09 December 2012

Theological Analysis?

Two and a half years ago, at its triennial meeting, the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada adopted Resolution A137 calling, in large part, for consultation on the proposed Anglican Covenant by the Council of General Synod (COGS) with dioceses. In order to facilitate the consultation, the resolution requested three things: a Study Guide, and, to support the study process, a Legal analysis of the Covenant and a Theological analysis of the Covenant. The latter two were to discuss the legal/canonical and theological/ecclesiological implications of adopting or not adopting the Covenant. At the end of the consultation process, COGS is to make a recommendation with respect to adoption of the Anglican Covenant to the next General Synod meeting, in 2013.

A year later, in June 2011, the Study Guide was released. At the time, in commending the study guide, I suggested that the two analysis documents would be useful background before actually embarking on a full study of the Covenant. For without expert analysis of the legal and theological meaning and implications of the Covenant, any study would be incomplete.

Within days of the Study Guide, the legal analysis was released. This very thorough study of the Covenant raised a number of serious concerns including the lack of definition of key terms which was so serious that it would be impossible to know what one was agreeing to in adopting the Covenant. Equally serious is the violation of natural justice (procedural fairness) in the dispute-settling mechanism of section 4.2. In my comments on the legal analysis, I said that I was looking forward eagerly to the theological analysis in order to have a complete picture of the proposed Covenant. As I said at the time, “the legal analysis has established a very high standard.”

And so we waited.

Then three weeks ago, published highlights from the Council of General Synod's meeting indicated that COGS had received the long-awaited theological study. I happened to be on vacation at the time, so when I returned I looked for the study. I thought it might have been posted on the Anglican Church of Canada website with the Study Guide and Legal study. But it wasn't. So I asked the General Synod office for a copy and received one by e-mail within a few minutes of my request.

It wasn't worth the wait. To say that I was disappointed is an understatement.

The report begins by saying, perhaps by way of excuse, that the anonymous group of authors “found it impossible to achieve consensus on what [the implications of adoption or non-adoption] might be.” They go on to say that “this is not a matter of interpreting the document itself differently, but rather due to the divergent perceptions of the context in which the text of the Covenant came to exist and is now being read.”

So, if I understand correctly, the committee had no trouble interpreting the text of the Covenant, and in fact agreed on that interpretation. But they couldn't agree on what it means due to “divergent contexts”. Huh?

So what does the Covenant mean, divorced from context? The committee doesn't bother to say. In fact, the report is very thin on analysis. They don’t seem to engage with the text of the Covenant, nor is there much reference to theology broadly or ecclesiology narrowly. I would have hoped that there would be some articulation of what Anglican ecclesiology is and some discussion of the extent to which the Covenant is congruent with that ecclesiology. For example, they don’t engage at all with the question of how having a dispute-settling mechanism in an interprovincial treaty impinges on our ecclesiological assumptions of autonomous Provinces governed by bishops-in-synods. Nor do they engage with the theological meaning of, say, section 1.1’s definition of the faith, which I have characterised as elastic, or the gloss on the Marks of Mission in section 2.2. Nor again do they touch on the traditional use of Hooker’s schema of Scripture, Tradition and Reason in our theologizing, or why the Covenant seems to leave out Reason. I would also have looked for some engagement with the descriptions of the Instruments of Communion in section 3.1.

In the last paragraph, the report suggests that “sections 1-3 ... articulate some of the principles of contemporary Anglicanism,” though leaving us in the dark exactly how these sections do so. But in fact this suggests a very superficial reading of the Covenant text. Sections 1.1, 2.1 and 3.1 do attempt to set out some basic principles in outline of what it means to be an Anglican Christian, though not at any depth of theological or ecclesiological analysis. But sections 1.2, 2.2 and 3.2 contain some specific commitments, which go beyond articulating principles of contemporary Anglicanism. And, as I have suggested before, there is a problem in section 1.1 with suggesting that the “historic formularies” of the Church of England can simply be transported into our modern context and assumed thus to be “contemporary.” At the very least we would need some discussion on how, exactly, these historic formularies can be received and used authentically in our own context. For the Anglican Communion of the 21st century is not the Church of England of the 16th and 17th centuries.

My overall impression is that they have not engaged with the question they were asked, having to do with the theological and ecclesiological implications of adopting or not adopting the Covenant. Instead, they have given a brief and superficial political analysis that seems to come down to a suggestion that how one reads the Covenant will depend on whether one likes it or dislikes it, and that this will influence how one might vote on it, as well as one’s interpretation of the implications of the vote.

If I were using this document to help come to an informed decision on how to vote at General Synod, I would find myself no further ahead.

The bottom line seems to be that after a two and a half year wait for a serious theological analysis of the Anglican Covenant, in order to come to some kind of informed decision as to its adoption, we have been presented with a slap-dash all-nighter reflecting the most superficial reading of the Covenant, virtually no engagement with or quotation of the actual text, and nothing that looks like theology to me in the whole document. We really do have some theologians in the Anglican Church of Canada, but you'd never guess that from this document. No wonder the authors left their names off it.

So, we are left with six months before the General Synod meets. We have a very fine study guide from the Canadian Church (which was produced in time to allow it actually to be used), and we have an equally fine legal analysis (also provided with plenty of lead time). Theological analysis? Not so much. But we can only work with what we have and what we have suggests, albeit without stating it in those terms, that we shouldn't touch the Covenant with a barge pole.

General Synod will meet in July, presumably to make a decision on the proposed Covenant, without the benefit of the theological analysis it asked for. But the legal analysis should be enough to decide that the only rational vote on the Covenant will be “no.”

