May 16, 2011

Capacity and Potentiality

If we are concerned about what the Anglican Covenant might mean, it is better to be part of the body that makes the determination as to what it does mean.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


Erika Baker said...

I'm still confused.
I agree in principle that it is better to be part of something on order to have an influence over it.

But the Covenant came about because socially conservative groups in the Communion felt they could not live with the liberalism of others. This feeling was so strong that ways and means were sought to either bring those liberals in line, or to relegate them to an outer tier, or even to get rid of them altogether.

The means to this end was to be the Covenant.
It looks like it will not achieve that end, because those who wanted it as an instrument of punishment and exclusion are recognising that in its present form, it cannot fulfil their wish.
The more liberals sign up to it, the less it can become so and the more it can become a variety of other things. Harmless, even potentially useful.

But that also means that the Covenant becomes unimportant, a dispensable part in the battle.
Whatever happens to the Covenant, if it does not address that fundamental difference in the different parts of the Communion, it becomes unimportant.

And those who so desperately wanted it in the first place will simply continue to fight the battle by other means. The aim will still be to bring liberals in line or to get rid of them.

It seems that signing or not signing is irrelevant.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Erika, you are touching on a point I've tried to make elsewhere. The current form of the Covenant is no longer the "smash TEC and Canada" that some wanted it to be. It just isn't that any more.

What it is is a somewhat imperfect (o.k., in parts very imperfect) effort at a skeleton process for dialogue and resolution of differences. It will clearly not settle the "big questions" that were on the table at its genesis, beyond the fact that most of those who have already signed on (SE Asia excepted) do not see those as communion dividing issues to start with.

I actually see the Covenant as the new beginning for the Reformed Anglican Communion, from which certain provinces will withdraw. As the Windsor Report put it, some will walk apart. This is the means by which they do so.

I cannot see the wisdom in following the radical liberal course that throws out the Bible because it doesn't say what some would like it to say. I believe in the Paschal reality of the hard nature of being in fellowship with some with whom I disagree!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In Englands green & pleasant Land

R said...

I cannot see the wisdom in following the radical liberal course that throws out the Bible because it doesn't say what some would like it to say. I believe in the Paschal reality of the hard nature of being in fellowship with some with whom I disagree!

I believe I grasp the line of reasoning here, but I'm increasingly uncomfortable with the implication that the covenant is the only path towards being in fellowship in the AC. If that is the case, we are in a more sorry state than I have understood to this point, as it is becoming evident to me that the covenant is -- at least in some quarters -- becoming the centerpiece for the latest round of attempts to seize power and control.

I am increasingly struck that the vows I have undertaken are to the doctrine and discipline of a particular church that happens to be a constituent member of the Anglican Communion, not to the Anglican Communion itself. This is a far cry from publicly declaring scripture containing "all things necessary to salvation." I suppose, then, I'm countering in as gentle a way as I can, beloved Tobias, the parallel you raise here.

The deeper question it seems to me for us in The Episcopal Church and the decisions we face in 2012 is whether or not the charity Christ calls us to demands we sign onto this latest chapter of the power struggle in the wider AC or seek what St. Paul might regard as "a better way."

Perhaps I am being, as one of my professors remarked in seminary on one of my papers, more "discursive than helpful." But like Erika, I am increasingly confused by the stances taken in favor of signing on. If we take Rowan Williams at his word, must we sign on?

Erika Baker said...

I suppose my question really is why we still talk about the Covenant when it's no longer where the real battle is fought.
And unless we settle the real issue, we'll still tear each other apart in 5-10 years time and nothing will be settled.

Maybe I'm not being realistic or too optimistic, but unless we find a solution to the core problem - what are we doing?

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

R, I don't think the Covenant is or ever will be the "only" way forward (nor did I intend accidentally to elevate it to the level of Scripture!) I think a careful reading shows it to be, in its present form, and as I noted in an earlier post, an effort to bring some structure to processes for resolving differences. In this sense it is not the alternative to Indaba, for example, but one more tool in the kit. I do NOT see it as the be all and end all for the Communion. Clearly, as Erika notes, it will not address the inter-communion squabbles for those who will not be part of it; but it may help take some of the pressure off of the less tense but still touchy disagreements on those same (and other) subjects among those willing to talk rather than to walk.

I think the Covenant goes to great lengths to spell out that it has no impact on the internal workings of the constituent members. Much of the first three sections embody language already an intimate part of our own agreed positions. Part of my concern in NOT signing is that it might be seen as a confession that in some of our actions we are deliberately choosing to act in ways that are NOT consonant with Scripture -- and I don't believe that. This is precisely one of my reasons for not abdicating the high ground.

