Monday, 28 March 2011

Those Church Times Arguments in Favour

The Church Times of 18th March contained a number of articles for and against the Anglican Communion Covenant.

Here is some comment on those articles in favour of it (given that this blog has been consistently against it ever since the Covenant was introduced).

Simon Killwick (Church Times, 18 March 2011, 22-23) argued that one holy Catholic and apostolic Church is international, and the Covenant "embodies this insight". So the discernment of Christian truth is on this international basis.

He recognises that this has ecumenical implications, and that it is a very high bar. If only division results, then it is not of the Spirit. Truth, as well as being in scripture, would need unanimous, or near-unanimous agreement.

On this basis, nothing innovative would be done, because there is always objection from somewhere. But he says himself:

Historically, Christian truth has often been discerned through controversy.

The Trinity and incarnation came from centuries or argument. But given that this was once not the guiding doctrine, indeed that Arianism was once the majority view, how come the Trinity and incarnation were allowed to be innovations?

These innovations were achieved precisely because dissent was cut out. In the end, some think this is how the Covenant will have to operate if it is to have any meaning.

The Anglican way has been, as far as I understand it, not to wait for overall consensus, but for some part to suck it and see. Others have not then sought to exclude or expel, but the controversy has been subjected to a kind of organic argument of appropriateness.

So discernment by centralisation is 'unAnglican'; indeed the whole ecumenical approach assumes some sort of ecumenical average or overall similarity, but this is a fantasy as Churches Catholic retain strong differences from each other, just as do Churches Protestant. Anglicanism embodies an inner difference that allows for cultural and institutional response by each Church on the ground.

The argument he presents doesn't hold practical water, and is contrary to actual experience.

For Gregory Cameron (20-21), the Instruments of Anglicanism worldwide are undermined, even if parish life carries on largely unaffected. He also asks should individual Anglian Churches be opposing each other, or extremes versus the Archbishop of Canterbury. It is all a bit chaotic.

Lambeth Conferences in 1988 and 1998 wanted more primatial oversight, but when given in the Covenant such was not wanted, nor the lead to be taken by the Anglican Consultative Council.

But why then is the (Joint) Standing Committee any better? It starts to look like discernment by committee having passed dispues around for comment. In that so much ends up on the lap of the Archbishop of Canterbury, it even more looks like monarchy. Monarchs did consult, even when absolute.

He argues for the via media between the Jerusalem Declaration and autonomy. A little bit of confession then? He thinks provinces are agreeing with this.

The Jerusalem Declaration is meaningless as regards centralising Anglicanism: via media does not take it or any other extreme as a peg in the ground. Via media is rather a process in whatever situation a Church finds itself. For Western Churches, the Jerusalem Declaration is relevant only to a minority of Conservative Evangelicals. The demand that African Churches have on Western Churches is only that entryist threat of international supervision and a few congregations diverting funds or splitting off.

Via media involves a relationship of theological working with society and culture and, again, is not about some international average. Those pro-culture work with those resisting culture or attacking it. It is these shifts that allow for innovations, and these take place in specific places. Again it is about suck it and see. The international dispute is irrelevant when the discerning takes place on the ground in one place.

Norman Doe's (22) notion of the via media is that the traffic lights are on amber.

Imagine driving a car with amber lights. First of all, what do drivers do on amber? They stay still. There are amber gamblers, however, those who continue to cross when green goes to amber, and those raring to go as soon as amber joins the red. Both risk crashing.

It makes more sense, therefore, if one Church operates with a green light, even if another church has a red light. In fact the green light may go to amber as a result of testing something, just as a green elsewhere persuades a red to go to red amber in a slower Church.

To have the centre impose amber lights is to slow everything to a snail's pace and frustrate. It frustrates a red Church that sees a permissive red amber, and it frustrates a green Church that sees only amber. And rather than the lights be determined by the sensors on the ground, the centre traffic control somewhere else is pressing the ambers.

Of course that breaks autonomy, and it is control. Whilst other non-Anglican Churches have international bodies, they do not have rule by committee but rather have broad positions and exclude those beyond them.

What is the broad position of Anglicanism under threat worthy of excluding? Just anti-homosexuality?

John Akao is not one for diversity. He wants uniformity and rather undermines the argument of others regarding amber lights or lack of international centralised compulsion.

He was in favour of the Covenant, but now is not, as:

the Anglican establishment... fashioned a covenant which in motive, content, and thrust deviates from the original objective of healing and unifying the Communion.

The present Covenant won't work, as it keeps 'orthodox' and 'revisionist' together via "perpetual talking". Its final form emerged remote from African input (a consequence of centralisation?). In any case, a Covenant comes from cohesion, not lack of cohesion.

Diversity means a lack of unity, he thinks, the Bible weakened by the "evil" cultural and behavioural practices of the likes of human-rights activists and parliaments and education (rather than the evil cultural and behaviour practices of governments that lock up men who do no more than love other men - consequences of the autocratic and ignorant).

So, there we are. The very people who kicked up the fuss in the first place are not persuaded.

The Covenant is the worst of all worlds. It does centralise and it does put all to amber, but it's no good for the conservative forces.

Basically, Anglicanism is balkanising, and the best approach is to let it do so. Relationships will still exist. There'll have to be a bit more sucking and seeing, even some competition over the same turf.

The Covenant was either going to be oppressive, a nuisance or a completely pointless dud. The present Covenant is a nuisance. It could be rewritten (removing section 4) to become a completely pointless dud. As a nuisance, it is worse than useless, and will achieve nothing.

Indeed all it is doing now is showing the arrogance of some Church of England authorities desperate to push it through despite no obvious positive use. The Study Guide was a travesty as have been all presentations from on high. Perhaps there is still time that the Covenant can be rejected from below, in the Church of England: the rejection of which would destroy it internationally.

The need is to save Anglicanism from the central control of amber traffic lights whilst falsely claiming that the cars are still being driven with autonomy.

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