Thursday, 12 February 2009

Why the Anglican Covenant cannot work.

An interesting interview on Wales Online with Canon Gregory Cameron, now the bishop-elect of St Asaph, and widely regarded as the principal architect of the Anglican Covenant.
Any doubts about whether the Anglican Covenant is workable seem to be resolved by one comment: African bishops will not recognise Bishop Gene Robinson as a bishop "for the foreseeable future."
His comments on movement towards the consecration of women bishops in the Church in Wales (from about 9 minutes on in the interview) display a similar misunderstanding of the traditional orthodox position: "those not able to receive women's ministry at the moment"
The interview seems to display very clearly the prevalent attitude of the Communion's liberal ascendancy in its assumption that really it is only a matter of time before we poor, deluded traditionalists (which include our Catholic and Orthodox "ecumenical partners," if that phrase can still be used) see the error of our ways and change our minds, whether on the subject of same-sex relationships or the (clearly related) issue of the ordination of women. The Covenant seems to be an impressive exercise in trying to keep an all too disparate and human institution in one piece, whilst treating truth and error on an equal basis.
I have to say I don't need the Church in Wales to be "charitable" or "sympathetic" towards me, but merely to remain faithful to the tradition and theology of the Church Universal. Both possibilities seem somewhat remote for "the foreseeable future."

Listen here:


  1. I think the difficulty here, Michael, is that you appear to take my words, and then to read into them a lot of unwarranted assumptions, both about my own positions, and about the position of what you call “the liberal ascendancy”. First of all, I’d like to say that I don’t identify myself with any “liberal ascendancy”. This suggests that there are a whole bundle of questions about faith and order, about attitudes towards the Christian tradition, about which to hold one means that someone holds them all. I don’t accept such a simplistic reading, and any thorough attempt to describe my faith - or anybody else’s, including your own, I suspect - will demonstrate the fallacy of such an approach. For most Christians, you can’t automatically extrapolate their position on the Trinity from their views on remarriage after divorce, or their views on sexuality from their views on the ordination of women, for example.

    Nor do I think I at all misunderstand the objections of those against the ordination of women, and certainly do not suggest that it is only a matter of time before traditionalists will capitulate to “the self-evident truth of the liberal cause“ (and, for the avoidance of doubt, I am using those terms with a heavy dose of scepticism). Rather what I think I was doing by using the words I did in speaking to the Western Mail was seeking to limit my judgement to the present situation as I currently observe it - I simply can’t predicate what it going to happen in the future: there could be a radical shift in either direction, and, on the ordination of women, that is what is implied when Anglicans talk about the Communion being “in an open process of reception”.

    As to charity and sympathy, you may or may not wish to be the recipient of such attitudes, but I jolly well hope that you will exercise them, and I certainly would like people to be charitable and sympathetic in their dealings with me, as I try to be in all my dealings with others.

    And as to “faithful to the tradition and theology of the Church Universal”, I don’t for one minute think that the supporters of the ordination of women believe that they are being unfaithful - if they support a change, it is because they believe that that is the more faithful response to the tradition, and not a departure from it. Ah ha, I think you might say, that is quite simply delusion - but there is precisely the nub of the debate: As Metropolitan John of Pergamon once said in my hearing: “What are the theological arguments for or against the ordination of women? One side seem usually to offer arguments from sociology, and the other side respond with arguments from history. Where is the theology?“ What we have then are competing claims about the theology. It seems to me to be truer to the Anglican tradition to approach controversial issues in an attitude of patient and generous discussion than to collapse it into a “I’m right and you’re in error” approach. That was part of the tradition of the Church Universal to attempt that approach at one stage in our history, and it led to such horrors and denials of the Gospel such as the burning of heretics.

    As to the Covenant, your conservative critique comes as a welcome change to the more usual critique which sees it as an exercise in the imposition of a narrow orthodoxy; but I personally still think it mistaken. The covenant is an attempt to create an agreed framework of what it is to be Anglican, so that at least in the turmoil of discernment in this present controversy and in any future issue, there can be some agreed foundations; to say in our common life and exploration of the Christian faith, we covenant ourselves to be guided by these principles as expressive of what Anglicanism is all about. And I’m quite happy to see the Covenant text tested in those terms.

    Gregory K Cameron

  2. Gregory, I am both flattered and amazed in equal measure that you have either read or have taken the trouble to comment on what I have written in this obscure and extremely humble blog!
    The matters you make are interesting ones; and I take your point entirely in what you say about the rather confused (and highly confusing) juxtaposition of views in contemporary Anglicanism. It is indeed difficult to predict where someone stands theologically on any one particular issue from their position on any other issue, which, no doubt, adds considerably to the difficulty of producing anything like a workable and binding covenant on the Provinces which make up the Anglican Communion, (although, please correct me if I’m mistaken, I’m not sure a “binding” covenant is what is envisaged or even if it is something which is regarded as within the realm of possibility given Anglican Communion polity as it exists now.)
    The question as to whether a “persuasive” covenant can make any lasting and cohesive difference to the fragmentation of the Communion is something which only time will tell.
    My point is the somewhat more a priori one of whether such an exercise is even desirable in that it seems to be merely a mechanism for keeping people talking around a table, whilst all the time either openly or surreptitiously pursuing their original agendas in their own provinces. The aim of encouraging a liberal moratorium in pursuing the “gay rights agenda” (for want of a better term) in return for conservative restraint in crossing provincial boundaries is surely doomed to failure, but you would know considerably more about that than me.
    Essentially, such is the present level of theological diversity and disagreement, can it be said that one “Anglican Communion” exists at all, and can the Covenant hope to be anything other than a exercise in encouraging a lack of truthfulness and honesty?
    Let’s go one step further and say that it is highly debatable whether it is now possible at all to speak in terms of an agreed theological framework of what it is to be an Anglican. Forgive my scepticism but even if one takes a historical overview, was it ever possible apart from the one criterion of being “in communion” with the Archbishop of Canterbury? Today, that begs more questions than it answers.
    However, on the subject of being “in an open process of reception,” I’m not sure how that can be squared that with the recent action of the Welsh Bench of Bishops in removing episcopal provision for those who are in conscience unable to accept the validity of women’s ordination. That decision has effectively ended the process of reception, and has been accompanied by a certain amount of historical revisionism, in that memories seem to differ radically as to the extent of the promises made to opponents in 1996 in order to facilitate a “yes” vote in the Governing Body. And that is where “charity and sympathy” need to be translated into actions not merely sentiments.
    “The open process of reception” seems to turn all too easily into a “one-way street;” and that is the worry of conservatives in the Communion about more issues than the ordination of women.
    Yes, you are so right in quoting Metropolitan John Zizioulas in his critique of the way the debate over women’s ordination has been conducted, although perhaps the arguments from history and tradition do carry a certain theological significance and weight which more purely secular and sociological arguments do not.
    But the fact is that the theology hasn’t been done, and irreversible decisions have been made, and discussion of the issue has been too often foreclosed in provincial synods throughout the Communion in such disingenuous terms as “we consider that there are no theological objections to the ordination of women!” If you are arguing for the primacy of theology over sociology in the way Anglicans make decisions I agree with you wholeheartedly. Where we differ is whether it is too late to begin.


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