Tuesday 2 November 2010

Encouraging what engagement? How?

Looking at the Covenant documentation for General Synod, it seems one laudable aim is to promote closer engagement between Churches.
Institutional structures can assist as well as impede strong and fruitful relationships, of course. Having a formal marriage certificate doesn’t stop marriage partners loving each other — indeed it ought to help, all ohter things being equal. What it cannot do is make people love one another.

Direct meeting is a gospel value. And if this is the aim, one way to judge the Covenant proposal will be to ask “How might it deliver what kind of closer engagement between Churches?” A new refereeing institution could bring churches together when they make decisions others abhor. That‘s the theory, rather like requiring divorcing couples to seek counselling.

Yet wise counsellors with whom I’ve worked in prisons and counselling centres have always told me how difficult mandated counselling is. For it to be effective people have to be willing to contemplate changing something about themselves, and to be committed enough to the process to give it a go. They have to be equal enough to talk and often if they had been that in the first place they wouldn't have got into the situation they're in.

A couple who both believe profoundly “I am in the right and it’s basically my partner needs to change” are unlikely to find counselling effective. Anyone who is not reasonably committed to the process will spend their counselling session staring out the window or at their watch. Again, the exercise is almost certainly pointless, and the kindest thing a counsellor can do is point this out honestly from the outset rather than stage a charade where there is no meeting of minds, or will to reach it, or preparedness to change.

I’m also struck, as I look back to the spat that gave rise to the Windsor report, how the human impact of what was going on had explicit and implicit expressions. On the one hand various politicians, scribes, pharisees and manipulators proclaimed their righteous indignation from the housetops, along with what others had to do to call off the dogs of war.

On the other, many gay clergy colleagues bottled up, often bravely and quietly, what must sometimes have seemed intolerable burdens of depression, frustration and pain. This came from a feeling they were being institutionally rubbished by the Church that had nurtured them, and to which they felt profoundly committed, personally and spiritually. Someone told me it felt like being mugged by a parent, at the behest of a nasty neighbour. Many found it almost unbearable to talk about, in the way people who had been in the trenches couldn’t and didn’t want to talk about what they had witnessed when they got home. The clearest expression of the hurt beng experienced by gay clergy wasn’t imposing declarations but days off sick with depression and stress, many of them never even logged as such.

Of course people should engage. But engaging institutionally and legally is nothing like as important as engaging personally and spiritually with real human beings. That’s why boycotts are usually evil, because they are excuses not to engage but to feel as righteous as if you had. People matter so much more to God than the abstract issues ever could. We owe far less to dogma, than to the people our dogma impacts, because that is the way of Christ, and the Scriptures teach us that love is the fulfilling of the law, whatever law you may have in mind, even the ten commandments.

I notice how the wording of section 4 of the various drafts of the Covenant has become less legalistic and more relational. Good. But I want to know how positively relational it really is now, or is this just a drafting cleanup because people wouldn't swallow the medicine for what it actually was, neat?

I want to know, in close particulars, how the new structures being proposed will give what voice not only to the Scribes, Pharisees and bureaucrats, who in my experience can usually speak for themselves, but also to the poor blighters in the dust who look to us, bishops especially, because they thought in all innocence that bishops were supposed to be more committed to the way of Jesus Christ than the way of Caiaphas.

It could be that a new refereeing body gives a voice to the voiceless. OK. How? And if this process does not go out of its way to do this, and especially if it contents itself with pious intentions and merely institutional stitching up, it will only make our spiritual sickness worse, not better.


Lesley said...

Gosh Bishop Alan

That is a very moving and compassionate piece.


Kathryn Rose said...

Hear hear!

Thank you for this.

Kathryn Rose said...

I'm intrigued, though, by your comment that boycotts are usually evil. In financial terms I think of boycotts as choosing what I want to support with my spending and, if necessary, avoiding what seem to be the worst options. Have you written more about this elsewhere?

Bishop Pierre said...

Well said, my friend!
I am less interested in the content of the Covenant -- whose deficiencies you ably point out -- than the process of discussing it. That will be, I believe, the true benefit of the whole exercise.

anchorhold said...

You've put your finger on why I'm uneasy about the Covenant - it's not that there's anything massively objectionable in the content as such (after all, the promotion of mutual recognition and engagement should be a good thing), but in the current climate it seems liable to turn into a tool for bashing each other over the head.

