As is evident from the Episcopal/Anglican media, the fantastic juxtaposition of the Archbishop of Canterbury's efforts to force the proposed 'Anglican Covenant" through the Church of England's synod with the GAFCON statement of rejection of same is rattling the comfort cages of a lot of people who have invested themselves in the thing's passage. This is, I suggest, a good and healthy rattling. Some continue to assume that the autonomous and autocephalous Churches should take their disagreements to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Where, one wonders, does this bizarre ecclesiology originate? The Episcopal Church has never, ever, been a subject of the Church of England. To the contrary, its existence is predicated on its rejection of Canterbury's claim to have authority over it.
The other mythology that continues to work its charm is that of the Worldwide Anglican Communion. This concept didn't even exist until the 20th century. Until then, there existed the Church of England, the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, and the Churches of England's colonies. Several times in the 20th century the Episcopal Church was invited by some who were clearly envious of what they perceived to be the prestige of Rome to consider creating an Anglican competitor to it in the form of something that could be declared 'world-wide.' The implication was to be that the 'Communion' would be world-wide, while keeping mum on the reality that each of the Churches remained constitutionally and canonically independent. What emerged, and again, it did so only as recently as the 20th century, was a model of fidelity to a traditional form of worship and a common heritage in the Protestant Reform of the English Church. For awhile, it seems, it felt good to be identified as such.
However, what emerged over time, and inevitably so, were the challenges involved with being in relationship. The institutional identity could not suppress either the stress of actual disagreement nor the distress that emerged for some around their fear of disagreement even as a possibility. Despite the positive spiritual fruit that grew from the disagreement and discord between the Apostles Paul and Peter around inclusion of Gentiles, some Christians continue to fear disagreement as if it were a sign of satanic evil. This, though history shows us that significant human progress is rarely born of wide accord. As the saying has it: it takes heat to make light.
Now the neurotic fear of disagreement is promoting the fallacy that unanimity equals unity. Notice how 'The Anglican Covenant' is now spoken of as though it is somehow more than a mere proposal. Certainly the Archbishop of Canterbury has manipulated the established system in such a way that any other proposal would have, and has had, great difficulty getting public exposure, much less an official Communion-wide hearing. But notice how most Episcopalians have adopted the language of referring to it as 'The Anglican Covenant.' We are training ourselves to fall in line and approach it as a 'yes' or 'no' affair, rather than as something that we might duly critique in more specific ways. By adopting the language, we are training ourselves and our fellow Episcopalians to believe that the momentum is all toward the adoption of this thing, despite the reality that this simply isn't true.
Those who find comfort in the illusion of organizational stability and who idolize the institution of Church in place of worship of God will always crave the centralization of power. The proposed covenant is one more example. So it seems that the sick irony of the thing continues to escape those who favor this proposal. How strange it is that the Church of England, born of its own rejection of centralized power and dogmatic control from Rome, and the Episcopal Church, born of its own rejection of Canterbury's recreation of Rome's oligarchy, are now even discussing the possibility of establishing the very thing that each once vigorously impugned. One would expect that the two Churches would recognize that it is exactly this sort of oppressive, top-heavy, autocratic system that inspired the very protests that led people to leave Rome, then England, and so, perhaps, will lead them again to leave the reconstituted 'Anglican Church,' should, God forbid, the thing actually come into being.
As I'd predicted fearfully, so now we are reading and hearing proposal of creating a trans-provincial constitution and set of canons that would apply to all the Churches of the Anglican Communion. So easily, it seems, are some ready to surrender the fragile gifts and important responsibilities of our respective autonomy. Yet it remains for anyone to describe persuasively how it is that this proposed covenant, and now how the recreation of a trans-provincial Church in Anglican garb, would be a blessing to anyone, either within or outside the Church. I defy anyone to describe what benefit to the spread of the Good News of God's Love for all this proposed covenant would accomplish that cannot be accomplished within the relationships that already exist. Will anyone dare to propose that this 'covenant' would suddenly bring back into fellowship those African and Southern Cone Churches that have already declared themselves non-participants? Will anyone actually dare to claim that conversation and shared ministry are not taking place already; and that this covenant would suddenly cause this to happen, as though it isn't already happening? The only conversation that isn't taking place is the one that the ortho-crats want, which would have the rest of us acceding to their dogma. Until that 'conversation' happens, they will continue to claim that dialogue has been lacking. The claim is demonstrably false.
Further, will anyone dare to suggest that the proposed covenant will not require the human and spiritual sacrifice of LGBT members and potential members of the Episcopal Church, a sacrifice that they themselves will have no say in choosing? What real gift to God and to God's people would the adoption of this proposal bring? If the main benefit is a superficial unity for the sake of easing the embarrassment of the Archbishop of Canterbury's disastrous public relations, then, pray defend it on those terms. And good luck with that.
Remember, you must tell us all how it is worth giving up our autonomy, surrendering our constitution and our canons, to foreign rule by committee. Also, recognize that you must also tell us why we would want to involve ourselves in the governance of foreign branches of the new trans-national Church. Go ahead, make the case. And, again, good luck with that.
The proposed covenant is a shoddy substitute for the messy burden of authentic relationship. It is a proposal based on the substitution of litigation for conversation. It is a way to avoid difficult questions, not a way to resolve them. It is a way to silence dissent and difference, not a way to celebrate them. And since the inertia is against this proposal, it remains incumbent upon those who favor the thing to demonstrate beyond the predictable generalities and platitudes how it is that these criticisms are unfounded. So, good luck with that.
The proposed covenant began as a vindictive mean-spirited proposal. To pretend that the punitive aspect of it has somehow been removed is to indulge in fantasy, and it is to do so at the expense of real people. People who crave the specious validation of size need to get honest and simply make the move to Rome. Perhaps the Archbishop himself will one day soon find himself going there. This would not be a surprise, I think, to many of us. In the meantime, God willing and God's people working, the proposed covenant will continue to provide more confusion and frustration than hope and light, and the effort to impose it eventually be discarded by those for whom the authentic Anglican heritage still means something.