After all has been said and done, I have come to the conclusion that:
- The Anglican Covenant solves nothing.
- Lamentably, it becomes what it hoped to address - a problem of division.
- Worse, it has become an instrument of death, not of life.
Here on Preludium I have been clear about the various concerns I have had about the Anglican Covenant. (See the right hand sidebar for a listing of the pertinent blog entries on the Covenant.) At the same time I have been careful not to come out against the Covenant, but rather in support of the further conversations so that, when addressed, the issues would be joined with some clarity of position and the marshaling of appropriate supportive arguments. I have been committed to being open to new arguments in support of the Covenant. I still am.
I have been honored to serve on the various writing committees concerned with The Episcopal Church response to the Anglican Covenant from its inception as an appendix to the Windsor Report to the final draft which we now have in hand. I was pleased to work with Dan Martins, bishop elect in Springfield, in rewording his resolution on the Anglican Covenant at the last General Convention. Dan did not particularly like the revision, since it fell far short of his intent, but he recognized it as a compromise that would have to do. As part of that compromise I have felt it necessary and useful to support conversation without completely committing myself to a recommendation of a negative or positive "vote" on the Covenant. I am still committed to hearing new arguments, and still committed to conversation about the Anglican Covenant.
But I also believe we have all, in all likelihood, heard enough. The Anglican Covenant solves nothing.
The Anglican Covenant was conceived as an instrument for unity - unity in common expression of our faith as a community of Christian churches with strong historical and ecclesial ties, and unity in the face of internal divisions. It was meant to be a short document outlining what it is Anglicans believe and how it is that members of the Anglican Communion come to address differences in moral and ecclesial understandings.
It does neither. The belief formularies of the various Church in the Anglican Communion remain the same - primarily found in the way we pray and what we say in prayer, and the way we order our common life by way of ministries of it various members of the church. The Anglican Covenant is no substitute for, or summation of, such commonly held matters of prayer and order.
The moral and ecclesial understandings concerning marriage, divorce, communal life, requirements for ordination, qualities of holy living, etc, are unaddressed in the Anglican Covenant, save by reference to various of the "instruments of unity" which themselves have no standing other than respect and reverence due (which is pretty high). But in no way does the Anglican Covenant provide a means whereby ethical, moral or even ecclesial differences are resolved. The Covenant fails therefore to do what it claims to do - provide a basis for giving our unity a common face and for maintaining our unity as it concerns matters that divide us.
It solves nothing.
It also becomes itself a problem that divides. Members and spokespersons for various church in the Anglican Communion have opined that the Anglican Covenant is either open to misuse by churches that wish to control what other churches do, or is incapable of producing the sorts of redirection needed when innovation is felt to have gone too far.
Those who believe the Anglican Covenant might be useful as a means of keeping various parties in conversation and movement to the fullest extent of communion possible find themselves questioning the extent to which they have sold out their own positions on various matters to a compromise in which only the most bland and least challenging sorts of development are possible. The Anglican Covenant as an instrument of compromise has become an instrument of division, division between people and within persons.
I have waited for the convincing argument from the "middle," from the great body of Anglicans who go to church, support mission and outreach, their diocese, and their church - The Episcopal Church, the Church of England, the Church of Nigeria, The Church in New Zealand, and on and on. Most of these Anglicans want to be in relationship with Anglicans around the world, find some comfort in belonging to a world wide community of churches and give and work and pray for the mission of the church. So do I.
The most that comes from this "middle" body is the desire to both do good and be good, and the hope that the Covenant improves the possibility of both. But their arguments for the Covenant do not persuade.
I have, however, become convinced that the problem most clearly present in the Anglican Covenant is the idolatry that attaches to it. It has become an idol, replacing genuine repentance and renewal on all fronts with weak, small and false gods.
Anglican practice in its best moments has understood the need to distance the believer from simple idolatrous solutions - be it a resort to biblical literalism, a reliance on tradition in creed, prayer or practice, or a reduction of reason to rationalism. The Anglican Covenant does little to encourage biblical theology, practice that builds on tradition, or reason that embraces the creation rather than attempts to rule the creation. It is a regressive document, one that falls short of what Anglicanism offers at its best.
At the same time it does not call us as Anglicans to genuine renewal or repentance.
We have much in Anglican history for which repentance is required, particularly repentance from the West. The pathetic morphing of the great scandal for which the West ought to be repentant into the minutia of criticisms of the sexual proclivities of some few of its population who wish to align those actions with vows of fidelity and enduring love is itself a scandal.
More to the point, the repentance required of the Western powers and their South and Eastern power siblings is so large that it requires our unwavering focus. We in the West, and particularly we in the United States and those who are our allies in Europe, need to be held to account for the worse sort of colonialism, that of inducing perpetual war against all who would call us to account as devils, hypocrites, evil, or simply greedy, and calling it righteous.
But our Anglican partners can not bring themselves to say these words. Instead they will be angry about small acts of love and bravery in a broken world. For members and spokespersons of the "Global South" to focus on the election of one gay man in a committed relationship as bishop and not to focus on the criticism of imperial capitalism gone amok is itself a sign of Anglican failure. What we in the West need is not the arrows shot at the few who are in their eyes illicit lovers. What we need is the confrontation of our acquiescence to the greed and imperial powers of America and the West.
I would suggest that this has not happened because those who have made the issues of gay and lesbian and female vocations to ordained ministry the "issue of the day" are in fact unclear about their stance concerning the dismal and idolatrous reality of America and the West, or are afraid.
We are not confronted in these matters by our Global South critics precisely because these critics are themselves in relation with and to some extent managed by Western agents who are not at all supportive of a real criticism of the West. So alternative targets are produced, and silence about the rest is maintained.
So the Anglican Covenant, no matter its maker's intentions, is produced as a dog with few teeth, so that it does not bite its masters but only chews on the bones they throw - namely the ministries of people who are throw-aways in the systems to which they are all committed, namely women and gay and lesbian persons, lay persons without power, and young people.
There is not one word of hope in the Anglican Covenant for any of these, no mention of the greed and avarice of imperial powers, no confrontation with principalities and powers, no confrontation with racism. There is only the promise that all controversy will be dealt with by generous allowance for objection and extended requirements for going slow.
I hazard a guess that Martin Luther King, Jr., would know what do to with this, and what his mentor Gandhi might think of the whole thing. Perhaps they too would say:
The Anglican Covenant is the Solution to Nothing.
I remain willing to hear out all possible support for this or some other Anglican Covenant, but I am not persuaded that there is any reason to say other than this:
No to the Anglican Covenant.
My hope is that the Synod of the Church of England will in the next days also say No.