07 November 2012

Fallout from New Zealand

The Anglican Consultative Council has finished its meeting in New Zealand, and now we can evaluate the meeting's implications for the proposed Anglican Covenant.

First, there was a rather confused report on the “progress” of the Covenant process in which the authors demonstrated difficulty counting and an apparent inability to understand the word “no” as I have commented before.

Second, there was apparently some conversation about the proposed Covenant.

But third, and quite interestingly, I think, there were no resolutions on the Covenant. So all the ACC did with it was to receive a report on its status with very questionable figures. But notwithstanding some comments about their conversations on the Covenant, formally they said nothing.

(You can see all the ACC resolutions here).

Given that there were no resolutions on the Covenant, the ACC has thus made no formal comment about its status or the direction of the project. We have therefore no indication of an answer to the question raised by the Church in Wales as to the status of the Covenant in the light of the Church of England's decidedly negative vote in its diocesan synods. (This rather bizarrely depicted as a “partial decision” by the report to the ACC.) So the poor Church in Wales, and anyone else waiting for the answer to the same question, is left in the dark.

Nor has the ACC chosen to suggest any criteria for when we might know if the project is either a stunning success or dead in the water. In the summer, after the Episcopal Church's General Convention, I reported that there was talk about setting a deadline for adoption of the Covenant, and specifying a minimum number of churches that should adopt it for it to be in effect. Obviously, I was wrong.

In a related move, the ACC has amended the fourth Mark of Mission, which makes section 2.2.2 of the Covenant out of step, as I predicted previously. Now that the fourth Mark of Mission has new language incorporated into it (in lieu of introducing a sixth Mark of Mission) the quotation in section 2.2.2.d is out of date. The only remedy, as I noted before, is to go through the rather cumbersome process of amending the Covenant, which really doesn't make sense unless and until a critical mass of Churches adopt it.

But given the ACC's silence on the questions surrounding the Covenant, we are left wondering whether this is a project worth spending any time on. Should we continue to study and deliberate on the proposed Covenant, or simply walk away and find a better project, such as the Continuing Indaba process, which the ACC endorsed in a resolution?

I conclude from the ACC's silence on the Covenant that it is moving on from the project. If it's not important enough for the ACC to comment on officially, then it's lost its significance for the Communion. I think it can be shelved.

The ACC took a brief glance at the Covenant as it sank unceremoniously beneath the waves of Auckland Harbour, but made no efforts to stage a rescue.

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.

28 July 2012

Taking stock ...and what's next?

As we enter the lazy days of Summer, and people are distracted by a sporting event in the British capital, whose name I won't mention for fear of winning a gold medal for copyright infringement, perhaps it's time to take stock of where the Anglican Covenant process is. In a few months, the Anglican Consultative Council will be meeting in New Zealand, and there is to be report on the “progress” of Covenant adoption.

According to the No Anglican Covenant Coalition website, five Churches have definitively adopted the Covenant: Mexico, the West Indies, Burma, Papua New Guinea and the Southern Cone. Meanwhile, three Churches have pretty definitively rejected the Covenant: Scotland, Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia, and the Philippines. I say “pretty definitively” because the Philippines haven't actually had a vote on the Covenant, to my knowledge. Rather, it is the House of Bishops that has rejected the Covenant in that Church.

Three Churches are said to have reported some progress along the way to adopting the Covenant. The Province of Southern Africa has adopted it provisionally on first reading and expects to ratify that decision at its next General Synod meeting in 2013. The Church in Wales has indicated that it is willing to adopt the Covenant, but first wants clarification about its status given the uncertainty in the Church of England. And Nippon Sei Ko Kai (Japan) has agreed to soldier on in spite of a recommendation to the contrary from its House of Bishops' Theological Committee.

Finally there are four Churches whose positions on the Covenant reflect a great deal of uncertainty. South East Asia has chosen to “accede to” (not “adopt”) the Covenant, and in so doing issued a rather detailed statement explaining what they thought the Covenant and its adoption by others means. The Church of Ireland has “subscribed” (not “adopted”) the Covenant, without explaining what that means, though it's clear that “subscribe” means something different from “adopt”. The Episcopal Church has simply decided not to decide, at least not just now. And the Church of England has had the dioceses reject consideration of the Covenant by the General Synod, in spite of a particularly aggressive hard-sell campaign.

So, five Yeses, three Nos, three Maybes and four Unclear. And next year we may hear from Australia, Canada and Southern Africa, perhaps among others. That's still less than half the Churches of the Anglican Communion, which hardly suggests much enthusiasm for the project.

So, barring any further action between now and November, that's the state of affairs that the Anglican Consultative Council will be presented with. What should they do next?

There is some talk that a proposal will be brought forward in November to have the Anglican Consultative Council specify a minimum number of adopting Churches as a threshold for the Covenant to become active, as well as a deadline by which that must happen. Presumably if the threshold is not met by the deadline, then the whole project will simply be binned.

About a year ago, I suggested that there ought to have been just these sorts of provisions in the proposed Covenant text. And so I agree fundamentally with the proposal to do so now, even if it is not actually included in the text itself. After all, at some point in the future someone is going to have to declare the Covenant project an unmitigated success (which would be pretty obvious, anyway) or conclude that we have flogged this dead horse long enough. And I suppose that since the criteria by which such a determination should be made weren't included in the proposed Covenant text, it's better for the Anglican Consultative Council to agree to a threshold and a deadline than simply to have the Archbishop of Canterbury wake up one morning and announce he's decided it's over.

