Thursday, March 15, 2007

the draft covenant: part II

This is part 2 of an analysis of the Draft Anglican Covenant. Part 1 wondered why the theological idea of communion was treated so shabbily in the Draft, and why the leaders of the Anglican Communion feel the need to depart from communion as a basis for our unity and re-create that unity in a Covenant. This is, I think, the germ and core of the criticism that the whole idea of a Covenant is 'un-Anglican'. Dr. Radner summarizes it this way:

I wonder about the way he [Dr. Franklin] discerns its character in terms of novelty. Certainly, this has been the source of many criticisms of the proposed Covenant in its very identity: it is somehow an innovation within Anglicanism, some have said, an alien element whose introduction will further just the kinds of “curial” re-orderings of the Communion that will undercut the traditional autonomies the buttress Anglican ecclesial life and witness. So how new is the Covenant’s purpose and form in fact? My main argument below is that it is not new at all. It is, rather, who we already are and are called to be more and more.

First, let us note that my criticism is not one of those Dr. Radner mentions. If anything, traditional catholic ecclesiology supports 'curial re-orderings' and does not support 'traditional [Anglican] autonomies', which are, in the case of TEC, being used as excuses for the undue taking of license - indeed, licen-tiousness. If I were merely a pragmatist, I should support the Covenant's innovations because they tighten the central leadership's reins on erring TEC. My side wins, as it were. But we ought not win practical victories at the expense of our Catholicism. Our souls depend upon it.

But in fact, the Covenant does indeed introduce innovations. Dr. Radner's argument - and we could quote him copiously to this point but, for the sake of brevity, without which no one can please bloggers, we'll move on - Dr. Radner's argument is not that critics of the Covenant are simply hallucinating and there is nothing new in the document. Rather, his point is that the innovations that are being proposed stand at the end of a long and authentically Anglican process which began before Gene Robinson, began in fact with the very exportation of the Faith that created the Communion, and which has only recently been recognized for what it is by documents such as the Virginia Report, the Eames Monitoring Group Report of 1988, and the Windsor Report. These documents describe a movement toward something like a Covenant that has been afoot for some time, but we tend to forget the Winsor Report's and the Covenant's continuity with this process because of the events around GC 03, etc. Dr. Radner believes that whatever the Covenant does to our ecclesiology has actually already been done, that it merely reflects developments that have already taken place in our Communion. The Covenant Design Group puts it this way:

What is to be offered in the Covenant is not the invention of a new way of being Anglican, but a fresh restatement and assertion of the faith which we as Anglicans have received, and a commitment to inter-dependent life such as always in theory at least been given recognition.

So there is to be something new, something 'fresh' about the Covenant, something that reflects the latest novelty of Anglican development. I see nothing in the Design Group's report about studying the Fathers or trying to be more catholic. I see nothing in Dr. Radner's comments about studying the Fathers or trying to be more catholic. To the extent the covenant fails thus, it also fails to be an instrument toward greater union with other Churches who claim catholicism. Do they not display the same catholicism we claim? Have they not 'communion' as well as we? Why must our process of definition be pointed only inward, not at all outward to the rest of the Body of Christ? If TEC has such responsibility toward Nigeria, does not the entire Anglican Communion, insofar as it claims to be catholic, have such responsibilities toward Rome and the Patriarchs? Self-exploration inevitably clashes with Christian self-surrender - can we not embody something of the self-effacing, essentials-only spirit of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral in the document that is supposed to clarify and define who we are today? The Quadrilateral was borne of long study in the Fathers, and it shows not only in its substance, which is properly reflected in the Draft Covenant, but also in its ecumenical spirit, which is not reflected in the Covenant.
As to the novelty itself which the Covenant introduces, I understand it to be the very coup that was accomplished at the Primates' meeting in Tanzania - namely, that the Primates emerge as the most powerful body of leaders in the Communion, and the only one with any real power. Section 5 of the Covenant acknowledges the Archbishop of Canterbury, but only gives him the power to convene the instruments of Communion; the ABC becomes a QEII-type figurehead. The Lambeth conference exists as a support group for bishops and with the amorphous mission "to guard the faith and unity of the communion" (although I support more 'curial' forms, note that this vague mission could allow Lambeth to go beyond its traditional advisory-only authority). The ACC is relegated to coordinating parts of Anglican ecumenical and missionary work, and who is it that gets carte blanche?

The Primates’ Meeting, presided over by the Archbishop of Canterbury, assembles for mutual support and counsel, monitors global developments and works in full collaboration in doctrinal, moral and pastoral matters that have Communion-wide implications.

Ok, ok, maybe this could be less earth-shattering than I've claimed -- that is, if it weren't backed up by this in section 6: Each church commits itself . . .

. . . to seek the guidance of the Instruments of Communion, where there are matters in serious dispute among churches that cannot be resolved by mutual admonition and counsel:
1. by submitting the matter to the Primates Meeting
2. if the Primates believe that the matter is not one for which a common mind has been articulated, they will seek it with the other instruments and their councils
3. finally, on this basis, the Primates will offer guidance and direction.

Who's calling the shots these days? Who exercises real pastoral authority, according to the Covenant? Why isn't our chief pastor, the ABC, given this job?
Dr. Radner is correct. The Covenant only articulates developments that are already afoot. The document does not seek to make us more catholic or bind us more closely to our catholic traditions. It DOES reflect the Global South's distrust of ABC Williams - that's why the ABC loses authority (and Williams is probably happy for this, because he doesn't wear his WWLD bracelet) - and the Global South's distrust of the ACC - that's why it gets shoved aside. It reflects the fact that the Global South primates only trust those instruments of communion that they can control - Lambeth and the Primates' meeting. Dr. Radner is right. The document does indeed reflect recent Communion developments. But they aren't developments toward catholicism.
Don't get me wrong. I like the Primates. I agree with them. I even like most of the Covenant. But I fear we banish one evil while inviting another in. I fear the Anglican masses in the Global South won't care so much about being Catholic as being Evangelical, and will too quickly sacrifice our catholicism to enforce Evangelical faith. Much as I've prayed for decades that TEC would rediscover its Evangelical faith, I don't want the Anglican Communion to lose its catholicism. The process that gives rise to this Covenant at this time in our life as a Communion is itself a symptom of a weakened urge toward catholicism in both TEC and the Global South. A strengthened catholicism would fix all our problems without sacrificing anything essential. A Covenant could do this for us, should do this for us - but this Draft does not.

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