As to 2012, I would welcome hearing about some "better way" -- but at this point I do think the Covenant -- in its present form, imperfect as it is -- represents an improvement over the unregulated adhocracy of the last two decades. One very important thing is the guarantee of provincial autonomy as to its own self-government, but also in a communion that is committed (mostly spelled out in Section 3).

Finally, I don't follow the Rowan Williams question at the end. To what "word" does it refer?

I think we've moved past that point and the Covenant is now about something else -- how those who are willing to get along, get along. The core problem will not be solved for another generation or so -- and hence, not likely by us. Gafcon is the Frankenstein's Monster of Lambeth 1998 -- and rather than chase it with pitchforks and torches, it is best to let it run out into the quicksand on its own. It may make it through, it may not. But they have rejected the present Covenant, and so this no longer concerns them. The Covenant is only going to be about and for those who remain willing to stay together. I predict that 2/3 of the Communion, perhaps more, will sign on. That is for the most part the 1/3 who think as we do, and the 1/3 who may have disagreements with us, but are willing to work through them. And that, it seems to me, is a reason to keep working.

Unless we've all been wrong about the rapture... ;-)

Erika Baker said...

I have this vision that the truly holy people will be taken up in the rapture and the rest of us will remain down here with the Covenant :-)

It's that lovely term of adhocracy that bothers me.
The Covenant may no longer be about that and it may become a reasonable document to bind those in friendship who would be capable of loving friendship without it.

But the Communion includes adhocrats, has done for a fair number of years.
They have not disappeared, they have fallen a little silent while the Covenant process is going through the motions.

So what next?
The adhocrats are still with us (thank God, I'd hate the thought that any group of people was removed from "us"), they still have a big voice, lots of financial and political power.

They're not going to leave quietly (nor would I want the to).
But while they're here and we're here, we're all where we were!

So what adhocracy idea will take the place of the Covenant?

I think I'm saying that, whatever reasons one might have to sign the Covenant, solving adhocracy should not be among them because that's just the one thing it won't solve.

R said...

Just to clarify: I cannot cite the source immediately, but it was my understanding that Rowan Williams had said that membership in the AC was not contingent upon signing onto the proposed covenant.

I beg your pardon if I have been reading more into your arguments than intended. I remain, however, struck by how the covenant appears to muddy the waters further rather than offer greater clarity, to simply shift the divides to a different place rather than help bridge them.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Erika, I just commented on the other thread that perhaps the Covenant is unattractive precisely because it is a good likeness of our fractious Communion!

I'm perhaps not being clear -- I don't think the Covenant will solve all of the problems of the Communion. New ones will arise, even as some of the old ones hang around. But it does seem to me to lessen (as we cannot eliminate) the adhocracy. I suppose I'm showing myself as a bit of a Fabian rather than a Revolutionary. My contention is that the Covenant does not change all that much, but it does provide a somewhat more stable framework. There will still be brush-fires to put out.

R, that notion is embodied in the Covenant itself (4.1.4-5, 4.3.1). I assume Rowan must have said something along those lines. There is no "requirement" that any Province sign on to remain part of the AC. But to NOT sign on is to become isolated from part of what Rowan sees, paired with Indaba, as the "way forward" for the Communion. The more I've worked with the Indaba process the more I see it as working in concert with the Covenant, not against it. Note that those who don't like the Covenant from the reactionary side also despise the Indaba and the Listening process. That should be a clue.

I think you are right about the clarity problems, but it seems to me it is coming from the reactions and interpretations rather than the Ding an sich. I think wider adoption will allow for a working-through phase in which the muddy water will settle a good bit, and the bridging of muddy waters will be part of our new life in communion. O.C.I.C.B.W. As I say, I am keeping an open mind, but if things keep trending this way, I think wider adoption will bring with it its own solutions.

R said...

Thanks, Tobias. Time will indeed tell, and I hope further clarify...

Fred Schwartz said...

I respect the heck out your your writings and your thought process.
I have read and tried to understand everything that you have written and by crackers, we just do not agree. The covenant was a bad idea from the start and it has become no better with age. A bad idea is a bad idea. You know put lipstick on a pig and all that. . . As for the being a part of the process, what process would that be? The process whereby TEC or anyone else is kicked to the curb by the primates?
Why, pray tell, do we NEED the Communion? Sure it is nice to be in touch but we do not NEED to be a tight knit group in lock step with the rest of the Anglican Communion.
What covenant do we need outside the baptismal covenant? This is/has been a group think not deserving of any time, energy or thought. It has detracted from years of work in the fields and continues to do so. Have you read The Great Divorce? What say we get on the trolley and leave GAFCON and the Global South to debate how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

MarkBrunson said...