That said, however, it would be well for the Council to be aware that in determining go/no go criteria they would be in effect amending the Covenant, which we had all been told rather forcefully is unamendable at this stage. Section 4.1.6 states that “this Covenant becomes active for a Church when that Church adopts the Covenant through the procedures of its own Constitution and Canons.” Thus, the Covenant is already active for five Churches. Amending it, or adopting an agreement that the Covenant will be nullified, thus opens the door to the possibility that the Anglican Consultative Council will be overturning decisions of the five current covenanting Churches, and of any others who adopt the Covenant between now and the deadline. At least with respect to any further covenanting Churches, they will be adopting the Covenant in the certain knowledge that their action will be provisional. The first five, however, adopted the Covenant in good faith, presumably without the possibility of its nullification in mind. Thus the adoption of a threshold and deadline would amount to an intrusion upon the autonomy of five churches.

The other option, of course, would be to amend the Covenant formally using the procedures of section 4.4.2 to insert a threshold and deadline into section 4.1.6. For now that the Covenant is active it is, contrary to previous suggestions, amendable according to the procedures it contains. Amending it according to those procedures would be a cumbersome process, of course, but it would at least respect both the integrity of the Covenant and the autonomous decisions of the Churches that have already adopted it. Doing it properly would also demonstrate the Anglican Consultative Council's commitment to and respect for the Covenant project as depicted, even if it would be the first such demonstration by an Instrument of Communion. But I don't imagine that's likely to happen.

Instead, watch for the adoption of a threshold and deadline by the ACC in November. With those in place, the Covenant can simply be left to die of neglect without need for further study or debate or voting. Then we could all get on with building the Communion by engaging in mission together.

08 July 2012

Yes or no? Or maybe?

Rumour has it that the legislative subcommittee working on resolutions regarding the Anglican Covenant at the Episcopal Church's General Convention is crafting a pair of resolutions. The first, apparently, would be a mom-and-apple-pie affirmation of their commitment to the Anglican Communion. Nothing wrong there.

The second is where this commitment intersects with the proposed Covenant. And here, according to my spies on the ground, is where things get a bit weird. Some would like to see a clear resolution adopting the Covenant, though I can't imagine many who actually believe that such a resolution would pass. Others would like a clear resolution declining to adopt the Covenant. So, a clear Yes, or a clear No.

The trouble, apparently, is that the legislative committee believes that a clear No won't fly in the House of Bishops. (The General Convention is a bicameral body, divided between Deputies – clergy and laity – and Bishops. And every resolution must be adopted by both.) And so, evidently, the solution being contemplated is that the second resolution be a motion to defer a decision. Tune in next time, in other words, same Bat-time, same Bat-channel. Come back again in three years when we will be pleased to defer the decision again. Maybe then we'll have the courage to defer the decision for thirty years instead of three.

Frankly, there is no need for a resolution to defer the decision. They could accomplish that with no need for debate or legislative time on the agenda simply by not putting forward any resolution at all. So what's this all about?

It's about not wanting to be seen to be the bad guy, that's what it's about. The Covenant was designed to give the wider Communion a way of sending the Episcopal Church to the naughty corner, and ever since the Windsor Report, which first proposed a Covenant, chastised the American Church for its actions in consecrating an openly gay bishop, that Church has been tiptoeing around the Communion trying not to sound half as naughty as it is being depicted as being by its critics. And, of course, saying No to the Communion would be interpreted by those same critics as just another bit of evidence of its naughtiness.

The trouble with such tiptoeing is that it comes at the cost of dishonesty. Yes, the Episcopal Church can tell everyone it's deferring its decision, but everyone will know that it's just a sign that the Episcopal Church wants to have it both ways: to avoid saying No without saying Yes. Because there's no chance the Episcopal Church will say Yes. Why say No when we can say Later? Except no-one is seriously going to be fooled by this. No-one is going to believe that the Episcopal Church might say Yes when Later arrives.

Why say No when saying Later long enough will let the Covenant die a natural death?

Or why not simply be honest?

Here's my suggestion: The General Convention should go ahead with the proposed first resolution, affirming its commitment to the Anglican Communion. I believe that this resolution will be adopted more or less unanimously by both houses. Because I believe the Episcopal Church truly is committed to the Communion.

But what comes next should be two resolutions: one to say Yes, and one to say No. If the Yes fails (which it will), the No should be put forward. And if the Deputies have the courage to say No clearly, it will be up to the Bishops to decide what to do. If they don't say No, the effect will be a definite Probably Not without actually saying No. But at least everyone will know where the General Convention stands, even if it isn't willing to say so clearly.

In either case, now is the acceptable hour. It's time for the General Convention to tell the Anglican World whether it has the courage of its convictions. Yes or No. We don't want to be tuning in next time to find out.

30 May 2012

Effects of not adopting the Covenant

The Canadian Church's Council of General Synod (CoGS) has said that a “key message” that it wants to send to the next meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) is that it doesn't yet understand what the “relational consequences” would be for a Church that does not adopt the proposed Anglican Covenant.

With all due respect to CoGS, on which I have served, it seems to me that the real key message here is that the members of CoGS haven't adequately studied the proposed Covenant or the report that CoGS received a year ago from the Governance Working Group on the legal and Constitutional ramifications of the proposed Covenant.

Where to begin?

For starters, “relational consequences”, though not clearly defined, apply only to Churches that have adopted the proposed Covenant, and that only at the end of a process of dispute resolution. Relational consequences have been depicted by opponents as a punishment, and by supporters of the Covenant as nothing more than the natural outcome of a Church persisting in doing something that it has been told is “not compatible with the Covenant.” Rather like a ticket is nothing more than the natural outcome of driving over the speed limit.

So whatever relational consequences are, they cannot apply to a Church that does not adopt the proposed Covenant.

