20 September 2011

In Favour of the Covenant

Several of us in the No Anglican Covenant Coalition have been concerned about the relative lack of serious arguments for the proposed Anglican Covenant. Most of the official argument for it seems to follow the narrative that a Covenant was proposed by the Windsor Report, the Primates' Meeting liked the idea, a Covenant Design Group was thus struck, a few drafts have been shown to various people such as the Anglican Consultative Council and the bishops who came to Lambeth, some comments have been received, and here's the final draft to be adopted by the Churches of the Anglican Communion. In other words, what we hear mostly is not so much an argument for the Covenant, but a narrative about its process. And that process has only one inevitable conclusion: adopt it already.

Pressed for more, we've been told that adoption of the Covenant would be an important symbol of our commitment to each other, and an affirmation of our loyalty to the Anglican Communion and the Archbishop of Canterbury. It will heal the rifts in the Anglican Communion, cure the common cold and, apparently, rescue Western civilisation.

But as to why a Covenant – any Covenant – is a desirable thing for the Anglican Communion, and how this Covenant – the proposal actually before us – will fit the bill, we are left without much argument at all. The whole thing is supposed to be so self-evident that no argument is required. And when some of us have raised some concerns the responses have tended to be along the lines of “you haven't read it” or “don't worry your pretty little head” or “There is No Alternative” or “it has no power at all, except to heal the rifts in the Anglican Communion, etc.” But, again, no argument from the actual text about what it will do, and how it will do it, and how that will help, and how the cure will outweigh its side-effects. Arguing against the proposed Covenant has felt at times like playing a football match with the other side not actually on the pitch but rather sitting comfortably on the sidelines occasionally calling out that we've got it wrong.

Happily, the Living Church has been quietly publishing a series of essays in favour of the Covenant. In fact, I had already commented on a couple of their essays before it was recently brought to my attention that they are part of a series. Lionel Deimel has collected the addresses of the essays in a convenient location, and links to them have also recently been added to the introductory essay.

To date, the series consists of sixteen essays, including the introduction to the series. The essays are from a wide variety of authors who come from a significant number of Churches in the Anglican Communion. All but one are male. The editors co-authored the introduction and each contributed an essay, but other than that duplication, every essay to date is from a different author. As the editors say, “It seems appropriate that those who are more favorably disposed to the Anglican Covenant make the case for it, addressing whatever concerns have been and continue to be expressed, in the United States and elsewhere.” The editors and the authors are to be commended for their efforts to that end.

Overall, the essays make for interesting reading, each adding a new voice to the debate, and most presenting an interesting perspective. They are a bit uneven in quality, as one might expect from such an ambitious project, but that doesn't detract from the value of the collection as a whole.

If I have one overarching criticism of the series, it's that it is primarily oriented toward a theological discussion of the idea of, or need for, a Covenant. Not that theology is unimportant, but we must remember that the proposal is not fundamentally a theological consensus document but a legal document, and it must be analyzed in that light. Only three of the essays to date even quote the proposed Covenant at all, and only one attempts anything like serious analysis of its text.

So, although I appreciate the effort to publish this set of essays, and look forward to more, I am still left searching for a coherent argument as to why this Covenant should be adopted.

I will explore some of the essays individually in the weeks ahead.

19 September 2011

Wellington says Yes

Anglican Taonga reports that the Diocese of Wellington, New Zealand, has voted to support the proposed Anglican Covenant. The report states:
The basic feeling of Synod was reportedly: "We must preserve unity, and the Covenant will help us do that. And we don't want to find ourselves no longer in full communion because we have not signed the Covenant".
Whilst I hope the Synod members came to a reasoned and informed conclusion about how the Covenant will help to preserve unity, the second part of the quote suggests to me that they were misinformed about the implications of signing or not signing the Covenant. The notion that failure to adopt the Covenant will result in being out of full communion has certainly been spread abroad as a kind of scare tactic, but it is not supported by the text of the proposed Covenant itself. Consider section 4.1.4:
Every Church of the Anglican Communion, as recognised in accordance with the Constitution of the Anglican Consultative Council, is invited to enter into this Covenant according to its own constitutional procedures.
Note: that's “invited” and not “required”. Each Church's constitutional procedures surely allow for a vote to reject the Covenant.

Then there's section 4.1.5:
The Instruments of Communion may invite other Churches to adopt the Covenant using the same procedures as set out by the Anglican Consultative Council for the amendment of its schedule of membership. Adoption of this Covenant does not confer any right of recognition by, or membership of, the Instruments of Communion, which shall be decided by those Instruments themselves.
So, if adoption of the Covenant does not imply membership in the Anglican Communion, neither does rejection of it imply impairment of communion, and certainly not expulsion from the Communion. The fact is that we cannot predict what other Churches might say or do in response to a principled rejection of the proposed Covenant. But each Church must come to its own conclusion about the matter without coercion or scare tactics. If a Church's General Synod (or equivalent) comes to a reasoned, informed conclusion that it is best to adopt the Covenant, then it should do so. But I would hope that any decision, for or against, is based on a thorough study of the proposed Covenant and a clear and well-informed understanding of the document and its implications. And I would hope that misinformation, such as the canard that a vote against the Covenant is a vote against the Anglican Communion, is clearly left out of the equation.