Friday, July 25, 2008

Lambeth 4 - The Archbishop's New Covenant (part 1)

In the previous section I noted that ++Williams, who thinks Lambeth is so critical, outlined in his presidential address two key ways in which he thinks the crisis must be addressed. The first, discussed in that last part, was indaba groups -- which give us a hint about what Williams is actually working towards. (But more on that in a subsequent installment). The second key element he mentioned was the creating of an Anglican Covenant. In this section, I will examine why Williams thinks a Covenant is so important and what he hope it will achieve... in the next I'll examine some elements of the current draft Covenant itself.

This notion of an Anglican Covenant seems crucial to Williams -- he spent most of the second half of his address talking about it (after having spent the first half trying to explain why indaba groups wouldn't be a waste of time).
It's my conviction that the option to which we are being led is one whose keywords are of council and covenant. It is the vision of an Anglicanism whose diversity is limited not by centralised control but by consent... And I want to say very clearly that the case for an Anglican Covenant is essentially about what we need in order to give this vision some clearer definition.

Nor is Williams the only one pinning his hopes on a Covenant as the way forward. The folks at the ACI (who recently brought you the CPP proposal as a fancy way of doing nothing new at all with a great deal of fanfare) have been working hard on the Covenant idea. They say:
there are no alternatives but a covenant if the Communion is not to divide, or perhaps one should say, remain divided and broken.... At present the status quo is not an Anglican Communion, but a broken Anglican family. The covenant could be the means for restoring order and allowing an Anglican Communion to be extended, and set on a footing that is more secure than the one which allowed the present breakdown such wide scope for emergence.
The current structures of relationship and decision-making within the Communion have failed to maintain the unity of witness that Anglicans have generally enjoyed until the more recent emergence of a fully global Communion... the structures themselves are proving incapable of carrying the trust and force of the Communion’s united purpose. No other means of addressing this incapacity have been suggested, short of allowing the Anglican Communion itself to dissolve.

Now, in principle, a statement of mutually recognized norms to which all are held accountable is a good thing. Heck, that's what the Ecumenical Councils are -- or, in Anglican circles, were. Statements of basic and indisputable elements of Faith and Order that defined the essentials of Christian belief and practice. And, in recent decades, we've seen Anglican statements of basic beliefs (recapitulations and affirmations, not novelties) which also attempt a "covenant"-like definition of norms to which all are accountable. The two most noteworthy being the Affirmation of St. Loius, and it's younger (and substantially weaker) sister, the Declaration of Jerusalem.

Yet apparently, these are not the kinds of "covenant" we're looking for. Williams condemns GAFCon's approach, saying:
A ‘Primates’ Council’ which consists only of a self-selected group from among the Primates of the Communion will not pass the test of legitimacy for all in the Communion. And any claim to be free to operate across provincial boundaries is fraught with difficulties... It is not enough to dismiss the existing structures of the Communion. If they are not working effectively, the challenge is to renew them rather than to improvise solutions that may seem to be effective for some in the short term but will continue to create more problems than they solve. This challenge is one of the most significant focuses for the forthcoming Lambeth Conference. One of its major stated aims is to restore and deepen confidence in our Anglican identity.
Now, this seems strange to me -- as I mentioned before, Williams has shown no hesitation in undermining the council of primates and the whole Windsor process which was the attempt through the "existing structures of the Communion" to address the crisis. I can't help but think that it isn't so much the undermining of existing structures that bothers him as the fact that someone else is doing it!

Over at the ACI, some are even more openly critical of GAFCon and its "form" of Covenant -- going so far as to condemn their behavior and beliefs as just as faithless and un-Christian as PEcUSA's! (No, I'm not making that up).
These conclusions point fairly inexorably to the sad conclusion that the GAFCON movement, although it may talk about its commitment to the Communion and its reform and may appear to have given support to the established Windsor and covenant processes, seems determined to pursue its own agenda on its own terms and to weaken and undermine the wider Communion if it believes that it will not get from it exactly what it wants. It thereby reveals that, in relation to our common life together as Anglicans, it is suffering from the same spiritual sickness as the North American churches have revealed in relation to Communion teaching on sexuality.

