Thursday, November 4, 2010

No Anglican Covenant Coalition Promotes Rival Covenant

Yesterday I noticed that a group calling themselves the No Anglican Covenant Coalition launched a website and a Facebook page to campaign against the Anglican Communion Covenant.

As I've noted in a previous posting, there are folks out there who castigate the very idea of an Anglican Covenant as "a product of as Stalinist a process as could possibly be imagined," "an unmitigated evil," and "a homophobic power grab." Using the rhetoric of "Anglicans for Comprehensive Unity," the No Anglican Covenant Coalition seeks to provide a platform for those who hold such views - as well as others who may have less rhetorically-charged reasons for opposition to the Covenant - to lobby for their cause.

On the website, the No Anglican Covenant Coalition says this about itself:

Anglican churches are being asked to adopt a so-called Anglican Covenant that seeks to bind them more tightly to one another and to codify procedures by which future disputes within the Anglican Communion will be resolved.

We believe that this covenant is ill-conceived. In response to the reputed “crisis” in the Communion, drafters of the covenant have favoured coercion over the hard work of reconciliation. The covenant seeks to narrow the range of acceptable belief within Anglicanism and to prevent further development of Anglican thought. Rather than bringing peace to the Communion, we predict that the covenant text itself could become the cause of future bickering and that its centralized dispute-resolution mechanisms could beget interminable quarrels and resentments.

We believe in an Anglicanism based on a shared heritage of worship, not on a set of doctrines to which all must subscribe. Our understanding of Anglicanism leads us to view the covenant as profoundly un-Anglican.

At No Anglican Covenant, we present the case against the Anglican Covenant and useful material for those studying the covenant or looking for arguments to support their opposition to its adoption. We also provide background material and track the status of the adoption (or rejection) of the covenant across the Communion.

There's more here.

While I find the sometimes shrill and paranoid rhetoric circulating in some corners of the blogosphere about the Anglican Covenant chilling, I have no objections to raising questions and engaging in debate about it. Its implementation may change aspects of what it means to be Anglican, perhaps in ways that cannot be foreseen and perhaps in ways that could be both good and bad. Given such possibilities, civil dialogue and debate make sense.

But to this creedal Christian, the No Anglican Covenant Coalition comes across as a forceful push for a "believe whatever you want, do whatever you want" libertarian approach to the Christian faith, as though such a free-for-all very loosely held together by liturgy is what it means to be truly Anglican, and as though that's what Richard Hooker was all about, too. (In an earlier posting I've written about encountering this sort of thing before in my parish work, with persons who want to pursue their own agendas without any accountability to others arguing forcefully that our Church lacks substantive content and binding teaching.)

And so I'm taken by the critical response to the No Anglican Covenant Coalition offered by Peter Carrell at Anglican Down Under. As Peter shows, those who reject the proposed Anglican Covenant are themselves operating with a set of normative and perhaps even forcefully binding ideas about what it means to be "Anglican" that constitute a kind of implicit and rival covenant to the official Covenant. Here's part of Peter's response in a blog posting entitled "Wrongly named international Anglican Coalition favours covenant":

... the coalition favours a covenant binding Anglicans together, for what is an Anglican coalition with a website but a fellowship with a binding document, and what is a fellowship with a binding document but a covenantal community!

So unfortunately this coalition has the wrong name. It should be called 'Not that Covenant but this one: Anglicans for Comprehensive Unity'! Incidentally 'Comprehensive Unity' is a covenantal idea since it values unity around an agreed conception of comprehensiveness.

The website for the covenanting coalition describes its view in this way:

"We believe in an Anglicanism based on a shared heritage of worship, not on a set of doctrines to which all must subscribe. Our understanding of Anglicanism leads us to view the covenant as profoundly un-Anglican." ...

Ah, but a 'shared heritage of worship' could mean something more precise, a 'shared heritage of worship' as defined by certain Anglicans, a sort of covenantal understanding of that heritage: here is our definition of it, do you sign up to it?

This description is also curious in another way. It pits 'shared heritage of worship' versus 'a set of doctrines to which all must subscribe' yet I am constantly told by Anglicans that we Anglicans express our doctrine in our liturgies. If I subscribe to the liturgies I subscribe to the doctrines!! What is this coalition trying to say here?

Then finally, note the nail which completes the building of an Anglican covenantal community, 'Our understanding of Anglicanism leads us to view the covenant as profoundly un-Anglican.' Here is covenantal Anglicanism smuggled into a sentence which appears to deny its possible existence: how can something be declared to be 'un-Anglican' if there is not a shared definition of what 'Anglican' is? Indeed the first part of the sentence makes just that claim: 'Our understanding of Anglicanism leads us to view ...'

In a nutshell this coalition is saying 'we prefer our covenant to the official Covenant'.

Peter sums it up like this: "I think global Anglicanism deserves a better quality of opposition to the Covenant!!"

Peter Carrell has written a brilliant piece, so read it all.

His posting "Why a Covenant is a good idea" is also worth reading.


Joe Rawls said...

I have no objection in principle to the covenant, though I'm really not sure it would be workable on a day-to-day basis--TEC would get into trouble over Part 4 right off the bat.

The rhetoric of the anti-covenant people you cite is way overheated.

Christopher said...

We don't always agree. I offer this as way of where we do:

Bryan Owen said...

Christopher, thank you for sharing what you've written. It is a very fine piece. I was moved by your statement that "doctrine is a living reality of among others, God to us, us to God, we to one another, as liturgy." That is precisely what I routinely experience when reciting the Creed and participating in the Eucharistic Prayer in worship! So while we do, indeed, disagree on many other things, I am heartened that, at a deeper level, we share this common bond.

Yours in Christ,