Monday 14 January 2008

When Sort of Means No

The Anglican Church in Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia (the Church spans the countries of New Zealand, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and the Cook Islands) does not offer an alternative text for the Anglican Covenant.
This is because it can hardly generate a positive response towards it. The best it can come up with is that the Covenant may be a way to discern different viewpoints and trusting an international process. However, many respond that the Draft Covenant has assumptions that make it unsatisfactory and it affects ethnic and cultural autonomy.

The history of the main Covenant in Aotearoa New Zealand, the Treaty of Waitangi, is not exactly glorious, given the doubts about the British Crown and its actions. Secondly the concept of Covenant is rather larger and God-derived than this human exercise of fix-it bureaucracy.

Aotearoa New Zealand states that with a breakdown of trust already, a Covenant just becomes a weapon in someone's hands.

What Aotearoa New Zealand offers Anglicanism is the fact that its own cultural background is so close to the Anglican vision for so long! It has:

a sense of extended family or whanaungatanga, and this is intrinsic to our life together and is in fact the real covenant.

This is precisely how wider Anglicanism has understood itself: a family with bonds of affection. Instead of this, the Archbishop of Canterbury has set in motion not just the imposition of Catholic theory, but a form of Roman Catholic theory by which Instruments of Communion become the Anglican fallible Pope. This means power, and clarification of these Instruments of Communion via a Covenant based on one way of reading the Bible is a wholesale cultural and religious imposition from the centre. The strongest reservations of the Diocese of Polynesia must be right, and this is made worse by the lock-down nature of the Advent Letter.

Of course Aotearoa New Zealand does not want to find itself on the outside, so has to give some sort of commitment to conversation. It is an even weaker commitment than can be offered from the accused United States! Imagine a Church that has been sensitive to its people being shut out of the Anglican Communion because it cannot sign up to a regulatory Covenant. Nor does this Church wish to exclude any other.

Here is the the most damning sentence:

Several Dioceses said that such an idea [Covenant] is ‘unanglican’ and unprecedented in the history of the Anglican Communion. A signatory to the Covenant would become bound to act in prescribed ways and thus relinquish a degree of provincial autonomy.

The guts of it is:

a risk that if the Covenant was adopted, it would change the system of governance from inclusive Synods to exclusive Primates.

Many of the respondents considered that the Primates’ Meeting is moving beyond its original intent. The original brief of the Primates’ Meeting was to provide support and enable prayer and consultation but this has changed as the Primates began to take on an enhanced responsibility in offering guidance on doctrinal, moral and pastoral issues.

...if the Communion did decide to adopt a Covenant then the danger of misuse would be lessened if the ACC, rather than the Primates, was mandated to deal with the unresolved issues. This would also free the Primates to undertake a pastoral rather than juridical role.

Tikanga Maori questioned the need of internal brokerage of any sort and preferred the current freedoms of the Anglican Communion as they now operate.

The Covenant is a disaster in the making. It is going to isolate, and Churches simply will not accept an invasion of their autonomy.

The worst outcome now for Lambeth 2008 is if it tries to hold on to the GAFCON crew by making an even more fierce Covenant and effort towards centralisation. Let them do what they want to do and let them go if this is what they do. Drop the Covenant and let's hold on to the Churches of the Communion, those who cannot and will not remove their autonomy. Otherwise the worst outcome will be this GAFCON, and the Canterbury Communion producing a nasty Covenant to try and attract them back, and then Churches like the Aotearoa New Zealand Church, The Episcopal Church, the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Church in Wales, probably the Australian Church, and even possibly - goodness! - the Church of England not being able to sign up.

One wonders if the Polynesian end of Anlgicnaism can save the Canterbury Communion from itself. It is just like a slow motion motorway pile up and Polynesia is showing how to steer out of the way.

Let GAFCON get on with it, and drop the Covenant completely so that the Canterbury Communion can re-establish bonds of affection, getting all these Churches away from the disaster of Lambeth 1998 1:10 while they are at it.

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