18 July 2007

Commitments, Covenants, and teeth

Greg Jones+, over at the Anglican Centrist, says that a Covenant won't solve our problems. It would just treat the symptoms.
[A] valid question has been raised -- which says, "the existing instruments of unity and the way the Anglican Communion did its thing are good enough; why do we need new forms and structures?" The answer is -- because the Episcopal Church and various provinces in the Global South have not abided by them. I am sorry -- but the reason why we are in this mess today is because for many years some bishops and dioceses have simply not abided by the existing agreements and statements and affirmations they have committed to abide by. I am not suggesting that Lambeth Resolutions or Primates statements are 'juridically binding' , but I am suggesting that our leaders have in fact breached their word over the years. Consider, Jack Spong's theological works have been largely unrepudiated in any official capacity for many decades -- and yet they essentially undermine every theological affirmation he has vowed to uphold in his capacity as a bishop. Consider, Presiding Bishop Griswold agreed with the Primates in 2003 that the time was not right to move forward with new teachings and actions in the area of human sexuality -- and yet within the year he was consecrating Bishop Gene Robinson. Consider, the Global South coalition claim to be for Windsor, but they've been critical of it from the beginning, and have effectively repudiated it the entire time. Consider, within the Episcopal Church at present a significant number of clergy sworn to uphold the faith and order of the Episcopal Church flout various aspects of that faith and order every single Sunday (communion for the unbaptised for example) with no disciplinary action taken. Within the Episcopal Church are numerous clergy who simply do not respect the authority of their bishops, and do whatever they wish -- and little is done. In other words, for a long time, and across the spectrum, there have been a lot of folks essentially doing what was right in their own eyes regardless of vows, affirmations and commitments they have made.

So why would a new covenant do anything to stop that? It only could do so if it came with a set of teeth that would actually bring force to bear on those that go against the covenant terms.

The problem with sets of teeth that bite -- is that they can often take on their own purposes -- and assume a role both counter to their first purpose and perhaps, eventually, at odds with the very Spirit of Christ.

Perhaps what we need is not a new set of teeth, but a return to the idea that we already have made commitments and vows, and that for those who openly flout them, non-coercive but strong admonishment ought to be expected and forthcoming.
Is the Centrist correct? Do we need more admonishment? More clarity? Or is a Covenant a necessary part of the solution?

I for one think that we do need more accountability and more clarity in the Episcopal Church. That could take lots of forms, but the charges that we are often muddled and undisciplined have some merit. I'm not suggesting that Title IV prosecutions or a Covenant are the right answer, but let's at least admit that some tightening up here and there wouldn't hurt.

As a starting point, we could at the very least focus on mission and evangelism as if we believed the words we say every Sunday. We could follow the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer and the canons of the church, as all ordained persons have promised.

Building a vibrant, inclusive church will require many things. I don't think it requires a Covenant. I do think it requires more clarity than we often see today.

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