13 May 2011

What goes on in the Emerald Isle?

It has been reported that the Church of Ireland has “subscribed” to the Anglican Covenant.

But what does that mean?

Evidently, a great deal was made in the debate of the difference in Irish polity between the impact of subscribing to the Covenant rather than adopting it. Trouble is, there is no mechanism in the Covenant to subscribe to it. According to section 4.1, a church can “adopt” the Covenant. And specifically according to section 4.1.6, the “Covenant becomes active for a Church when that Church adopts the Covenant.” No mention of subscribing.

And section 4.2.8 states that:
Participation in the decision making of the Standing Committee or of the Instruments of Communion in respect to section 4.2 shall be limited to those members of the Instruments of Communion who are representatives of those churches who have adopted the Covenant, or who are still in the process of adoption.
So, whatever the Church of Ireland thought it was doing by subscribing to the Covenant, it appears that it has not adopted it, and thus it is not “active” for the Church of Ireland. Nor can the representatives of the Church of Ireland participate in the dispute settling processes of section 4.2.

Question: is the Emerald City in the Emerald Isle?

I don't think we're in Kansas anymore.

05 May 2011

Ceding Jurisdiction

In my recent test-drive of the proposed Anglican Covenant, I explored what might happen if a specific resolution of the Canadian General Synod were to be challenged under the terms of the Covenant. The resolution, A186, adopted in 2007 reads:
That this General Synod resolves that the blessing of same-sex unions is not in conflict with the core doctrine (in the sense of being creedal) of The Anglican Church of Canada.
I suggested that this resolution constitutes the General Synod's definition of doctrine on the question of same-sex blessings pursuant to its jurisdiction over the definition of doctrine under its Declaration of Principles, section 6(i).

The Declaration of Principles is part of the constitutional framework of the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada. (The other parts are the Constitution and the Rules of Order and Procedure). Among other things, it sets out the areas of jurisdiction held by the General Synod and the Synods of the four internal Provinces in Canada. (Canada, Rupert's Land, Ontario and British Columbia and Yukon. Yes, “Canada” is also the name of an internal Province. We like to get good mileage out of names.)

In my test-drive, I suggested that if the Standing Committee were to declare Resolution A186 incompatible with the Covenant, that would create a constitutional crisis for Canada:
If we've got this far the General Synod will have adopted the Covenant, and the Covenant states repeatedly (e.g., sections 3.2.2, 4.1.3) that it respects the constitutional autonomy of the signatory Churches. So now you have two processes, both recognized by the General Synod, which have come to opposite conclusions on the same issue. How is the General Synod to resolve the matter? Either it will have to revisit Resolution A186 and rescind it, or live with whatever “relational consequences” befall it - or withdraw from the Covenant, pursuant to section 4.3.1 and live with whatever consequences that would trigger. And as for the Covenant's assurance of respect for constitutional autonomy, it's empty. Because true respect for the constitutional autonomy of the Anglican Church of Canada would mean that the Standing Committee would have to decline to rule on any question about Resolution A186, or any constitutionally similar resolution.
Simply accepting whatever relational consequences ensue and carrying on is really not an option, if that includes being suspended from participation in the Instruments of Communion or otherwise breaking communion. For one thing, section 1 of the Declaration of Principles, also known as the Solemn Declaration, states that “We declare this Church to be, and desire that it shall continue, in full communion with the Church of England throughout the world....” (The language is from 1893 and may not be altered.) And that declaration is not merely the sentiment of our Victorian forebears, it also reflects the ongoing commitment of the Canadian Church to be an active member of the Anglican Communion. So there would be little choice but to revisit the resolution.

In effect, then, the freedom to exercise its power to define doctrine would be denied the General Synod by its participation in the Covenant. This would constitute a de facto ceding of that jurisdiction to the Standing Committee, for the Standing Committee would hold effective veto power.

The imposition of relational consequences would also have other constitutional implications for Canada. Section 6(d) gives the General Synod jurisdiction over “the relations of the [Anglican] Church [of Canada] to other Churches of the Anglican Communion.” If the relational consequences were sufficiently severe as to constitute shunning of the Anglican Church of Canada, there might be no way for the General Synod to exercise that power.