What's so wrong with these existing models of "Covenants" -- the Affirmation of St. Loius or the Declaration of Jerusalem? Why are they denigrated or ignored? I mean, there must be something essentially wrong about these other approaches from Williams' perspective, right? Let's look again at his presidential address. Williams outlines 3 possible ways forward which believes are bad ones, ones not following the Covenant process:
Some in our Communion would be content to see us become a loose federation... Some would like to see the Communion as simply a family of regional or national churches strictly demarcated from each other... Others again want to see a firmer and more consistent control of diversity, a more effective set of bodies to govern the local communities making up the Communion.
Obviously, in this list, the more "confessional" approach of the Continuing Churches or GAFCon is the third one -- "a firmer and more consistent control of diversity." Apparently this is a BAD THING.


Because apparently, for Williams, to attempt to exercise control over diversity would be un-Anglican. He actually suggests that to follow the path of laying down such norms would mean to cease to be Anglican. In a recent interview, asked about these issues, he said:
Anglicanism, by its essence, is certainly plural and certainly diffuse. We have always talked about diffused authority as part of our model. If we did have a tight central model, we would cease to be the kind of Church we have always set out to be. So the issue — as I have been saying ad nauseam — is not about establishing a central commissariat, but about establishing mutual covenants of responsible, mutual protocols.
There's that word again -- covenant. As opposed to any sort of central authority or loss of plurality. It seems, for Williams, that the problems with these other approaches is that they (like, on a greater scale, the Ecumenical Councils did) exclude people. Putting down norms of belief rather than of relationship.

By contrast, "a Covenant should not be thought of as a means for excluding the difficult or rebellious." It should, instead, involve a
deeper seriousness about how we consult each other -- consult in a way that allows others to feel they have been heard and taken seriously, and so in a way that can live with restraint and patience. And that is a hard lesson to learn, and one that still leaves open what is to happen if such consultation doesn't result in agreement about processes.
(Note, it's not even agreement on substance at issue here... Williams seems to think the Covenant process is a process for trying to reach consensus on a process!) And this is why he keeps saying things like
I am looking for consent not coercion but unless we have something we will be flying apart. We cannot just coexist there have to be protocols and convention by which we understand each other and cooperate. Can we find a consensual way to deal with this because no one has the authority to impose The AC is not a Church. That is a moot point We are not a federation nor are we the RC -- We are between that where we belong.

The most fundamental fear here seems to be that there would be some sort of papal "central authority", be it theological, ecclesiological, or ethical. That a Covenant would threaten to make Anglicanism "becomes a confessional church in a way it never has been before." Even one of the few Lambeth panels on the Covenant (guess they had to make a little room for it amid all the "homosexual listening", environmentalism, financial management, &c... all of which outnumber discussions about the Covenant) foregrounds this concern
Does the covenant actually mean a creeping centralisation and new ecclesiology for Anglicanism? The session will focus on Section Three of the St Andrew’s Draft ‘Our Unity and Common Life’.
And this concern seems to be shared by the bishops at Lambeth -- remember, those who represent a whopping one-third of the Anglican world -- in their first discussion on the Covenant. (As expected, each speaker got a whole three minutes to present their own views and address the issues, and even that left many people out, so little time was allocated for the discussion.)
One of the predominant themes from many (both TEC and others) was that we do not want a Covenant that can be used "juridically" to expel, discipline, or exclude.
Clearly, it's essential to Williams, the ACI and others that the Covenant cannot have standards that exclude, norms that it can enforce, or authority to vet it members. It seems that they want a membership that is completely voluntary, that is non-binding, and that has no mandatory norms of faith or order.

Thus, despite what you may imagine a Covenant would say -- er, well not "say" of course, since the Covenant can't say anything explicit... express politely... um, suggest?... not that there aren't other voices... which are just as important and correct... well, we don't believe in 'correct', that's exclusive... um, equally valid? affirmed? -- the American take on a Covenant (hardly surprising) is that a it must not exclude the homosexualist heresy and that the really terrible thing it needs to address -- what they think has actually torn the fabric of the Communion -- is the ministry of other Anglican groups in their bailiwick.
The tone was set by the first speaker, a Bishop from TEC, who used his time to assert the need for the FULL acceptance of LGBTs by the Church... There was great anger expressed by a number of our Bishops over the incursions into their Dioceses by international jurisdictions. And there was a claim by one of them that, "Less than 7/10 of one percent of The Episcopal Church has defected" over "the issues".
Wow, sounds like these fun-filled indaba groups discussing the Covenant are merely a collection of sound-bytes of people stating their well-known and oft-repeated positions. (I expect this is where the trained aardvark comes in to the picture.)

