3/06/2012

Scrambling for the Covenant Votes

All politics is local, or so they tell me. That seems to be the case in the matter of finding approval for the Anglican Covenant.  For those watching the scoreboard, our eyes are turned to England, and more particularly to the dioceses in England who are voting in diocesan synods for or against the Anglican Covenant. The campaign to get this peculiar piece of Trivia Anglicana approved in the Church of England is important to the wider effort to get the various national and regional churches that make up the Anglican Communion to do the same.  If it fails in the CofE, it fails everywhere, because it is the CofE that sits at the hub of the wheel of things Anglican.  

If the CofE determines that its standing as an Anglican body is not dependent on a sign on to the Covenant, or worse, determines that it cannot sign on to a document that limits its ability to make decisions internal to the life of the nation and church, why should any other church in the Anglican Communion do so?  

As of today, March 6, 2012 the score card in the CofE stands at 13 against, 8 for. This is just short of half the dioceses reporting in. 

The Archbishop of Canterbury has weighed in with a second video in support of the Covenant, issued just yesterday.  You can view that video HERE.  He suggests that the real value of the Anglican Covenant is scrutiny, that it is a means for provinces to test new actions or ideas against its effect on others. He also insists that section four of the Covenant is not about punishment but about discernment.  This does not jibe with the reality on the ground that "relational consequences" as already played out are both mishandled and misguided.

The Archbishop is also concerned that ecumenical conversations suffer when we don't have something like the Anglican Covenant. The AC is useful, it is argued, so that others will know we are all of a similar mind on matters of ecumenical importance.  He ends with a plug for the passage of the Covenant by dioceses in the Church of England, which is, of course, the purpose of the whole thing. The video is address to dioceses in the CofE. It is local politics.

Yesterday also saw the publication of a new essay in the Living Church series in support of the Covenant.  The Living Church has become a multi-tasking agency, with a print version, an online version, TLC web offerings, and an associated blog. TLC is an supporter of the Anglican Covenant and is producing a set of essays about the AC's good points.  The new essay, "Spatial Catholicity"
by  Mark D. Chapman argues that the Anglican Covenant provides a useful, "tepid constitutionalism” around which the autonomous national and regional churches of the Communion can gather. 

Chapman is a fine writer. His little book, "Anglicanism: A very short introduction" is a good read. So we must be careful in understanding what he is about in this essay. 

What looks like a peculiar bit of English self depreciating humor, referring to the Anglican Covenant as "tepid constitutionalism" is perhaps more than that.  Chapman believes that the fall back position to the Anglican Covenant will be a form of loose federation without any binding sense of just why we must work together. The use of the word "constitutionalism" is therefore important. He argues that the Anglican Covenant is the beginnings, although tepid, of a constitutional form of governance for the Anglican Communion, one that is bound by more than affection, but by expectation and mutual accountability.  But there it is: a Constitutional form of governance verses a loose federation of churches that belong to the whole by greater whim. 

Again, while this essay seems to be addressed to TLC's readership, its real message is to those in the local politics of the Church of England.  Chapman argument for the Anglican Covenant is most peculiar. He points out the lack of inclusion of "reason" in the basic building blocks of Anglicanism referenced by the Covenant and gives a peculiar justification for the absence of much discussion of reason. He suggests that the Anglican Covenant by itself is no great help to unity, but that the desire to be in relation, which is reflected in the AC, is a help to such unity.  We are left with the notion that we ought to support the covenant because wanting to be in union with those who find us disagreeable is a good thing and the Anglican Covenant supports that desire.

Both the Video and the Essay are indications of the dramatically great importance being given the passage of the AC in the Cof E.  This is really too bad. 

The Archbishop of Canterbury has done a great job in getting some of the churches in the Communion to take the Anglican Covenant idea seriously. Here in The Episcopal Church , as in some of the other  churches, we have been working on this for some time and at considerable depth.  The Church of England has initiated a process of deep conversation on the Anglican Covenant.  It is not helpful for th ABC to support by his actions the idea that passage of the AC somehow involves a matter of loyalty to him (a notion he does not personally promote, but is out there). A vote yes or no need not be a vote of confidence or no confidence. But he has allowed the "vote of confidence" idea to sit out there unchallenged.  So if the vote is no, he will be left holding an empty bag. That is not a good idea. 
Better the Anglican Covenant should stand on its own. Voting for or against it should not be a matter of affirming the ABC's work. His job is immensely difficult and this is no help.



11 comments:

Msgr said...

"If it fails in the C of E it fails everywhere"

This is false. The covenant is the property of those who adopt it. They are also those who can amend it. Who knows, failure to adopt in the CofE might well be an incentive for GS provinces to adopt.

Msgr

Peter Carrell said...

If the Covenant is Trivia Anglicana, Mark, why are you bothering to write about it?

JCF said...

Is this the same Chapman behind the "Chapman Memo", or was that someone else?

Mark Harris said...

Hi Peter...well I have to admit that in the midst of dealing with the death of my mother and the clarity with which the service for her was classic good Anglican prayer, the sense of deepening mutual engagement with a parish in Haiti and an upcoming meeting with leadership in the Philippine Independent Church, I find the Anglican Covenant pretty trivial.

Mark Harris said...

JCF, No, but dream on!

Msgr said...

Well that's a sad dichotomy. One ought properly to be able to lament the loss of a dear mother and not just collapse a sincere effort to further the Anglican Communion--even one disagrees with--as trivial.
Msgr

David and John said...

I find it a stretch to claim the covenant (as written in section 4) is a method of furthering the Anglican "Communion".

Furthering the push towards an official Anglican "Church" yes, but "Communion, no.

Daniel Weir said...

One can care deeply about the Communion and think that the PAC would do little to enhance large shared life of the Communion. After reading it several times, I have found it to be, at best trivial, at worst destructive. At best it might leave matters pretty much as they are with some in the Communion refusing to talk with others. At worst it might create a culture of complaint and triangulation as those who take exception with the actions of others choose to complain to the Standing Committee rather than speak with those who have offended them. The failure of Lambeth's efforts to get synods in the CofE to endorse it suggests that as a good faith effort to deal with conflict in the Communion the PAC has been found wanting.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Well, the Anglican Covenant is a form of "Trivial Pursuit" and people play that by the millions. This one is a dangerous game and so highly worthy of careful monitoring.

Well done, Mark. You have nothing for which to apologize.

BTW, don't you just HATE the new fuzzy words in the comment moderation? Makes me more frustrated than all the talk about the Anglican Covenant and far more trivial.

Lapinbizarre said...

Be more accurate to say to further the pressure of a specific interest group to re-mould the Anglican Communion in its own image.

Completely with you on the new word verification, Elizabeth. Have discovered, tho', that if one hits the reload button to the immediate right of the "type the two words" box, it will usually yield a more legible WV than the first offering often is.

More annoying is the regularity with which it will spit "characters didn't match" back at one.

MarkBrunson said...

I expect Mark writes about it because it threatens to overshadow and destroy the real Christianity of the Anglican Communion - a trivial weapon, in the hands of mediocre men desperate to establish their own dictatorial control and personal power, becomes very dangerous. Look at what fertilizer, or a mere plane ticket can do.