Not every power of the General Synod would realistically be at risk under the proposed Covenant. For example, it's hard to imagine anyone raising a question concerning the General Synod's exercise of its jurisdiction over “the establishment, operation and maintenance of a general pension fund.” (Section 6(m)). But in addition to definition of doctrine, it is not inconceivable that questions from other Churches could at some point be raised concerning issues such as the contents of the Canadian Book of Common Prayer (Section 6(j)) or the “qualifications ... of candidates for the ministry of the Church.” (Section 6(l)) (Here I have in mind particularly moral qualifications for clergy, such as marital status, and even sexual orientation or gender.) And there is nothing in the proposed Covenant that limits such questions to future actions. Indeed, its whole purpose is to address actions that have already been taken.

The proposed Covenant tries to reassure us that “[n]othing in this Covenant of itself shall be deemed to alter any provision of the Constitution and Canons of any Church of the Communion, or to limit its autonomy of governance.” And furthermore that “[t]he Covenant does not grant to any one Church or agency of the Communion control or direction over any Church of the Anglican Communion.” (Section 4.1.3) It also commits signatories “to respect the constitutional autonomy of all of the Churches of the Anglican Communion.” (Section 3.2.2) But these assurances are empty if the Standing Committee has effective veto power over decisions and actions of a Church. (See also my previous comments on this point.)

And even if, as suggested by Chancellor Ron Stevenson, a Church in adopting the Covenant were to include a clause in its Act of Synod to the effect that the adoption of the Covenant does not imply any constitutional change or limitation of jurisdiction, the whole point of the proposed Covenant is to restrain the exercise of autonomy.

I have written specifically from the perspective of the Anglican Church of Canada, because that's the constitution I know best, but I suggest that the same issue applies to all churches of the Anglican Communion. And being a Church of a different status won't make any difference. Whether established, disestablished, quasi-established or unestablished, adoption of the proposed Covenant will have constitutional implications for any Church that takes that step.

Adopting the proposed Covenant, in effect, would imply ceding jurisdiction.

03 May 2011

Mostly Harmless

I have had a number of conversations with well-informed, thoughtful Anglicans, many of them in leadership positions such as Synod members and bishops and ecclesiastical lawyers, which convince me that a large number of people have essentially adopted a narrative about the proposed Anglican Covenant, a narrative which seems to be relatively uninfluenced by anything like reading the document. Their comments typically go like this:
I don't actually believe that the Covenant will accomplish what it is supposed to do. It won't really address the tensions in the Anglican Communion. But I don't believe that it is the Abomination of Desolation, either. I don't think it's going to have any ill effect. Recommendations of Relational Consequences are nothing to worry about.
This reminds me of the succinct description of the Earth and its inhabitants in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: “Mostly harmless.” Not to mention feckless.

I'm not sure about that assessment, but let's assume it for a minute. What amazes me is the conclusion reached based on it:
Since it's mostly harmless, even if it's also not likely to produce any positive effects, I will vote to support it because by doing so we can show our commitment to the Anglican Communion and our loyalty to the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Now, I am committed to the Anglican Communion, and loyal to the Archbishop of Canterbury, but I don't grasp how this conclusion follows from the assumption that the proposed Covenant is both harmless and feckless.

First, the tensions in the Anglican Communion are well known and beyond dispute. And they certainly need to be addressed creatively. If we don't believe that the proposed Covenant is the vehicle to do so, then why support it? Especially, why continue to support the narrative that the proposed Covenant will help us to strengthen the Communion if we don't actually believe the narrative? It would be like the World Health Organization going round injecting people with some inert substance like saline solution during a flu pandemic in the hope that the placebo effect will stop the spread of flu, or at least that they will give a convincing impression of doing something. It's no good pretending that something we believe won't help will be of any use to us. That's not a very effective way of demonstrating commitment to the Anglican Communion, let alone actually doing something constructive about the aforementioned tensions.

