December 7, 2011

Thesis for 12.07.11

The Anglican Communion has no mechanism to determine or express its mind apart from the decisions and actions of the individual member provinces.


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG 

12 comments:

Daniel Weir said...

The assertion that Lambeth resolutions express the mind of the Communion is simply wrong. They express nothing more - and probably a lot less - than the mind of the majority of Bishops at that particular conference.

Paul (A.) said...

I like the logo. Yours?

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Amen, Daniel.

Paul, thanks. Yes it's mine (in so far as the replacement of miter with query!) I first used it on the blog some time back... will have to check to see when.

Bryan Owen said...

As we all know, some provinces of the Anglican Communion are expressing a mind that contradicts the mind of other provinces. (Brings to mind Joe Carter's essay "Is the Holy Spirit a Relativist or a Colonialist?.") I recall a certain wise man who said something about what happens when a house is divided against itself ...

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Well, Bryan, this has been true of the Church from the days of Peter and Paul, and it seems to have "stood" -- the issue is not disagreement, but whether disagreement entails division as a necessity. The church that "hangs together" through disagreements will find the disagreements are secondary. The church that fissions at the onset of disagreement will not. So far TEC has shown its willingness to "hang in there" while the purists of the Global South want all to do as they think right. That not being done, they (or their leaders) choose division. Sad, but true.

Bryan Owen said...

Tobias, while I'm not a fan of the "purists" of the Global South, I do think the sad state of affairs we find ourselves in as a Communion cannot be attributed to one group alone. It takes at least two to tango!

When I first read your thesis, it struck me as a fine warrant for why we need something like the Covenant (bearing in mind that the current version is far from perfect!). For it is precisely because we lack a mechanism for determining or expressing a common mind that we find ourselves in a quandary in cases of disagreement that could lead to division.

So yes, it is, indeed, about how the church "hangs together." Is it possible to "hang together" when members of the same household hold contradictory understandings of what it means to practice the Christian faith? Would it be helpful to articulate what the divergent understandings of acceptable norms and boundaries that rival groups in the household operate with? And would it be helpful to then say, "Ok, what norms and boundaries do we need to agree upon if we're going to continue to live in the same household?"

Whether or not the current Anglican Covenant has adequately answered those kinds of questions, I still think they are important questions to ask and struggle with.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Bryan, thanks for this. This is axactly the kind of intelligent discussion we need, as opposed to the frantic (and to my mind overblown) rhetoric that has characterized much discussion of the idea of a Covenant.

The questions are indeed important, as they are at the heart of how "the many become one" while still retaining their identity, which is the mystery of the Church itself.

And, yes, the lack of a mechanism to "settle" controversies is what we are dealing with in the Communion at present. My view is that the proposed Covenant does not provide a sound mechanixm for making determinations, with far too much focused in a relatively small body (the Standing Committee).

The other solution, which I prefer, is the laissez faire of letting folks stand apart if they feel they must. It seems clear at this point that the "vexing issues" that drove the Global South to their communion-severing course, are not in fact communion-severing issues for the majority of the Provinces of the Communion. If they cannot live with that, then they will do as they think best. But it seems to me that placating angry minorities by everyone agreeing to do as they say is not a very healthy model for the church. There are already effective norms and boundaries in place -- several of which the GS folks have already violated. If they will not abide by the actual rules already in place, such as they are, why should the rules be changed to accommodate a "stronger" position?

My sense it that attempting to force a settlement where there is no actual consensus -- asking either "side" to capitulate to the other -- even temporarily (as in the moratoria) second-guesses the issue, and short-circuits the way in which the church has actually functioned, painful as that is, down through the years.

So it seems to me that it is the craving for uniformity in matters about which there is not consensus is a bit like a dog chasing its tail. We sould more productively accept tha fact that there is no consensus, and continue to work on hammering one out through continued engagement and discussion, rather than referring the matter to a hardly unbiased referee.

It remains a fact that Lambeth 1998.1.10 was adopted in a flawed and far from consensual process, and that if TEC and ACoC had not foolishly relinquished their votes in the ACC that these matters would stand very differently now had the process been otherwise, or the vote truly representative of all concerned. I just don't think either body actually reflects the "mind of the Communion" -- and it is in attempting to confect such a mind that we arrive at these impasses. Better to simply agree to disagree, and if the disagreement strikes one as too far to go, walk apart for a time -- as the GS seems to have chosen to do.

Anonymous said...

"The assertion that Lambeth resolutions express the mind of the Communion is simply wrong. They express nothing more - and probably a lot less - than the mind of the majority of Bishops at that particular conference.:

Well, if this is true, then please apply it also to those who, in a couple different ways, state the our General Convention is the mind of the Church and the truth of the Spirit and the will of God and not just the mind of the majority at that time.

Anonymous said...

John 2007 also writes,

IMHO a better form for getting the true mind of the Church would be to have GC resolutions, or at least some of them, go back to parishes for ratification as the Presbyterians do. Many details would have to be worked out, of course, but we might have had a better sense of the fallout from our actions if we had done this, say, in 2003.

Anonymous said...

oops, the anonymous above is john 2007

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

The difference, Anonymous (please identify yourself in future), is that Lambeth is a "Conference" with no authority to make decisions on doctrine, disciple or worship: such an idea was ruled out from the very beginning. It has no formal constitution, but is simply a meeting of bishops gathered by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

General Convention, on the other hand, is the governing body of The Episcopal Church, charged with exactly such powers. It is General Convention that amends the Book of Common Prayer, and enacts all canonical and constitutional provisions. It is a unitary body, and the assent of no other entity is required for its actions to become the law of the church.

That being said, I do not believe that General Convention always and in all things speaks "the mind of the Church" (in the sense of all its members) and certainly not the "truth of the Spirit and the will of God." Obviously it is also only the mind of the deputies and bishops who make it up.

But unlike Lambeth, they are exercising an acknowledged and authoritative role in governance that is determinative for the Church, and its doctrine, discipline and worship. I may not agree with them, but I am bound to accept their proper authority. I am also free to work to change such decisions at subsequent meetings of the General Convention.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thank you, John. Our posts crossed in the aether.

The suggestion that all GC resolutios should be reviewed by dioceses and parishes would represent a significsnt change in our governance. (Imagine Congress doing that!) I agree it might be a more secure way of determining the "mind" of the church, but I don't share your apparent sense that things would turn out all that differently. Although deputies and bishops are not strictly speaking "representatives" of their dioceses, they surely must reflect somewhat the thoughts and feelings of those dioceses.

In the example of "fallout" from 2003 -- it seems clear to me that those who were upset would still be upset, and those who support would still have supported, even at the parish level, and the end result would have been the same. I think we would simply see that there is not a common mind in the church on touchy issues; though there may be a majority opinion.

My point is that trying to find consensus (a common mind) on issues on which there is strong division is not easily achieved except over the long haul. To say that it is the "mind" of TEC that partnered gay bishops are o.k. to me goes too far. I would say we voted for it, but that many still don't like the idea. (I still think it will be awhile before we see another such diocesan bishop...)

It's this "mind" thing that bothers me, you see. A pretense to a common mind when there isn't one seems to me to be more disruptive than helpful -- whether at lambeth or General Convention. The difference is that GC has lawmaking power, and Lambeth doesn't. People may still disagree with the laws, but the clergy at least are bound to obey them.