The Governance Working Group said as much in its report to CoGS, which I would suggest the members re-read to refresh their collective memory.

There might, I suppose, be some political consequences in rejecting the proposed Covenant, but that's not the same as relational consequences. And it's hard to see what political consequences would ensue, given that the Church of England has already decided that it doesn't want to sign up to the Covenant. And Ireland, contrary to what the Anglican Journal reports was stated by the Anglican Communion Working Group, has waffled on its support for the Covenant. It deliberately did not adopt the Covenant, but rather “subscribed” to it. Whatever that means.

Personally, I think the key message to the ACC should be that the proposed Covenant was a well-intentioned attempt to deal with the tensions in the Anglican Communion, but it's dead in the water and it's time to move on to something better.

And CoGS needs to do its homework.

31 March 2012

What next?

Last week the process of diocesan consultation on the proposed Anglican Covenant in the Church of England reached a definitive conclusion. With six dioceses still to vote, a majority had already rejected the proposed Covenant. (As of this writing, 40 of 44 dioceses have now voted, with 15 voting in favour of the Covenant and 25 against.) The question the dioceses faced was, procedurally at any rate, whether they wanted the General Synod to consider a motion to adopt the proposed Covenant.
The reason the dioceses were even asked this question is that the proposed Act of Synod adopting the Covenant was deemed to be “Article 8” business, that is that it had to do with “a scheme for … a permanent and substantial change of relationship between the Church of England and another Christian body, being a body a substantial number of whose members reside in Great Britain.” The rules with respect to the reference to the dioceses required that a majority of the dioceses (i.e., at least 23 of the 44 dioceses) vote for the proposal in order for it to return to the General Synod for a vote. In the event that a majority did not vote for the proposal (i.e., at least 22 voted against), the proposal cannot return to the General Synod in the current quinquennium, which I understand runs until July, 2015. So now, with 25 diocese having voted against the Covenant, it is effectively dead in the water.

The blogosphere is full of the comments of pundits examining the entrails of the diocesan decisions from a political perspective, but I am more interested in procedural questions.

What does this mean for the Church of England?

Technically speaking, what this does not mean is that the Church of England has rejected the Covenant. Under the rules of Article 8, the General Synod may now not consider the draft Act of Synod to adopt the Covenant, and thus may not vote either yes or no, at least until the next quinquennium. Whether the leadership of the Church of England wants to resurrect the process of adopting the Covenant in 2015, and whether the General Synod wants at that time to start over with another Article 8 reference to the dioceses, would be matters for them to decide then, prognostications of pundits notwithstanding. So the Church of England has (obviously) not adopted the Covenant, nor has it definitively decided not to adopt the Covenant. Nor can it, by its own rules, consider the question for at least another three years.

I suppose the General Synod could conceivably consider a Act of Synod stating that it does not adopt the Anglican Covenant, although I seriously doubt that is likely.

What does this mean for the operation of the Anglican Covenant?

The proposed Covenant contemplates three categories of Church in the Anglican Communion. It refers in a few places to Churches that have adopted the Covenant “through the procedures of [their] own Constitution[s] and Canons.” (4.1.6) Once they have done so, the Covenant is “active” for them. This means that they can be the object about whom a question is “raised” (4.2.3), that they can participate in the decision making processes of section 4.2 (4.2.8), submit a proposal to amend the Covenant (4.4.2) or withdraw from it. (4.3.1)

The second category of Church consists of those “who are still in the process of adoption” of the Covenant. Although this term is not defined, it seems to refer to Churches that have neither said that they will adopt the Covenant, nor that they won't. These Churches can participate in the processes of section 4.2 (4.2.8), but are not subject to these processes, nor can they propose an amendment to the Covenant. The Church of England is, as I have suggested above, in this category.

The third category, non-Covenanting Churches, is implied by the text in section 4.2.8 and section 4.3.1. It is not clear whether this refers to Churches that have rejected a motion to adopt the Covenant, or have definitively adopted a motion stating that they will not adopt the Covenant. Sometimes voting against a motion is not the same as adopting its opposite. One could argue that as long as the possibility remains that a motion to adopt the Covenant could be brought to a Church's General Synod (or equivalent), that Church is still in the process of adopting the Covenant, even if it has previously rejected a motion to adopt the Covenant.

So, from the perspective of the operation of the Covenant, it is apparently in effect for a few Churches that have adopted it, with the implications set out above. (Exactly which Churches have adopted the Covenant is a matter of some debate.) The rest of the Churches, at least those that haven't definitively rejected the Covenant (and it's not clear that any have done that), are still in the process of adopting it.

What if the Church of England definitively rejects the Covenant?

This is where the wheels come off. Some pundits have raised questions about whether the Archbishop of Canterbury acts, with respect to the operation of the Covenant, as an Instrument of Communion, or as a representative of a particular Church. They raise this question because if the Archbishop of Canterbury is a representative of the Church of England, and the Church of England definitively rejects the Covenant, then the whole operation becomes absurd. Elsewhere I have pointed out the several overlapping roles of the Archbishop of Canterbury with respect to various bodies that conduct the dispute settling processes of section 4.2. (The overlap of roles means that the process violates the second principle of Natural Justice, as I have shown.) But if you take the Archbishop out of those roles without in some way replacing him, it creates a procedural crisis. For example, the Primates' Meeting has a key role in staffing the Standing Committee, and advising it in its deliberations. And the Archbishop of Canterbury is the convenor of the Primates' Meeting (and the President of the Standing Committee). He's also the President of the Anglican Consultative Council, which is the other key body that staffs and advises the Standing Committee. If he cannot participate in the process, the process itself becomes unworkable.

