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THE TONY CROSS COLUMN

Article No. 156

Living respectfully with the diversity God has given.

 

The draft Covenant was published at the Anglican Primates meeting in Dar es Salaam in early 2007. All thirty eight Anglican Churches around the world are requested to produce their response to it and the New Zealand Church has just issued their view of the draft Covenant.

The Province spans 106.000 square miles and it includes New Zealand, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and the Cook Islands. It is therefore a Province that has had to deal with immense diversity on a daily basis. They have worked hard to find ways on honouring each other and sharing a common life. No matter how difficult the conversations have become, they continue as a Church to listen and talk and remain deeply committed to staying together as Anglicans.

Basically, their response may be summed up in a quote they make at the very end of their submission. This says

‘We endorse the words of one of our Archbishops (Archbishop Moxon) when he said:

‘Perhaps the challenge is to transcend the old ways of fighting or leaving, to find a new way of discovering what integrity we can trust in each other by virtue of the fruits of our baptism and by how much we may be prepared to live respectfully with what diversity God has given us. It is crucial that we use a Gospel based process of discernment, rather than the litigation, trench warfare and labelling judgements of the world. We need to look significantly different from the ways of the world in the way we process what happens from now on to have anything different to say to the world’.”

I think that this quotation sums up what more and more people in the Anglican Communion are thinking. While perfectly understanding the causes, we are all embarrassed if not slightly ashamed of the fact that church authorities are taking each other to the civil Courts to fight over property assets of individual churches where some of the congregation want to put themselves under the care of foreign Provinces. We are embarrassed that some senior Churchmen in the Anglican Communion consider themselves in ‘impaired communion’ - won’t take Holy Communion with each other - and that unity is breaking down right across the whole of the Communion.

The reason that the response by the New Zealand Anglican Church is so important for us all is that this church is really three churches in one. There is the Maori element, the Polynesian section and the New Zealand section. All three sections of the church thoroughly examined the draft Covenant and made their submission which are now brought together in a document dated 15th January 2008, and which is to be found at

http://www.episcopalchurch.org/81808_93575_ENG_HTM.htm

If these three diverse strands of Anglicanism - united in one Province - can see a way through and make this common recommendation then that is highly significant for a world wide Communion that is so divided. What we all need to do is to listen very carefully indeed to what this church has to say and then to pray and think about how we can emulate their deeply Christian responses to such disagreement as has caused the draft covenant to be written in the first place.

That in itself is an enormous challenge to all other members of the Anglican Communion. And they speak as a province that has achieved this - not merely as one that hopes for it. It is what validates their right to be listened to by the other provinces.

I will try to condense in my own words the substance but it is far better to read it for yourself at the web site mentioned.

So what do they say?

They report that they have at least three different attitudes towards the Covenant:

1 The Anglican Communion, not having a machinery that allows them to discern the validity or otherwise of differing points of view, may find in a Covenant a way of creating such a mechanism.

2 The nature of the draft Covenant and the underlying assumptions make it an unsatisfactory solution to the difficulties the Communion is experiencing. It runs the danger of exacerbating these difficulties.

3 For some, their ethnic identity has a rootedness that preceded the Anglican Communion and they would not lightly cede their autonomy.

Some did not like the term ‘covenant’ being applied to the agreement. There were historical reasons for this.

Given the already obvious breakdown, some thought the Covenant was not the right way forward - in fact it might become a weapon in the hands of those committed to a particular viewpoint in the controversy.

Some considered that the Christian identity and communion are held together by a sense of the extended family - and that that was the real covenantal basis.

Some see the whole exercise of the draft covenant as a very human exercise and are by no means convinced that it is worthy of any other status. There is a real fear of any such agreement becoming a weapon in the hands of those committed to a particular viewpoint in this controversy.

Who will determine what is in the ‘common good’? And the use of mandatory words such as ‘shall’ within the draft are seen as very legalistic devices which imply compulsion and suggest that there is no room for difference of opinion.

As regards section six of the draft covenant there is a widely-held feeling that these provisions, if accepted, will change the very nature of Anglicanism. They believe that they are Anglicans by virtue of being in Communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury and with each other. None of those contributing - whatever their theological or ecclesial perspective - showed enthusiasm for any provision that could allow for the expulsion or ex-communication of a member church.

Many in the church would be concerned at any attempt to qualify the autonomy that they now consider applies. Provincial autonomy therefore is a very important issue. Disquiet was expressed at the concept of a Covenant which in binding member churches cedes authority to a centralised body. Several dioceses saw such an idea as ‘unanglican’ - and unprecedented in the history of the Anglican Communion. It would mean a loss of a degree of provincial autonomy. It was thought that such a move would constrain the Communion from encouraging innovative and creative insights. It was also noted that three of the four instruments of communion (The Archbishop, the Lambeth Conference and the Primates Meeting) did not involve clergy and laity - only the Anglican Consultative Council did that. It was believed that primatial authority rests in the whole church, and not solely in the office holder.

If the covenant were adopted it would change the system of governance from inclusive synods to exclusive primates.

It was also noted that there might be difficulties in the Covenant sitting alongside the Canons and Constitutions of member Churches.

Many of those contributing thought that the Primates Meeting was moving beyond its original intent. Their original brief was to provide support and to enable prayer and consultation. But this has changed as the Primates began to take an enhanced responsibility in offering guidance on doctrinal, moral and pastoral issues. They saw evidence of this shift in the draft covenant: there is an implied authoritarian/hierarchical development with a stronger role than in the past for the episcopacy and especially for the Primates, at the expense of the laity and clergy.

They consider that any enhanced role for the Primates Meeting has yet to be agreed by all the member Churches of the Anglican Communion.

They did not agree that the Primates should be tasked with monitoring, investigating or disciplining errant Member Churches. If the Communion did decide to Adopt the Covenant then the danger of misuse would be lessened if the ACC rather than the Primates was mandated to deal with the unresolved issues. This would free the Primates to take a pastoral role rather than a juridical one.

Wishing to offer suggestions on the difficult process of managing difference across the Anglican Communion, they appended their own Mission Statement. They believe that their threefold diversity is a gift from God and they celebrate and rejoice in the receiving and establishing of this gift.

They commit themselves to enhancing these gifts to the glory of God, recognising that each group in the church will establish its own preferences and tasks. As a whole church, they commit themselves to supporting each other in realising those preferences through resource sharing, honest conversation and through naming, confronting and reconciling modes of operation and unjust structures.

In conclusion they quote the words of Archbishop Moxon which I put at the beginning of this article. They are worth quoting again:

‘Perhaps the challenge is to transcend the old ways of fighting or leaving, to find a new way of discovering what integrity we can trust in each other by virtue of the fruits of our baptism and by how much we may be prepared to live respectfully with what diversity God has given us. It is crucial that we use a Gospel based process of discernment, rather than the litigation, trench warfare and labelling judgements of the world. We need to look significantly different from the ways of the world in the way we process what happens from now on to have anything different to say to the world’.

Maybe the significance of the contribution of this Province will be missed by their bigger brothers. But their contribution is born out of deep experience of as diverse a group as it would be possible to find anywhere in the world. If they can find the way through disagreements between Christians should we not listen and pray about what they have to say?

Tony Cross

January 2008

 


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