Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The Covenant is dead, but can we get back to square one?

Recently certain bishops and archbishops of the Anglican Communion are saying that if the 2008 Lambeth Conference hosted by the Archbishop of Canterbury won't include a legislative element, then there is no point in going.

For all the bluster, I think they are admitting that the revolution has failed. Those who would re-create the Anglican Communion into a full-blown conciliar church with direct oversight over the constituent members of the Communion, in particular the United States, have by their threats to opt-out are admitting that the Grand Plan has failed.

Rather than admit defeat, it is always easier to change the subject and blame the other guy.

What was floated in Dar es Salaam, a highly structured Covenant that is more constitutional and dogmatic in format is, if not dead, certainly on life-support. The Archbishop of Canterbury came back from sabbatical not only with a new book, but it seems with a more realistic assessment of where the Episcopal Church is and with some determination to undo some of the damage that has been wrought by an effort to re-write and re-structure the Communion.

We forget that was envisioned four years ago has become something else entirely. The Lambeth Commission on Communion was not meant to deal with sexuality, nor the specifics of the action of the Episcopal Church but to deal with issues of Communion that actions in the US and Canada pointed towards.

The fabric of the Communion was torn because there were two different implications from the same Gospel are at work at the same time and there was (and still is) no way for the several provinces to work out how implementing differing perspectives would mean for each other.

There were (and are) other issues other issues as or more important but less emotionally charged at work beside sexuality. Canterbury dearly wanted all these to be dealt with under one banner because they all involved the same kind of questions and challenges: lay presidency, border crossing Bishops and whether or not Anglicanism can handle any degree of conciliar oversight. These other issues are in their way more important from an ecumenical standpoint than sexuality alone.

(I would imagine that if I were Pope Benedict, witnessing from Rome what has been happening in the Anglican Communion since about 2000, then I would be appalled. Not because of the sex-thing, either--although he did at one point tip his mitre at our conservatives on that score--but because of the inability of Anglicans to consult one another and, worst of all, the horrific picture of Archbishops consecrating Bishops for the express purpose of working in another Archbishops province. From a Roman Catholic standpoint, what the Anglican "conservatives" have been up to is as bad or worse than the Reformation itself. I can just see him saying: "this is no way to run a church. If this is democracy, forget it!")

What was envisioned for the Covenant, according the Lambeth Commission Report itself (I say this to differentiate it from the Windsor Report, which is shorthand for the what the document has come to mean in the minds of the partisans, and therefore has defined our conversation) was the Covenant would be formulated through a consultative process that would *include* the Lambeth Conference. The Covenant Process was to include many voices, be crafted over a period of many years, and that process would include both the much ignored listening process in Lambeth 1.10 (1998) and would have to pass muster with all 39 of the synods or conventions of all the Provinces.

That was why very, very early in the game--well before the last Primates meeting--Rowan established the no-legislation ground-rule for the next Lambeth meeting. It was for listening and sharing views. Early on, Williams rejected the Lambeth-as-Church-Council viewpoint.

Despite the ground-rule, the Covenant became a document that in the minds of its supporters would at once be *ratified* at Lambeth, while Lambeth itself would become a litmus test of those who would ratify and adhere to the Covenant.

You see, the idea was that no one who could not sign on the Covenant would be allowed to attend the meeting in the first place. This was at the heart of the "Road to Lambeth" document of some of the African primates. But it was a non-starter. The rules had been set by the host and when the invitations went out, it showed that he was not going to follow the "Road to Lambeth" map.

What was supposed to be a draft, a first step, became at Dar es Salaam a full-blown proposal. It just so happened that a few people happened to have a draft covenant already in their pocket. Why not start there? Yeah, certain parties of the more progressive ilk had no real say in its being written, but that's okay, the thinking was, it was a starting place.

Except that it wasn't. The draft proposed Covenant reflected very much the ideas of a few for a New Improved Conciliar Anglican Communion. But the Primates didn't bite. And least not all of it. Again, at Dar es Salaam, we forget that actually we got two documents: an initial communique that was quite conciliatory--remember how the conservative commentators were the day that part of the document was released quite unhappy because they got nothing they asked for. The second document an addendum where the demands for a Primatial Council for *only* the Episcopal Church and the other things were tacked on.

Just as only a few points of the Lambeth Commission on Communion report became "The Windsor Report," that addendum became, for all intents and purposes, the Communique.

When the HOB in the Spring turned aside the demands of the addendum, and invited the ABC, the Primates Council and the ACC to the fall meeting, it was apparent that they were only going to deal with the content of the Communique itself--minus addendum--and with the whole of the LCC Report, not just the selected pieces which we shorthand the Windsor Report.

The sub-text for the Bishops who say they see no point in going to a non-legislative Lambeth Conference is that they recognize that Rowan was not going to let anyone ratify anything, and that he had decided early not to let the few determine the fate of the communion for many.

The heart of the struggle since at least last May was to bring the conversation back to where it started: how do we as a Communion balance the local pastoral needs of the member churches with what we share as a whole Communion? How can we work together as the Anglican portion of the whole body of Christ, and still minister effectively in the situation each province--each diocese and parish, for that matter--ministers in?

I think it has become apparent to the Archbishop of Canterbury and to many of the Primates that a structural solution will not work. A rule-book called a covenant is not a covenant, and that to impose this kind of structure on the member provinces is not a covenantal either.

So, after all the wrangle I do not believe there is a whole lot of heart and energy in the idea of Covenant among the Primates as a whole. If there is a Covenant, it will not be constitutional in nature...it will not re-create the Anglican Communion into a more unified global polity. Rather it will be very general, talking about the things we share and suggesting that it might be good that the several Provinces let each other know when they make decisions that will affect the others. Much will be made of the need to pastor locally, and to consult a lot more and to encourage more mission together.

But in the end, the Provinces will still be the Provinces and they will do what they need to do to minister to their people and proclaim the Gospel in their contexts. The question is this: after the various parties shake themselves out--because the realignment movement is going its own way regardless-- can we have the discussion that we were supposed to have in the first place?


Unknown said...

The Covenant is dead! Long live the Covenant!

Doorman-Priest said...

And there was me thinking that the baptismal covenant was all that was necessary.


June Butler said...

Well done, Andrew.