In this vein, the archbishop doesn't merely keep insisting that the Covenant won't establish a papal, binding, or exclusive affiliation... but also that he doesn't intend to force even this process-oriented non-exclusive non-binding Covenant on anyone:
There will undoubtedly, in our time together, be some tough questions about how far we really want to go in promising mutual listening and restraint for the sake of each other. That's why a Covenant should not be thought of as a means for excluding the difficult or rebellious but as an intensification -- for those who so choose -- of relations that already exist. And those who in conscience could not make those intensified commitments are not thereby shut off from all fellowship; it is just that they have chosen not to seek that kind of unity, for reasons that may be utterly serious and prayerful.
In other words, the Covenant is the only way to keep Anglicans together... but if some Anglicans don't want a Covenant (or at least don't want Williams' Covenant) that's okay too, because not only will the Covenant not actually require anything of its members other than engaging in the process, it also won't be required of all members of the Communion.

Provided, of course, they don't want the GAFCon one or (horror!) even discover the Continuum's Affirmation! I guess Williams means that the acceptable choices for membership in the Communion are his Covenant or no Covenant... but not anyone else's? After all, the ones he is most critical of are those who do not appreciate the deep bonds of unity and affection we already have in the Anglican communion. He insists that "all our existing bonds of friendship and fellowship are valuable and channels of grace" -- and are perfectly able to deal with the present crisis, "even if some want to give such bonds a more formal and demanding shape"... we don't need something new, we just need to "deepen" what we already have!

So, let's see what we've got then.

Anglicanism is facing a serious crisis, even Williams will admit that. And there are several options out there which threaten its future -- both increasing isolationism and greater centralization, "irreparable schism or forced assimilation" -- both equally bad. And a Covenant is urgently needed because
the rival bids to give Anglicanism a new shape are too strong, and we need to have a vision that is at least as compelling and as theologically deep as any other in the discussion. Without this, trying to carry on as 'normal' will unquestionably drift towards one or other of the options I've outlined, without... a sense of the cost of each of them to what we value most in our heritage.
And that heritage that will be lost is that which is really Anglican -- the Anglicanism which a greater centralization would abandon. So the Covenant is supposed to
rall[y] people to this vision of a Catholic, reformed, and not centralised Church, which gives us the incentive, the impetus to get back on course with it all.
And yet, this Covenant isn't to be forced on any one, and those who chose not to go along with it should still be included in the ongoing Anglican conversations and family in some way. Because, even if some (like those at GAFCon) don't sign up with the Covenant, the
Anglican Communion will still continue in some form, albeit weakened. “The kind of fellowship we will have may be different, less immediate. That is hard. That is a loss, and there will always be a sense of loss and not feeling all right. But the reality is: we are where we are. We may be less obviously at one for a few years, but that doesn’t let us off the obligation to keep listening to each other."
Or, as the ACI puts it in a more formal suggestion:
It would not mean... that such a non-covenanting province could no longer be in a close relationship with other covenanting Communion provinces; but it would mean that such a relationship would now be a province-to-province decision.

So to pull it all together:

the Covenant is absolutely essential to prevent Anglicanism from ceasing to be Anglican, but it's a completely voluntary thing and relationships and conversations will continue unabated, even if somewhat "less obviously one", with those Anglicans who aren't part of the Covenant.

It's supposed to provide a compelling and coherent vision as a viable alternative to the forces of disintegration and the even more evil forces of centralization... but that compelling and (cough cough) "coherent" vision is:
the vision of an Anglicanism whose diversity is limited not by centralised control but by consent -- consent based on a serious common assessment of the implications of local change... an Anglicanism in which prayerful consultation is routine and accepted and understood as part of what is entailed in belonging to a fellowship that is more than local.... a Church that can manage to respond generously and flexibly to diverse cultural situations while holding fast to the knowledge that we also free from what can be the suffocating pressure of local demands and priorities.

Hang on a second here. "Consent based on serious common assessment"... "prayerful consultation is routine"... "diverse cultural situations"... "transformed relationships"... "search for the common mind, in constant active involvement in the life of other parts of the family"... "consult in a way that allows others to feel they have been heard and taken seriously"...

Is any of this ringing any bells for you?

You got it...

William's ideal of a Covenant is nothing but an Communion-wide INDABA GROUP!

With all the problems and limitations and incoherence and futility of such an approach I pointed out in my previous post... plus the added complications and delays of doing it over long distances, in a piece-meal fashion, and with committees rather than individuals being the members of each indaba!

