Saturday 19 February 2011

So far Along this Road

So what's the situation, then, as the World Council of Churches scraps the name Central Committee and the Anglican Communion might as well adopt that for its Joint Standing Committee. Or perhaps not?

However, Katharine Jefferts Schori is on the Primates' Standing Committee, which might reassure some, part of one of the few decisions of any kind made at the recent meeting in Dublin. The meeting was chit chat about what it is like to be primates and about writing letters on issues of concern in the world, and thus reverted to the 1978 model before centralisation started creeping along, a process over-aided by the previous Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey and continued after a fashion by this one. Katharine Jefferts Schori's election is at some contradiction from the 'actions have consequences' of not so long ago, June 2010 indeed, for example that The Episcopal Church cannot be represented in ecumenical relationship bodies (and that didn't last long either) and from the Inter Anglican Standing Committee on Unity, Faith, and Order, a centralised body all about doctrine - which might be called IAS CU FO, or I ask you... (the rest fill in yourself).

Those who didn't turn up at Dublin carried on the ability of evangelicals to pluck defeat out of apparent victory, and they are on a trajectory now towards their own separation or at least distance, and the necessity to set up parallel and entryist institutions if Conservative Evangelicals in the West are going to have some sort of exclusive Society and international oversight of bishops based on a model of confessional Anglicanism.

All this should therefore reassure. But why? Why was the situation back in 2007 and 2008 far more restrictive and centralising on a Catholic model with a Conservative Evangelical theology? Because, then, the Archbishop was appealing to the far right, to get them to come to Lambeth 2008. He failed. At Jamaica the Archbishop was in a complete tiz, where he faced in several directions at once and puzzled many by sending the restrictive part 4 of the Covenant off for a review. It looks rather similar to what it was, but he insists it is no longer restrictive, despite the text. As for the absentees, the most he can and will do now is carry out some worldwide pastoral visiting.

So let's get these Western Churches on board then, as all is restored, as regards the Covenant. The non-GAFCON Global South ones will sign on, and some are doing so already.

Yet the present situation is as relative and as tactical as the situation in 2007 or at that point less than a year ago when 'actions had consequences' (one supposes it is 'had'). Why trust what is happening now, which is a shift in footwork from what was happening before?

The answer why not is evident in the Study Guide and the Questions and Answers regarding the Covenant. The Covenant is still based on the idea of greater centralisation and greater consultation on the basis of the exclusion of a particular group of believers from blessings and ministry. This is what it is about, and it adds in any future such dispute regarding any innovation. It is still based on this, whether The Episcopal Church and its leadership is on board at the centre or pushed off (pushed off last year, on board this year, pushed off next year?).

But in summarising where things are now, there is a twist to the tale. It is in the view, not openly and properly stated by Rowan Williams in November last year, that the Church of England must sign up to the Covenant.

It is an illusion to think that without some changes the Communion will carry on as usual, and a greater illusion to think that the Church of England can somehow derail the entire process.

He means that the Church of England must sign up, because if it doesn't it will derail the entire process. But what this further means is the special role of the Church of England, as it is and as it shall be. The Study Guide is clear - the Covenant has implications for every parish church and every Anglican. It will especially have implications for clergy and those in purple. It must, because this Church is the central one, and it provides the Archbishop of all the Communion.

Thus the one thing that the Church of England will never be able to do is adopt policies for the blessings of gay people, or have gay people in stable loving relationships in the ordained ministry. Indeed, it will have to retain a whole set of behaviours regarding sexuality that most people now regard as doing nothing but encouraging duplicity. The Covenant is not just some high level means to solve a problem that doesn't affect Josephine Bloggs in the pews, and Josephine Blogger today and tomorrow is nothing but a necessarily ineffectual pest.

So not only is there centralisation high above, and a likely use of the Covenant text to restrict, but further a still greater authoritarianism within that will suck out some of the lifeblood of the institution. After the breaking of the Catholic traditionalists, it will give encouragement to the Conservatives via their own entryisms and their adopted supporters to enforce the definitions of the Church. So, for example, you'll get more of this, not less, from on high and it will come straight down to every local church in the country.

So it isn't just the case of the General Synod being able to derail the Covenant on high by its coming vote (after the Diocesan Synods have spoken) but it will also be able to save the Church of England from a future in which restriction will be paramount. There is a lot at stake for those of you inside the Church of England. You will get more of this sort of thing and in much more detail and much more about behaviour not just belief.

Oh and for those of us in England but outside, the State Church being so affected by an international Covenant will surely mean the need for the Church to become disestablished. It will further represent a distance from the ethics of the State and the social consensus that simply forfeits its right to be in any sense representative of those who stay outside its doors, starting with marriage and Civil Partnerships. Yes, these topics all link together - and why I suggest it becomes so important for progressive insiders to vote the Covenant down.


Anonymous said...

So you don't want the separation of church and state? No bishops in your Parliament, no choosing of bishops by your Prime Minister, no theoretical headship of your church by your head of state?

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

I do, yes. I want the bishops out of the House of Lords's replacement.