Friday, March 11, 2011

Refreshing Honesty

I'm not ever likely to see eye to eye with Church Society, a very conservative evangelical group within the Church of England. Indeed, their General Secretary, David Phillips, has published an article in the Winter 2011 edition of their newsletter, and I hardly agree with any of it - even though it comes down as firmly sceptical of the proposed Anglican Covenant.

That said, the article is well worth a read for a conservative evangelical Covenantsceptic position.
But what I particularly like is that, unlike so many of the straw men and ad hominems that have marked the Covenant debate to date, Mr. Phillips makes a serious effort to take opposing arguments and perspectives seriously. While I do think he slips up on one particular, I think his overall approach is commendable.

Here is the email I sent him today, both thanking him for his integrity and correcting what I believe is his one error regarding the liberal Covenantsceptic position.

Mr. Phillips, I've read your paper on the Anglican Covenant, and I want to commend you for the way in which you have tried to treat the arguments of the various parties seriously. Far too much of the debate has been characterized (on all sides) by the setting up of straw men and caricatures rather than serious and thoughtful arguments.

Obviously I would disagree very strongly with many points in your narrative, but I very much appreciate the effort you have made in this regard.

I would, however, like to point out one area where I think you missed a nuance of the "liberal anti-Covenant" position. Given the wider context of the article, I believe this was not deliberate.

In paragraph six, you suggest an hypocrisy in our position, juxtaposing our opposition to disciplinary clauses in the Covenant with the willingness to use disciplinary canons to address the actions of certain conservatives who have sought to leave the Episcopal Church or the Anglican Church of Canada while retaining parish property. You say: "What liberals don’t want is discipline on matters of faith and doctrine, they are very happy to see discipline to maintain the structures and institutions."

I can see how you have reached that conclusion, but I think you have missed a significant point.

The disciplinary pieces of the proposed Covenant establish the locus of authority at the international level, while the disciplinary canons sometimes invoked in current disputes in North America establish the locus of authority at the national / provincial level.

Clearly you understand the significance of the attempt to establish centralized authority in the Communion, and you describe the issue quite effectively at paragraph 17. In particular, you offer an excellent summary of Anglican ecclesiology and history when you say: "Although the Church of England has had clear disciplinary structures, part of the break with Rome involved the rejection of a universal structure within the Church."

I would suggest that, if you look at the "liberal anti-Covenant" position through the lense of that sentence, you will see that there is no inherent contradiction or hypocrisy between, on the one hand, our resistance to disciplinary language and clauses in the proposed Covenant and our willingness to see disciplinary canons used at the level of the national or provincial church.

That caveat aside, I do wish to reiterate my personal appreciation of your willingness to deal honestly with positions and perspectives other than your own. Your paper is well worth the read, especially for those of us who reach a similar conclusion from a diametrically opposed starting point.

Malcolm French

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