July 7, 2011

Groupthink and Courage

My friend Jim Beyer has just published a guest post on MadPriest’s blog. It is titled “Groupthink and Courage.” Jim offers an explanation for why so many are willing to support the Anglican Covenant, even though its adoption is clearly a demented idea. Here is a sample paragraph:
Groupthink mentality is very hard to escape. [Bill] Moyers is a powerful intellect, and even he was not able to do so for quite a while. So the persistence of other group, the Lambeth staff, English House of Bishops, and the lay leadership that continues to promote the Covenant, is hardly surprising. We hear that there are members who know the Covenant is a multi-dimensional failure. They know it won’t be universally adopted and will not therefore bring the Communion together, let alone keep it together. The covenanted Church will become hugely litigious. But they do not speak up; they do not resign. They stay in the inner circle. It is safer there. The group thinks well of them.
Jim is on to something here. As a bonus for reading Jim’s essay, MadPriest offers a bitterly funny cartoon.

No Anglican Covenant

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


  1. You know, Lionel, one of the things that turned our diocese on its head over the past decade and more was the interpersonal hyperbole. Instead of being Christian people who carried serious disagreements in a context of respect and spiritual affection, there was name-calling and disrespect. A battle between "heretics" and "fundamentalists." I say that only because I hope that as we rebuild relationships and attempt to rebuild a diocese on more spiritually secure foundations we would try as hard as we could not to describe those with whom we disagree has holding a "demented" idea.

    I, for example, agree with you that at this stage of the fragmentation of the Anglican world, it is improbable at best, probably impossible, that the Covenant would be "universally adopted" or have the ability to "bring" or "keep" the Communion together.

    Nonetheless, I think that the Covenant has power to invite us into at least a reflection on what our ecclesiological foundations actually are. What we mean by, "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic." What we mean by "communion." What we mean by "autonomous." What we mean by "interdependent."

    The Covenant, in my view, may function in the long run as the Chicago-Lambeth Quad has functioned. It was intended as a blueprint for the eventual organic reunion of Churches, and we haven't seen much of that. But it has called us nonetheless to a seriousness of ecumenical engagement, and it set boundaries and principles that continue to inform our life.

    My guess is that the centripetal forces at work now will soon bring to an end the 160 or so year-long experimental "institution-like" body we now call the Anglican Communion. In spirit it's pretty much gone already, though structures endure long after the spirit departs. The real question is, what is the future of Anglicanism, this minor but distinctive strand in the web of Christian life?

    I frankly see no better alternative within a country mile of the Covenant to begin work on this question. If I'm on the floor of Convention when it comes to a vote (which I almost certainly won't be), I'll vote in favor, and if I have an opportunity to say a good word for it at a committee hearing, I will.

    I've more than once in my life voted for a political candidate whom I knew was destined to lose and even "lose big." Nonetheless, I've wanted to do what I understood the right thing to be.

    If doing so is to you "clearly" a "demented idea," then that rather closes off the inclination for further exploration and conversation, yes?

    Bruce R.

  2. I largely agree with +Bruce. Personally I think the covenant is a hopeless last-ditch effort, and really don't support its nucleus. But it is at least "something" being put forth, and I believe in good faith by ++Rowen. In reality, there are no teeth remaining in the document that will amount to anything, so I don't see how "my cause" will be affected. (most likely I suspect we share the same theological dispensation). As much as I appreciate and agree with your general analysis and commentary, I can't bring myself to feel strong opposition of the covenant.

  3. A lot of folks can’t get upset over the Covenant. They don’t view it as a good thing, but they can’t work up the energy to oppose it, either.

    Why should we approve the Covenant unless we think it is a positive good, however? Most of the good to come out of the Covenant has already been achieved, so there is little up side and, potentially, quite a significant down side to adopting the Covenant. Clearly, the Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons thinks it is a big deal that will require us to change the very nature of The Episcopal Church. (See “Analysis of the Report from the Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons.”)

    Isn’t it clear that the Anglican Covenant is brought to you by the same folks who split this diocese and formed a new church?

  4. Good morning, Lionel. And to your last question, no. It is clear to me that the Covenant is "brought to you" by folks who have been working faithfully to build a framework that would prevent division. The thing that those who have left the Episcopal Church have in common with those who *oppose* the Covenant is a profound aversion to authority. In this way the far left and the far right converge and embrace, while playing in the background the theme song of that 1990's t.v. series, "You're Not the Boss of Me."