But it's best to withdraw and let it be meaningless.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Fred, thanks. I guess we will have to disagree to the extent I am not as negative towards the Covenant as you are. I said I'm keeping an open mind, and I know I've waffled back and forth even on the current draft (I was definitely opposed to the earlier drafts, no question.)

A couple of things, though. The Covenant does not allow the Primates to kick TEC to the curb; they (with the ACC if they get the votes) can do that already. But if being on the curb is the "bad thing" then how is going there voluntarily (which is part of what not joining in will mean, I think) be a virtue. I would rather be fired than quit if it comes to it.

More importantly, I think it is not so much that we need the communion but that the communion needs us. I think of our loss of influence in the communion if we walk away -- and while I agree we don't need to be any more tightly knit we should remain in conversation, and I think if we do not adopt the covenant that will be taken as a signal of our wish to walk apart, to "withdraw" as Mark says.

I have read the Great Divorce, and recall that part of Lewis' inspiration for it was a saying of George Macdonald, "The first principle of Hell is, 'I am my own.'" I think we are at a Hillel moment concerning the Covenant: if we are only for ourselves, what are we? but if we are not for ourselves who will be? and if not now when? I do indeed think it time to get on the trolley with the other 2/3 of the communion, and let Gafcon decide what it wants to do with its shiny new offices in London and New York. They will not listen to us, but many of the others will; and we have much to share. So that is what I think we can bring to the communion. A "good meaning" if you will.

Marshall Scott said...

Tobias, I can follow your argument, and so am torn. I continue to reflect on saying, indeed, "Not now," rather than flatly "No!" Perhaps my greatest concern is that this will indeed stifle adhocracy - when in a world more and more "networked" than institutional, adhocracy will be useful more often than it will be painful. "If your only tool is a hammer, every problem begins to look like a nail;" and while we can imagine that there will be other means for addressing differences, the temptation of possible resolution will pull more differences, more "problems," under the "hammer" of the Covenant's Section 4.

Our understanding of engagement and gradual reception seems largely gone from our discussions of how ideas are shared and embraced (or not) among the churches of the Communion. I hesitate to sign on to the Covenant, in fear that it will only "drive another nail into the coffin."

(Wow! I didn't know how far I could carry that metaphor until I got started!)

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Marshall, I don't think you push the metaphor too far, and this does, IMHO, represent the best argument against the Covenant. (I"m finding some of the more extreme statements made by some in the debate, some of them simply erroneous, not to follow from the actual concerns. Too much seems directed either at language no longer part of the document, and concerns based on its genesis, in spite of the fact that many of the generators have now abandoned it.)

What you describe is a real concern: that the Covenant could lead to an endless haggling-fest on every little matter that comes up. And if I truly believed it was simply going to die -- with no one signing on -- I'd say, fine. But that is not what is going to happen. (I speak as a dresser of sycamores, not as a prophet; but I am confident of my reading of the signs of the times and the trends of the trendy.)

I have used the analogy of US elections in which we face the "lesser of two evils" and the high-minded who will vote for neither. High-minded that may be, but the election happens anyway!

In the case of the toolkit metaphor, our presence (on the Standing Committee and as part of the larger Covenant) might be a mitigating force in how and when the hammer is used. If we are not present (on either, as the case will be if we do not become part of the process) then we lose our capacity to influence for good. Like Marley's Ghost's colleagues, we may view the harm from the sidelines: "They sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and had lost the power..."

I'm also reminded, and this may resonate with you in chaplaincy, of my CPE supervisor's method of dealing with anxiety in us novices: "What is the worst thing that could happen?" "And what would you do then...?" "And...???" It was a marvelous way to dispel vague anticipatory worries.

Lay Anglicana said...

You want to know the worst that could happen, the nightmare scenario?
My crystal ball is a little cloudy tonight, but here goes.
GAFCON, in their self-appointed role as Torquemada, 'ex-communicate' TEC. Others like the Churches of north and south India are unable to sign the Covenant and so are barred. Churches like Ireland which have 'subscribed' to but not signed the covenant are deemed beyond the pale. The Church of England, through a mixture of cajolery and macchiavellian manoeuvre, sign the covenant, but individual members then drift away, unable to stomach Section 4. Etc etc. The laity despair at this move away from any involvement by them in the church other than as pew-fillers and sources of cash.
The Anglican Communion does not divide into two (which might be acceptable), it shatters into fragments.
And Jesus weeps.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

L.A., thanks (I guess!) Not a happy picture. But couldn't most of this happen without the Covenant? And hasn't GAFCON already (at least in its principle members-- SoCone, Uganda, Nigerian, Rwanda-- said "no" to the Covenant and so given up the role of Torquemada? They cannot "excommunicate" TEC on their own -- only a 2/3 majority of all the Primatex and a vote of the ACC can remove TEC from the membership in that body -- and even that is not the same thing as "the Anglican Communion." Sure, they can drop being in communion with us -- they already have! -- so I don't see how the Covenant changes that particular part of the gloomy scenario.
But I'd also say that even if all that happens, time will pass and the various provinces will still do their thing. Bilateral relationships will continue, Covenant or no Covenant. GAFCON will do its thing too, though I don't have much hope for their success.
As far as the laity go, and even most of the clergy (and a few bishops!) most in my experience don't really care about the Covenant and adoption or non-adoption is a non-issue. THey are more interested in what goes on in their own parish or diocese, and the oversea ministries that they take part in regardless of what Lambeth or the ACC say! Of course, I could be proven wrong on all this; but my gut instinct is that the Covenant is neither as important nor as dangerous as some seem to think. If it is not adopted, we'll be fine; and so will we if it is. I just think that it makes more sense to be part of it than not.

Even the US Constitution had to be adopted before the Bill of Rights could be added...

Lay Anglicana said...

Tobias, you are much more knowledgeable than me on this subject so I am going to hope that the conclusions you draw from your vantage point are more likely to be right than mine.
Are you a Trollopian? You remind me of his Tory grandees (this is meant as a compliment!) who had seen off numerous peasants' revolts while managing to avoid any actual revolution. 'Masterly inactivity' and 'This too shall pass'.
Of course, if I wanted to be unkind I could say it also reminds me of the Mughal emperor (?Humayun) who sat in his capital as the invading army approached, taking no action beyond endlessly repeating 'Delhi is yet far off'. (He lost the throne).
A priestly friend thinks as you do and reminds me that the Church did not collapse with the departure of Wesley. This is true, but neither was it our finest hour and could have perhaps been avoided.
Do you really think that we can all sign the Covenant and then simply ignore it?

JCF said...

It's not that I hate the Covenant (Sec. 1-3. 4, I do hate!).

It's that I love The Quad. We're a part of the Quad Anglican Communion: accept no substitutes!

[And if someone says that a Covenant Communion has replaced the Quad Communion, let's TEST that, shall we? (via nonviolent direction action, if necessary)]

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thanks, L.A. While I enjoy Tollope's work, I think I am more engaged than what you describe, which I see as a kind of "This too shall pass." I believe in engagement and action, but selectively and carefully, and with an eye to the big picture.

In this instance, I was very vocally opposed to the earlier drafts of the Covenant. The point is that many (though not all) of the things that both I and a large number of others thought were missing or should be missing (i.e., cut) have either been inserted or removed. The document itself provides for its further amendment. In other words, speaking "big picture" the trajectory has been positive in all respects and negative in none. That is, nothing I deem good was taken out, nothing I deem bad added. So while not perfect it is heading in a positive direction, and with a "coalition of the willing" we can keep that moving; just as the Founders adopted the US Constitution and then worked to add a Bill of Rights rather than stomping their feet and refusing to sign in its absence.
I do not think the Covenant will prevent any of the current major divisions in the A.C. I do think it can become a positive tool for those in the A.C. who wish to continue working more closely together.

JCF, the Quad is there in the Covenant, of course, along with a hodgepodge of just about every other "Anglican" notion from the past two centuries: episcopal leadership, lay involvement, missionary imperative, provincial autonomy, etc. One of the purposes of this document is to draw all of that together. As a work of a committee, it is not always successful in bringing these bits together in a coherent way, but I think it largely successful. All of the "regulatory" stuff in section 4 has to be seen and applied in relation to sections 1-3. That's where it is up to the progressives to be firm and participate and reject the accusations that we have gone against "the mind of the communion" or "the plain teaching of Scripture" or all the rest of that -- precisely by insisting that what we have done, as I've demonstrated in my book, is within the bounds of the guidelines laid out in sections 1-3. If someone (l;ike S.E.Asia) says we've gone against Lambeth 98.1.10., for instance, we can point to 3.1.4.II and say, where does this give Lambeth the right to establish a law for the provinces? Section 4 can only be used, as it says, for matters "incompatible with the Covenant" and so it will be up to those who complain to PROVE that any given action is "incompatible" to the satisfaction of the Standing Committee -- on which, at present we have two representatives, who will be unable to serve in these matters if we do not join in the Covenant.

The Covenant is not going away. I see no disadvantage to signing that will not be worse if we don't sign; and I see no advantage to not signing at all.