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.