17 April 2011

Yes, Virginia, There is an Alternative

TINA: There Is No Alternative.

The slogan was used so often by Margaret Thatcher that my English friends tell me her detractors began to call her Tina.

TINA can indicate a number of possible things:

At times, it is true, that options are in short supply. And it may seem there are no choices but a single proposal on the table. But that is not the usual meaning of TINA.

TINA can also indicate a failure of imagination or initiative. In this case, it's not so much that there are no alternatives, but rather that whoever is in charge is unable to think of any, or simply couldn't be bothered.

But in its usual sense, TINA is an ideological assertion. It's not that there aren't any alternatives, but that whoever is saying TINA is unwilling to entertain any other options than that which is being pushed. In this sense, TINA is a slogan. It's propaganda, which dismisses any attempt to suggest that alternatives should be imagined and explored. It's a slightly less impolite way of saying, “my way or the highway.” TINA is the slogan of what is euphemistically called strong and decisive leadership, or bullying in plain English.

TINA has taken a central place in the narrative in support of the proposed Anglican Covenant. We are told that it is the Covenant or the demise of the Anglican Communion. We are told that there are no other options, so we'd better get on board with the right side of history and support the Covenant. I'm not here launching an ad hominem attack on the leadership of the Anglican Communion. I'm not calling them Margaret Thatchers or bullies. Nor am I suggesting that they are deliberately engaging in propaganda. I am prepared to believe that they honestly believe that there is no alternative to the Anglican Covenant as proposed.

But they're wrong. TINA isn't true. There are alternatives.

Earlier, I wrote about Instrument Choice. In a nutshell, Instrument Choice is about exploring alternatives to legislation before committing to going the legislative route. Sometimes Instrument Choice is either/or; sometimes it's both/and. It depends on the specifics of a given issue, the problem, the range of proposed solutions, and the specific goals. But Instrument Choice has been bypassed in the quest to address the malaise of the Anglican Communion. Instead of looking at options a few years ago, the Instruments of Communion seized on the suggestion of a Covenant and immediately committed to it. TINA.

Drawing on a paper by Les Pal, I wrote previously about the option of Capacity and Institution Building. From the perspective of government, this way of dealing with problems means equipping local agencies to deal more effectively with the problems on the ground. From the perspective of the Anglican Communion, it might mean helping Churches to engage in dialogue more effectively, and strengthening the Instruments of Communion and the various agencies of the Anglican Communion to be more effective in promoting and facilitating encounters between Churches and church leaders.

Strengthening the Instruments of Communion is precisely what was suggested by the Virginia Report. Although the purpose of the report was not to give specific recommendations, it did raise a number of questions with respect to the desirability of strengthening the Instruments, and also regarding the possibility of enhancing the roles of the lower clergy and the laity in the Communion through the vehicle of a periodic Anglican Congress which, like the Lambeth Conference of bishops, would be held every ten years. Addressing the need to strengthen the Lambeth Conference by addressing the issue of attentiveness, or of hearing voices that are not always heard, the Virginia Report says:
Increasing the opportunities for, and occasions of, Christian attentiveness should be promoted and protected at the Lambeth Conference. This will allow the bishops gathered at Lambeth to share in, to be shaped by and to show forth the attentiveness of God the Father's love as we know it in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. (section 6.15)
Thus, for example, special care must be taken to facilitate the hearing of bishops whose first language is not English, and to hear the voices of women bishops. Lambeth 2008 tried to get at the issue of attentiveness through the Indaba process. Although some have criticized Indaba because it did not produce any resolutions, that was not its point. Its point was to empower the Lambeth Conference to do its job more effectively by providing a mechanism by which the bishops could be more attentive to each other.

Similarly, a recent initiative to gather Canadian and African bishops for dialogue specifically on questions of sexuality has borne some initial fruit. Opportunities to meet, to worship together, to speak candidly and openly with each other and to do the hard work of building relationships can only strengthen the Communion.

The Virginia Report also reminded bishops of their accountability to the marginalized:
Bishops are accountable for their words and actions at Lambeth, before God and the whole Church. The bishops at Lambeth are to represent those who have no voice: those who can rely on no one else to tell their story and plead their case; those whose concerns society and/or the Church have chosen, sometimes deliberately, sometimes forgetfully, [not] to address. It is when the bishops consider themselves accountable to those who have the least that they discover the way of the Kingdom of God. (section 6.20)
In other words, Lambeth is not to be a venue for exercising power, but one for careful listening and deliberation, particularly with regard to those who normally have no voice in Church and society.

The Virginia Report also made some observations about the Anglican Consultative Council, noting:
It is important that the representation be balanced between laity and clergy, with greater continuity of membership than at present. Representatives should have entree to the councils of their own church and be knowledgeable about its concerns and interests. (section 6.26)
That is, staffing of the ACC through the various Churches' appointment processes is an essential consideration. We need to ensure that the people we send are the best and the brightest, that they are well informed and that they have access to engage in conversations with the governance structures in their own churches. I have no evidence that this is not generally the case, but obviously the authors of the Virginia Report thought it necessary to address.

Strengthening the work of Lambeth, the Primates' Meeting and the ACC through attention to appointment processes, and mechanisms for respectful and attentive dialogue, as well as providing for discussion and relationship building through mechanisms such as the recent meeting in Tanzania of Canadian and African bishops, and diocesan partnerships, are long-term sorts of projects. But such exercises in Institution Building bear long term dividends in the form of healthier governance and its benefits.

I can see why the proposed Anglican Covenant seems more attractive than the longer-term option of institution building. It's quick, and it's more tangible. Building relationships takes time and effort and generally doesn't produce documents that can be shown as evidence that we've done something. But in my view it's more satisfying and, in the long term, it's likely to produce more good.

But the idea that there is only one way to strengthen the Anglican Communion is simply not true. TINA is an illusion. So, Virginia, there is an alternative.


  1. And, Virginia, although the ABC has white hair and a white beard (well, okay, grey), he is not Santa Claus, or St Nicholas, if you will, and he will not give you presents if you sign the covenant.

    Alan, well done. There are alternatives, just none that the ABC wants to contemplate.

  2. And perhaps Section 3 of the Proposed Covenant [I use that terminology deliberately - it isn't a Covenant until and unless it is agreed to] might point the way to a mechanism for working together to address differences. But to be able to do so in a respectful way Section 4.2 needs to be removed. Is endorsement of Sections 1 to 3 [granted there are some odd parts to them, like the gloss on the 5 Marks of Mission] but rejection of Section 4 a way forward?

    A further comment: communion [small "c"] depends not on Covenants but on practice on the ground - a fact which was rubbed in our faces when our diocesan was a woman, and her episcopacy and those ordained by her not recognised by some Anglicans, despite Provinces having been given the go-ahead by the ACC for the ordination of women.

  3. Hi Tony!

    I agree with most of what you say. The commitments in section 3.2 more or less say "whatever else, we commit to continuing to meet, worship, pray, and talk together." The question is, do we need to sign a Covenant to do that?

    As to whether we should simply adopt sections 1-3 and reject section 4, I've addressed that here.

    Of course, politically I suppose a bunch of Provinces could do just that anyway, which would leave an interesting statement. It would be a revolution of sorts: a de facto unilateral amendment of the text. Or, the progressive Provinces could conspire to adopt the Covenant and then quickly amend it before anyone noticed, dropping section 4.2. All it takes is 3/4 of the signatories. It would be dirty pool, of course, but creative dirty pool.

    I also try consistently to use the phrase "proposed Covenant" for the same reason as you.

  4. Catchy Blog Title????



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