The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Friday, November 5, 2010

The End...and the Beginning

Not, I hasten to add, of this blog. Nor again of Anglicanism writ large. But of the Anglican Communion? Yes, I think so.

What do I mean? This:
There was a very curious document in last week’s Church Times (full-page advertisement, page 7). In it, two organisations, Inclusive Church and Modern Church, for which I have formerly had the highest regard, turned themselves into the nearest to an ecclesiastical BNP that I have encountered.

They resort to the old tactics of misinformation and scaremongering about foreigners and outside influences to whip up a campaign against the Anglican Covenant, and replace reasoned argument with a “Man the barricades!” mentality that is little short of breathtaking.

We are to beware, the advertise­ment says, of the machinations of “another Anglican province any­where in the world” and of a move “to subordinate the Church to the judgements of the Standing Committee of the Anglican Com­munion. [The Covenant] would thereby make the Church of England subject to an outside power for the first time since Henry VIII.”

The main target of their opprobrium, worse than a European Commission or a Spanish Inquisi­tion, is “a new international body, the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion”. In fact, this body is the same Joint Standing Committee that has muddled through the business of Anglican Communion affairs now since 1969. It is scarcely new — even if it was given its new name by a two-thirds-majority vote of Anglican provinces ratified at the Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Jamaica in 2009.

And the most extreme power at the Standing Committee’s disposal under the Covenant is — wait for it — “to make recommendations” (4.2.7). It is this potential for shock “recommendations” that has Inclusive Church and MCU quaking in their boots, since they argue that any such “recommendations” will “subordinate [the General Synod] to the new centralised authorities”. In fact, the Covenant text clearly says: “Each Church or each Instrument shall determine whether or not to accept such recommendations” (4.2.7).

The Covenant also states quite clearly that “mutual commitment does not represent submission to any external ecclesiastical jurisdiction. Nothing in this Covenant of itself shall be deemed to alter any provision of the Constitution and Canons of any Church of the Communion, or to limit its autonomy of governance. The Covenant does not grant to any one Church or any agency of the Communion control or direction over any Church of the Anglican Communion” (4.1.3).

Like so much else in this advertise­ment (and I could offer an extensive list), the assertion is simply rubbish.

During the past 150 years, many of the Churches of the world have been formed into Christian world com­munions; the newest was formed this year, the World Communion of Reformed Churches. There is a general recognition that if local or national Churches are to be truly international and live in a global fellowship, they must do more than just assert their autonomy, but seek to live into an interdependence that truly honours the fellowship of the whole body. This truth was recog­nised by the Lambeth Conferences of 1920 and 1930, and the Covenant is a careful attempt to balance autonomy with responsibility.

There is no element of coercion anywhere in the text, but there is an acknowledgement that neither can everything that one Church does be foisted on the whole Communion without the recognition that relations can be damaged. What the Covenant sets out in Section 4 is a proper mechanism that allows the articulation of discomfort, even distance, but which honours autonomy.

But this is too much for our latter-day Little Englanders, who bemoan the passing of the armchair bonhomie of the Athenaeum as the measure of Anglican inclusivity. They would, it seems, rather see the disintegration of the Anglican Communion into a series of acrimonious factions than restate a common faith and witness and find grown-up and responsible mechanisms for the articulation of the life of a whole Communion.
The author of this effusion, Geoffery K. Cameron is presently the Bishop of St Asaph, boasts of his connection to Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams (an early mentor, whose chaplain he has been), and his role as Deputy General Secretary of the Anglican Communion in which he was involved in "the ecumenical relations of the Anglican Communion at global level, and responsible for staffing the Lambeth Commission, which produced the Windsor Report."

This is not some oddball writing; it is a protege of Abp. Williams, and a high-ranking official in the Anglican Communion.

Well, is he right? Is the advertisement false? Father Jake lays out the text of Section 4 of the Covenant as it presently stands for voting, and the past history of recommendations (like, the Windsor Report, for which Bp. Cameron takes some credit) being treated within a brief period of time as juridical and binding. Cameron's argument is disingenuous in the extreme, quite frankly.

However, it is his invective which fascinates me. It's further evidence of the metastasizing within the Anglican Communion of hatred toward those who even defend the Episcopal Church. It's not enough to claim that critics of the Covenant are wrong; they are the BNP (a fascist party) or "Little Englanders" (xenophobic, ultra-nationalists). This is coming from, quite literally, one level below the top. This is rhetoric I would expect to see on Virtue Online, or Stand Firm. Not from any Bishop (OK, I'd expect of the now-retired Abp. Akinola, but I'm cynical with regard to him).

But surely the real point is this: If this is how Abp. Rowan's protege views those who believe the Covenant is intended to be punitive, what does it say about the likely objects of that punishment? And, add to that the fact that Canon Kenneth Kearon has stated that the Episcopal Church does not “share the faith and order of the vast majority of the Anglican Communion," is it not clear that we are entering into a very frigid period indeed in our relationships with the C of E, at least officially, and with at least those parts of it which take their cue from Canterbury?

And yet--the Anglican Communion was founded well after the Episcopal Church was founded. Anglicanism in the United States has always been different from the other provinces because of that early political break from England. We will survive if the Covenant is adopted and we do not join in, as I hope and trust we will not. And why do I hope and trust we will not? If for no other reason, than for this: the hatred they bear those who defend us reflects their hatred of us. Covenantal relationships do not flourish in an atmosphere of hatred and contempt.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Richard Hooker's Day

I'm kvetching about the elections over on Facebook, but I'll spare you that. Instead, let's take a moment to commemorate Richard Hooker, that "learned and judicious divine."

Hooker's merits grow in my estimation the more I read him, and, frankly, the more I read others. Where Cardninal Newman's thirst for an infallible institution which can command obedience as of right, Hooker strove to restore reason to its proper place in the spiritual life. Without being disregardful of Scripture and Tradition, Hooker validated the role of reason in interpreting both.

Not that Hooker was a modern; far from it, he was deeply engaged in the struggles of his time. That said, he brought a charity and a clarity (he's the easiest read, by far, of the Elizabethan writers I've read) that illuminates every issue he writes about.

Here is an interesting introductory reflection on Hooker for those who would like a first taste.

A collect for the Richard Hooker, November 3:
O God of truth and peace,
who raised up your servant Richard Hooker in a day of bitter controversy to defend with sound reasoning and great charity the catholic and reformed religion: Grant that we may maintain that middle way,
not as a compromise for the sake of peace, but as a comprehension for the sake of truth;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.