Or am I being too pessimistic? I wish I could think so.

Ann said...

Exactly - whose marriage has ever been saved by a contract? If there is no commitment to stay together there can be no talking about anything. Absenting oneself from the table only silences your voice.

June Butler said...

Bishop Alan, you raise excellent points about the difficulties of forced engagement to settle differences.

And how will the new body give voice to the voiceless?

Justin Brett said...

Hurrah, Alan! Thank you for sharing more of the simple common sense that seems so lacking in the councils of the great and the good!

Anonymous said...

If the goal is to promote closer engagement between churches, the Covenant is likely to result in exactly the opposite. The Church of England should not debate the Covenant under the comfortable delusion that TEC will take its medicine and sign like a good little boy/girl. From where I sit (a priest in TEC and deputy to General Convention), and from what I am hearing, it seems unlikely. An instrument intended to promote closer engagement will instead result in schism.

JimB said...

Very well said. Thanks for this.

I think the changes to section four really are not as advertised. It takes a while and a good flow charting background to work it all out but the section is not improved, it is hidden. It is still a quasi-judicial way to enforce institutional shunning.


Anonymous said...

One of the depressing features of the last decade in the Anglican Communion has been the speed with which those structures readily allowed the abandonment of the language of dialogue and exchange and all too easily adopted and embraced the language of confrontation, regulation and coercion.

The question 'what happened to the listening process envisaged by the Lambeth Conference of 1998' deserves a far wider consideration.

And an answer.

June Butler said...

Not wanting to beat the subject to death, but what happened to the listening process ordered by the Windsor Report?

A major element in changing my views from what I still must call mild homophobia was hearing the poignant stories of LGTB persons. From listening to their stories and reflecting on the Gospels, I experienced a change of heart and did a 180 degree turnaround in my opinions.

Peter Ould said...

On the other, many gay clergy colleagues bottled up, often bravely and quietly, what must sometimes have seemed intolerable burdens of depression, frustration and pain. This came from a feeling they were being institutionally rubbished by the Church that had nurtured them, and to which they felt profoundly committed, personally and spiritually. Someone told me it felt like being mugged by a parent, at the behest of a nasty neighbour. Many found it almost unbearable to talk about, in the way people who had been in the trenches couldn’t and didn’t want to talk about what they had witnessed when they got home. The clearest expression of the hurt beng experienced by gay clergy wasn’t imposing declarations but days off sick with depression and stress, many of them never even logged as such.

For the sake of being the devil's advocate, what has this got to do with the Covenant? Yes, it's very clear that some clergy are stressed about keeping their sexuality secret, but given that the Church of England's official (conservative) position does not pronounce sexual orientation as a moral issue, why is this specifically an Anglican problem? Of course, you could be referring to clergy who are in sexual relationships outside of marriage, but then the issue is that they are breaking the rules and the stress is caused by their deceit.

One other option is that you think it's not appropriate to ask gay clergy to be celibate, but as I argued in response to the LGBT coalition letter, this is a poor argument.

There is also something deeply wrong in the statement that those who are celibate are “exposed to the danger of a kind of withering of the heart, which makes them less able to love anybody”. This makes no sense. Would we apply such an understanding to a heterosexual single person who has been unable to find a marriage partner? Is their continued celibate singleness likely to “make them less able to love anybody”? Does it provide any excuse for a sexual union outside of marriage? It seems to me that once you apply such a thinking to involuntary celibacy that the idea that chastity damages people is shown to be absurd.

I'm know that the idea that being a celibate gay clergy person in the C of E with the same emotional needs as other people is tough (I *really* know because I chose to do that and would have hapilly carried on before I met my wife), but that is not an excuse for compromising on the clear scriptural teaching in this area.



Paul Bagshaw said...

I want to know how positively relational it really is now, or is this just a drafting cleanup because people wouldn't swallow the medicine for what it actually was, neat?

I'm afraid I don't think much, if any of the legalism of previous versions has been lost.

If you follow the process envisaged by Section 4 there are large gaps between the steps. Fill in the gaps and you have a semi-judicial process if there is to be any fairness at all.

