Whereas I don’t intend to offer rebuttal to all the points made in the essays published by The Living Church, I reserve the right to comment now and then. (Alan Perry has offered an evaluation of the series as a whole and promises future commentary on particular essays. See his blog post here.)
Today, I want to exercise my right to discuss the Victoria Matthews piece.
“Greeting the Saints” particularly caught my attention, as Bishop Matthews has a rather interesting history. She is now Bishop of Christchurch, in New Zealand, and was the first female bishop in the Anglican Church of Canada. More information about Victoria Matthews’ career can be found on Wikipedia.
Of course, I was intrigued that, being a woman, Bishop Matthews would be writing on behalf of the Covenant. That document, after all, is designed to inhibit theological and ecclesiastical change, of which she is an obvious beneficiary. Recognizing the potential for cognitive dissonance, she begins, rather defensively, with this paragraph:
People are sometimes surprised that I support the proposed Anglican Covenant because there is a widespread belief that the crafters of the Covenant intend to stop new developments in the Communion. Similarly, many Anglicans believe that if there had been a Covenant 25 years ago, we would not have both sexes elected and consecrated to the episcopate. (“We would not have women bishops,” they say, without speaking of “men bishops.” Bishop is not a gender-exclusive noun, and women is not an adjective.)I’m not sure what the snarky parenthetical remark is all about. For about two thousand years, Bishop was indeed a gender-exclusive noun, and women can most definitely be an adjective. The bishop’s linguistic credentials are not really what I want to talk about, but her opening gambit is not reassuring.
The Bishop of Christchurch is concerned about “inter-Anglican communication,” which she views as dysfunctional. Communion churches, she suggests, must be committed “to being in relationship one with another, no matter what.” She asserts—or perhaps only hopes—that the Anglican Covenant will “ensure the kind of listening, communication, and relationship that is presently missing in the Anglican Communion.”
It is widely acknowledged that modern communication technologies, and especially the Internet, have complicated the life of the Anglican Communion. Almost immediately, an archbishop across the globe can know about—and object to—the goings-on in another Anglican church. And he—invariably he—can easily mount a worldwide campaign against it. Bloggers and parachurch organizations readily line up on one side or another. Church documents are quickly distributed and deconstructed.
Clearly, Bishop Matthews thinks this is terrible. I don’t. The problem she has with all this communication, I suspect, is that it makes life difficult for bishops. The church was not established for bishops, however, but for all of humanity. Democracy—the priesthood of all believers, actually—is not a bad thing, though it is admittedly a royal pain for those who consider themselves princes (or princesses) of the Church. That ordinary clergy and laypeople are showing themselves to be passionate about their churches is not a gift to be despised.
In fact, Bishop Matthews goes rather off the deep end in her discussion, arguing that some people suggest avoiding meetings because you will learn more by staying home, as if maximum enlightenment will occur if no one at all attends Anglican meetings! How this rather foolish idea is supposed to contribute to her argument I have no idea.
“What would happen if the provinces of the Communion were equally dedicated [as was the Apostle Paul] to being in relationship one with another, no matter what?” the bishop asks rhetorically. What, indeed, if primates did not declare their churches out of communion with one another, did not create alternative gatherings to which only like-thinking Anglicans are invited, and did not boycott Anglican meetings and complain that their concerns were not discussed at those meetings?
So, what does Bishop Matthews think is going to create a commitment to bring “listening, communication, and relationship” back to the Communion? Her answer, improbably, is Section 4 of the Covenant. She appears to be under the impression that the Covenant will enforce “listening and being in relationship.”
Bishop Matthews cites no provision of Section 4, or of any part of the Covenant, for that matter. Has she actually read it, or is she relying on magical thinking? In fact, the only “listening” Section 4 encourages is the monitoring of the behavior of sister churches for incompatibility of their actions with the Covenant. Further, rather than “being in relationship one with another, no matter what,” Section 4 of the Covenant specifies how the Communion can mete out “relational consequences” for alleged infractions of Covenant provisions without requiring any listening to the accused church at all!
In short, the Covenant is in no way the proper medicine for the Communion ailment that Bishop Matthews sees. She concludes her essay
It is my prayer that 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.I’m afraid that the bishop will have to find another prayer. This one is not going to come true
Update, 9/26/2011: When I wrote the above post, my main objective was to point out that, however much Bishop Matthews would like it to be so, the Covenant simply creates no machinery to do what she believes needs to be done.
When I first read “Greeting the Saints,” my impression was that it was distressingly incoherent, but I did not want to make too big an issue of that. Upon rereading it today, however, I do feel compelled to write about the strangeness of its first paragraph.
As I pointed out yesterday, Bishop Matthews begins by acknowledging that, as a woman bishop, many would think it strange that she would be a Covenant supporter. Logically, what should follow this admission is an explanation of why such a supposition is, in her case, unfounded. Instead of explaining away the apparent anomaly, however, she goes on to complain about the use of the term “women bishops,” a complete non sequitur.
Why, I would like to know, does the bishop think that, had the Covenant been in place some number of years ago—the 25 years cited in her first paragraph is not enough—we would have women bishops today? Perhaps had the Covenant been adopted 40 years or so ago, there would be women bishops in The Episcopal Church, The Episcopal Church would be out of the Anglican Communion, and the Anglican Communion would have no women bishops.