Monday, February 19, 2007

That Cat Won't Bark

The Report of the Covenant Design Group has been out now for a little under two hours. Since the final press conference has been delayed (obviously signifying that the Primates are having an inordinately difficult time coming to consensus on their final communique), the covenant draft is the only piece of fresh meat on the floor.

I have not yet read, marked, learned, and inwardly digested it. But I have given it a couple of looks, as well as monitored some of the initial reactions. The chorus at Stand Firm is, as one might imagine, overwhelmingly gloomy in its assessment. To some extent, I think it's because they were expecting a dog and what they got is a cat, and now they're upset because the cat won't bark. But if they had been paying attention to the clues recently dropped by Ephraim Radner (a member of the CDG) at Epiphany West and Archbishop Gomez just last week in a Dar es Salaam press briefing, they should have known a cat was on the way.

A "dog" would have been a doctrinal covenant that clearly addresses the currently present issue: sex. I won't get too deeply into the quagmire of whether Anglicanism is a "confessional" movement. I have always been under the impression that it's not, but my ecclesiological formation has always been on the Catholic end of the Anglican spectrum. In any case, what we have to consider now is a relational covenant--a set of ground rules for how the autonomous provinces are accountable to one another interdependently. In our present condition, this is something we need very badly.

There will be time in due course to get into the details, but let's cut to the chase here: Would this text, had it been in effect four years ago, have affected the chain of events that led to the consecration of Gene Robinson and the passage of C051 (that public rites of blessing for same-sex relationship is "within the bounds of our common life")? The answer is definitely, Yes. Whether it would have prevented those events is difficult to say, but at least General Convention 2003 would have had a clear-eyed view of the consequences, rather than have it be a matter of speculation.

One thing I like about the draft covenant is that is formalizes the status of the four Instruments of Unity. Episcopalian liberals have protested loudly for months into years now that the Instruments are "so-called" and have earned no deference. This covenant would remove that talking point from their arsenal. Member churches would be expected to "heed the counsel" of the 4IU. It also lends a lot more heft to the authority of the Lambeth Conference, which would function as a college of bishops, charged with "guarding the faith and unity of the communion."

Most significantly, it has teeth. (Cats can bite, you know!) The final paragraph spells out the consequences of a member church failing to live up to the spirit and terms of the covenant.


Ann said...

I think all of us at GC 2003 had a clear eyed view of the consequences of our actions. At least everyone I know was clear. And you and others warned us frequently. Prophetic action and words often get one in troupble - ask Jeremiah.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks for your comment. After a cursory reading, much as yours, I find myself in a similar place with you. I see this as more "conciliar" than "confessional" which I think is a good thing -- that is, it is geared towards a process of communion engagement rather than a simple checklist of doctrinal "points." And I for one don't mind that it has some teeth -- as long as everyone is equally capable of being bitten! Where I have objected in the past to things like the WR is the feeling of being bound by stuff that is being improvised. I'm not against the concept of a covenant, by any means; just want to know what it is before people try to apply it!
All the best.

Unknown said...

I'm wondering if the cat you are referring to is in heat?

Chip Johnson+, SF, CoJ said...

This may be a cat instead of the dog many wanted, and cats do bite. Cats also sneak up behind and claw the daylights out of you when you least expect it.

Whether the fact it's a dog or cat is not at all significant, both ca be nasty at times, as I sit here draining a week-old dog bite on my finger.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your perceptive comment, Dan.

PS I liked the dog metaphor - interesting to read that word backwards... Some people take metaphors so literally that you dare not pull their leg, in case it comes off at the hip...

Anonymous said...

More good stuff, Dan. Thanks. I find this helpful because it is laying the groundwork for what it means to be in communion (see Tobias' comment about conciliar v. confessional). We have to, in some sense, take a step back (lay the foundation) before we can move forward. And that is what is causing consternation from fellow conservatives who want to move forward and get this over with right now. That and the fact that most of us are dog lovers!

Unknown said...

Ann clearly has the right idea and reflects perfectly the GC spirit. The instruments of the Communion had been warning ECUSA for over a decade not to do what it did at GC03 (and so had its own HoB). But the ECUSA mentality is purely political, not theological, and in politics, winning isn't everything, it's the only thing, so of course everyone cheered at 50%+1 while the world collapsed around them.

Tobias, on the other hand, displays a typical modern American need to have everything spelled out in excruciating detail in writing. But the advantage of the British "unwritten Constitution" tradition is that it's much harder to spin and find loopholes.

As to whether a Covenant would have made a difference at GC03 (or any other), of course not. "Clear-eyed views" are not what GCs are about, and if lifetimes of Christian teaching can't inculcate a "clear-eyed view" of the effect of such a decision, then it's doubtful that an obscure legal document could.

The only thing that could, in retrospect, have changed the outcome of GC03 was a New York Times editorial against the consent. That, of course, would have been a miracle; but then, so is what we're hoping for now...