And before that, someone will have to write the manual of how to respond to conflict between churches: a Code of Practice with Principles of Action - a bit like canon law, perhaps.

In fact this has already begun. Kenneth Kearon has had to clarify that the Standing Committee can only respond to official Provincial actions. Also he (with others) has begun to ask how the central authorities can address the actions of dioceses and parishes which are not formally sanctioned by the the Province.

One thing has gone - the process now will be governed by church bureaucrats rather than by church lawyers. Some are both, of course. It's an interesting choice: you tell me who you would rather have in the middle of conflict?

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

This conversation is bearing out what I think +Pierre Whalon sad on the Facebook one that's been running in parallel, that thaere is worthwhile reflection to be had around it, whatever we make of the document itself, plus or minus. I'm very grateful to all particpants.

The $64K questin on this for me is about the kind of engagement that would follow from this proccedure, and whether it enhances or detracts from the rich fellowship we already enjoy. For example yesterday a Ugandan brother bishop looked in, and we were instantly praying together, sharing concerns, finding mutual space as disciples. Does a more mannerist Anglican Communion process with beefier tools in the box enhance that, and if so how?

Peter, I was not at all put out by your contribution, and have no objection to your being controversial. The Covenant discussion, I find, is impacting people on basic visceral levels as I have indicated, and that is the connection, not an ideological one. But when we talk ideology in Church, even (especially?) correct ideology, we need to remember the Golden Rule is a primary spiritual requirement of any Christian process worthy of the name. What sorted this out for me was working in a prison where, without a doubt, some of the people I served had measurably and heinously done wrong whether they were prepared to admit it or not. And the Golden Rule was especially precious for me to try and follow in a low respect environment in which it seemed a long way away. The Gospel breakthroughs I saw in that ministry were almost always directly related to occasions this had happened. And as enticing as discussions of the "who sinned, he or his father?" kind are about what we may see as others' moral faiings (I speak as a fool) Jesus did not say "Love your neighbour as yourself as long as they are... dot, dot, dot." There's an absolute claim about his words which requires imagination and compassion. Many who needed crumbs of the atter found precious little during the Windsor process, as they thought they heard themselves being discussed in the abstract as a problem to be solved. Any contentment with it being so was, with hindsight, sub-Christian behaviour from which we need to learn, that the world may see that the love that ninds us together is like the love that binds Father and Son, and so believe. This is far more important to me than Year 3 ethics anorak stuff about gender or sexual identity, but the two realities are inseparable in any discussion of the Windsor process and its aftermath.

Savi H said...

Section 4 still sets out mechanisms for discipline and exclusion.

I read this Covenant as a legalistic alternative to the far superior Covenant for Communion in Mission, though dressed up in relational language.

The flat refusal of certain bishops to act on the call at Lambeth 1978 and 1988 for deep and dispassionate study of sexuality and dialogue with lesbian and gay people, the sabotage of the hard work led by Archbishop Ndungane at Lambeth 1998 to achieve shared understanding on human sexuality and refusal to engage seriously with the 'listening process' afterwards have gone virtually unchallenged by most Primates, who are wielding increasing power. Those leaders who have made it clear that they are unwilling to engage in genuine dialogue on sexuality, even in their own provinces, have as far as I can tell given no indication that they see the Covenant as requiring them to undertake serious listening, but rather as a mechanism to punish churches that are too inclusive, and in general to enforce their own approach to interpreting the Bible.

Anonymous said...

In response to Peter Ould's comments:
1. Whatever happened to respecting others' consciences? If someone thinks gay relationships are wrong then clearly they should follow their conscience and not do it. But that never seems to be enough for some, who insist that other christians should follow THEIR conscience, because 'this is the what Scripture says' etc, Well it isn't what Scripture says to me or a lot of other people and until there is mutual respect of conscience and integrity there isn't much point in dialogue.
2. It often seems to me that those christians who are against gay relationships talk about gay sex, whereas gay christians talk about love. To reduce gay relationships to "sexual relationships outside marriage" is to dishonour the reality of so many lives which are as much about mutual and sacrificial love as sex. This continual "rubbishing" as Bishop Alan puts it is one of the reasons I am giving up on the church.
3. I always thought the official Church of England line, as in"Issues in Human Sexualilty", was a discussion document not the final word.
4. Bishop Alan's description of the lives of gay clergy is pretty accurate. The church can be a destructive place for many gay and lesbian christians whether ordained or not. Simply telling people they are being deceitful when we know the church plays games, saying one thing and doing another. I have paid the price of honesty in the church and it feels exactly like Bp Alan's description.