And even if the process can somehow be rescued, there is still the question of how Churches which are bound to a certain set of (vaguely defined) commitments can continue indefinitely in a meaningful relationship with a Mother Church which chooses not to take on those commitments itself. The primacy of honour traditionally accorded to the Church of England and the Archbishop of Canterbury within the Anglican Communion would be seriously undermined if the Church of England rejects the Covenant and the Covenant is widely adopted by other Churches in the Communion.

What does this mean for the rest of the Anglican Communion?

Two years ago, I introduced a resolution to the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada that it not consider the Covenant until after the Church of England formally adopts it. The resolution was ruled out of order by the chair, and so I was not able to present my reasons for introducing it. My concern was, in fact, that we might face just the current state of affairs. If the Church of England rejects or fails to adopt the Covenant, it would create a problem for the Canadian Church if it were to adopt the Covenant. We are constitutionally bound to communion with the Church of England, and adopting a Covenant with respect to the Anglican Communion to which the Church of England is not party would create constitutional problems, to say the least. Hence, my resolution was intended to suggest that we not spend too much time, effort or money on a constitutional proposal before it became clear that its adoption by the Church of England made it at the very least workable.

I don't know how much time, effort or money has been expended on the Anglican Covenant proposal, but I think it is safe to say “a lot”. And this proposal has distracted Anglicans to a significant degree from pursuing, both other avenues of building relationships, and our primary mission of living out the Gospel in our various contexts. Now that the project is stalled, perhaps irretrievably, in the Church of England, how much more time, energy and money should the rest of us be expending on this proposed Covenant?

What should those outside England do?

It's really up to each Church to decide how it's going to deal with the proposed Covenant, but I see four options at this point:
  1. Continue with the process of considering and adopting the proposed Covenant;
  2. Continue to consider the Covenant, but adopt it conditionally such that an Act of Synod adopting the Covenant does not come into effect until the Church of England adopts it;
  3. Suspend the process of considering the Covenant until it is clear what the Church of England is going to do next;
  4. Adopt a resolution rejecting the Covenant.
The first and fourth options are pretty straightforward. I suggest the fourth because it is clearer than simply defeating a resolution to adopt the Covenant, which is a possible outcome of Option 1.

Option 2 would allow for continued study and debate of the Covenant, but if it is adopted, it would not come into effect, and the Church in question would thus not become a Covenanting Church, until the Church of England chooses to adopt the Covenant. Other conditions such as a critical mass of Covenanting Churches being reached could also be included. This would be rather like the adoption by the British Parliament of the EasterAct 1928, which fixes the date of Easter on “the first Sunday after the second Saturday in April”. The Act itself has not yet come into effect, and will not before an Order in Council is made, “provided ... that, before making such draft order, regard shall be had to any opinion officially expressed by any Church or other Christian body.” Similarly, a given Church could entertain a conditional resolution to adopt the Covenant in order to bring the project to a decisive conclusion. If the Church decides to adopt the Covenant, doing so conditionally would mean that it's not actually bound by that decision until the conditions are met.

I think the attraction of Option 3 is pretty self-evident. Perhaps it's time to admit that the proposal for a Covenant has been found sufficiently wanting that it's time to cut our losses and get on with building up the Kingdom of God in our several contexts and building relationships with other members of the Anglican Communion. But if we're not prepared to take that definitive a step, then at least we could take a wait and see approach and let the Church of England untie its Gordian knots before we spend any more time on this project.

11 March 2012

Of Archbishops and Videos

The Archbishop of Canterbury recently issued a video defending the proposed Anglican Covenant against what he depicted as some “misunderstandings” about the proposed Covenant, which seem to be abroad. I assume he refers to such “misunderstandings” as some of mine. Though I don't flatter myself that the Archbishop has ever read my blog in person.

I think the Archbishop has a few misunderstandings of his own.

For example, he seems to believe that
A lot of people have said that the first few sections of the Covenant, the first three bits of the Covenant, are uncontroversial. They set out a common ground on which we all agree and they, in general ways, urge us to think about these things – to think about the impact on other parts of the Communion and what we decide to do.
Well, I for one am not among that “lot of people.” The first three sections are, in my view, very controversial. They have some serious problems which I have outlined in depth. The biggest problem is that they purport to set out a coherent understanding of the Anglican faith and the Anglican way, against which future actions can be objectively measured (in section 4's process). That's what the Archbishop seems to believe. But, with the greatest respect, he's wrong. Sections 1 to 3 are very far from coherent, and although they may look attractive to a broad constituency because of the elasticity of their language which lends them to a variety of interpretations, that very elasticity of language will make it quite impossible to use them as the basis of anything remotely resembling an objective comparison with a proposed future action by a Church.

The reason these sections have attracted so little comment from opponents of the propose Covenant is not because they are so brilliant or uncontroversial. It's because section 4 is so very awful that it attracts the lion's share of the debate. As I have suggested before, if a man with a bad haircut attacks you with a knife, your attention is on the knife, not the haircut. Section 4 is a knife; sections 1-3 are a very bad haircut.

But the biggest problem, as the Archbishop sees it, is not any quibbles obscure Canadians like me might have with sections 1-3. No, there is apparently some false propaganda circulating. As the Archbishop puts it:
one of the greatest misunderstandings around concerning the Covenant is that it’s some sort of centralising proposal creating an absolute authority which has the right to punish people for stepping out of line. I have to say I think this is completely misleading and false.
I would be more convinced if he were to demonstrate, citing the actual Covenant text of course, precisely why these concerns are “misleading and false.” Without doing so, he engages in unsupported assertions and even verges on ad hominem attacks.

