Reviewing the Third Draft of the Covenant, Section 4

This is part of a continuing commentary on the Ridley Cambridge Draft Covenant (RCDC). Part one is HERE. Part two is HERE.Part three is HERE. Part four is HERE.

Section 4. Our Covenanted Life Together

Comment on style: Each section has had two parts, a first on affirmations and a second on commitments. Section four breaks with this pattern. Here there are a set of statements that are affirmations and commitments, one or the other or both.

4.1 Adoption of the Covenant.

4.1.1 The Covenant is understood to involve commitment "in submission to God" but not submis
sion to "any external ecclesiastical jurisdiction." At first this appears to allay the fears of those who believed that earlier drafts of the Covenant would require changes in our Constitution or Canons. The fears remain, however. The Covenant shifts the matter of submission to God rather than to a higher level of law. No longer is the relationship among the member churches a matter of agreed on rules, expectations, hopes, binding laws, etc.

In this version of the Covenant, the relationship is like that between Christ and the Church, that is, like marriage. And, where relationships based on law in many countries allow for divorce in which the parties retain full standing as citizens, in this relationship based on the model of Christ and the Church, no divorce is possible and separation is separation from the Christ, i.e. from the body. In this context it matters not what sort of law is invoked, the higher vision of covenant as unbreakable, save by divorce and one person's excommunication, means that the alternative to the covenant is for the party in the wrong (a non compliant Church) to be anathema and the party in the right continuing (the community of compliant Churches.)

We need to look very carefully at the statement, "Each Church adopting this Covenant affirms that it enters into the COvenant as a commitment to relationship in submission to God."

4.1.2 Each church "recognizes these elements (the prior sections of the covenant) as fundamental to the life of the Anglican Communion and to the relationships among the covenanting Churches." To the contrary, only some of the elements of the proceeding sections are fundamental (the
Lambeth 4 or 6, and the Five Marks of Mission.). This section is a catch all clause.

4.1.3 "Under terms of this Covenant no one Church, nor any agency of the Communion, can exercise control or direction over the internal life of any other covenanted Church." Again this is an answer to concerns about autonomy remaining from the previous draft. Having established the covenant as relational as concerns submission to God it now notes that "Recognition of, and fidelity to, the text of t
his Covenant, enables mutual recognition and communion." Nothing suggests that such mutual recognition and communion requires this recognition and fidelity, but the suggestion is certainly just below the surface.

4.1.4 Every Church in the Anglican Communion, as defined by the Anglican Consultative Council is invited to adopt the Covenant. Such adoption assumes 4.1.3 the wholesale affirmation of the whole Covenant. Here the Churches of the Anglican Communion are those recognized by the ACC. The suggestion that this draft does not support the notion that dioceses can sign up.

4.1.5 Here, however, "Churches" has another possible meaning. "It shall be open to other Churches to adopt the Covenant." This opens a whole world of complex weavings, not the least of which is the notion that any one of the Instruments of Communion might independently recognize a "church" and that a church can request formal recognition and membership in the body of a particular instrument. You could end up with a diocese recognized by the Archbishop of Canterbury as "extra-Provincial," and not by the Primates some of whom would view the diocese as logically related to their own jurisdictions.

Or suppose a majority of the Primates recognized a collection of bishops and religious communities in the US as having signed on as members of the Anglican Communion contrary to what the ACC decides. This is a mess.

All of the above is cause for considerable discussion and some revisioning. If that were all I'd give this section one flamingo, maybe two. But the killer is this:

4.1.6 "This Covenant becomes active for a Church when that Church adopts the Covenant." What in the world does this mean? Surely not that that Church (Province, regional or national church, group of dioceses, individual diocese, whatever) is part of the Anglican Communion by being party to the Anglican Covenant? The Covenant begins by saying, "We, as Churches of the Anglican Communion..." The assumption is that the covenant is among churches already part of the Angl
ican Communion, or perhaps brought in under 4.1.5. Probably 4.1.6 means "This Covenant becomes active for a Church of the Anglican Communion...or just possibly it becomes active for a Church intending union with the churches of the Anglican Communion.

Relationally it the Covenant is active for a Church when it adopts the Covenant, of course, but that opens up all sorts of problems when the other persons (churches) in the covenant community don't appreciate or want that additional group. This relational business is fine until we get to the fine points of sharing the same bed.

As a Covenant of the Anglican Communion it would seem to me the Covenant would become "active" when a certain percentage of the existing members of the Communion buy on. Suppose 4.1.6 were to read, "This Covenant becomes active for the Anglican Communion when 4/5 of the member churches adopt it." At least that would make it a covenant of the Anglican Communion and not a warm fuzzy relational thing that holds just because a church buys on. I give this section (4.1) one flamingo.