Peter Ould said...

Responding to Anon,

i) If my conscience told me that it was OK to kill my child, would you say I should follow my conscience or would you try to prevent me because your conscience said otherwise? If so, why do you criticise others for imposing their conscience upon you?
And let's not do the "murdering a child is different to loving someone" response - the issue you raised was the imposition of private conscience on someone else and NOT the morality (or otherwise) of certain sexual conducts.

ii) I'm on record stating very clearly that two men can easily love each other. The Biblical issue is with the sexual expression of that (valid) love.

iii) The past twenty years has demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that Issues's position is accepted as the orthopraxis of the CofE. This has been established in the judicial system.

iv) Yes, but is the issue an environment that is homophobic even for those who are happy to remain celibate (which should be condemned) or the stress of choosing to live a life in contradiction to the vows made at ordination?


Erika Baker said...

Your point 1 is disingenuous because you are comparing something that is rightly illegal with something that is legal.

So you should really compare your response to homosexual people to your response to smokers. Yes, you can point out that in your view, smoking is harmful. But you still have to respect the smoker’s right to smoke, you have no moral right to restrict his active and equal participation in your church because of your disapproval of his smoking, provided he doesn’t smoke in your presence or force anyone else to smoke.

Lesley said...

Just a quick comment,

Peter, with your first point, the difference is that harm is being caused to another person, so our moral duty is to step in. If two people are making love and say that it is consensual, then it is our moral duty to respect their boundaries and to but out.

Please, please can an evangelical tell me what they think Jesus meant by 'Do not judge' - I get asked this quite a lot as an ex-evangelical, and I don't know the answer. (That is a genuine question).


June Butler said...

Peter, what a sorry analogy - killing a child and two men having sex. That's a quick way to stop people from taking you seriously.

Thanks Erika and Lesley for stepping up.

Peter O said...

We're not analogising the morality of the two acts, we're examining the idea that respecting other people's consciences is always a good thing.

The legal argument Erika makes is pointless since I don't think she would argue that killing a child would be acceptable if it were legal. The law might be a reflection of a society's judgement on what morality is but it is not the prescriptor of morality.

The smoking analogy doesn't work because the Scriptures say nothing about smoking do they? One might argue that the body as a temple of the Holy Spirit might lead one to looking down on smoking as an activity, but it's hardly as explicit an argument as sexual practice.

So let me ask the question again because I don't think it's been answered properly - if my conscience told me it was acceptable to kill my child, why should you intervene? For the sake of argument, let's assume that I live in a country where child murder is legal based on a recent national referendum. On what grounds are you going to object to my christian conscience in this matter?

June Butler said...

On what grounds are you going to object to my christian conscience in this matter?

Peter, we speak from the vantage point of sharing a core morality to which the majority of people who call themselves Christian would adhere, therefore, I'd object on the grounds of doing mortal harm to another, which Lesley has already mentioned, and I'd move to stop you if I could.

Erika Baker said...

Scripture says nothing directly about smoking just as it says nothing directly about committed same sex relationships for people who are not heterosexual.
But let's leave that aside.

I would also like to leave your abstruse example aside because you know as well as I do that no-one is advocating anything that seriously harms another person.

Let's just talk about a Christian framework for moral decisionmaking. And there, I would say that we have to acknowledge that there is a huge, higly intellectual and scholarly corpus of pro-gay theology just as there is a huge, highly intellectual and scholarly corpus about women priests. The theology in both cases has been done.

The fact that not everyone agrees is not relevant. Relevant is that it is clearly possible for Christians to disagree with integrity.

That means that I don't object to your Christian conscience in the matter, but I expect you not to object to mine either.

Anonymous said...

"if my conscience told me it was acceptable to kill my child, why should you intervene?" -
To save the child's life.
If I am in a loving consensual relationship with my same sex partner, why should you intervene?

DaviGoss said...