And as to demonstrating loyalty to the Archbishop of Canterbury, surely supporting a proposed Covenant which we believe will eventually just sit harmlessly on a shelf gathering dust is equally ineffective. Do we participate in a charade simply to avoid hurting the Archbishop's feelings, or to cheer him up by giving him something in the win column? Is that not to play the role of the royal advisers, praising the Emperor's new clothes to his face whilst trying to avoid sniggering behind his naked back? In what way is that loyal to the Archbishop?

All that assumes that the assessment that the proposed Covenant is harmless is correct. But I don't believe that to be the case. Regular readers of this blog, if any, will know that I have some grave concerns about every section of the proposed Covenant, not least section 4.2, which sets out the mechanism for addressing disagreements in the Anglican Communion. The lack of definition of what constitutes a matter of concern, the ambiguity in the definition of the parameters of faith and practice in authentic Anglicanism, the unclear, arbitrary and unjust process by which questions will be decided, all give every reason to worry that the process will be anything but harmless. And when relational consequences are imposed (yes, “imposed”; not merely “recommended”, for recommendations will be expected to be implemented) following a vague and arbitrary process, there may be real harm to the Anglican Communion and possibly to its churches.

What kind of harm to its churches, you ask? For an example, consider a lawsuit which is still before the courts in Canada. Some Anglicans who left the Diocese of New Westminster sued the diocese in an attempt to gain ownership of the church properties and other assets that they were trying to take with them. They lost in the lower court and again on appeal. They are currently applying to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. Part of their argument was that they, the dissenters, and not the Diocese of New Westminster, were the true Anglicans, and thus that they were entitled to keep the properties. The court found that the Diocese of New Westminster was in fact the true representative of the Anglican Communion in Vancouver. As evidence, the court cited the fact that Bishop of New Westminster had been invited to the Lambeth Conference (whilst the dissenters' “bishop” had not) and other points. But what if the Anglican Church of Canada had been subject to relational consequences pursuant to the proposed Covenant? What if we had been suspended from participation in the Lambeth Conference and the other Instruments of Communion? Although it might not have been fatal to the defence of the lawsuit, such a state of affairs certainly would have introduced an element of risk on the point of who, if anyone, were the authentic Anglicans. And that kind of risk we could do without. And even if you don't think your own church is ever likely to be engaged in such lawsuits, why inflict that risk on others? Isn't the Covenant process supposed to be about taking other churches into consideration?

And even if the proposed Covenant cannot be definitively demonstrated to put churches at risk of losing lawsuits, what of the potential for being tied up in endless dispute-settling procedures on other areas of tension? For friction in the relationships in the Anglican Communion is not limited to sex, nor will the current tensions, if resolved, be the last we face. There is a significant number of possible areas of conflict waiting in the wings, such as lay presidency at the eucharist, admission of unconfirmed children to communion, admission of unbaptized persons to communion, differences in practice with respect to remarriage after divorce and the implications for clergy, interfaith dialogue, and ongoing differences with respect to the ordination of women, especially as bishops. What will happen when a woman is appointed as Archbishop of Canterbury, if some churches can't accept her authority as an Instrument of Communion? Could a question be raised as to whether the Church of England in making the appointment was not sufficiently cautious, or failed to obtain sufficient consensus? How harmless will the Covenant look then? Either it will have no effect, in which case the tensions remain and fester, or it will make things worse. Neither outcome is particularly attractive, to say the least.

I could be wrong. Maybe the proposed Covenant is as harmless as some people believe. But if it is, then it is also as feckless as that narrative suggests. In that case, rather than adopting a Covenant for purely symbolic reasons, wouldn't it be better to be honest and adopt a resolution affirming our commitment to the Anglican Communion and our loyalty to the Archbishop of Canterbury? And if I'm right, if the proposed Covenant is not harmless, is it responsible to sleepwalk into adopting it for all the wrong reasons, and then be stuck with the consequences?

