Christmas is coming and the goose is getting cooked. The Anglican goose, that is. It's December 19th where I am, in Chennai, India, India is home to some 900,000,000 Hindus almost all of whom have not the slightest interest in the foolishness going on in the Anglican Communion. They find Christianity an interesting if limited sort of religion and odds and ends of Christmas displays make it into malls and even corner shops. These often lump images of Santa, nativity figures and various depictions of Jesus together with wild abandon. Still, I've not seen the famous Christmas Stocking, hung by the Chimney with Care or otherwise. It's just as well. This year, at least for Anglicans, there are only lumps of coal. No sweets, no toys, nada.
Sitting here looking at the reports coming out on the Anglican Covenant, now no longer a draft but the actual thing, and the Standing Committee's once again of that most paternalistic of phrases which encourages others to "gracious restraint" while saying nothing of extending "gracious restraint," I am left to wonder, is any of this useful, necessary or good for the soul? The answer is NO.
About the Anglican Covenant: Now it is clearer than ever. The ACC authorized the change in nomenclature - the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates and the Anglican Consultative Council is now simply the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion. It has given to this Joint Committee extraordinary powers. The Joint Committee is the one that will monitor the progress and use of the Anglican Covenant and determine conformity to its meaning and intent. The upshot of all this is as expected: The Anglican Covenant continues to be a positive contribution up until the second part of section three. After that it slides downhill rapidly into the organizational deep freeze of deeply compromised vocation.
To the extent that the vocation of the Church concerns Jesus Christ present in the world and in the streets of the city and the homes of the village, the Church must act locally in ways that brings abundance of life. At the same time the Church speaks to the whole world for that abundance (which has different forms in different places)as the birth-right of all humankind.
So the Anglican Communion ought to support, not repress, local conditions in which the universal birth-right takes specific form. The Anglican Communion ought to support life long committed relations between and among people, ought to support sexual expression within such relationships. It ought to promote and encourage baptized members of the Church to consider God's call to them to various ministries in the Church. At the same time the Anglican Communion ought to speak with some clarity about situations that arise locally which would categorically deny basic human rights to individuals in this or that place. In order to do this the Anglican Communion voices - the voices of the "Instruments of Communion" - need to be supple and nimble.
Instead the Anglican Communion, if it adopts this Covenant, will become less supple, less nimble, less able to act locally and think globally, more bloated and without the ability to act swiftly except by employing this new engine, the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion. As seen in its communique several days ago, the Standing Committee has acted swiftly concerning Bishop Elect Glasspool. At the same time it said nothing about the situation in Uganda. What gives?
The temptation will be overwhelming to use the Standing Committee as the preferred instrument of Communion. The problem with this, of course, is that up until the moment of the Standing Committees creation there were instruments of Communion, but no actual committees of the Anglican Communion APART from the specific instruments of communion. The SC is not described as part of this or that instrument, or a product of joint activity. Rather it is billed as a separate new thing, a Committee of the Communion, as if the Communion is an organizational reality of which the SC is, well, the star chamber.
Which leads to the second lump of coal: The Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion met and (i) passed on the 4th section of the Anglican Covenant and (ii) issued a statement asking The Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of Canada and various unnamed border crossers to cease and desist by way of "gracious restraint." This lump is enough to make it clear that Christmas this year is devoid of gracious restraint on the part of the brave new Anglican Communion uber-committee.
There are several things very wrong about the Standing Committee's work: (i) The meeting was in private, in secret. The first and only Committee of the Anglican Communion is a star chamber, not an open body. (ii) The Standing Committee has taken the same old line - that someone else (namely TEC and ACoC, and unnamed boundary violators) - should graciously stop doing something. Nowhere is there any sense that what is happening locally may have pastoral, prophetic or even princely power. Nowhere is there any specific accountability requested of specific Churches mucking about in the back yard of other Provinces. "Gracious restraint" is a terrible proposition. It asks local churches to refrain from actions they have taken without making any provision for gracious engagement on the part of any other Church in the Communion.
But more, gracious restraint recommended by the Standing Committee is paternalistic in the worse way.
So - two lumps of coal, no presents. Some Christmas. Perhaps the billion or so Hindus who find our God too small will smile, if they pay any attention at all. Not only is our God too small, they might say, Anglicans are to stiff and without delight in the abundance of life to get it. We are not saved by disallowing all but approved behavior. We are saved by God's abundant grace and our desire to love God and our neighbor, and God will cover the distance between our efforts and God's hope.
Well, who knows. God does not deliver lumps of coal, even if the Anglican Communion does. Christmas comes and with it the reminder of the greatest gift there is - the light of God that comes into the world.
May that light fill our hearts and assure us of God's abundant grace and love. These were stockings left by a grumpy uncle.
Look again, there are real joys under the tree, and in the homes of friends and strangers, and plenty of love to go around.