The Biblical issue is with the sexual expression of that (valid) love.
Peter: In seeking to apply what the bible is saying for us today there is always a transposition to be made, however explicit the biblical pronouncements might seem. It was, I think, Leonard Hodgson who expressed it thus: "What must the truth be now if people who thought as the biblical writers did, put it like that?"
Perhaps the truth for us now includes the possibility of a lifelong committed sexual relationship between two people of the same sex - whether or not we call it marriage.

Savi H said...

Peter, surely there is a difference between an action which involves infringement of another's freedom and an act which, though one might think it wrong, harms primarily those who consent. And there is also a difference between trying to persuade people to change their views through debate and threatening them if they do not change behaviour which they do not regard as wrong.

In fact, Anglicans have long managed to live with one another despite profound differences of conscience on matters as important as whether war (which in the modern world frequently does involve killing children) can ever be right. To some, the call to love one's enemy and treat others as one would want to be treated would rule out participating in or supporting a war, while others take a different view.

Sometimes it takes time and patience to reach a common mind, and disciplinary measures can hinder rather than help this.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Peter just a question from the sidelne, as a Cambrudge Hebraist, that interests me from your interesting line of questioning: I'm sure you'll remember there is actually a curious Biblical tradition (Ezekiel 20:26) that God did give Israel statutes that were not good for them, and cause them to offer up their firstborn by fire (Hiphil) in the wilderness (Moloch). This leads me to ask, in no facetuous sense, If God asked you to do this, would you have done this, in conscience?

Peter O said...


I think you've positioned the question in a manner that misses out some of the thrust of what's going on in Ezekiel 20. The first act is the rebellion of the people against God. This then leads God to instruct/allow them (though the Hebrew is not clear is it? Is it less a case of God directly instructing them and more a case that he just lets them to do more of their rebellion and "helps" them in it? - shades of Romans 1) to continue their rebellion, leading the people to commit detestable acts which further bring God's judgement. I would argue that God simply lets them get on with a framework of sin and then lets them reap the consequences. There is then the call to repentance in verse 30 which sums up as "This is where your fathers' sin led them - what are you going to choose to do?"

Perhaps you're better asking Abraham this overarching question as to whether God would ever be right in asking someone to kill their son?

Peter O said...

In response to everyone else's comments since my comments yesterday, I think we have firmly established that we all accept that we cannot absolutely always respect people's consciences. The very fact that you find hideous the idea of me being allowed to kill my child and that you wish to oppose it demonstrates that it is right to not respect my conscience in this matter.

So the question now arises, which matters of conscience can a Christian respect and which can she not? How do we decide? Is there a Biblical principle, or are we going to use a determinator outside of Scripture? If so, what?

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Thanks, Peter for taing us to thte heart of teh Abraham question. I think it's important on that one to remember that a bronze age conscience would have had few problems about Moloch, but ours would, partly because God provided an alternative. The Hiphil is, however, directly causative and relates, I would say, to the ambiguity of the whole OT tradition about High Places and what went on there, and in the valley of Hinnom.

On conscience it has always seemed to me you can't absolutize what it says because conscience is like a radio set that needs tuning and the result analysing before you can evaluate whether or not to follow it.

However, it is the set we have to receive the good signal from God... so always respect, I'd say, but not uncritically.

The other observation I'd make is that everybody's got one. People who tend to go on about theirs sometimes forget this, and that never helps.

Erika Baker said...

In the context of the Covenant we are not talking about individual moral decisions that may or may not be valid.
We are talking about national churches that through their own processes of discernment and supported by a large body of serious theology have come to a new decision about topics that present a moral dilemma in many countries all over the world and in all walks of life, and that are therefore not as spurious as someone feeling they would like to kill their child. Although, you’re right, positions on life and death issues certainly form part of the moral dilemmas we have to deal with.

By what right do we suddenly claim that the polity of a sister church is no longer valid because we happen not to like what it came up with? That the theology they developed or applied is inadmissible because it does not happen to support our own view? When there is a long history of “innovations” that either became mainstream or, like women priests, became part of some traditions and not of others.

Isn’t the real question why something that always used to be discerned at national church level should now be subject to an international majority override for no other reason than “unity”? Because forcing people to comply or kicking them out doesn’t exactly result in genuine unity either.

Peter O said...


