06 May 2009

covenant and other bad ideas

I have been as have many Episcopalians and Anglicans, watching the news from the ACC meeting. The Anglican Consultative Council is like the Primate's meeting, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, one of the 'instruments' of something. Of what exactly they are 'instruments' is not precisely clear. How they got to be 'instruments' of anything is a story worth noting.

Some years ago the Windsor Report authors adopted previously little used language to refer to the 'instruments of unity.' In that particularly flawed report, with some of the worst historical writing in recent memory, the authors proposed a 'covenant.' The intent of the document as one of the principal authors of the mess told me in a private email was to fulfill the purpose “some one must say where boundaries lie.”

In a few short years, largely because the archbishop of Canterbury constantly acts and speaks as though the 'instruments' exist and have standing, the common language of the community has begun to treat them as a reality.

Now however, it is crunch time. If the 'instruments' are going to do what the archbishop and others more concerned about unity and boundaries than anything else want, that is if they are going to make everyone behave, they actually do need some ratification.

No one who actually thinks through what happens to the Anglican experiment if it has a central authority that dictates from the top to the peasants will support the ratification of this document. The 'covenant' is a thinly veiled effort to invest reality and authority in the fictional 'instruments.' It makes so many unreal assumptions it is almost breath taking. Consider a few:

* The Lambeth Conference, the once-a-decade gathering of bishops is assumed to be permanent. The conference is an event an Archbishop of Canterbury may call into being. No one can force the archbishop to host the event and no one else can host it.

Never mind that the church of England has to pay for the conference and has not covered the last one's costs. Never mind that no one including the individual provinces have to attend. Never mind that as we saw last year invitations are at the whim of the archbishop. The covenant makes it a super legislature.

The conference is also a completely unrepresentative legislature. Laity and clergy are invited only to watch.

* The Primates' Meeting, a recent innovation consisting of an even less representative group, the moderators or archbishops of the various member churches is granted curial status. In fact it is more curial than the Roman Curia because it does not answer to a pope. No one has voted to create such a body. The meetings were started simply as a vehicle for sharing and reflection. But now these meetings too will make the bad guys behave.

* The office of Archbishop of Canterbury is invested with some limited nearly papal authority. On his own motion (England has no women bishops it must be “he.”) the archbishop is empowered to decide who is in and who is out. How he is to do this is left entirely to the assumption that he will do the work. It is not part of the job description. At least the covenant does not contemplate infallibility!

* One last major assumption is that the American church will pay for all this. It has to be the Americans as frankly no one else can. Canada is still dealing with the costs of a long ago scandal regarding First Nation schools, Mexico is dealing with massive poverty and neither Australia, New Zealand nor England has the money.

Yet now we see a major attempt by the Archbishop inter alia to push ratification of the covenant document on the ACC. One has to ask: why?

I think it is because if anyone actually thinks about this, the covenant is toast.

An old trick in marketing inferior goods is to push for a decision. Sellers of time shares, used cars, and shoddy TV goods always claim that the buyer must act NOW. The latest to employ this tactic are the Archbishop and his supporters. “Act now because otherwise something else will happen!” we are told by the homophobe who led the effort to write this mess. “Act now while the covenant automatically includes YOU!” we hear from the Archbishop of Canterbury. “Act now or I will write another badly done report!!” we hear from the formerly legitimate scholars who have participated in this and the Windsor fraud. Not one of these guys could make even a bad living selling used cars.

The best reason to not act is what happened to Uganda.

Uganda has found itself an object lesson of what happens if these 'instruments' get to play their own institutionalist tune. Uganda's lay delegate to the ACC meeting was refused credentials by a body whose power to do so is based on the assumed covenant.

Progressives who understand exactly the stunt the Archbishop of Uganda was trying, are tempted to approve of the refusal to seat his delegate. The gentleman is a deposed priest and the Ugandans were attempting to legitimatize an unwelcome intrusion into American space. As such the delegate makes a perfect camel's nose. Legitimate the refusal to seat him and the ACC has ceded to power to decide. (I've never said the archbishop and his co-conspirators were stupid, merely driven by the sins of idolizing unity and institutionalism.)

If the 'instruments' can play this song, what else can they play? Both progressives and traditionalists should ask themselves that. Then the ACC should refer the draft covenant not for signature but for extended comment. Otherwise the community will become Rome without the nice library, Swiss Guards and fancy cathedral. That is not a destination worth the trip.



Muthah+ said...


I would like to post some of this on my blog. I too am unwilling to give the bishops/primates more power in the church than they have. Just because they meet does not give them power. Just because they go through the work of hammering out statements does not give them any authority to direct the church except in their own dioceses or provinces.

Even thought the HOB meets between conventions, it does not mean that they have the authority to demand anything more of the Church except when there is agreement of the HOD.

The 79 prayerbook may have made us more catholic in our liturgy but it did not make us more Romish in our polity and the guys and gals in purple need to know that.

JimB said...


Of course! I never assert copywrite. Feel free to use any part of it you wish. Credit (and a link perhaps?) would be nice if you quote directly but neither are required.

I like the distinction between more catholic and more Romish. ;-)


Erika Baker said...

OK, so we're all agreed on that.
Sadly, that has never made the slightest difference.

In all the years I have been following this process, liberals have always made very reasonable theological and legal objections to whatever the conservative steamroller is about to do, and they've always thought that reason alone would win the day.

And every single time the steamroller has got the better of them.

Christian values, reason and Canonic law appear to be completely unable to stop the Anglican Communion from becoming what many of it want it to become.

JimB said...


If you go to the conservative sites, you will see the exact same view, 180 degrees out of phase. That is, on SFiF the commenters think the liberal steamroller always rolls over them.

The fact is that neither is true. The communion has been conflicted and it has been moving in a dozen different directions at various paces.

One thing validating the current situation and rate of change is that liberal and conservatives on the edges are about equally unhappy.


St Laika's

Click to view my Personality Profile page