Still Thinking

I want to take this opportunity to clarify a few things about where I stand on the proposed Anglican Covenant.

First of all, all appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, I have not made up my mind about whether I will vote for or against adoption at General Convention in 2012. Not only will much depend upon the wording of the actual resolution or resolutions upon which the Convention is called to vote, but I am still keeping an open mind and am listening to all of the arguments pro and con. Unlike some of my friends who have been for some time dead set against the proposed Covenant, or perhaps any covenant at all, I do not believe that some form of regulation for the interprovincial affairs of the Anglican Communion must be taken off the table as somehow inherently un-Anglican.

Some of my friends who oppose the Covenant appear to me to be arguing what I would call a “genetic fallacy.” That is to say, the Anglican Covenant is tainted due to its origins in efforts to coerce or punish the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada for having done those things they ought not to have done.

While there is no denying the origins, this view does not appear to me to take account of the actual process by which we have arrived at the current text. Contrary to the assertions of some, the “authors” of the text were not all of a common mind regarding either coercion or punishment, even from the beginning. Each of the drafts of the document (apart from the last) were widely submitted for conversation and amendment. More importantly, the editorial committee took heed of the feedback from across the Communion and made significant alterations as the final document was developed.

From my perspective, almost everything I found objectionable in the original document and earlier drafts has been deleted or amended in a more positive direction. Nothing that I find objectionable has been added or introduced. I consider that the trajectory of the document is more important than its origins. That the document has been disowned by some of its originators (and others who wished to see it amended in a more coercive or punitive direction) supplements my sense that the document has greatly improved in the direction I favor.

I freely admit that I do not think the proposed Covenant is perfect. Few works by committee ever are. But the document itself is open for further amendment by those who choose to subscribe to it. As I have noted elsewhere, just as some of the signatories to the U.S. Constitution were not entirely happy with it but subscribed to it with the understanding that a Bill of Rights might soon be attached, so too the proposed Covenant remains open to further improvement — but only by those who subscribe to it. This is not, by the way, similar to marrying someone with the idea of changing them to be more to one’s liking. While some may foolishly hope for that in their marriage, it is not a part of the marriage covenant. It is a part of the Anglican Covenant.

As I say, I have been attending to the arguments pro and contra. Let me examine a few of the negative arguments. For example, it is asserted that the proposed Covenant gives new powers to the four so-called Instruments of Communion. By my reading, this is plainly false. On the contrary, the proposed Covenant lays out the roles and functions of these instruments, for the first time in Anglican history, in a document to which the provinces can actually subscribe. In the past, the Anglican Communion’s ill defined entities have functioned with little or no formal agreement binding their activities. This has allowed, for example, the Lambeth Conference to drift from its original consultative function into operating as a quasi-doctrinal body that could render decisions on the “mind of the Communion.” The present text of the Anglican Covenant restricts the Lambeth Conference to its original role. It similarly limits of functions of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Anglican Consultative Council, and the Primates’ Meeting. Should any of these bodies at any future time overstep their competence (as they have in the past) the Covenant gives grounds to call them to account. This in itself is a reason to subscribe.

Others opposing the Covenant apply an essentially fatalist vision for the future in which TEC (and presumably ACoC) will almost assuredly be tossed out or relegated to some kind of diminished status in the Communion. It is not evident to me that the current text promises such a fate. When it is observed that refusing to adopt may more likely assure such a consequence it seems to me that the argument for rejection loses its force, or become something along the Pyrrhic line of, “You can’t fire me; I quit!” My impulse is fight rather than flight, and for a little guy I can be surprisingly pugnacious. I will also refuse to move to the back of the bus. Should such extravagant nonsense happen, the Covenant provides a platform for contesting such claims and I will take my stand on the Gospel, which in my opinion supports the actions of TEC thus far. I strongly opposed early drafts of the document as the work of bullies; most of the bullies have now left the stage, and even if they all remained, I am ready to face them down. And perhaps the stone that these builders rejected might become the basis for positive growth.

Still others see the Covenant as limiting the actions of the provinces in their own internal government and functioning; but by my reading, the document actually places limits only on the scope of action of the inter-Anglican bodies, and to the extent those bodies govern them, the external and interprovincial activities of the sundry provinces. They may make requests and recommendations, but the freedom of action of the various churches and provinces is left entirely in their hands. Thus, for example, the Archbishop of Canterbury could withhold invitations to the Lambeth Conference, or choose not to appoint representatives to the bodies over which he has charge from provinces deemed to have acted in ways “incompatible with the Covenant.” The ACC could, with the consent of two-thirds of the Primates, amend its schedule of membership to remove an errant church. The important point is that these are not new powers, and the “Instruments” already possess them, and in some cases have already used them. The Covenant does not grant these powers, but restricts and disciplines them, to some extent, to a process involving the Standing Committee and its recommendations.

On the matter of the ACC, a critique has been made concerning the reference to its role in determining the composition of the Anglican Communion. However, it seems clear to me that the reference to the membership schedule of the ACC is designed to restrict the invitation for adoption to those churches or provinces currently on that roster [4.1.4]. This prevents individual dioceses, or novel entities such as ACNA or AMiA from adopting the document as full signatories. (Individual dioceses can of course say they adopt the Covenant, but at this point that simply means they accept it in principle.) There is a provision [4.1.5] for non-rostered entities to be invited to adopt (a significant change from the draft to the final version).

Finally, I will not reflect at length here on the various possible consequences of adoption versus rejection. I will say that it appears to me that the consequences of rejection may be more serious than those projected for adoption. Since any of the negative consequences to the Episcopal Church (removal from all interprovincial bodies, etc.) can already happen whether we adopt or not or whether the Covenant is widely accepted or not, it seems to me that focusing upon the consequences of our rejection of the covenant may make for better use of our time.

I am not simply thinking of negative consequences to TEC. Our refusal to adopt might be seen as a repudiation of the Anglican Communion (I’m not saying it would be that, but that it might well be seen that way.) But I am more concerned about the effect on the Communion as a whole, if we choose to “walk apart” and go our own way. As Clarence said to young George Bailey when he saw the effect his absence had, “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” I’m also reminded of the fate of the Dwarves in Lewis’ The Last Battle, and of his vision of Hell in The Great Divorce, inspired by a quote from George Macdonald: “The first principle of Hell is, ‘I am my own.’” In this vision of Hell people are free, perfectly free, to move apart and away from each other off to infinity.

Some might say the Anglican Communion is doing just that. It is obvious to me that the old Communion has indeed fractured. But that doesn’t mean that what remains cannot be mended, or that even the fragmentary pieces are worth keeping together in a brown-paper sack for some future repair. I do know this: the healing cannot begin by ignoring the wounds, and the mending cannot happen if the pieces are further scattered. I choose to live in hope rather than fear, in the promise rather than the anxiety. As the old poem says, “I will not cease from mental toil...” until, as the Rule requires, as a deputy I must cast my vote.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

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