June 5, 2012

Thoughts on the Standing Committee Meeting

The Standing Committee met last week. Anglicans Online had this to say about the meeting:
30 May 2012: Anglican Standing Committee meets; most delegates remain conscious
The Anglican Communion News Service dutifully published daily reports of each of the three meeting days of the Standing Committee, which met in London last week. Please believe us when we tell you that there is absolutely nothing that you need to know in any of those reports, and you probably don’t even need to know of their existence. If it is late at night and you are having trouble falling asleep you can go look at the reports from Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.
Whereas I appreciate AO’s humor, I must disagree that nothing interesting happened (or was reported). The Wednesday report included this:
The Standing Committee received an update on the progress of the Anglican Communion Covenant. It was noted that eight Provinces had endorsed the Covenant to date, in some cases with a degree of qualification. They were the only responses received so far by the Secretary General. The committee also noted that the President, Chair, and Vice-Chair all hold their offices other than as representatives of their Provinces.

There was general agreement that no timeframe should yet be introduced for the process of adoption of the Covenant by Provinces. The Standing Committee will return to this question following ACC-15.
There are, in fact, three interesting tidbits in these two short paragraphs

First, it is interesting that the Standing Committee took no notice of the rejection of the Covenant by the Church of England. There has been a good deal of speculation as to what one is to make of this. Here are some theories:
  • Although a majority of dioceses have voted against returning Covenant adoption to the July General Synod meeting, thereby effectively blocking adoption, the result is not official until General Synod is formally made aware of it. (This is the most benign interpretation.)
  • Church House may simply be slow in communicating officially the bad news to the Secretary General. The delay may or may not be deliberate.
  • Rejection of the Covenant is perhaps being construed as impossible. The Church of England, for example, can reconsider Covenant adoption at the next General Synod, which first meets in 2015. (See “What If England Votes Against the Covenant?”)
  •  Perhaps no one has the heart or fortitude to admit that the Covenant has been rejected by Rowan Williams’ own church, at least until the incumbent Archbishop of Canterbury has stepped down in December.
 I have no idea which of these theories, if any, might be true.

Second, it is interesting that the Standing Committee, while seemingly admitting that it might be appropriate to place a time limit on Covenant adoption—I assume this is what is meant by introducing a “timeframe”—is not yet ready to do so. At what point will Communion leaders admit that the expectation that all churches would accept the Covenant was delusional and that allowing an eternity for adoption is unreasonable, not to mention embarrassing?

Third, there is this curious sentence:
The committee also noted that the President, Chair, and Vice-Chair all hold their offices other than as representatives of their Provinces.
One suspects that this bizarre declaration is a product of anxiety about the implications of rejection of the Covenant by the Church of England. If it is construed that the Church of England is not “still in the process of adoption,” then, according to §4.2.8 of the Covenant, representatives of the Church of England cannot participate “in the decision making of the Standing Committee … in respect to section 4.2 [The Maintenance of the Covenant and Dispute Resolution].” Rowan Williams, president of the Standing Committee, and Elizabeth Paver, vice-chair of the Standing Committee, are both members of and, by any reasonable interpretation, representatives of the Church of England. If these people hold their offices “other than as representatives of their Provinces,” by virtue of what, indeed, do they hold their offices? Kevin Kallsen and George Conger over at Anglican TV, suggest that the Standing Committee is simply making up the rules as it goes along. I don’t always agree with Kevin and George, but I think they are right on target this time. It is interesting that members of the Standing Committee—I sincerely hope that this view is not shared by Katharine Jefferts Schori and Ian Douglass, the Episcopalians on the Standing committee—think it so important that Williams and Paver participate in whatever disciplinary matters that might come before the Standing Committee.

I find all this disingenuous maneuvering by the Anglican Communion leaders tiresome, and I wonder what it has to do with the advancement of the gospel. Whereas relationships between Anglican churches or between Anglican dioceses are useful, the so-called Instruments of  Communion seem to be money sinks pursuing their own agendas that have nothing to do with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Am I missing something here?

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