A number of my friends have begun to pick apart even what up until now has been perceived by many as the least problematical three-quarters of the proposed Anglican Covenant: sections one through three. It seems to me that their hermeneutic of suspicion is working overtime, and they are reading the document in the most negative light possible. Even direct citations from documents as well established in our Anglican DNA as the Lambeth Quadrilateral are being subjected to the glare of cross examination and judged sinister.
That approach would be wise if the AngCov were a contract, such as could be enforced by some coercive means. But this misunderstands, it seems to me, both the nature of the Covenant, and anything that might come from it; and of the Anglican Communion itself.
The AngCov — particularly in the much edited fourth draft now before us — should be seen in the tradition of AFDs — Anglican Fudge Documents, such as the 39 Articles (as amended in the Elizabethan settlement) and the Book of Common Prayer itself. Although these documents were designed to rule certain extreme positions off the table, the primary intent was to be as ambiguous and inclusive of the big messy middle as possible. As the clever readings the mid-19th century Anglo-Catholics applied to the Articles demonstrate, it was possible for people in good conscience to read [in] readings quite at odds with either original intent or strict construction.
Does this mean that the Episcopal Church — or anyone else who hasn’t already — should adopt, subscribe or accede to this latest batch of fudge? Probably not. Although I cannot muster either the angst or the ire towards the AngCov that my friends in the “No Anglican Covenant Coalition” (NACC) have accumulated or espressed, the reasons for adoption, accession, or subscription seem mighty thin. I say this for several reasons and in light of several things which I take as facts:
Too many provinces have already expressed disdain for one or more hard inclusions in the AngCov for it to provide an acceptable degree of chewy fudgicity — the big tent is already about one-quarter empty.
The Anglican Communion is not, and has never been, a strictly structured united entity — not that this AngCov would make it so (particularly given the confusion of purpose in section four) — but is rather a historical reality, given only a quasi-formal structure through ad hoc and pro tem invitations, recognitions, assemblies, and consultations. It barely rises to the level of a federation, let alone a unified body. The “Instruments of Unity” would better by called “Instruments of Ecclesiastical Networking.” The notion of Canterbury at the center as a hub to which various spokes are joined is a legal fiction. To go further and claim, as the AngCov does, that this office is the “focus and means of unity” is, at least on one reading, not only risible, false and absurdly dissonant with reality, but blasphemous (Canterbury is not Christ).
Depending on how one defines “communion” the Anglican Communion isn’t one. If one uses “mutual recognition and interchange of ministers” as the definition (and this is commonly the touchstone in ecumenical discussions, and their fruit) the Anglican Communion wasn’t “in communion” from the very beginning when Seabury gained his orders from non-jurors and the Canterbury-consecrated White and Provoost (and their successors) were forbidden in English law to function anywhere within the realm or colonies, and latterly when duly ordained women, first as priests and even now as bishops, were prevented from functioning in England due to the English fastidiousness towards clergy ordained abroad having to be ordainable at home. Robert Runcie coined the paradox“impaired communion” — which like “partial virginity” is more or less a contradiction in terms.
So, in light of this, I am moved to ask, as the Almighty did of Ezekiel, “Can these bones live?” Perhaps they can — but not at the insufflation of the Anglican Covenant, which is neither particularly spiritual nor manifestly holy.
I have previously used the example of the unwanted gift of fruitcake, and the unwanted gift of fudge is much the same. Not sharing the dire concerns of the NACC, I still suggest General Convention affirm parts one through three of the AngCov, when read in their best possible light, as consistent with the doctrine and discipline of the Episcopal Church, and promoting — nay insisting upon — further interprovincial discussion of the document as a whole, with special regard to the inner inconsistency and incoherence in section four.
Of course, I may think differently by the summer of 2012. But I doubt it.
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG