The Anglican Covenant may well not end up accomplishing as much bad or good as it is cracked up for, but the discussion around it has been worthwhile and fascinating, and at last something of a broader debate seems to be starting up, for example Andrew Goddard and Jonathan Clatworthy, here and here. People are still, however, often picking over the bones rather than addressing the big questions around having such a thing in the first place, and it seems to me those are where the action is. Many thanks to all who have offered comment on this blog for their clarity, honesty, and will to try and understand the whole picture.
If Christians are alienated from each other, culturally, sociologically and psychologically, how high a formal fence should they erect between themselves? Enough, surely to give reflective space to both and a chance to relate their partial interests in the whole gospel picture whilst they live in tension and await, in joyful hope, a new heaven and a new earth. But temporary fencing, as low and light as possible, has to offer the best way forward if it’s relationships that count.
The wall is too high if it prevents interchange, and dangerous if it resorts to cantonment — a strategy that promises much short term, but has been historically, literally, bloody disastrous all over the world in the 20th century — Ireland, Kashmir, Germany, Cyprus, Israel/Palestine, South Africa... the examples of how disastrous it is are obvious and I can’t think of a single example of it bringing long term peace. In the end, people have to get together, especially if we are all aiming for the New Jerusalem, the sooner the better, the more porous the boundaries the better.
Whatever the virtues of the Covenant text, or not, it is inconceivable that people will hold themselves accountable to something they never wanted in the first place and don't believe in. Many TEC people the Windsor process was aimed at see it as abusive and biased interference. Meanwhile Conservatives are increasingly seeing it as a Chocolate Teapot (e.g. here). Windsor is increasingly and profoundly tainted for both, and, cuts diminishing amounts of ice with either. Why bother, then, with a blow-up Windsor process? The only people such a thing would would work for are people who don't need it or care about it anyway. This is a profoundly Groucho Marx place to end up.
If this were The Apprentice, I would be underwhelmed by the Covenant marketing department. Vituperative defensive ad hominem spiel sounds hollow and does not answer the broader question above. Perhaps nobody needs Section 4, even in its current toned-down form. The whole idea that a few more primates’ meetings would do the trick is very improbable. There may have been all too many primates meetings, used for grandstanding as much as mutual personal and spiritual engagement. Perhaps we don’t need additional structure; just to learn from our recent history and move on, resolving to use what we’ve got more wisely before we try to grow the apparatus further from a tainted root.
Meanwhile, all this talk of declaring actions in or out of court, and impaired communion, has got my Pelagiometer twitching. My Pelagiometer measures how much personal energy I am investing in faith or works, in other words whether the things I do arise from grace, or whether my awareness of grace is being clouded by anxiety, fear or politics. It tells me when I am taking myself or my faith more seriously than the Holy Spirit.
When “impaired communion” was the relational consequence for everyone to discuss, I used to wonder with whom couldn’t I share Communion in the light of the cross, except for grave and urgent scandal (Book of Common Prayer) where hot anger would obscure and compromise the sacrament?
Whatever Anglicanism is, it is Augustinian in extraction and has to contend with Pelagianism in all its forms. My Pelagiometer is very sensitive, because I recallibrated it when I worked in a prison. I shared communion with “Graham.” He was convicted a major fraud, but for various reasons he sincerely believed he had been in the right to do what he had done, and had squared the transaction that was held to be fraudulent with his boss. He ended up going down for three years anyway. I don’t want to undermine the courts, or the ten commandments. “Graham” and I would probably have to agree to differ about whether he was guilty or not, but never in a million years would I have refused to sit down with him at the Lord’s table. Nor with “Andy,” who probably murdered his girlfriend, but claimed he hadn’t. I took a charitable view that it was the Lord’s supper not mine, and left the judging to God.
Those whose pelagiometers have been calibrated in more genteel environments may set the gauge higher, or use denominational conformity to set theirs. As a sinner saved by grace through faith, I have absolutely no will to start making judgments about my sister or brother, or the institutional churches to which they belong, that would compromise my ability to sit down at the Lord’s table with them, let alone put them out of the house.
The best way forward might be to pass sections 1-3, which are unexceptionable, but put Section 4 on hold and reflect on what we do need, then come back and see if something like Section 4 fills the bill. I’d be amazed if this happened, though. Yes there are tensions in the Communion. Leadership is acknowledging real tensions in an organisation that can't be resolved and leveraging them so that their energy works for everybody. This is often not possible, but that’s what we have to do, not corral people in separate camps. Our status as people baptized into Christ is infinitely more valuable and significant, than our membership of any other group, founded on anything less.