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This post needs to be read in the context of the last one. My aim is to explain why I think the current debate about the Anglican Covenant is important to ecumenical relations and indeed to the wider community in Britain.
The Anglican Covenant derives from the worldwide Anglican Communion's (in blue on map) debate about sexuality. Some provinces in the West have ordained gay Bishops and other provinces, primarily in Africa do not find this acceptable. The position seems to be the former group have been excluded from conversations within the communion, whilst the latter have more or less absented themselves because they do not feel the former have been excluded enough.
So, the idea is to agree that if any province wishes to make a decision outwith the agreed criteria of what it means to be an Anglican, their decision cannot be implemented until it has the approval of the communion as a whole. It seems there will be panel whose role will be to agree what is Anglican and whether a new proposal meets these criteria.
I cannot see how this could possibly work. If we consider the historic compromise between the three main branches of Anglicanism in the Church of England, there has never been an overall authority to which they have to go to justify their particular doctrinal emphases. That is how catholicity works, it cannot happen if it depends upon some formal authority. (The Roman Catholic Church is perhaps an exception. It is a single worldwide church. I suspect it is the nature of Anglican catholicity that it cannot form a single worldwide communion. The intricate balance between traditions within a single Anglican province is not robust enough to work on a global scale.)
The problems started because the General Synod made decisions in recent years that some cannot accept, primarily about the ordination of women. When both sides threaten to take their bat home should the other win, you have a problem. However, as far as I'm aware this isn't the real situation. Those opposed to the ordination of women are threatening to leave, whilst I have not heard of those in favour making an equivalent threat.
In the light of the quote from Volf, a couple of posts ago, we can see the danger. Once the polarity of the debate becomes more important than unity, the established arrangements fall apart.
Those who support the Anglican Covenant see this and are attempting to hold the communion together with a written document. And it is perhaps those people who need to look at how this debate has been conducted and whether their emphasis on unity has been the right one.
In some parts of the world, LGBT people are persecuted. The attitude of the church has contributed to this persecution in some places and opposed it in others. Attempts to hold together a communion under these differences are doomed to failure because self-evidently these concepts of justice are incompatible. Without reconciliation there can be no progress. A document that papers over the cracks cannot do the job.
This is a tragic situation because what was at one time a debate between two incompatible ethical understandings of what is God's justice has become a struggle over the heart of the Anglican communion. I fear the Anglican Covenant is a much greater threat to Anglican integrity than a split in the communion would be.
The history of the churches is a history of such splits and perhaps it would be more honest for the two sides to go their separate ways.
There is however a ray of hope. I read somewhere that the stand against non-heterosexual sexualities is primarily amongst the Bishops. The clergy in those provinces have other priorities, such as poverty and Aids. Sexuality is far down their list of priorities and surely it is ultimately for all ministers a pastoral matter, rather than a political or ecclesiological one. As always the response of people with power to a problem is to legislate. Perhaps it would be best if the response came from people on the front line, unencumbered by the pronouncements of those who seek purity, sexual or ecclesiological.
But it is also an ecumenical issue and the Anglican Communion perhaps needs to turn to its ecumenical partners for help. Volf writes: Other cultures are not a threat to the pristine purity of our cultural identity, but a potential source of enrichment (page 52). The other cultures I mean here are outside the Anglican communion. Perhaps through their ecumenical relationships, Anglicans can find new perspectives on their own communion.
Volf goes on to write on page 53: In the battle against evil, especially against the evil in ones own culture, evangelical personality needs ecumenical community. The church does not belong to any one faction and what I believe Volf means here is that whilst the fervour of those who believe they have the truth has value for the church, it does so only where it is tempered by understanding the faith as wider than any one faction.
What worries me is reconciliation needs to take place not only between the members of the communion but also between the communion and LGBT people. As the fervour of ecclesiological conflict dominates the discourse, it is easy to forget those who experience practical discrimination day after day. A church that should be on the side of the persecutor has turned persecutor.
Those who argue on behalf of the persecuted are not in a position to forgive because they are not the ones who are being persecuted. This means the issues cannot be addressed until those who favour the persecution of people with different sexualities repent of their sin. I am sure this will happen in time. Whether it happens in time to save the Anglican communion is another matter.