Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Considering the Anglican Covenant

The Anglican Journal reports that the Canadian House of Bishops has passed a resolution recommending "consideration" of the proposed Anglican Covenant. The House stopped short of recommending adoption.

Covenant-sceptic though I may be, I agree with the House on this. The proposed Anglican Covenant should be given open, transparent and thorough consideration by the Anglican Church of Canada. The fact that nothing about the Covenant process to date has been in any way open, transparent or thorough is certainly not in its favour. But that does not preclude our responsibility to take this document - conceived by fiat and developed in the smoke-filled back rooms of the Communion - and give it a fair hearing.

I want to hear the case for and the case against the Covenant. Of course, since the Covenant is a radical reconfiguration of Anglican ecclesiology, I rather believe the onus is on its supporters to make the case - but let them make it, by all means.

Let the debate be vigorous and passionate. And let it come to the floor of this summer's General Synod.

And then?

Let me tell you a story.

J.S Woodsworth had as good a Christian pedigree as any figure in the history of Canadian politics. Woodsworth, a former Methodist clergyman, had actually been arrested and charged for sedition during the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919 - for quoting scripture.

No. Seriously. He was arrested and charged with sedition for quoting the prophet Isaiah. I'm not making this up.

Eventually the prosecutors realized how stupid they appeared and stayed the charges - stayed them, never dropped them.

Subsequently, Woodsworth was elected to the House of Commons and served there until his death just over 20 years later. He was the only Canadian MP to vote against Canada's entry into World War II. When the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation made the decision to support the war, Woodsworth offered his resignation as party leader. The party pleaded with him to stay on as leader, even though they were not prepared to follow his lead on this important issue.

On his last trip to Winnipeg, months before his death, he met with the executive of the Winnipeg North CCF to discuss the nomination of a candidate to replace him. According to legend he told them that three essential things must be observed:
* the process must be open and aboveboard,
* the process must be unassailably democratic,
* the candidate selected must be Stanley Knowles.

In due course, Knowles - a clergyman of the United Church of Canada - was nominated, and went on to his own distinguished career in the House of Commons. Despite always being an Opposition MP he was frequently offered the post of Speaker (which was a gift of the Prime Minister in those days), and his knowledge of the intricacies of Canadian parliamentary procedure.

I don't fancy myself a modern day Woodsworth by a long shot. But I am inclined to adapt his three requirements for our present circumstance.

* The process to determine the Canadian response to the Anglican Covenant must be open and transparent.

* All concerned Canadian Anglicans must have the opportunity to have their views taken into consideration.

* The ultimate decision must be a resounding "no."


Erika Baker said...

Malcolm, I'm finding myself more and more convinced by Tobias Haller's argument, that it's time to take the Covenant at its word rather than according to the intentions of those who drafted it.

And it if, after careful scrutiny of it, it is possible to say "we continue to affirm lgbt people in our church and to ordain them as priests and bishops, and we are also willing to sign the Covenant", then there should be no reason not to sign it.

I'm not sure you can genuinely evaluate a document when you've already made up your mind about it in advance.

Malcolm+ said...

I concede Tobias's main point that the Covenant should be examined on its own merits and not dismissed purely because of its appalling provenance. It is difficult to imagine how a tree so poisoned by backroom dealing and manipulation could possibly produce an edible fruit, but it is possible - if only to God.

However, I believe that Section 4, despite its more diplomatic tone, is still a radical redefinition of Anglican polity and ecclesiology.

As described by Archbishop Runcie:

"One of the characteristics of Anglicanism is our Reformation inheritance of national or provincial autonomy. The Anglican tradition is thus opposed to centralism and encourages the thriving of variety."

The Covenant overturns that - absolutely and unequivocally.

Erika Baker said...

But Tobias also says that a third response could be to discuss the covenant and then make a counter proposal, or say which sections would need changing for TEC to be able to sign.

The whole point is that a truly constructive approach requires an adult level of engagement. And maybe a firm view of the outcome prior to doing that isn't entirely honest?

Malcolm+ said...

Notionally, Tobias is correct that Provinces could respond by proposing changes. I don't think that's a viable strategy, unless all the Covenant-sceptic provinces coordinated their responses.

I don't think it's dishonest to be upfront about my position - which is mione, not anyone else's - that it is highly unlikely anyone could convince me this Covenant is a good thing. I nonetheless think my Church's approach to the matter should be an open and transparent process involving the broadest possible consultation among Canadian Anglicans. In that process, I personally will be calling for the Covenant to be rejected. I may be knocked on the ass on the road to Damascus, but I don't expect so.

ginny s. said...

Malcolm, amen to all opinions in this entry. As a convert to the ACC, my hope is that the Canadian church will realize the huge changes in polity that this covenant would bring. That centralization alone should be enough to reject the covenant.

Thanks for your blog: a light in the wilderness for me sometimes. As a layperson, I often don't have much sense of what the larger Canadian church thinks or feels.