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Does Rowan Williams understand the proposed Anglican Covenant?

Does Rowan Williams understand the proposed Anglican Covenant?

Canon Alan Perry continues to offer some of the more incisive and effective criticisms of the proposed Anglican Covenant. Yesterday he took his scalpel to the recent video in support of the document released by Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

He notes, that contra the archbishop, the first three sections of the covenant are not unobjectionable statements of common belief:

The first three sections are, in my view, very controversial. … The biggest problem is that they purport to set out a coherent understanding of the Anglican faith and the Anglican way, against which future actions can be objectively measured (in section 4’s process).

That’s what the Archbishop seems to believe. But, with the greatest respect, he’s wrong. Sections 1 to 3 are very far from coherent, and although they may look attractive to a broad constituency because of the elasticity of their language which lends them to a variety of interpretations, that very elasticity of language will make it quite impossible to use them as the basis of anything remotely resembling an objective comparison with a proposed future action by a Church.

And furthermore:

Oh, says the Archbishop, “what the Covenant proposes is not a set of punishments, but a way of thinking through what the consequences are of decisions people freely and in good conscience make.” Given the vagueness of the process, it’s not much of a way of thinking through anything. We don’t even know how to start the process. It’s that unclear. I challenge the Archbishop to demonstrate where the Covenant text says how a question is to be raised, as it quaintly puts what elsewhere would be called lodging a complaint. It’s simply not there in the text. ….

This is not about having scones and cream at tea, but no jam; it’s about not being invited to the popular parties because one has been sent to the naughty corner. It’s about churches being judged by an unfair and arbitrary process against unclear standards, and on the basis of that judgement, without any right of appeal, having their participation in the Instruments of Communion withdrawn.


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I think you are onto something here, Jim. The diction of the proposed Covenant itself illustrates one of the challenges facing world Anglicanism, which is our tendency to resort to mealy-mouthed Christianity, both as a means of conflict resolution and as way to control those whose views differ from our own.

All too often, when confronted with challenges, we turn to quaint and deliberately vague language, which serves as both the vehicle and the window-dressing for a whole host of passive-aggressive behaviors that suppress discussion, bog down potential change, and avoid difficult decisions. In many cases, there also is buried within the sea of vague niceties an implicit threat, “Do it my way, or something bad will happen.” And all of this gets painted over by invoking our patron, St. Via Media.

In this case, the Covenant is an example of mealy-mouthed Christianity at its worst. Instead of the passion and clarity of vision we see in last Sunday’s reading, in which Jesus clears the temple of the moneychangers and others whose actions erode faith, section (3.2.5) of the Covenant admonishes us to, “act with diligence, care and caution in respect of any action which may provoke controversy, which by its intensity, substance or extent could threaten the unity of the Communion and the effectiveness or credibility of its mission.” Should one rock the boat despite this stricture, one may be referred to the standing committee, which under section (4.2.7) shall (not may), “make recommendations as to relational consequences which flow from an action incompatible with the Covenant.”

Goodbye scattered coins and overturned tables. Hello banality. Welcome to the world of Rowan Williams.

Eric Bonetti

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