Noises off...

The Archbishop of Canterbury has issued an Advent Letter to the Primates of the Communion, and in it made some comments about the proposed Anglican Covenant, in which he clarifies that
it outlines a procedure, such as we urgently need, for attempting reconciliation and for indicating the sorts of consequences that might result from a failure to be fully reconciled...It alters no Province’s constitution, as it has no canonical force independent of the life of the Provinces. It does not create some unaccountable and remote new authority but seeks to identify a representative group that might exercise a crucial advisory function.
Once again we are presented with something "urgently" needed, but which ultimately creates nothing new, more, or other than a procedure for giving advice as to how to get along, or face the consequences of not getting along. One of the reasons the Archbishop offers for adopting the Covenant is the supposed greater "coherence" following these advisory processes will bring about, allowing us better to interact with other Christian bodies.
We should bear in mind that our coherence as a Communion is also a significant concern in relation to other Christian bodies – especially at a moment when the renewed dialogues with Roman Catholics and Orthodox have begun with great enthusiasm and a very constructive spirit.
But, of course, this "coherence" will only arise if and when disagreeable provinces of the Communion settle their disagreements — for which the Covenant, once again, provides only advice and the exercise of what amounts to peer pressure to conform — or those who continue to resist this pressure are edged out of being "representative" of Anglicanism towards these other supposedly more "coherent" ecclesial bodies.

The Archbishop also asks a question, and then assumes his question has no takers as he rushes back to square one.
I continue to ask what alternatives there are if we want to agree on ways of limiting damage, managing conflict and facing with honesty the actual effects of greater disunity. In the absence of such alternatives, I must continue to commend the Covenant as strongly as I can to all who are considering its future.
I can, of course, think of any number of "alternatives" to what I continue to see as a deeply flawed and, by its own self-confession, ineffectual effort at conflict management:
  • Reliance on the Covenant for Communion in Mission from IASCOME
  • Restoration of the purely consultative function to Lambeth, with a staunch refusal to adopt any resolutions at all, other than those that directly empower mission and ministry
  • Expansion of ministry and mission cooperation between provinces, focused not on the mechanics of the Communion or disagreements on policies, but on doing the things Jesus actually commanded
  • Continuing to provide forums for the sharing of views between provinces, as in the Continuing Indaba and Mutual Listening Process which is “a biblically-based and mission-focused project designed to develop and intensify relationships within the Anglican Communion by drawing on cultural models of consensus building for mutual creative action.”
That last one sounds like a particularly good alternative, doesn't it. I could go on, but I think the picture is clear. I note that two of the alternatives listed above are on the Anglican Communion website. It is not as if these things are hidden away or unavailable. Whatever role the proposed Covenant might take in the future of the Anglican Communion, it is by no means the principle player, and could well simply be put in the category of offstage sound effects.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

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