Thursday, 6 August 2009

Clarity over Terms Please?

Bishop Graham Kings wheels out his terminology for the importance of centralising the Anglican Communion in terms of its mutual support for participants in distress and likens the Covenant and centralising to the Holy Trinity: with God on his side. It is part of his Fulcrum perspective.

The weakness of his argument is that all his examples of effective mutual support took place without any of the proposed centralisation and Covenant features, so no argument for centralising exists there. It just needed good communications and awareness.

His argument is also weak because he will contrast "Communion" with "federation". I think we need to be clear about terms.

A federal system is one where supremacy is held at the centre. The centre decides what is central and what is local, and inevitably minorities that have more sway in some localities over others can be passed over for the aims of the centre by the centre. Examples of this are the United States, and, from a modernist perspective, the bureaucracy of Roman Catholicism (the actual pre-modernist model is sacred-traditional: but notice how both the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury employ European rationality in their presentations). The model is Weberian.

A confederal system is one where the centres are distributed and they have supremacy. It is they who decide what shall be done centrally and what shall be done according to centres. Examples of this are the European Union, where the Councils of Ministers (of the countries) have decision making powers and where sovereignty exists in the nation states (despite some federalist elements). Treaties are made by countries, and major decisions are still by unanimity. Another example from a modernist perspective is the Anglican Communion, as now. This approximates to systemic authority, as with Burns and Stalker and their flexible view of decentralisation and expertise in technological times.

The Covenant is federal because it is based on the centre deciding on what is central and what is local. In other words, this is centralisation! It passes power to Primates and others sitting at the centre. It is also federal because, in order to have a decision in the locality, you have to leave that arrangement, the track 1, and go to a confederal 'leftover', a so-called track 2. Equating this with "relationship" as in the Trinity is surely special pleading of 'God on our side'. It is not relationship but formalisation and this is hardly Communion.

Rather, instead, a decentralised system works well together when it is relational. And theologically, the Trinity is not some boxed-in uniformity, but one where each part does its function, and the relevant part here is the Holy Spirit as responsive to localities and needs while being also about essentials at a higher level. In terms of the higher level, the responsiveness brings forward a more organic and relational unity rather than a uniformity, a greater richness of the relationship in the Godhead. I mention this for others to take up.

It is why a federal system is not necessarily pluralist. A federal system becomes pluralist when there is a very high level of decentralisation, or subsidiarity, including and especially on contentious issues in localities. A pluralist system includes plenty of interest and pressure groups, and some groups (e.g. Changing Attitude) have already treated the Covenant as a focus for its pressure, for example to make it more inclusive. This could well be a mistake. Federal systems are usually pluralist, but on contentious issues the highest authorities make the decisions and enforce them, even by force! By virtue of the structure, a confederal system is already more pluralist. Recently in the European Union the Lisbon Treaty proposals added in distinctly confederal elements, and where arrangements are federal many are also carried through under principles of subsidiarity - not something proposed for the Covenant when issues are contentious. In the EU contentious issues are those which remain with unanimous voting and the veto!

Now a confederal system may be less pluralist if it decentralises only to points of high centralisation, and there is an argument that here is Anglicanism. There are some quite authoritarian Anglican Churches. Episcopal systems can be authoritarian, but Anglicanism usually includes, as well, effective redistributive synods with actual power in these centres. So you could argue for federalism as more pluralist if it becomes a means to greater subsidiarity. Imagine, for example, if the Covenant proposals really did affirm that centres were to be dioceses not Churches. The proposals do not do this, however, and the notion of dioceses as 'centres' is only employed in surrounding rhetoric for the service of the centre - as in picking off dioceses from dissenting national Churches only where they happen to agree with the centralist perspective. So authoritarianism would be potentially cumulative under the Covenant. The mistake some groups make is in the remoteness of the federal system the Covenant would create, and even embody hostility to some groups (like Changing Attitude), whereas in a confederal system some decision making centres will be more friendly to some pressure groups.

Getting these terms right helps the argument along; and to repeat what the Covenant proponents say: the Covenant proposal is to have the centre decide what is central and what is 'local'. The local Churches, actually mainly national Churches, would not decide these major distinctions any longer. Thus the centre would pass over concerns in localities for its own purposes, and this is also what the Covenant is for according to proposals. According to the two track approach, this is the more 'deepened' Anglicanism, whereas arguably it is just the more formalised central Anglicanism. So the Covenant also defines greater/ better and lesser/ worse Anglicanism according to submission to/ dissent from the Covenant.

Therefore you defeat the Covenant to stop such a formal and less relational centralised outcome and to stop this greater/ better and lesser/ worse Anglicanism according to submission to/ dissent from the Covenant.

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