It's all about process; all about unresolved conversations; all about everyone speaking and not reaching consensus. It has no power of enforcement, no mandatory membership, no norms... all it is is whatever people decide in conversation and process they want it to be, at least until they decide to change it for something else. In short, it provides no answers or vision... simply an "intensification" and formalization of a way of asking questions and looking non-judgementally at different perspectives in endless ecclesiastical navel-gazing.

And THIS is what Williams and the ACI think is going to save Anglicanism?!!

Let me read you a bed-time story.
Many years ago, there was an Emperor, who was so excessively fond of new clothes, that he spent all his money in dress... Time passed merrily in the large town which was his capital; strangers arrived every day at the court. One day, two rogues, calling themselves weavers, made their appearance. They gave out that they knew how to weave stuffs of the most beautiful colors and elaborate patterns, the clothes manufactured from which should have the wonderful property of remaining invisible to everyone who was unfit for the office he held, or who was extraordinarily simple in character.

"These must, indeed, be splendid clothes!" thought the Emperor... And he caused large sums of money to be given to both the weavers in order that they might begin their work directly. So the two pretended weavers set up two looms, and affected to work very busily, though in reality they did nothing at all...

"I should like to know how the weavers are getting on with my cloth," said the Emperor to himself, after some little time had elapsed; he was, however, rather embarrassed, when he remembered that a simpleton, or one unfit for his office, would be unable to see the manufacture. To be sure, he thought he had nothing to risk in his own person; but yet, he would prefer sending somebody else to bring him intelligence about the weavers, and their work, before he troubled himself in the affair...

"I will send my faithful old minister to the weavers," said the Emperor at last, after some deliberation, "he will be best able to see how the cloth looks; for he is a man of sense, and no one can be more suitable for his office than he is." So the faithful old minister went into the hall, where the knaves were working with all their might, at their empty looms.

"What can be the meaning of this?" thought the old man, opening his eyes very wide. "I cannot discover the least bit of thread on the looms.... Is it possible that I am a simpleton? I have never thought so myself; and no one must know it now if I am so. Can it be, that I am unfit for my office? No, that must not be said either. I will never confess that I could not see the stuff." "Well, Sir Minister!" said one of the knaves, still pretending to work. "You do not say whether the stuff pleases you." "Oh, it is excellent!" replied the old minister, looking at the loom through his spectacles. "This pattern, and the colors, yes, I will tell the Emperor without delay, how very beautiful I think them"....

[Soon] the whole city was talking of the splendid cloth which the Emperor had ordered to be woven at his own expense. And now the Emperor himself wished to see the costly manufacture, while it was still in the loom. "Is not the work absolutely magnificent?" said the two officers of the crown... "If your Majesty will only be pleased to look at it! What a splendid design! What glorious colors!" and at the same time they pointed to the empty frames; for they imagined that everyone else could see this exquisite piece of workmanship.

"How is this?" said the Emperor to himself. "I can see nothing! This is indeed a terrible affair! Am I a simpleton, or am I unfit to be an Emperor? That would be the worst thing that could happen--Oh! the cloth is charming," said he, aloud. "It has my complete approbation." And he smiled most graciously, and looked closely at the empty looms; for on no account would he say that he could not see what two of the officers of his court had praised so much.

All his retinue now strained their eyes, hoping to discover something on the looms, but they could see no more than the others; nevertheless, they all exclaimed, "Oh, how beautiful!" and advised his majesty to have some new clothes made from this splendid material, for the approaching procession. "Magnificent! Charming! Excellent!" resounded on all sides; and everyone was uncommonly gay....

The Emperor was accordingly undressed, and the rogues pretended to array him in his new suit; the Emperor turning round, from side to side, before the looking glass. "How splendid his Majesty looks in his new clothes, and how well they fit!" everyone cried out. "What a design! What colors! These are indeed royal robes!"... So now the Emperor walked under his high canopy in the midst of the procession, through the streets of his capital; and all the people standing by, and those at the windows, cried out, "Oh! How beautiful are our Emperor's new clothes!"...

"But the Emperor has nothing at all on!" said a little child. "Listen to the voice of innocence!" exclaimed his father; and what the child had said was whispered from one to another. "But he has nothing at all on!" at last cried out all the people. The Emperor was vexed, for he knew that the people were right; but he thought the procession must go on now! And the lords of the bedchamber took greater pains than ever, to appear holding up a train, although, in reality, there was no train to hold.