The fact is, as I have already demonstrated, that the so-called dispute-settling process in section 4 of the proposed Covenant is vague, arbitrary and intrinsically unfair by design. And it is designed to determine winners and losers. Either an action by a Church is compatible or incompatible with the Covenant. And the decision is final, with no mechanism for further discussion or appeal.

Oh, says the Archbishop, “what the Covenant proposes is not a set of punishments, but a way of thinking through what the consequences are of decisions people freely and in good conscience make.” Given the vagueness of the process, it's not much of a way of thinking through anything. We don't even know how to start the process. It's that unclear. I challenge the Archbishop to demonstrate where the Covenant text says how a question is to be raised, as it quaintly puts what elsewhere would be called lodging a complaint. It's simply not there in the text.

And furthermore, as I have shown before, the “recommendations” of “relational consequences” will be made with the a priori expectation that they will be adopted. Indeed, it might be that failure to adopt a recommended relational consequence would in itself be “incompatible with the Covenant.”

This is not about having scones and cream at tea, but no jam; it's about not being invited to the popular parties because one has been sent to the naughty corner. It's about churches being judged by an unfair and arbitrary process against unclear standards, and on the basis of that judgement, without any right of appeal, having their participation in the Instruments of Communion withdrawn.

“The Covenant suggests a process of scrutiny,” says the Archbishop. Yet for some reason the proponents of the Covenant try to block or ignore every serious attempt to scrutinise the Covenant text. The Archbishop's video is yet another attempt at diverting decision makers from having access to the necessary information on which to base their decisions. It's because he knows what decision they will make with that information.

29 February 2012

Implementing the Covenant

It has been said that the proposed Anglican Covenant does not affect the constitution or canons of any Church adopting same. Actually, the Covenant itself says that. It has also been said that this statement is, as the technical term puts it, “poppycock”. Because if any Church truly wants to implement the Covenant, it does have constitutional implications. After all, adopting the proposed Covenant means agreeing to all the terms therein, including the possibility of having any action taken by the adopting Church declared to be “incompatible with the Covenant” (whatever that means) and thus being subjected to “relational consequences” (whatever that means) unless it ceases and desists from its incompatible activity.

So what would it take to implement the Covenant, should a Church decide to adopt it?

It seems to me that it would mean putting into place mechanisms for addressing the possibility that a given action would be declared “incompatible with the Covenant.” So, for example, any action of any legislature in the adopting Church which has been declared “incompatible with the Covenant” would have to be addressed. One way would be to hold an emergency meeting to rescind the offensive action, or alternatively to decide to accept the “relational consequences”, whatever that might mean. (Call me a stickler, but I do wish these terms were actually defined!) But holding emergency meetings in a Church such as the Anglican Church of Canada, whose General Synod only meets every three years, would be a significant burden.

So, the Church could simply incorporate in its constitution a provision automatically to nullify any action that has been deemed “incompatible with the Covenant.” This would, in effect, give the Standing Committee the power to veto any action taken by the adopting Church. Which is actually the point of the proposed Covenant. It's called ceding jurisdiction. And, of course, the veto power would have to extend to any action taken by any given bishop, such as ordaining someone, or authorizing a liturgy. Obviously the bishops of a Church adopting the proposed Covenant would accept that it is necessary to constrain their own powers, and the powers of their successors, in order to ensure that they (and their successors) never do anything, however inadvertently, that is “incompatible with the Covenant.”

A second area to address would be the definition of heresy. Heresy is, after all, a disciplinary offence. At least in my Church. Even if (sadly) it no longer means burning the heretic at the stake. But the definition of heresy would have to be expanded to include teaching anything incompatible with the Anglican Covenant. Which is a bit of a problem, given the fuzziness of the definition of the faith in the proposed Covenant.

A third point would have to do with the question of consultation on significant issues. Many Churches have provision for their General Synod (or equivalent) to consult (e.g. with dioceses) on certain matters such as the ordination of women as bishops, or the adoption of an international treaty such as the proposed Anglican Covenant, prior to the adoption of such measures. Obviously, it would be prudent (or “cautious” as the proposed Covenant puts it) to include in that consultation process a reference to the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion through the process known as “raising a question” in order to determine proactively whether the proposed action would be compatible or incompatible with the Covenant. Such a reference shouldn't add too many years to the process of adopting whatever change is contemplated (such as ordaining women bishops, for example). And any delay would be well spent in order to be certain that the contemplated change won't be subsequently found “incompatible with the Covenant” and nullified. We wouldn't want to rush into any changes that might be challenged under the proposed Covenant.

Exactly how to implement these points into the constitution of any given Church would depend on the nature of that Church's constitution. For the Anglican Church of Canada, it is relatively easy to imagine about four changes that would have to be drafted in the Constitution and Canons of the General Synod. (Three changes to the Declaration of Principles, and one to the Discipline Canon, to be precise.) These changes would only take two readings (or about six years) after the formal adoption of the Covenant. It would be a bit more complex to draft the necessary changes for the thirty-four other legislatures in the Anglican Church of Canada (four internal Provinces and thirty dioceses). But it is doable, I suppose.

Even more complex would be the mechanisms to implement the Covenant in the Church of England, with its complex system of governance as the only Established Church in the Anglican Communion. For example, if the appointment of a given bishop were subsequently deemed “incompatible with the Covenant”, the appointment – a Crown appointment – would obviously have to be nullified. Similarly if a Measure (which in the Church of England has the full status of an Act of Parliament) were to be found “incompatible with the Covenant” it, too, would have to be nullified. So, too, with any legacy Act of Parliament. Unless, of course, the Church of England decided to accept the ensuing “relational consequences” such as being expelled from the Lambeth Conference. But that would be absurd.