4.2 Maintenance of Covenant and Disputes

4.2.1 Things get really strange now. The Joint Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates' Meeting or any body that succeeds it takes on
oversight, with the power to appoint and nominate committees and commissions for investigation, visitations, etc. The shall have the duty of overseeing the functioning of the Covenant..." (emphasis mine). Suddenly the JSC.

JSC has not played a part in the Covenant until this point and now, in 4.2 to 4.4 the Joint Standing Committee appears ten times.
The sudden introduction of the JSC is very much in line with the Windsor Continuation Group, but at no point is the Windsor Continuation Group recommendations referenced in this section. This is the smoking gun of un-admitted control. If there are grounds for suspicion this is it.

We can now take a look at the powers of the Joint Standing Committee:

4.2.2 JSC can request a covenanting Church to defer action, and appoint committees o
n relational consequences.
4.2.3 JSC can recommend to any Instrument of Communion relational consequences, limitations of participation, or suspension.

4.2.4 JSC may make declarations concerning incompatibility with the Covenant, although supposedly these do "not have any force in the Constitution and Canons of any covenanting Church unless or until it is received by the canonical proceedu
res of the Church in question." Meaning, I suppose that the JSC could declare the actions of TEC incompatible with the Covenant and request that there be a change in the canons of TEC. They could not force the change, but may recommend that the consequences spelled out in 4.2.3 be made permanent.
4.2.5 is the basis for JSC recommendation for anathema, exclusion, expulsion, etc.
4.2.6 requests each covenanting church to put in its own Canons and Constitution a relational function to the Instruments of Communion and the recommendations from it (provided one supposes by the JSC.)

4.2.7 Oddly here "participation in all of the above is limited to members of the Instruments of Communion who are representative of those churches who have adopted the Covenant or who are in the process of adoption." What does that mean? Does this mean that provisional members (from a church in process) might be included in membership of a body that receives the recommendation to cast out this or that church?

4.2 sets out the long suspected star chamber. The Joint Standing Committee is by election from the Primates and the ACC. That membership is derived by absolute raw power at its worse, or at its best by prayerful consideration of balance, viewpoint, place in orders, laity, etc. In all likelihood is is the product of a mixed experience of political action and prayerful consideration. It is, in other words, a matter of ecclesial politics, subject to the power of words and potentates, but less clearly subject to the Word of God, by which I don't mean the Scriptures but the presence of God, known in Jesus Christ, in the lives of people and in all creation. It is a bureaucratic mess.

Worse, it is the imposition of a fifth instrument, born out of time, the product of the ACC and the Primates Meeting as envisioned by the writers of the Windsor Report and the follow-up Windsor Continuation Group. Without further explanation and careful codification this section is dead in the water. No flamingos flying here.

4.3 Withdrawal. Sure. If a Church withdraws there are questions as to why. Supposedly one could withdraw from the Covenant but not from the Communion. But if the Communion is identified and defined by the Covenant, withdrawal from the Covenant IS withdrawal from the Communion. So the relational catch 22 is now complete. This thing is about submission to God by way of relationship. Mess with the relationship by withdrawal, and the willingness to submit to God will be challenged. There is no free leaving. Leaving is to leave the communion commanded by God, etc. This section is a half mess. I'll save the flamingo for later.

4.4. The Covenant Text and amendment. Well, if it ever gets this far, the JSC gets to screen amendments. The text is the received text and the Introduction is what it is... an official
unofficial absolutely to be included extra thing attached to the Covenant. We just don't have to argue about its wording. Oh well. Our Declaration One supposes that we can be "partakers in this Anglican Communion Covenant" just as we are partakers in this Holy Communion" but the language is just plain silly. The Anglican Communion Covenant is not the basis of communion. Inclusion in the body of Christ is. At the very least we are not here to eat this or that bit or piece of the Covenant. We are not partakers, we are making contract, swear, promise, etc. We do not come here to eat. We come to become one with one another. That is perhaps a slightly different task.

The whole of section 4 and the "Our Declaration" is a bureaucratic use of relational language to produce a star chamber of persons who will enforce the Windsor Covenant and related insistence on the three moratoria, and maybe a fourth, and essentially weed out over time any church that does not comply with the requests that they not act, do or undertake anything that is beyond the existing norms of the Communion, as defined by such things as Lambeth statements, Windsor Reports, etc. This is a particularly difficult section of the Anglican Covenant and I see no way to sign on with new machinery and processes in place that have not been adequately discussed. The whole thing gets a "no flamingo."

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you completely, Mark. This should be given the bird!


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.