Monday 26 March 2012

Analysis of the Anglican Futures

There are some post vote analyses appearing among the victorious and the defeated (in terms of the outcome) and I might jump into the debates ad hoc. But here I get my own clear canvas for a summary argument.

In terms of the Anglican Communion, the balkanisation that was taking place will now obviously continue. There will be those Anglicans who do use the Covenant, which will be like a declaration to each other of being relatively conservative. There will be those Anglicans of the Jerusalem Declaration (who may and may not also Covenant - see below why probably not) who are producing a strongly doctrinal Protestant version of Anglicanism. Then there will be those leaving open a more flexible future outside any Covenant.

Whatever happens, Anglicans of the confessional and doctrinal type are going to be competitive. I can't see the Covenant as a process being sufficient for them, but then they have additional statements. The real issue for them is how they try on international oversight via their own Primates' Council and attempt to compete using fellowship structures. Churches 'taken on' by them will have to force the GAFCON/ FCA into independence, possibly then forming an Anglican Church of Northern Europe (or similar title) to parallel ACNA (or have one ACN).

The fact is that if an Anglican congregation decides to ignore the diocesan bishop and seek fellowship structures and international oversight instead, the congregation will lose its church building and the parish restored. Those seeking other oversight will have to leave and be self-sufficient, and this is the means by which 'entryism' if practised becomes separation. There aren't the property issues as in North America but there are issues of dioceses and structures.

The Church of England will have competition within from outside as one faction but it will also have those who dream of Covenanting. These hopefuls (of reintroducing legislation) will include diocesan bishops who can behave as if they are Covenanting. They might even declare themselves 'Windsor Compliant bishops', but some would do so knowing they didn't carry their own dioceses with them. But dioceses cannot join the Covenant, and it was invasive of Rowan Williams to suggest that some American bishops could escape their own province. Only by being competitive, can they: canon law is by Church, not Communion or Covenant. One could only see such an outcome of 'Windsor Compliants' popping up within the Church of England if the Conservative Evangelicals were invasive in terms of competition and nothing much was being done about them.

So Conservative Evangelicals cannot improve their position by getting ballast from other Anglicans if they wish to continue inside the Church of England. If 'international Anglicanism' is their pathway forward, then it means separation and testing their own strength.

And this is why they'd probably not want to sign a process Covenant that would impede their freedom of competitive movement.

Other and main Covenanting Churches will presumably not approve of the breaking of geographical monopolies, even against non-Covenanters. They might object to the boundary crossing/ new Church too (for northern Europe), and might seek to use the Covenant to prevent competition. But doctrinal and confessing Anglicanism is all about freedom of competitive manouvres. Why also sign a preventative Covenant if the Jerusalem Declaration is sufficient? If some do, then they may find themselves in the Covenant but then exercising autonomy as if they were not - their competition being declared incompatible with the Covenant!

There doesn't seem to be any direct effect on the Instruments of Communion as a result of the voting in the Church of England, in that the Archbishop of Canterbury can still do the gathering and organising type roles. He surely cannot be involved in dispute resolution, however, and the English provinces won't provide personnel into them directly for such resolution. It will still be represented in the Anglican Consultative Council. The real question though will be the obvious absence of authority of an Archbishop doing these things when coming from one of the non-Covenanting Churches, so it would seem more credible for someone else to be selected for these tasks. But the Anglican Communion formally is more than the Covenanting of some, and so matters like inviting to the Lambeth Conference etc. can carry on.

One can imagine a James Jones type Archbishop letting the Covenanters getting on with it via their own personnel as well as supporting those diocesan bishops facing competitive ill-discipline. This would involve a return to more broad conversations among the non-Covenanters and beyond. The one lasting legacy of Rowan Williams in terms of broad Anglicanism would be the 'Indabas' that don't make decisions.

If this all seems something of an incredible mess, then of course the whole Covenant policy should never have been launched in the first place. You cannot maintain a Communion and even Churches from schism by hammering nails in at the centre. You rather allow as much flexibility as possible.

This is why it would be better if, as a result of the Church of England vote, the whole Covenant did fail and became redundant. The bureaucrats of course will press on, and may even try and invite others to behave as if Covenanting even when they don't. Please come and discuss potential decision x as one of the Covenanting Churches doesn't like it...

Basically, there isn't a choice of paths ahead for Anglicanism, of A, B or C, but three paths ahead, A and B and C, and this balkanisation will now take effect quite quickly.

Perhaps the Irish will wish that they had not 'subscribed' to the Covenant, whatever 'subscribe' means, and the Scottish, Welsh (seem to be zigzagging), Americans, Canadians, Australians (most), Hong Kong and New Zealanders, Philippines, and some South American, will form the one flexible grouping along with the two provinces of England.

Even without the Covenant, Anglicanism was going in three directions. To that extent the Covenant itself just complicates things, rather than makes any significant structural difference. It is and was a pyramidal Weberian solution to a sacred problem of a religion prone to the shifting schisms of ecclesiastical authority.


Anonymous said...

Just a note to your excellent article. The two English provinces are what otherwise are called archdioceses (just as the 4 provinces in Canada). England is just one province of the Anglican Communion. When it comes to joint the Covennat or not, it counts only as one Anglican province, not two (English) Anglican provinces.

Julio C. Martin

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Thank you. I have been genuinely confused for some time.