    Bruce R.

  5. Dear friend Bruce,

    OK, maybe “demented” was a bad word choice, as it suggested that Covenant supporters are crazy, rather than misguided. I will freely stipulate that I think neither you nor Rowan Williams is deranged.

    A more appropriate word than “demented”—this will get me into more trouble, I’m sure—would have been “demonic.” I do think that C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape would love the Covenant, which focuses attention on Christians judging one another, rather than getting on with Christ’s mission in the world.

    It has to be said that the Covenant, and more generally, the current Anglican “crisis,” has gotten us talking and has drawn some parts of the Communion closer together. There seems to be a general sense that The Episcopal Church is now more effectively connected with our Anglican brothers and sisters in Africa and elsewhere than formerly.

    Adopting the Covenant is not about stimulating conversation, however, but about cutting it off. The words of Bishop John Saxbee come immediately to mind: “In relation to the Anglican Covenant, I’m on record as saying in this synod that I entirely support the process, as long as it never ends.” Make no mistake, the Covenant is about freeze-drying the Communion, of burying our talents in the sand until the Savior returns. That is, as I suggested earlier, an idea of the Devil.

    The Covenant will not function like the Quadrilateral, simply because it is nine pages long! I think it is more likely to scare off potential ecumenical partners than to attract them. It will make “agreeing” with Anglican churches much harder. How it would affect the ecumenical agreements The Episcopal Church already has with other churches I don’t know.

    The Anglican Communion as we have know it is likely already dead. I doubt that a split in the Communion can be avoided by any means, but it does not seem likely that the Covenant will contribute to averting such a division, particularly when the GAFCON crowd is insisting on conformity with the Jerusalem Declaration. The Covenant is an attempt to mollify those who have already said that our efforts are too little too late.

    We do not need the Covenant to discuss your question about the future of Anglicanism. All we need do is talk to one another. The Covenant is particularly bad in this regard. Churches can be accused and the Standing Committee can rule against them, and the Covenant allows neither for mandatory testimony from the accused nor appeal of the Committee’s decision. How does this facilitate discussion of the future of Anglicanism? It is simply an authoritarian way of creating facts on the ground.

    I’m sorry, Bruce, but I see your position as one of naïve hope where clear-eyed realism is called for. I pray that you will not be on the floor when the Covenant comes up for a vote at General Convention 2012.

  6. As to who is behind the Covenant, I would simply point out that it is the most conservative bishops still within The Episcopal Church who seem to want to see the Covenant adopted. ACNA has made it clear that it would like to be part of the Covenant (and, of course, part of the Communion). This is not about “aversion to authority,” but a matter of which authority wields power. The Episcopal Church is very much constrained by authority, namely that of the General Convention.

  7. I am a liberal English Anglican, committed to the balance of scripture, reason and tradition, and therefore opposed to anyone who claims to know the last word and resists change on principle.
    From my perspective I disagree with Bruce's claim that 'the Covenant is "brought to you" by folks who have been working faithfully to build a framework that would prevent division'.
    What happened, I think, was more like this. In the Kuala Lumpur Conference and the Dallas Statement conservative evangelicals deliberately set out to impose their version of Christianity onto the whole Anglican Communion: because of their theories about the authority o the Bible, they thought liberal Anglicanism was not Christian at all. Then they threatened schism. They put a huge amount of pressure onto Rowan Williams as soon as his appointment to Canterbury was announced. Williams, unlike them, is an Anglo-Catholic. For Williams, keeping the church united was top priority because of his beliefs about the sacramental nature of the Church. He therefore reacted by bending over backwards to accommodate those threatening schism.
    There already was a framework to prevent division - just look at how Anglicanism has so far stayed united, compared with the history of Calvinism. The Covenant is being proposed by an alliance of opposites: conservative evangelicals who don't care how often the church splits because what matters to them is purity of doctrine, allied with catholics desperate to avoid a split at all costs.
    In my view he should have defended traditional Anglican openness based on a balance of authorities - none infallible.
    In other words, there is an alternative account of how we can resolve the dispute, very Anglican and much more effective. It's nothing to do with aversion to authority; on the contrary, it's a question of the methods we use to resolve disagreements. The method we should use is to permit differences of opinion within the church to be debated for as long as it takes to reach consensus. This is very different from the Covenant, which would set up an international committee with power to decree the official Anglican position on every controversial issue which is brought to it.


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