Australian theologian Bruce Kaye: the Covenant won't work

Australian theologian Bruce Kaye writing at his blog World Anglican Forum says:



18. The issue in conflict resolution is to resolve conflict. That can happen in a number of ways. After serious engagement they may come to agree on the question. Alternatively they may come to understand the other person’s point of view and recognise that it has some merit. They may come to a view that enables them to live with the disagreement and develop strategies to ease that process. In institutional relations the issues are much the same, though they take a lot longer to tease out and the conversation within each province is a complicating aspect of the process.

19. Such a process means the actual issue in dispute gets to be the main item on the agenda. It means there is engagement and conversation on the issue as it arises in the different context of the conflicted provinces. That engagement then can inform any discussion about the re-shaping of the framework of relations between provinces in the Communion.

20. The covenant model sets out to decide on an issue and to have institutional arrangements in place that will enable some kind of restructuring of relationships between provinces on the basis of that decision. It is the reverse order and has some clear disadvantages. It re-shapes the framework of relations on a theoretical basis rather then dealing with the actual issue in dispute. It pre-judges the question of what kind of framework is appropriate or possible for relations between provinces in the Anglican Communion. It establishes a framework that invites political activity to get decisions that will raise more issues on which decisions will be sought. The effect of this is to leave in the hands of these political forces operating at a global level, and to an extent outside the restraining proximity of life in the provinces, issues which are likely to narrow the terms of relations between provinces.

21. Even in the much attenuated section four of the Covenant now published these issues have not gone away. The language has been greatly modified and the terms appear as much less juridical. All of this if welcome. However the final text of the covenant at section 4.2.4 makes it very clear that what is being attempted here is a decision about structural relationships between provinces, most likely one or more provinces on a given issue in dispute.

22. ‘Where a shared mind has not been reached the matter shall be referred to the Standing Committee. The Standing Committee shall make every effort to facilitate agreement and may take advice from such bodies it deems appropriate to determine a view on the nature of the matter at question and those relational consequences which may result.’

23. In the end the logic of the Windsor process cannot deny itself. No matter how it is moderated, brought into line with the reality of life in the provinces, or the influence of history in forming a Christian tradition of provincial responsibility, it remains in the end a method that sets the framework to decide before any consideration of the substantive issue at stake.

24. From the initial formulation of its approach, even to its much moderated form at the end this way of dealing with conflict in this religious tradition is essentially inadequate. By seeking to raise the perimeter fence and give it a gatekeeper it has already allowed, and very likely will continue to allow, fragmentation. In such a world wide set of relations it is much better to have the existing looser framework that keeps the arguments within that fence, rather than to raise the fence and thus drive the argument outside the field.

(Emphasis added.)

And no sooner had we uploaded this entry, than Prof. Kaye wrote another one that is well worth reading.

Comments (2)

Interesting pieces. Two quibbles:

The homosexuality issue really began in the United States. In 1989 no less? Lambeth 1978 was already addressing the matter. Ramsey advocated for decriminalization in the UK long before 1989. I'm afraid "the issue" is much older than Spong. What he seems to really want to say is that it was pushed front and center publicly, that is by ordination and rites, in 1989. That is not quite the same thing as saying it began in the US in 1989. Have we forgotten the Weimar Republic so quickly?

Also, James Alison has offered several good thoughts on not casting matters in terms of loyal dissent. Rather, as brothers and sisters in Christ, a minority disagrees with a majority. Disagreement takes away the tendency to "fatherize" authorities in such a way that those who align with the institutional proclamation do not have to engage on an equal footing with others of the baptized. I would add that some of those that have "saved" Anglicanism from itself were not always appreciated in their own lifetime. So-called dissent is rarely understood as loyal.

Another of the down-sides of the Covenant, which seems to be at work in this essay, is the extent to which global "peace" is achieved by shifting discomfort and dissent to the local level. It reminds me of the ancient headache cure involving poking one's arm with a hot iron.

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