Monday, 9 July 2007

Covenant passes on

So by about two to one the Covenant has passed this stage of its life, rather like an embryo in intensive care (perhaps indeed its mother is in intensive care) with no idea who its father is - how quite its features will appear. At a point where, we are told, nothing is committed in substance, a third of representatives were against it.

All the amendments were lost, either to democratise it (synodically) or to give it some doctrinal strength. The latter amendment is quite interesting, backed by a traditionalist Conservative Evangelical pressure group, the Church Society, to make the Covenant biblical and connected to the 39 Articles - in other words doctrine instead of its process. You would think conversionist Conservative Evangelicals would agree, but they don't. Or, rather, they don't now. That's the rub.

Conservative Evangelicals in favour of it want to stop homosexual faithful relationships in ministry (certainly, wider too), which they pursue to the point of obsession, but they are also in a long haul "strategic" (Richard Turnbull, Wycliffe College) effort by intended congregational organisation to overrun the liberals (as well as exclude America's The Episcopal Church from the Communion). So a Covenant is but one strategy of restriction, and they say too that it is all about biblical authority, what I'd call their selective literalism. But Affirming Catholicism were also reluctantly in favour, who want the same Covenant document to affirm the dignity of difference including, presumably, variations of interpretation regarding the Bible and the inclusion of faithful homosexual relationships. These are, of course, mutually exclusive.

Odd alliances here, then: the Open Evangelicals of Fucrum were in favour and even produced a joint approach with one leading member of Affirming Catholicism. The latter think they are part of the Anglican centre, as in the old Broad Church, and the former think they are the new centre ground. There is no centre ground, however, because the Conservative Evangelicals to the right of the Open Evangelicals find themselves unable to accept any liberals (and even Open Evangelicals trouble them). Also odd in outcome was the Church Society and the Modern Churchpeople's Union both being against the Covenant. They have entirely different, even opposite positions in substance, but come out with roughly the same positions against its process. This should not be surprising: those who think they are a centre of a bureaucracy support the means to hold it together; those who are towards the edges take up more principled positions on the ideology of the bureaucracy. It was always so, and especially heightened at a time of potential schism.

The speech that Bishop Tom Wright gave he could give any time. It was (after some speeches against the Covenant): "I dare you" to vote against the Covenant, that it was passed with a big majority last time, that there are poorer Anglicans depending on the vote (???), that to vote against is disloyal to the (absent) Archbishop of Canterbury. This is a script to use every time, and is like the big kid in the playground. It is why the vote, even at an early stage, was an important point to stop it, but of course most doubters are being asked to give it the benefit of the doubt, while a draft text gets worked on more.

Plus Archbishop Drexel Gomez, who'd been working on the text with his group, and will, said that there is legitimate concern about its international process being over-reliant on bishops (when the Anglican Churches are qualified episcopacies - due to priests and laypeople having votes too; a Covenant operation to decide whether the action of one Church was acceptable to the Communion could have no other people involved than that of leading bishops).

People who voted for it therefore did so for a variety of reasons. When the text is presented, presumably with a more acceptable process in deciding restrictions, then those in favour this time will start to divide up. It won't satisfy those who find the text not restrictive enough, and it won't satisfy those who find the text too restrictive: and the reason to have a Covenant is because of the chasm between these, and trying to find a way to hold everyone together.

There is another problem. This Covenant could take up to 2012 to become fully operational. Yet on 30 September 2007 The Episcopal Church (TEC) has to agree to abide by Primate-issued restrictions regarding no (more) faithful active gay relationships in its bishops and no authorised blessings for gay couples. It should agree to an internationally based system of oversight for its own ultra-orthodox dissidents. TEC cannot hold a General Convention to decide such an intention until 2009, and its bishops cannot decide alone: but already they have advised rejection of international oversight as against TEC's own laws (as indeed might the Church of England when the final Covenant text is presented). Despite the late 2007 deadline, the Archbishop of Canterbury has already sent out invitations to American bishops to the Lambeth Conference of 2008, excluding only Gene Robinson (the one openly gay bishop - who may still be invited as non-voting) from the American Church, and excluding all the dissident bishops consecrated by African Churches to work inside the United States.

The basis of action (making TEC an Associate member only of the Communion) is presumably only meaninful in the Covenant process, but the Covenant will be far from ready on September 30 2007. The discussions are intended to continue by all sides at Lambeth 2008. However, the consecrators of the dissident American bishops in Nigeria, Uganda and Rwanda are stating more or less clearly that if their bishops are excluded these whole provinces will not go, and these are the ones who have pushed for Anglican Communion unity based on their selective literalism and against TEC. Sydney, a peculiar fundamentalist diocese in Australia, might organise a Not the Lambeth Conference - the Africans and their American offshoots might go to that instead.

In other words, before the embryo Covenant has even grown into a recognisable shape the schism could be underway. Only last week the Archbishop of All Nigeria said that the Anglican Communion does not have to go through Lambeth.

If the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams relents in the face of such bullying, to invite those boundary crossers he has excluded, he will lose even more credibility. Sometimes it seems as if he acts according to who twists his arm the most. The Windsor Process, guided by rowan Williams, had found in favour of TEC on two thirds of matters and neutral on one third: this was then overturned by the meeting of Primates in Tanzania in February 2007 and a September 2007 deadline imposed on TEC - though now the Archbishop seems to be circumventing this. This is why someone like Tom Wright, the Bishop of Durham, who counts himself as close to the Archbishop, stands up with his big man act: he has done this before prior to the Tanzania meeting. It is a case of trouble at the top.

So it could be that as this embryo Covenant continues in intensive care; events may simply overtake it. It is too long a pregnancy. The baby, should it be born, may have a father unacceptable to some of the relatives: indeed it cannot please all.

And, even now, at this stage, one third is a big minority. Well, a coherent third can win a general election, but a third in a Church cannot be asked to sign up to something that, in effect, is extra to what is the situation at present.

I suppose we must allow for miracles, but the one third is bound to grow as the shape of the thing to come reveals itself: the Conservative Evangelicals of all kinds will be demanding more and, presumably, Affirming Catholicism will have to withdraw support (unless it abandons those faithful homosexuals as its co-founder, a certain Rowan Williams, did). But before then, the Conservative Evangelicals especially in Africa, but spreading out, may well have so organised themselves to render the whole purpose of having a Covenant redundant.

1 comment:

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Rodrigo wrote a comment that translates like this:

Oi, I found your blog very interesting; I liked this post. My blog is on personalized t-shirts, showing step by step how to create a well personalized t-shirt. I would be thankful if we could link these blogs, until I have more success. (English speakers can see an English translation about my personalised t-shirt. If it is possible to add my blog to yours then I would be thankful.

Rodrigo. I am sorry but there is no connection between the subject matter of this blog and yours, with your selling t-shirts, and this cannot be such an exchange however worthy may be your commercial efforts.

So although I have rejected it, I am indicating in public why.