About the time I believe I have heard enough from the Anglican Communion Institute... as for example earlier this week on the publication of its paper, "The Anglican Communion Covenant: Where Do We Go From Here?," which paper I found mostly maddening, something new pops up that brings me up short.
Ephraim Radner has done just that in a follow-up piece to the afore mentioned paper, titled modestly enough, “The Anglican Covenant: Where Do We Go From Here?”: A further comment."
It is worth the read, not because it reiterates the basic (and I think wrongheaded) points of the first paper but because Radner goes on to make some personal observations, most of which speak well of his considerable gifts and vocation as a Christian scholar, an Episcopalian and an Anglican.
Radner argues for a continued engagement with the Anglican Covenant "idea" rather than for what he understands to be the conclusions from the left and right (liberals and traditionalists?) that the Covenant itself defunct. He says,
"Let no one be misled on this point: throw out the continuities of our common life on the front end, and the hope of reconstituting them at the back end is vain. That is not because these continuities are sound in every, or even in many respects; but rather because they represent the means by which personal motives, whatever they are, can be restrained by the Body of Christ, however weakened. The Scriptures, and the Spirit that speaks them, cannot do their work among the self-willed, not because they do not have the power of themselves to accomplish their purposes, but because the “Amen” that is Christ’s answer to this work is given in the common voice not in the predilections of the autonomous."
I think he is basically right here. I don't particularly agree with the flowery, "'Amen' that is Christ's answer to this work..." etc. I am not sure Jesus with two feet on the ground or the Risen Lord would know what to say to our foolishness called Church. But that's another matter.
Radner is basically right to say that Scripture and the Spirit is not best known in the self-willed work of rabid individualism, but in the common work we do in hard and stressful times. I believe our autonomy gets itself expressed in the context of wider engagement, just as I believe that doing justice and loving mercy go hand in hand, and that the autonomy required to take a position is not diminished by staying in the room with those you love but cannot stand. And, without doubt a bit of humble walking seems in order as well.
At the close he writes, "There is still work to be done with this Covenant, and good work at that. There are questions to be raised, resistance in some cases to be offered, and constructive labor to be expended. Speaking for myself, I pray that it be done together, and not in various corners of a pugilist’s ring." That's good stuff!
Radner is concerned that the autonomous voices from the more radical left and right will spin out into a more and more shattered world of Anglican-like bodies and that pleas for common engagement with the serious issues of working to be one in our little corner of Christendom will not be heard.
If what is meant by "autonomous" is stubborn resistance to struggle in common, I agree with Radner's concern. As the matters concerning the Covenant idea and its implementation get more and more heated the temptation is to leave the room, perhaps with notable stamping of feet and righteous indignation. We are all too good at that. Autonomy can become prideful self-will.
At the same time I am a strong believer in the honesty of autonomy. As The Episcopal Church we will do the best we know how with the widest of critical (and sometimes damning) input, but we will finally stand. What does this means for Anglican Communion life? A lot depends on how much our autonomy is viewed by others and ourselves as "autonomy within communion."
We have contributed a great deal to the form of the Anglican Covenant we now have before us. Dr. Radner was in on the foundational work on this Covenant idea and its formation. The development of the Covenant has moved on from the first draft and it looks a good bit different at this point. I don't think he likes where it has gone.
Now we are into the final stretch. Each national or regional church in the Communion is invited to respond. It would deny the reality of autonomy to suggest that our further discussion of the merits of this Covenant, or our possible hesitations about some elements in it, was a sign of disloyalty to the Communion. Far from it: We can only be in Communion to the extent that we are truly willing to be who we are, and if our common life as a church is such that we remain a discomfort to the community of churches called the Anglican Communion, or if we find we cannot in the end join in supporting this specific Covenant, that is precisely what we were asked to reveal and what was expected of us.
All the churches of the Communion are now in the stage where the covenant is to be studies and discussed to the end that each Church might make an informed decision about signing on to it. That will take TEC a few years. It will take other churches shorter or longer.
I would hope that the run to sign on quickly is not taken by Dr. Radner and others as a virtue.
I have not read the constitution and canons of all the churches of the Communion, but I have read several and not surprisingly these constitutions are distinctly constitutions of autonomous churches. No one suggests that these churches are devoid of feelings for communion, both within the Anglican Communion and across the spectrum of christian communities. But those feelings of commonality are not at all to be confused with the distinct character of the churches.
The unexamined Covenant is not worth having, and an examined Covenant might be found wanting. So this is no time to walk away from the conversation. It is no time either to rush to judgment for or against. Ephraim Radner is to be commended for the call to constructive labor. So, come labor on.
I say all of this, of course, and then The Pluralist Speaks comes out with a rousing critique of Radner's paper, the lead character being, "The Reverend Dr. A Frame Reader" who seems clearly to be thinking of Radner as a Anglican Churchillian frump in "A Frame's Defiant Stand in Half." (Both drawings are by Adrain Worsfold)
I love Adrian Worsfold's take-offs, and it appears that some times I rather admire some of what Ephraim Radner has to say. Perhaps in loving these two very different rascals there is a meeting ground after all... we meet where words fall away and people finally stretch a bit, scratch a bit, and wonder together, "what will the next act bring?"