The Archbishop of Cape Town, The Most Rev. Thabo Makgoba has written a longish letter to the Archbishop of York, working to keep the fires burning for the Anglican Covenant both in England and elsewhere. It is an interesting read and can be found HERE on the Episcopal Cafe.
Whatever the merits of the Archbishop's letter, he carefully chooses his words. He makes a serious charge near the end of the letter, one that requires our attention:
"I feel we have failed to take seriously the commitments to ‘Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in the Body of Christ’ made at the 1963 Toronto Congress. We said then ‘our unity in Christ, expressed in our full communion, is the most profound bond among us, in all our political and racial and cultural diversity’ and in consequence, ‘our need is … to understand how God has led us, through the sometimes painful history of our time, to see the gifts of freedom and communion in their great terms, and to live up to them.’ The Congress warned ‘if we are not responsible stewards of what Christ has given us, we will lose even what we have.’ But it appears we have not been responsible, taking one another for granted, being content to do our own thing, allowing ourselves to be preoccupied with our own concerns, so that when differences arose we had lost our ability to connect and work through them in love together....
The Communion, and all it has the potential to be and become, under God, matters. Echoing St Paul, we affirm that we cannot say ‘We have no need of you’ (1 Cor 12:21). Rather, all of you, as partners covenanting to go forward in newness of life together, are ‘indispensable’ (v.22) to our own ability to grow in faithful obedience to what we believe is God’s vocation for all Anglicans, and ultimately towards the fullness of his vision for his One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. "
The charge is that we have forgotten the call of MRI - Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in the Body of Christ - the call to attend to the unity we have in Christ, and that we have somehow said, "We have no need of you" to others in the Communion.
Now, to the Archbishop's credit he does not single out this or that community of believers as the "we" who have failed MRI or have said, "we have no need of you." His "we" includes himself, perhaps, and more widely perhaps his Province and the Province of York within the Church of England. He is, after all one Archbishop writing to another (howbeit that one is head of a "Church" in the Anglican Communion, the other Archbishop of a province within the Church of England.)
And more to his credit, the Archbishop gives a weighted argument for the Anglican Covenant, not an absolute one. He does not say destruction lies in one direction and grace in the other. Rather he believes churches have come to see the world through the lens of autonomy and not through the lens of community, and he suggests "There are many reasons why we feel that far greater potential to walk in the paths God has prepared for us both as a Province, and within the Communion as a whole, lies in adopting the Covenant than in doing otherwise." His letter in support of the Anglican Covenant is a reasoned argument for moderation in a time when moderation is hard to come by.
It fails to convince on several counts.
(i) Moderation is a good Anglican ideal, but it is, after all a virtue, and the problem with the virtues are that they are silken and ephemeral when held up against the hard demands of justice making or truth telling. The virtues are not hard and cold, the goals are more so.
Barry Goldwater got into a lot of trouble saying "I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!" His rhetoric got the better of him - extremism is not the opposite of moderation. The opposite of moderation is passionate (not extremist) engagement. If he had said something like "the passionate desire to defend liberty is no vice! And lack of passion in the pursuit of justice is no virtue,"perhaps he might have had better luck.
One of the problems with the preaching of moderation in the Anglican Communion is that the call of faith is, in some real world sense, immoderate. Which is, I suppose, why churches are always splitting and reforming and finding new avenues to unity and so forth.
I believe, on the whole, that immoderation, as a witness to passionate engagement in the concerns for justice and truth, has its place in the building of a community of churches worthy of being called a "Communion." At one time or another given churches (Provinces) act in ways immoderate to others, sometimes to the good, sometimes to the sorrow of us all.
(ii) The Archbishop is absolutely right to say we cannot say "I have no need of you" and remain committed to a life of unity in Christ. He is right to remind us that MRI was and is an important insight - that mutuality and interdependence IS the life we seek as the body of Christ.
But I believe he is wrong to point to the Anglican Covenant as the appropriate sign in our time of our pledge to mutuality and our need of one another. Those signs are all around us, there in spite of the angers and deep differences in what we consider important and necessary in this time. He points to such signs in his mention of the real experiences that are behind diocesan links, found in the support needed in times of great stress, and in the friendships across boundaries, real or imagined.
The Archbishop believes the Anglican Covenant is an aid to the moderation of autonomy ( by which apparently he means separation.) He is concerned that the Anglican Communion will fly apart. Maybe yes, maybe no. But the glue that will hold us together is not the Anglican Covenant any more than it was MRI. It is our desire to live through it all together that will do it. It is that immoderate thing - passion - in this case the passionate desire to remain at the table with those whose opinions we find difficult - that will suffice.
The letter is a good one, and I would almost be convinced, believing that his "we" is about all sorts and conditions of Anglicans in the world. But then there is this: The Archbishop says, "The disunity over sexuality merely reflects this deeper malaise within our common life."
"This deeper malaise" refers to what immediately preceded this,namely, "Allowing secular legal norms to define us in our separate identities, without counterbalancing commitments of mutual interdependence, and the drifting apart that has followed, are, it seems to me, what have particularly allowed such sharp bitterness in handling our differences."
The Archbishop apparently believes "secular legal norms" identify us in ways that can separate us. Does he mean that addressing already "defined..separate identities" by legal means (say different community "norms" regarding rights for men and women, gay and straight people, people of the predominant culture, class or color and others, etc) is divisive and must be countered mutual interdependence? Is this a malaise?
Secular legal norms don't make interdependence happen, but they reduce the distance induced by injustices shared mutually. They make it possible to build new relationships where social norms of prejudice and injustice have before existed. Malaise?
If separation is the problem then "secular legal norms" that make the rights and duties of all persons equal are a force for reunion. Secular legal norms that recognize social divisiveness and overcome those with affirmations of the rights of all people are not the problem.
The Archbishop almost makes the Anglican Covenant seem attractive, and then he fails. "Disunity over sexuality" is a variation on our precisely taking one another seriously. It is not "disunity" that we have here, dear Archbishop, it is disagreement. It looks like disunity because our legal and moral norms are for a while different in various parts of the Communion.
To say "Yes" to Communion is to have the disagreements but cherish the unity that makes such disagreements possible.
To say "No" to the Anglican Covenant is not to say we are disunited, but to say that disagreements are a sign of passionate engagement.