08 June 2011

Not Punitive?

Part of the narrative pushing the proposed Anglican Covenant toward adoption is the assertion that relational consequences are not punitive in nature. They are, the narrative says, simply the natural outcome of actions taken by a Church that others suggest may be incompatible with the Covenant. So, if a Church insists on exercising the autonomy supposedly guaranteed by the Covenant in a manner which is rash or inappropriate or irresponsible, then certain consequences ensue and that's life. It's your fault that you got wet because you went out in the rain without an umbrella. Tough.

But, I respond, if these consequences are natural then they are presumably predictable. And if they are natural, then they hardly need to be recommended or implemented, do they? They will just happen. When you go out in the rain sans umbrella, no-one has to recommend that you get wet. And the implementation requires no human intervention. So why the need for soliciting advice, and issuing recommendations?

Besides, continues the narrative, these are after all only recommendations. Whether consequences ensue or not will depend on whether the recommendations are accepted by whomever they are issued to. It is, after all, up to each Church or Instrument of Communion to decide whether or not to accept the recommendations. (See section 4.2.7)

Yes, but. Section 3.2.1 commits signatory Churches to support the Instruments of Communion “and to endeavour to accommodate their recommendations.” And given that the Standing Committee acts for two Instruments (the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates' Meeting) and includes a third (the Archbishop of Canterbury) it seems that failure to “accommodate [its] recommendations” would in itself be incompatible with the Covenant. And although the Instruments of Communion themselves are not signatories, and thus not bound by the proposed Covenant, it would be very difficult to imagine the Anglican Consultative Council, or the Primates' Meeting or the Archbishop of Canterbury rejecting recommendations from the Standing Committee, given that its membership consists wholly of people from those three Instruments, and the process of determining recommendations involves input from the first two. (Section 4.2.4)

Anyway, says the narrative, the relational consequences would already exist. It's not like the Standing Committee would be recommending something that's not already in place.

Really? It's true that there might be a state of impaired communion between two Churches or perhaps two groups of Churches before the dispute giving rise to that state reaches the Standing Committee. But that's not the only possible relational consequence. And up to that point it would be unilateral. So, yes, I suppose we could see the Standing Committee giving sanction to a unilateral declaration of impaired communion. And would that “recommendation” apply only to the Church which has made the declaration, or would it also be made to the other Churches of the Communion, in order to isolate the “offending” Church? And what of relational consequences that involve a limitation of or suspension from participation in an Instrument of Communion? Obviously that state of affairs would not exist before the recommendation is made.

Finally, says the narrative, relational consequences are just that. They're not a punishment, just the outcome of a simple nexus of cause and effect.

How genteel. And a penitentiary is nothing more than a place where people go to consider the naughtiness of their ways and repent thereof. A place of penitence.

No matter how you slice it, relational consequences are coercive in nature. Look at section 4.2.5:
The Standing Committee may request a Church to defer a controversial action. If a Church declines to defer such action, the Standing Committee may recommend to any Instrument of Communion relational consequences which may specify a provisional limitation of participation in, or suspension from, that Instrument until the completion of the process set out below.
In other words, stop what you're doing until we make a decision or else. It may not be punishment in the sense of retribution, but it does fit the definition of punishment as “a caution against further transgression.” (Shorter Oxford English Dictionary) The purpose of the recommendation of relational consequences is to influence behaviour. It is the use of coercive power. And whether that power is used provisionally during the investigative phase of the dispute settling process, or at the outcome of the process doesn't make any difference. Relational consequences are just a rose by another name. And they smell as sweet.

Recommendations of relational consequences aren't punitive? Somewhere I think I've heard that line before....
'Do you know where you are, Winston?' [O'Brien] said.

'I don't know. I can guess. In the Ministry of Love.'


'And why do you imagine that we bring people to this place?'

'To make them confess.'

'No, that is not the reason. Try again.'

'To punish them.'

'No!' exclaimed O'Brien. His voice had changed extraordinarily, and his face had suddenly become both stern and animated. 'No! Not merely to extract your confession, not to punish you. Shall I tell you why we have brought you here? To cure you! To make you sane!'


  1. Alan, you always amaze me! So to the point and sooooo rational! May I post on fb?

  2. Elizabeth: You are very kind.

    Muthah: You, too! And do feel free to post wherever you think it might be useful.


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