16 March 2010

51 pages one false premise

A short time ago, Dr. Stephen Noll and the "American Anglican Council" published "Communion Governance" an extensive document (51 pages) available the web here. While it made a bit of noise, it has not provoked substantial debate either on progressive or conservative web sites.

Initially, I set out to write a detailed response and found it extremely slow going. I set it aside for a few weeks and then re-read the piece. I concluded that a lengthy response is a bad idea. Let me explain why.

"Communion Governance" is both a title and a viewpoint. Noll argues that the "governance model" offered by the "Covenant" is deficient. He notes, correctly that the power to act under section 4 of the covenant is diffuse, and that the "primate's meeting" while identified as an "instrument of unity" is accorded relatively little power. In fact, the staff of the archbishop of Canterbury has more implied power and the proposed "Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion" has lots more formal power.

Examining the covenant, Noll sees structures designed to consolidate power in the hands of the Canterbury / London staff and he objects. As we say in Chicago, "the fix is in." As our Roman cousins might note, once you have centralized power, you will have centralized bureaucracy and it will seek to consolidate power. It is hardly surprising that several revisions into a deeply flawed process, the bureaucrats are seeking to curtail the power of any player they cannot control.

The central flaw in the paper is the assumption that "governance" is a good idea. Noll on the one hand is upset that the WWAC staff is attempting to impose its model of governance. On the other he is equally willing to impose a model -- his model.

The structures of the Anglican communion were not intended to represent a governance model but to avoid one. The initial invitation to Lambeth conference explicitly made the point that it was for consultation. The resolutions over the years have consistently used the language of advice - not legislation. Since the end of WWII, one of the expressed elements of Lambeth has been an awareness that the clergy and laity are not present. Contrary to Noll's view, Lambeth's bishops have been aware that they do not speak for the whole communion.

In a series of manipulative documents beginning with the "Virgina Deceleration" and the Kwuala Lampur statement, reactionaries have altered the language of communion. We have moved from "instruments of unity to "instruments of communion" to the "standing committee of the Anglican Communion." No one with actual authority has authorized the path.

Now the staff in Church House have acted. As British politicians (I do not care about their collars -- they are British politicians) do, they have begun to subvert the language. So, I will give Noll one point: yes the archbishop and his staff have effectively subverted the covenant even before anyone is foolish enough to sign it. They have co-opted the key body in section 4. "Look! The standing committee (a particularly tractable group)already exists." With a sweep of the archiepiscopal cope the new suborned reality is visible.

But Noll's cure is worse than the disease. Anglicans do not need a better governance model. They need the would-be governors to get one simple concept: no. The communion grew and prospered because it was composed of those who clung to a form of worship -- Common Prayer and de minimus elements of belief: the quadrilateral. It grew not because someone like, the vice chancellor of a seminary defined orthodoxy but because it loosely defined ortho-praxy.

So, while I can understand why Noll is upset, yes the reactionaries "got rolled" to use another piece of Chicago slang, I am not prepared to agree that the Central Africans should be able to do it too. That is why I decided not to write an extensive critique. The first premise is wrong -- communion governance is not the topic that needs discussion. One attempt at suborning what was once and can be again a group of like prayers and force it into compliance with a curial model is quite enough.



Anonymous said...

What I always liked about the Episcopal Church was that it allowed me to sit next to someone in the pew that disagreed with me about some tenet or other and still pray to the same God and take Communion with him. I like the idea that the Episcopal Church is a "broad umbrella" that allows differing opinions to still worship with each other. I don't want that to change.

Anonymous said...

"The communion grew and prospered because it was composed of those who clung to a form of worship -- Common Prayer and de minimus elements of belief: the quadrilateral." And therein lies the genesis and purpose of the Anglican Communion. It's amazing that those who appeal to "tradition" ignore it when it suits their purpose.

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