July 12, 2011

Clarifying the Rules

The recent rather tepid response from Lambeth Palace to the advent of the Anglican Mission in England (AMiE) led me to new insights about the Anglican Covenant. The July 5, 2011, statement includes the following:
The Archbishop of Canterbury has had the opportunity to speak with the Archbishop of Kenya about the situation: the good faith and fraternal good intentions of our Kenyan colleagues are not at all in question, but it seems that there were misunderstandings of the precise requirements of English Canon Law and good practice as regards the recommendation of candidates for ordination and deployment in mission.
Of course, this is polite Anglicanspeak. The “good faith and fraternal good intentions" of the Kenyans are most certainly being called into question. The Archbishop of Kenya and his allies probably know English Canon Law better than the Archbishop of Canterbury does. They have carefully calculated not only what is or is not permitted but also what they can have a reasonable expectation of getting away with. From the AMiE perspective, so far so good.

What does all this have to do with the Anglican Covenant? Consider the origin of the pact. It was not the case that the Anglican Communion was getting on swimmingly and its member churches thought that tighter integration would yield an even more effective and happy global body. Well, not exactly. Instead, many churches believed that other churches were acting badly by not obeying what they took to be the implicit rules of Communion behavior.

The Anglican Diocese of New Westminster was well aware of Resolution I.10 from the 1998 Lambeth Conference when it promulgated a liturgy for blessing same-sex unions. So was The Episcopal Church when it agreed to consecrate Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire. Likewise, the churches of the Southern Cone, Rwanda, et alia, understood the longstanding convention against bishops’ exercising jurisdiction over churches in the diocese of another bishop. In each case, a church acted contrary to convention because it believed that was the right thing to do.

The Covenant comes up for adoption, then, in the context of Anglican churches acting “badly” but believing themselves justified in doing so. Our churches don’t need the Covenant to tell them what the expectations of other churches are; those are known quite well. (Curiously, the Covenant is actually silent on the very issues that created a “crisis” in the first place.) If those expectations were ignored in the past, why do we think they will not be ignored under the Covenant?

The Covenant attempts to enshrine “shared discernment” as the ultimate arbiter of Anglican doctrine. This procedure is intended to assure that no church movesWobbly Anglican bar stool forward until they all do. The process will be dominated by Asian and, especially, African, churches that will effectively wield a veto over any departure from “orthodoxy” and will, thereby, govern the Communion. (We all know how good Africans have proven to be at self-government!) The three-legged stool of Anglicanism will, under the Covenant, become a wobbly, four-legged bar stool, as Scripture, tradition, and reason are joined by the collective wisdom of the Standing Committee as Anglican authorities. Good Lord, preserve us!

We must face reality. Adopting the Covenant will not make disagreements go away and make all Communion churches think alike. Our churches are more different than anyone seems to want to admit. A happy Communion can only be bound together by tolerance. For Western churches to adopt the Covenant with any sincerity would be to abandon their beliefs and to agree to be governed by Third World churches in environments quite unlike that of the West. The resulting Communion would be bound together by intimidation, hatred, and self-loathing. Of course, that could not—would not—last long.


No Anglican Covenant

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1 comment:

  1. Interesting insight! I think you nailed it.

    It is interesting to me that almost no one is for the Covenant. Some few, mostly staff, will offer weak arguments against opponents, but no one will take it section by section and defend it. Hmmmmm...

    FWIW
    jimB

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