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.