02 May 2011

Test Driving the Anglican Covenant – Part 2

In part 1 of my test drive, I looked at possible outcomes if a question were to be raised under the proposed Anglican Covenant with respect to a resolution of the Anglican Church of Canada. The resolution in question is A186 from the 2007 meeting. I chose this resolution because it is obviously controversial and is precisely the sort of thing that might attract attention under the proposed Covenant. It reads:
That this General Synod resolves that the blessing of same-sex unions is not in conflict with the core doctrine (in the sense of being creedal) of The Anglican Church of Canada.
But if a question were to be raised with respect to this resolution, how might the Standing Committee go about determining whether it is compatible with the Covenant?

There are two aspects to this question: process and standards. The process, such as it is, is laid out in section 4.2 of the proposed Covenant. I've already commented extensively on the merits of the process, but essentially it is open-ended. The Standing Committee can consult anyone it pleases and then make up its mind in whatever manner it wishes. Putting the best face on it, let's assume that the Standing Committee might consult the various Instruments of Communion, particularly those that meet frequently. It might consult the Inter Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission, or the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity Faith and Order. Presumably it would ask for input from the Anglican Church of Canada and whoever raised the question. It might also consult with other Churches. Frankly, if it wants to give the impression of being as credible as possible, I imagine the Standing Committee is likely to err on the side of consulting too far and too wide rather than run the risk of being accused of not consulting enough. Having consulted and sought advice, the Standing Committee would then take that advice into consideration and make its decision.

But what about the standards by which it would decide? That's in sections 1-3 of the proposed Covenant.

It might be argued that the declaration is incompatible with the Covenant because:
it is contrary to Scripture and the catholic and apostolic faith. (Sections 1.1.2, 1.1.3, 1.2.1)

it impairs the “apostolic mission of the whole people of God” and is a barrier to ecumenical co-operation in that mission. (Section 1.1.8)

it is contrary to “Christian theological and moral reasoning and discipline that is rooted in ... Holy Scripture and the catholic tradition.” (Section 1.2.2)

it causes a breach in communion (Sections 2.1.1, 3.1.2, 3.2.7)

it is a failure to “have regard for the common good of the Communion in the exercise of ... autonomy.” (Section 3.2.1)

it is against the counsel of the Lambeth Conference (Resolution I.10 of 1998, Section 3.2.1)

adoption of the resolution is a failure “to act with diligence care and caution in respect of [an] action which may provoke controversy.” (Section 3.2.5)
A response might be made that:
the declaration is part of “proclaim[ing] ... in our [Canadian] context the grace of God revealed in the gospel.” (Preamble)

the declaration is not contrary to our reading of Scripture or the catholic and apostolic faith, which is a matter of interpretation. If the Creeds are the “sufficient statement of the Christian faith” (section 1.1.4) they are silent on the issue.
we see this declaration as "prophetic and faithful leadership" which constitutes "courageous witness to the power of the gospel in the world" (Section 1.2.6)
it is important to our mission in our context to take this step, in particular as a response “to human need by loving service” and “transform[ing] unjust structures of society.” (Sections 2.2.2.c, 2.2.2.d)

it is an affirmation of the incorporation of all people into the Church through baptism. (Section 3.1.1)

it is not an act intended to break communion, nor do we believe that it is a matter over which communion ought to be broken.

it is a legitimate exercising of the constitutional autonomy of the Church. (Section 3.2.2, Declaration of Principles 6(i))

we have spent much time in openness and patience in this matter of theological debate. (3.2.3)

a failure to declare this action compatible with the Covenant would violate the Covenant's protection of constitutional autonomy. (Sections 3.2.2, 4.1.3)
Obviously this list of arguments is not exhaustive, and some of the arguments are stronger than others on both sides. The point here is that arguments could be raised from within the framework of the Covenant to support either the claim that the declaration is incompatible or compatible with the Covenant. I have already suggested that the three possible outcomes would each have difficulties attached to them and would not solve the matter. How the Standing Committee would come to its decision is complex. In the end, the proposed Covenant is sufficiently ambiguous that a final decision would be a matter of interpretation from a number of perspectives. I suspect that other considerations would come into play, including political considerations. That would only make matters worse. And, given that there is no way to appeal the decision of the Standing Committee, someone would walk away very dissatisfied.

What would be the “relational consequences” then?