No one's arguing that TEC has to change its polity, but then if the Anglican Communion as a whole changes its polity, why shouldn't that be respected as well? We are semi-autonomous at the moment because we choose to be - equally we can choose not to be (and some can choose still to be while others are closer).

What the Covenant provides is a manner of handling innovations and discernments that would mean that *if* such an innovation were of God it could be accepted by the Communion as a whole. It's a way of handling the holiness of sexual practice issue as much as it's a way of handling the Sydney Diocese lunacy of lay presidency. And the reason why these things should be decided at communion level is not because of "unity" but because of holy apostolic catholicity.

Peter O said...


I'm quite happy to have a conversation about hiphil and moloch, but let me get home to my library first!

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

dear Peter, I think the money shot in our conversation was the point about conscience and its uses (which Abraham illustrates even better) rather than the grammar of the verse.

As to the covenant, and taking a slightly devil's advocate view for the purposes of argument, in a centralised Imperium like the RC Church there is a head office top down ecclesiology maintained by the Papacy. We are just not that kind of Church, neither did they exercise authority in that way in the early Church.

How would, say the Sydney stuff "be decided" at Communion level? Surely they do it anyway, they'll carry on doing it, whatever a committee says is Anglican or not. A think tank could advise them of the implications, I suppose, but it has, as the covenant itself points ut, no enforcement powers anyway. So all it turns out to be could be what we've already got now, but less flexible? Or is there some x factor that everybody's missing?

Some people can't see yet how this proposal would have helped any renewal movement in the Church positively, say the Evangelical revivals of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, or the Missionary or Oxford movements. The most our new model committee could have done is decide they represented innovations (and thus were presumably un Anglican?) What use would that have been?

Erika Baker said...

FiF use the same argument to say that the CoE or even the Anglican Communion did not have the right to vote for women priests because not all the world’s Christian denominations have come to the same conclusion at the same time.

The question then becomes whether we believe that discernment is a monolithic thing that a particular majority or a particular group has to approve and where we draw the line.
You are not a Roman Catholic, so I assume you agree with the principle that not all Christians everywhere have to reach the same decision at the same time in order for discernment to be valid.
So where do you draw the line and why?

Why was the discernment of national churches acceptable until now, even when it produced different practices and theologies in the different churches, and why is it suddenly not acceptable any longer?

Why were we able to live with difference until now and suddenly it should be absolutely unthinkable that a church in America does something different to a church in Africa?

And do you really believe the Covenant will do anything other than create a smaller church that is slightly “purer” for the time being – until the next disagreement?

Peter O said...

Alan and Erika,

The issue is whether the Covenant will help to encourage catholicity. If not, what other method do you support? What are the limits to "just getting along with each other"?

Erika Baker said...

my point is that we have never had what you would call "catholicity", we have always had a varied nation churches doing things that others would have thought was profoundly unorthodox.

My favourite example of what we should do is the Church of England, which is a shining example of how widely different groups of Christians can live together without constantly having to tell the others that they are wrong, unorthodox, un-Christian.

I propose that we learn from this example.

I would also be grateful if you could answer some of the points in my previous post.

June Butler said...

So the question now arises, which matters of conscience can a Christian respect and which can she not? How do we decide? Is there a Biblical principle, or are we going to use a determinator outside of Scripture? If so, what?

With regard to Scripture, I have two principal touchstone passages. From the Hebrew Testament, Micahs words, "What does the Lord ask of you O mortal, but to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly before your God?" And from the Gospels, Jesus' words on the two Great Commandments, to love God with all our hearts, souls, strength and minds, and to love our neighbors as ourselves, which commandments contain the whole law and the prophets. Others have their touchstone passages of choice.

You can probably find passages in the Bible to back up most any opinion you want to hold, but the two above are core passages for me when I make moral decisions.

Peter O said...

