2/15/2012

Why English is not for the faint of heart:Mutterings on the Covenant

The Right Reverend Trevor Willmott, Bishop of Dover, had this to say to his synod about the Anglican Covenant (thanks to AnglicansDownUnder for the tip): 

"Contrary to what some might argue, it (the Covenant) does not, in my judgment, create new structures or new authorities. Nor does it seek to offer legal solutions to the failure of human relationships. But equally it challenges any understanding, again erroneous in my judgment, that our Anglican Communion is nothing more than a series of independent churches linked in some sort of federation.

English is not for the faint of heart. The first sentence, "Contrary to what some might argue, it (the Covenant) does not, in my judgment, create new structures or new authorities" obviously means something, but what?

Unless one is careful one might come away believing that it means "Some might argue that the Covenant creates new structures or new authority. To the contrary, it does not." But what Bishop Willmott really says is, "Some might argue that the Covenant creates new structures or new authority.  In my judgement (which is contrary to the unspecified content of that argument}  it does not."

 Nothing of the argument given by the "some" for the view that new structures or authorities are created is presented, and no counter argument is offered. All that this sentence says is that the bishop's judgment is that the argument (whatever it is) does not hold.

The second sentence is no help. The bishop refutes the claim that it is a legal solution to human relationships. And, the third, to top the matter off, which suggests that the Anglican "Covenant :challenges any understanding...that our Anglican Communion is nothing more than a series of independent churches linked in some sort of federation." 

Nowhere in the Bishop's Presidential Address did he offer any argument against either the matter of new structures or new authority or against the notion of a federation.  Instead he offers only judgement.

Two thoughts:

(i) Offering judgment rather than opinion is one of the dangers of episcopacy. We need argument, not judgement.

(ii) I am always struck by the horror with which some writes approach the matter of federation. Those mostly horrified seem also to be persons who take the magisterial / judging / princely image of episcopal and arch-episcopal with great seriousness.  Perhaps we would do well to address these fears. What precisely is wrong with a federation of independent churches?  (As someone who lives in a country with a federal government I can provide several dangers of such a system... we live with them every day.)  There could be good conversation about the pros and cons of a federal system as applied to churches of the Anglican Communion. That would be health and interesting. 

What is not healthy and interesting is judgment unaccompanied by argument.  What is really sad is bishops steeped in top down appointment and unity through monarchists sensibilities telling their synods that judgment alone is necessary, not good reasoning or reasons.

By the simple process of separating out by commas the offending judgement clause it makes it appear  that a thoughtful bishop is addressing arguments when he is only issuing opinions.

We need better than this if we are to be convinced.


3 comments:

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Try Ephraim Radner's latest contribution. I try to clear a way through the jungle on my pluralistspeaks blog. But at the moment a majority of dioceses are against the Covenant and it won't return to the General Synod if it should fail to get a majority. Adrian Worsfold

Lapinbizarre said...

Not the most succinct of writers, Fr Radner.

[Hate this new word verification. Why two typefaces, one semi-unreadable?]

Crimson Rambler said...

I take your point on "judgment without argument" and/or without reasoning, (and I entirely agree with you on the execrable style of the Covenant)...but sometimes, I do think, with all respect, that judgment-without-argument may likewise be fostered by an unthinking commitment to "truths ... self-evident"? Perhaps?