Obviously, anyone voting to adopt the proposed Covenant has already thought through these issues and accepted the implications. Not to do so would hardly be “cautious”, as the proposed Covenant puts it.

22 January 2012

Of Epiphany Letters and Archbishops

Back at the beginning of Advent, the Archbishop of Canterbury wrote a letter to the Primates of the Anglican Communion in which he extolled the virtues of the proposed Anglican Covenant. Nearly two weeks ago, at the beginning of the Epiphany season, the Archbishop of Cape Town responded with a letter of his own, addressed to the Archbishop of Canterbury, but published by the Anglican Communion News Service. (Note to self: when writing to the Archbishop of Canterbury, be prepared to see your letter on ACNS.)

As with Archbishop Williams, Archbishop Thabo Makgoba speaks eloquently about the value of the Anglican Communion. Indeed, there is much of value in his letter on that score. Recalling the visit to Zimbabwe made by the two Archbishops together, Archbishop Makgoba says, “the capacity to act together – across old divides of colonisers and colonised, and contemporary differences of rich and poor, north and south, through God’s gift of unity to the Communion – gives considerable force to our joint proclamation of Christ as the Light of the World.” Indeed, it does. Coming together across divides to speak with a single authoritative voice on a matter of justice gives flesh to the gift of unity for which Jesus prayed, of which we are particularly mindful in this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

Archbishop Makgoba also recalls with gratitude the way in which the wider Anglican Communion gave strength to the embattled South African Church in its struggle against apartheid. I recall a motion of solidarity in the struggle against apartheid being adopted at the very first Synod I ever attended, and how I was impressed that we were called to think and speak and act outside the narrow confines of our own bailiwick.

The good Archbishop continues:
Yet such mutuality cannot be taken for granted, and indeed, the way that our disagreements on human sexuality have played out suggests we had already begun to drift from that particular sense of belonging to God and to each other, within the wider body of Christ, which was so strong in Southern Africa’s great time of need. It seems to me that the Covenant is entirely necessary, in recalling us to ourselves. Only in this way can we continue to grow in bearing this rich fruit that comes from living the life which is both God’s gift and God’s calling.
He is correct that we cannot take the kind of mutuality of which he speaks for granted. As with any other relationship, the relationships among the churches of the Anglican Communion need constant work. This is why, for example, our bishops gather in the Lambeth Conference, and why we have such programmes as diocesan partnerships. It is about being constantly called out of ourselves and the narrow confines of our own bailiwicks to learn about others in their contexts, to engage with them and to stand beside them in their joys and sorrows. What I don't understand is how Archbishop Makgoba concludes that this means the proposed Anglican Covenant is “entirely necessary” beyond his TINA assertion. But perhaps his reflections on the Covenant would help.

But the problem is that his reflections on the Covenant nowhere refer to the actual text. Like Archbishop Williams before him, Archbishop Makgoba does not seem to be interested in discussion the text on which we will all be voting, and which he depicts as “entirely necessary.” If it will help us to work at our relationships, to preserve and develop mutuality and solidarity, in what way will it do so? Which clauses in the proposed Covenant does he see as assisting these positive outcomes? In fact, I don't know what document Archbishop Makgoba is referring to at all. It doesn't seem to be the proposed Anglican Covenant that I have been reading.

He goes on:
Arguments that the Covenant is ‘not fit for purpose’ (for example through ‘going too far’ or ‘not going far enough’) are too often predicated upon an inadequate model of ‘being church’ and what it means to live as members of the body of Christ. Implicit, it seems to me, is a diminished view of God’s grace, God’s redemptive power and purposes, and God’s vision and calling upon his people and his Church, and so of Anglicanism’s place within these. Our sense of who we are, and called to become, should not principally be conveyed through legal prisms, whether of some form of centralising authority, or of Provinces’ constitutions and canon law which must be ‘safeguarded’ from external ‘interference’. Nor should we primarily look to structural or legal solutions to our undeniable difficulties or for regulating our relationships.
Yes, precisely! There is an inadequate model of being church at play here. And that model has led us to believe that the sort of “structural or legal solutions” against which Archbishop Makgoba argues are in fact a necessary part of our ecclesiology. For the proposed Covenant is nothing other than a legal solution to our difficulties. As Archbishop Makgoba himself says, “Scripture reminds us that solving our problems ultimately rests not on our efforts but on the salvific work of Jesus Christ.” Surely he is not suggesting that the proposed Covenant represents the “salvific work of Jesus Christ” rather than our own efforts?

Seeing the Covenant merely as a product of disagreements over human sexuality, or in terms of whether or not it provides particular solutions to these disagreements, is therefore to miss the fundamental point. As I noted earlier, it seems that, especially in the acrimonious and bitter ways we have often handled our differences, disunity over sexuality was symptomatic of a deeper malaise within our common life.
Quite right! But again I ask, in what way does the proposed Covenant address this “deeper malaise” of which the Archbishop correctly speaks? If it does, he does not enlighten us as to how. True, he asserts that the proposed Covenant “places God’s vision for God’s Church and God’s world centre-stage; and then invites us to live into this as our ultimate and overriding context and calling.” But he doesn't indicate how the document does this, and he conveniently ignores that, even if it does do so, it does it in the context of a legal document with a punitive process at its heart.

