Friday, May 18, 2007

Why I Think the Anglican Covenant Process is Useless

The following report is making some waves:

One moment in the morning session brought the house to a standstill. In a long series of illustrations of the principle that "Covenant is making promises and keeping promises", Archbishop Gomez related how TEC has earned the distrust of the rest of the Communion. He recalled how former Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold had agreed that proceeding with the consecration of Gene Robinson would "tear the fabric of the Communion at the deepest level," then thirty minutes later told a press conference that the American Church had no intention of canceling its plans to proceed with the consecration a month later.

His next illustration was the real shock. He explained that at the recent Primates' Meeting in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, the Archbishop of Canterbury had broken the usual precedent of decision by consensus and required each of the Primates to stand and declare whether or not he (or she) agreed to the text of a Communique that contained the Primates' shared commitments for the future. Each of the 38 Primates said "yes" to the Communique. The American Primate, The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, said "Yes, but I'll have trouble selling it" to her fellow American bishops.

The point is, as Archbishop Gomez stressed, she said "Yes." She could have, but did not, issue a minority report. When she returned, and when the House of Bishops Convened in March, Jefferts Schori claimed she had only consented to present the text of the Communique to her bishops. She took no responsibility for agreeing to it. One of the conference participants recalled she had claimed that "she never signed it." Archbishop Gomez cut in: "None of the Primates signed it." The Primates' Communiques are never signed. Their verbal responses are taken at face value. The Presiding Bishop's public statement that she hadn't signed it would appear to be a deliberate misrepresentation of the process.

One of the diocesan clergy stood in stunned amazement, and fluttering with emotion said he didn't realize the extent to which we had been lied to. Bishop Howe stood, and with equal emotion insisted that the Presiding Bishop may very well have believed that she was agreeing to deliver the message and not that she was agreeing to the content itself, and that we should be very careful not to infer that she was lying.

Archbishop Gomez interrupted the Bishop: "Sir, that was not the question she was asked by the Archbishop."

So Archbishop Gomez straight up said that PB Schori’s honesty and trustworthiness about Tanzania is . . . lacking.

As notable as that is, I want to focus on what the Primate of the West Indies said earlier: “Covenant is making promises and keeping promises.”

Though coming from the chairman of the Covenant committee himself, that statement sums up why I think the current Anglican Covenant process is useless. Even if one puts an extremely, uh, charitable spin on the words and actions of PBs Griswold and Schori, making covenants with those who for all practical purposes lie every time they recite the Nicene Creed is hardly a useful undertaking.

And, of course, the problem isn’t just the personalities involved but a post-modern environment in which words can mean anything or nothing. Covenants with the children of liberalism and post-modernism are problematic at best. For they likely will intend something entirely different than the plain meaning of the Covenant.

Some have said the problem is that the Anglican Covenant will end up so weak that anyone will sign on to it. I say the problem is slightly different -- that it’s almost impossible to create a Covenant so strong and clear that it avoids everyone signing on to it. If the Nicene Creed can’t seem to weed out the new post-modern heretics then how can a covenant written up by the Anglican Communion, even if it follows the recommendations of Archbishop Gomez himself? How can we make promises and keep promises in an environment where the words of the promises can mean whatever we want them to?

And then if the problem is compounded by a lack of trustworthiness . . .

I’m glad Archbishop Gomez is chairing the committee and recognizes the problem. But I don’t think even he and likeminded primates can overcome it with an Anglican Covenant.

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