the covenant. “We’re reluctant to have it out there” because some people may assume that decisions have already been made, she said. You have got to be kidding!

Jim Naughton, who has a talent for getting to the heart of any matter at hand, commented on The Lead that the Anglican Church of Canada “apparently regards its members as adults,” the implication being that Ms. Ballentine (or Executive Council) does not so regard ordinary Episcopalians. What possible reason is there for withholding the report from the Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons? When it does become available, it will be interesting to compare the Episcopal Church report to the Canadian one. Will the American report be as scary as its Canadian counterpart, or will it be a whitewash? Inquiring minds want to know. NOW!


No Anglican Covenant

Get your No Anglican Covenant merchandise at the Farrago Gift Shop.

16 comments:

  1. Perhaps they are only sending it to the House of Bishops' secret theology committee? I guess they do not want to frighten the Communion Partner Dioceses, but having said it is done, it does more harm to withhold it.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Three points on the Canadian document:

    1) The authors are not unnamed. They are listed toward the end of the full report. They include David Phillip Jones, QC, an expert in Administrative Law and Chancellor of the General Synod; also Archdeacon Harry Huskins, who holds an LLM in Canon Law (Cardiff); and other notable figures.

    2) The legal analysis inevitably focuses on section 4 of the Covenant. There is a theological analysis still to come, which I assume will focus more on sections 1-3.

    3) I have raised many of the same issues as the legal analysis on "my blog over the last six months.

    Finally, I think the constitutional section can still be read profitably by non-Canadians, though some parts of it will need to be parsed differently outside Canada. The issue with respect to whether the Covenantis "doctrine" has clear constitutional implications for Canada which are spelled out in the report. It's not so much a theological question here as a canonical one.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Alan,

    Thanks for the correction about the authors of the Canadian report. Clearly, I read the early pages more carefully than the last few pages. I saw the author names, but they obviously didn’t register.

    The issue of whether the Covenant establishes “doctrine” can be a serious issue elsewhere. For example, Bishop Walter Righter was exonerated for ordaining a gay man because it was decided that no “core doctrine” of The Episcopal Church had been violated.

    It will be interesting to see the theological report from the Anglican Church of Canada, but the report will be something of an anticlimax. If the legal issues are muddled, it doesn’t matter what the theological issues are; the Covenant should be rejected.

    ReplyDelete
  4. On awaits the announcement by the Rev. Dr. Alyson Barnett-Cowan ( Director for Unity, Faith and Order in the Anglican Communion Office) that the eminent Canadian lawyers and theologians have not read the covenant.

    That is after all her consistent refrain in her effort to get that pointed hat.

    FWIW
    jimB

    ReplyDelete
  5. Easy to make of people, but very depressing to read those opposed to the Anglican Communion. Since they are not interested in 'unity' and have deliberately alienated their conservative brothers, would it not make more sense for TEC simply to leave the Communion and let post colonial Christian mission deal with its world wide challenges. This would also let certain Americans, and I suppose Canadians, be in full communion.

    ReplyDelete
  6. mike8464, those of us who oppose the covenant very much desire unity in the Body of Christ and in the Anglican Communion as a fellowship of autonomous churches.

    ...would it not make more sense for TEC simply to leave the Communion and let post colonial Christian mission deal with its world wide challenges.

    No. Sorry about that. We may get thrown out, but it's not likely we will leave on our own.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Given that the present relationship between TEC and Canterbury is one of impaired communion, am I correct to understand this reply to mean that you do not want any Anglican in the US to have full and unimpaired communion with Canterbury? If I am wrong, how would a US Anglican achieve full and unimpaired communion?

    ReplyDelete
  8. Given that the present relationship between TEC and Canterbury is one of impaired communion....

    mike8464, is your statement a given? So far as I know, the ABC will share at the communion table with members of TEC, which is what I consider to be "in communion".

    ReplyDelete
  9. As I understand it, Canterbury does not welcome certain TEC bishops, nor certain ordinations nor Sacramentally blessed same sex unions. I would say that communion is impaired at least as regards consecration and ordination. I am sure, if I had the time, I could find ++Rowan's references to 'impaired communion'.

    ReplyDelete
  10. ...if I had the time, I could find ++Rowan's references to 'impaired communion'.

    mike8464, nevermind. It's quite possible that Rowan and I disagree on that point and other points, for that matter. He's not my pope (although I believe he may want to be), and the last I heard, he's not infallibile.

    ReplyDelete
  11. mike8464,

    Never before today have I heard anyone suggest that the Church of England and The Episcopal Church are not in full communion. We may not see eye-to-eye on everything, but it is simply not true that the churches view their communion as impaired. Of course, since neither full communion nor impaired communion seem to have any universally accepted definitions, you can call the relationship anything you like. Just don’t expect everyone else to accept your nomenclature.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Being in a minority of one on this board, I would not expect much agreement on nomenclature. However, it does seem harsh to suggest the ++Rowan has made any claim to be infallible let alone pope. Everything I have read of his seems both humble and scholarly. Maybe the problem is mine but critics of the AC sound depressingly bad tempered as if there had been no Windsor Report or Resolution B033, no immediate statement by the LA Diocese and then the reversal of B033. I certainly respect the right of TEC to do what it wants and I respect its constitution but I do not understand why it has made so little effort to include conservatives. Respecting the situation of gays and lesbians was the proper thing to do IMHO, but for one who is in awe of the Elizabethan Settlement, losing the conservatives seems to me a mistake. The tension ++Rowan talks about was lost. Nor has the question of bisexuals or trans sexuals resolved.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I certainly respect the right of TEC to do what it wants and I respect its constitution but I do not understand why it has made so little effort to include conservatives..

    mike8464, I don't see TEC excluding conservatives. I see certain conservatives walking away, but I see none being excluded or expelled. I believe the church is enriched by diversity, and I am sad when conservatives leave. Although I may disagree with them, I wish they would stay with TEC.

    Rowan humble? Sorry, but I don't see the humility, I see arrogance when he attends our bishops' meeting and tells them how to run a church and arrives before the last GC to say what he wants done at our convention.

    You'd think Rowan's own church did not have serious problems and divisions enough to keep him occupied that he would not have time to meddle in the affairs of our church.

    The fact is that Rowan wants to move the Anglican Communion closer to the model of Rome with a stronger central authority. In this present time, to make the Church of Rome the model of how to be a church seems - what? - I can't think of a better word than insane.

    I'm a fan of the Via Media, which has its roots in the Elizabethan Settlement, and in which a diversity of opinion is welcomed and accommodated.

    ReplyDelete
  14. mike8464,

    Conservatives have an exaggerated sense of persecution. If fact, they might have received more kind attention had they not concentrated on stealing Episcopal Church property. (Recall that I’m a member of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.) I’m not actually very sympathetic to the crocodile tears of conservatives.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Actually this dialog confirms how difficult it is to discuss the AC. I apologize for wasting your time on this board.

    ReplyDelete
  16. mike8464, no apology is necessary for me. I appreciated the back and forth. Dialog may be difficult, but I believe it is necessary, and I thank you for taking the time for the discussion here.

    ReplyDelete

Anonymous comments are not allowed. Gratuitous profanity or libelous statements will be removed. Comments will also be removed that include gratuitous links to commercial Web sites. Please stay on topic.