Let me try and answer your questions.

i) I draw the line at what the Bible says. I'm quite happy to accept that some things are not explicit and we can disagree on them. Others are explicit AND have soteriological implications if we get them wrong.

ii) If you're talking about the Anglican Communion, there has not, until now, been major differences in theology and practice. Almost all the AC churches draw on the Cranmerian reformation and its expression in the 39 Articles. They have also all shared a Lutheranesque theological basis. Since the ordaining of women that consensus has been slowly broken and we are now at a point where there are significant differences of a kind we have not seen in 150 years.

iii) See above. The problem is that we haven't had differences before of the gravity that we have them now. For some in Africa what TEC is doing is unthinkable because it (a) utterly contradicts what they teach, (b) has soteriological implications and (c) has missiological implications.

iv) I actually see the Covenant as a way of keeping together as large as possible a Communion of churches based on a common heritage. I suspect your issue with it is that TEC might not be able to even fit into the generous manner that the Covenant is being framed.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

I think that if it were possible, Peter to pick up some of the slightly stray points in this discussion it would really help to move it forward. I just want to congratulate everybody on having the most intelligent discussion I have ever heard on this subject, way more concerned with the real issues than the last college of Bishops which mulled over the details of text but no more.

As far as Catholicity goes I think of it as being a mark of the Church. Baptism moves us into the Church, and is inherent in the reality we confess in the creeds. You can't be more or less Catholic. Either you are in the ark or not, and I am very much with Augustine about whom you reckon in.

There are people for whom an engaged expression of this reality requires a beefier structure, if I can put it that way. But there are also people who think the glory of the present ecclesiology is that we can share in fellowship easily and naturally in all kinds of informal ways precisely because we travel light for institutional baggage. At the time of the reforation the C of E did not envisage turning itself into some kind of global denomination — simply that it was to be the Church for this country, which prayed for "all Christian kings princes and governours" without trying to prescribe their alignment with a denominational norm.

It has to be said that over the past forty years the beefiness of our glopbal institutions has increased considerably (primates meeting ACC etc.) Has this made us more aware of our Catholicity or less? You could say "One more heave and we'll be there" if pro Covenant, or you could say, if anti, we've already got a whole suitcase of slightly self--important sounding global committees we didn't have fifty years ago, and their activities have by and large not brought us together as effectively as mission agencies and common service and informal links have. The more our relationships get bogged down in formal committees, the more bureaucratised and unsatisfactory they become, sometimes!

And then, actually, why be a denomination? Where does that whole concept sit with the NT concept of Church — nowhere, surely (I speak provocatively to aid the discussion) What, in NT terms is a denominartion? At exactly the time the Holy Spirit is breaking down the lines of Victorian deominationalism by raising up new non-denominational Churches in the UK, the dear old C of E comes puffing up the hill turning itself into a new model denomination! Why?

Erika Baker said...

The bible is quite explicit about its stance on divorce and usury, and yet all churches have found a way of reconciling their ideas of orthodoxy with charging interest.

As far as I know all churches in the Anglican Communion accept divorce, many will even remarry divorcees and some will have divorced priests.

If those apparently anti-Scriptural moves did not break the Communion, why should the current batch of disagreements?

My issue is indeed that TEC will not fit into the framework of the Covenant. Nor will Canada and a number of other provinces. Who knows, in a few years time the CoE might find itself outside its boundaries too.

That is one of the big problems with excluding the more liberal members of the Communion. The balance shifts towards the conservatives, those who are currently middle of the road become the new liberals by default, and in the next round of disagreement they are the ones who will be forced to comply or take their leave by the Instruments of the Communion.

This is not a real unity nor does it lead to a healthy Communion.

Pam Smith said...

Alan said:

"At exactly the time the Holy Spirit is breaking down the lines of Victorian deominationalism by raising up new non-denominational Churches in the UK, the dear old C of E comes puffing up the hill turning itself into a new model denomination! Why?"


I think someone somwhere - or maybe quite a lot of people everywhere - have forgotten whose church we are and what we are here for.

The Covenant as a mechanism for promoting worldwide unity among Anglicans is about as successful as the Titanic was in raising standards of shipping safety.

There is lesson the Titanic - the more waterproof you think you've made something, the more susceptible it is to unexpected events.

If God wants us to have a Covenant for some reason, we'll get one. But who knows? Maybe that reason won't be to keep the ship afloat but to capsize it once and for all.

Sam Charles Norton said...

My biggest problem with the Covenant is that it gives the conservative Pharisees authority over Gamaliel - something which, in contrast, the Anglican Communion has been historically very good at. Rather than allowing God to be the arbiter of whether innovations are holy or not, we are proposing a committee of wise men, and if it goes through, TEC won't be the only church to be ushered outside of the city wall.

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