30 October 2012

Anglican Math

There's an old joke about three people being interviewed for a job as an accountant. The interviewer asks, “how much is two plus two?” The first confidently says, “four.” The second, not to be outdone, says, “four point zero.” The third says, “how much do you want it to be?”

I think the third is working for the Anglican Communion Office.

The Anglican Consultative Council is meeting in New Zealand as I write, and is in the process of considering the status of the proposed Anglican Covenant. In the opening presentation on the topic, the assembled Council were updated on what the various churches around the Anglican Communion have done with the Covenant to date. There are, they were told, three categories of response.

In category A there are nine churches. Eight were said to have adopted the Covenant.
Those in the so-called Category A that have approved the covenant are Ireland, Mexico, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, Southern Cone of America, and the West Indies. In addition, according to the document, South East Asia adopted the covenant with an added preamble of its own and the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia has subscribed to the covenant’s first three sections but said it cannot adopt section 4, which outlines a process for resolving disputes.
That left the Scottish Episcopal Church all on its own as having “refused” to adopt the Covenant.

It's funny how you can add up churches' responses and come to eight approvals. Ireland didn't approve the Covenant; rather it “subscribed” it. Whatever they intended by “subscribe” wasn't entirely clear but it was clear that they didn't mean “adopt,” which is the verb actually in the text. As the Anglican Communion News Service put it at the time, “in the course of the Synod debate it was stressed that the word 'subscribe' in relation to the Covenant, rather than 'adopt', was important.”

Similarly, South East Asia chose a different verb, voting to “accede to” the Covenant, rather than to adopt it. And, as noted above, they did so in the context of a lengthy preamble which effectively amends the document unilaterally. So, which Covenant exactly did they accede to? Not the one on offer, evidently.

As for the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia approving the Covenant, that's not the impression one gets from the text of the motion they adopted in July, which stated that that church “is unable to adopt the proposed Anglican Covenant due to concerns about aspects of Section 4, but subscribes to Sections 1, 2, and 3 as currently drafted as a useful starting point for consideration of our Anglican understanding of the church. The Anglican Communion News Service story that reported this turn of events depicted the resolution as “a final 'No.'”

So we have five “adopts,” one “subscribe, but definitely not adopt” one “accede to our own version” and one pretty definite “no” which somehow add up to eight “yeses”.

Anglican Math.

Category B is just as convoluted.

The Episcopal Church, which just last July “declined to take a position” on the Covenant, is depicted as having made a “partial decision,” which I suppose is meant to convey that they're in the process of adopting the Covenant and will certainly say Yes once they assume a position. At least as certainly as New Zealand has, at any rate. Similarly Australia and Canada, which have both sent the document to dioceses for study are in this category. And most bizarrely so, too, is the Church of England, whose dioceses have voted the Covenant down rather soundly. Korea and Melanesia have both expressed difficulties with section 4 of the Covenant, and are also counted as having made “partial decisions.” About the only Church that I can see that actually fits in this category is South Africa, which has in fact given preliminary approval to the Covenant, but needs to ratify that decision (or not) at its next Synod meeting. But then, a category of one isn't much of a category, not that it bothers the Anglican Communion Office.

Category C consists of just one Church, the Philippines. Their Council of Bishops has rejected the Covenant. But the Anglican Communion Office isn't quite certain what that means, exactly, and are seeking clarification.

Here's a hint: it means “no.”

I suppose if all this Anglican Math means that churches that say “no” are counted as having said “yes” and churches that say “maybe to something else” are also counted as saying “yes”, and churches that say “let us do a bit of due diligence before we answer” are counted as having made a “partial decision” (which, nudge, nudge, means “yes”) before long everyone will have adopted the Anglican Covenant without actually voting to do so. Except the Scottish Episcopal Church, who, like the cheese, will stand alone.

1 comment:

  1. ...before long everyone will have adopted the Anglican Covenant without actually voting to do so. Except the Scottish Episcopal Church, who, like the cheese, will stand alone.

    Alan, that's how the putting-facts-on-the-ground strategy works. Say it enough times, and it will be true. The Windsor Report morphed into rules that must be obeyed with just such a strategy.

    As for me, I want to stand with the cheese, and I'm disappointed that TEC didn't vote the covenant down.


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