The good Archbishop is entirely correct to speak both about the value of the Anglican Communion as a vehicle for living out God's solidarity with each other and with the world that God so loves. He is correct to draw attention to the need to preserve and develop relationships of mutuality and support across theological and cultural divides. He is correct in so many ways. Where his letter disappoints is in its depiction of the proposed Covenant as a magical panacea for all of our relational problems without a single reference to the actual document. He does not apparently see, or perhaps doesn't want us, his readers, to see, that the proposed Covenant is a legal solution to a relational problem – and not a very good legal solution at that. It is designed to empower a central group acting entirely without objective criteria to choose winners and losers by an arbitrary and intrinsically unjust process. It is based on the inadequate ecclesiological assumption that the hard work of developing and maintaining relationships in the context of the grace of God can be replaced by the facile imposition of authority, even to the point of severing those relationships.

The Anglican Communion is, has been, and can be the kind of gift that the Archbishop depicts in his letter. But here's the point: it has been such a gift in the past without a Covenant. No Covenant was required for the Communion to stand in solidarity with the South African church in its struggle against apartheid. No Covenant was required for the recent Archiepiscopal visit to Zimbabwe. And, for all his passionate eloquence, Archbishop Makgoba never once demonstrates how any Covenant, let alone the one on the table, is remotely “entirely necessary” for the Anglican Communion to grow into the kind of gift he hopes it can be in the future.

In the end, the Archbishop's letter is rather like one of those awful children's sermons about a squirrel in which the squirrel is mean to represent Jesus, but no one, least of all the preacher, is able to grasp how. It's not that there's anything intrinsically wrong with stories about squirrels, but if there is no clear connection with Jesus, the preacher would be ahead simply to leave the story in its proper context rather than force a connection. Similarly, there is much worth reading in the Archbishop's letter about the value of the Anglican Communion and about the need to work at our relationships. But the remotest connection with the proposed Covenant is forced at best.

Unless the proposed Covenant is a squirrel.

03 January 2012

Hear the Other Side Redux

This blog has been on hiatus for a while as I have been in the process of moving from Montreal to Edmonton to take up a new post. Now I have an opportunity to take it up again, and the New Year is as good a time as any.

Laura Sykes has challenged all Anglicans, especially those involved in synods, to take on a New Year's resolution to read the Anglican Covenant. Given that many of those Anglicans will be asked to vote on whether or not to adopt the Covenant in the months ahead, that sounds like a sensible idea. I hope Laura won't mind me adding to her proposed resolution, that those who take her up on it should read the proposed Covenant carefully, bearing in mind from the beginning that it is a legal document. This is especially important in reading the first three sections, as they don't look like a legal document. With the elasticity of language in sections 1-3, they look more like a theological consensus document. But it is vital to keep in mind that these sections will become the basis for any judgment of a controversial action pursuant to the process, such as it is, in section 4. So, whilst reading the first three sections, it is useful to ask whether the language is clear enough to be used as a basis for deciding whether an action is compatible with the Covenant or not, and how any given action might measure up to the standards therein.

Laura has also taken on a challenge herself, not only to read the proposed Covenant, but to publish her own analysis of it over the coming months. I look forward to reading the fruits of her efforts.

I would like to add my own challenge to Laura's, this time aimed at the leadership of the Anglican Communion at every level. I have in mind the Instruments of Communion, the Anglican Communion Office, the national, provincial and diocesan leadership, bishops, archbishops and those who are responsible for organizing synods – the very synods that will be deciding on the Covenant in the months ahead.

My challenge is simple: please, I implore you, ensure that there is a balanced presentation of both sides, for and against, with equal time for both at all stages, before putting the proposed Covenant to a vote.

I make this challenge for two reasons.

First, because there has been an unfortunate pattern in several synods that have already voted on the proposed Covenant. A number of these synods have heard only one side in the formal presentation of the document, and thus have been asked to vote without hearing any presentation or receiving any material on why the proposed Covenant should not be adopted. Naturally, when presented only with a rosy picture of the proposed Covenant and reasons to adopt it, and no reasons against, these synods have tended to adopt or recommend adopting the Covenant. And the senior leadership has taken the approach of dismissing any opposition to the Covenant rather than engaging it and demonstrating why those opposed are wrong.

There is an irony here, for one of the chief fears about the proposed Covenant is that it will lead to greater centralization and control in the Anglican Communion, a fear that is hotly denied by proponents of the Covenant. But in presenting an unbalanced picture of the Covenant to those who are asked to decide on it, and denying circulation of materials opposed to it alongside materials in favour, the leadership is modelling the very centralization and control that opponents of the Covenant fear.

Ironic, too, is the way in which this pro-only presentation of the Covenant models the criticism that the process for deciding on controversial actions in section 4 is arbitrary and intrinsically unfair. And this gives rise to the second reason for my challenge.

Previously I have written that the dispute-settling mechanism in section 4 of the proposed Covenant does not measure up to the standards of Natural Justice, the first principle of which is audi alteram partem – hear the other side. It's all very well for the senior leadership of the Anglican Communion to tell me not to worry my pretty little head about Natural Justice in settling disputes, but when they refuse to allow the other side to be fairly presented in debating the proposed Covenant they do much more to stoke than to assuage my fears. If they are unable – or unwilling – to demonstrate the skills and habits of fairness in the process of debating the proposed Covenant, how can we believe that they will suddenly acquire these skills and habits when it comes to deciding on the first controversial action that comes their way? For it will be the very same people who are actively campaigning for the proposed Covenant who will be sitting in the judgment seat when a question is raised.

So, if the senior leadership of the Communion truly believes that the proposed Covenant is the unalloyed Good Thing that they depict it as being, why not allow it to be subjected to careful and fair scrutiny? For if they are correct, then the Covenant will withstand the scrutiny. Of course, if they are not correct, then that scrutiny may well save us all from a very unfortunate mistake.

Hear the other side! Let the presentation of the proposed Covenant be balanced and the process for deciding on it be fair, so that those who are called to vote on it can do so fully informed.