The Anglican Communion Covenant looks like it is shaking and is on shifting ground. Its supporters look to be on the defensive, a bureaucratic solution for bureaucrats to unify what is shaping up to have various blocs of Anglican identity around the world - a reality that no document can alter.
In this light then, I want - as an outsider - to turn the argument around and look more critically at the No Covenant side in the Western Anglican Churches. As once an individual in an Anglican church, I came to the ultimate conclusion (if I hadn't before) that there is a boundary to belief and practice and I was outside that boundary. Thus, much as the Anglican ethos in some worship might satisfy, I didn't relate to its beliefs and nor to the stucture of personalised hierarchy. I am in favour of diversity, and of non-credal approaches, but such puts me outside not inside. On this basis I opposed the Anglican Covenant from the off, and I wonder about the position of the No Anglican Communion Covenant Coalition.
Its recent argument was in response to Fulcrum's defensive position. The response is my focus here.
Simply speaking, no one knows the position of the Church of England regarding the Covenant. Fulcrum speaks bureaucratically when it thinks the Church of England is in favour, given the bias of presentation, but the tests of membership so far show division for and against and a dislike when the argument is more balanced. If the Covenant is passed, it will be with considerable division and will not be a good basis on which to operate.
Again, the evolving life of the Communion is already a centralised picture, of more gatherings and institutions for worldwide gathering, but each of these gathered while preserving what was the case. Moving towards decision making with consequences is quite a different development, and this is what the Covenant represents. It is a leap forward in bureaucratic management, given Catholic and Evangelical justification because such are available for centralised Catholic and Protestant gatherings. It doesn't mean that these are Anglican, which has avoided such centralisation on a worldwide basis.
Once again (says I), everyone uses the language of federation wrongly. Federation does not mean loose association. Federation means a strong centre and subordinate parts with autonomy over subsidiary matters. For example, the United States is a federation but the European Union is a confederation. In the European Union the States are sovereign and sovereignty is shared, and on essential matters unanimity is necessary if there is to be one Europe wide position. The Covenant would create a federation by reactive Standing Committee using the meat of Section 4, creating Communion wide policies by dispute resolution, and excluding those not on the agreement side by an outer ring definition of Anglicanism. Federations are necessarily compulsive or divisive. Federation is bureaucratic. At the moment the European Union is a confederation: its Commission can propose legislation but cannot pass it - this is up to the Council of Ministers and some negotiation with the European Parliament - although the Commission is also reactive in terms of carrying out agreed regulations. Treaties entered into by States allow the superiority of European law. At present Anglicanism is a confederation of sovereign Churches, and the centre is no more than discussive; however, Anglicanism has broad similarities in different regions of the world on the lines of theological and ecclesiological ideologies so they may choose to get on together more closely.
A confederation will have an Archbishop of Canterbury rather like the ones produced now; a federation has one that makes decisions and they matter. Bureaucrats will refer to the Archbishop now, but it is a bureaucracy that gives the occupier of an office actual powers.
It is where the No Anglican Communion Coalition (NACC) refers to diversity of opinion that one can puzzle: what and where should there be such diversity of opinion. When the NACC says that Anglicans do not agree on how Christians should live and share in God's mission, then surely there must be some agreement on what makes Anglicanism and even uniformity. Unitarians are diverse, diverse to the point of individualism, and also with an evolving tradition in Britain and America that's Christian, Pagan, humanist and Eastern, a catechism tradition in central Europe that's Christian, homegrown pagan and ex-Christian missionary content in India and some new rural charismatic types and urban progressives in Africa. You really cannot pin down Unitarianism, except in blocs of degrees of individualism, but surely Anglicanism has more uniformity than this.
A communion need not be a federation, and indeed is compatible with confederation. But confederation has some shape, some principles of inclusion. The European Union has Western, liberal democractic principles of inclusion for sovereign States and the use of European wide free markets.
NACC itself does not address the limits of innovation. We might say that these are the Trinity, threefold ministry and some sort of book using liturgical tradition. The latter is breaking down by many charismatics and evangelicals ignoring their obligations. Threefold ministry starts to break down when there is lay presidency of Communion, but some have a Presbyterian view of bishops already. As for the Trinity, many who blog of a NACC sympathy are not exactly very good defenders of the Trinity, doctrine, the centrality of Christ, the existence of the Holy Spirit, and Anglicanism has produced a variety of liberal theologies that question the Trinity.
My argument from the inside for diversity was precisely to include those who questioned the Trinity. Realising that this is rather a naughty thing to do openly, and many a sympathetic liberal did not (still use all the cliches), I wandered elsewhere. A non-realist is hardly a trinitarian. I laughed on Thursday at the comedy Rev. (BBC 2) in that the up and coming female curate was hot on Neo-Orthodoxy - the topic of her forward thrusting thesis, another source for playing theological bullshit bingo. Neo-Orthodoxy is the means to a form of non-realism, or certainly a form of postmodernism that the trinitarians of old would have dismissed as completely heterodox. They knew how to defend the Trinity. The trick in the latest theological fast lane is in the use of the word 'Neo'. But, yes, the Neo-Orthodox can go places inside the bureaucracy because Neo-Orthodoxy has the intellectual and virtual appearance of one thing and yet the contents of something else - Karl Barth's invisible hand made narratively invisible into text.
The question is whether NACC is just a Liberal Protestant view, and what is the extent of its Liberal Protestantism?
But there is a further point I have made before. If the Covenant is passed, and the bureaucrats win their federation, what will the members of the NACC do then? Because the Covenant is a freezing body, where any innovation will be at the speed of the slowest. The Church of England as provider of the Archbishop of Canterbury to such a federation will be forced into the slow lane, indeed the stop lane, of any progressive innovations. Of all Churches it will be the least free. Liberals in the past have put up and shut up, usually on the basis that they occupy the centre positions and the liberal agenda slowly evolves through. In the past thirty years plus the theological agenda has gone backwards (except it allowed a route through for the Neo-Orthodox deceptivity), but social inclusion has continued to press. When the door is slammed shut, and there is no longer that chance to change, what will the liberals do then?
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