Sunday, May 28, 2006

Covenants and the Anglican Communion

It has been just over week since the Proposal for Anglican Covenant has come out, just enough time for the initial blast of publicity and visceral reactions to ease down and, perhaps, just time to start to think about the implications of this move. What I offer here is hardly a systematic review of the document (which can be found at Covenant Proposal ), but rather a series of impressions based on my reading of the proposal and the reaction to it.

First, I think this is a good idea. One of the most frustrating aspects of the last few years is the almost total lack of accountability in how provinces act towards each other. I am the first to recognize the effective independence of each province of the Anglican Communion and to recognize that this means that there is considerable scope for different practices from province to province. These differences are a good thing, but we also have to remember that, as a Communion, we are also affected by other provinces' decisions. A covenant to recognize that interdependence and to work out ways to appropriately deal with problems between provinces is long overdue.

Second, this idea of a covenant which binds us as a Communion is a biblical one. Indeed, implicit in the ecclesiology of the Bible, is an assumption that the churches of St. Paul's day, while effectively independent in most areas, are bound by the good news they share and by the bonds of affection with which they are bound. The generous assistance of the Macedonian churches to Jerusalem is only on example of these ties. If we are looking for a model to retain independence and the sense of belonging to each other, we would do worse than the Pauline churches or even the churches of the sub-Apostolic age. We don't need an imperial bishop to accomplish this, but we do need forbearance and wisdom among ourselves.

Third, I recognize that this covenant is viewed by both sides with considerable suspicion and, to some degree, rightly. There has been so bad blood between the two sides in this conflict that it should be unsurprising that both sides cannot trust each other not to manipulate the mechanisms set up by this covenant to drive the other out. Yet, this covenant has been implicit in the logic of the Windsor Report and really is a measure to cool the conflict. I pray that we can bear that in mind.

Lastly, I recognize a certain amount of fatigue around this issue. Over the last year, we have been increasingly seeing both moderate liberals and moderate conservatives muttering about wanting this issue to just go away. Rightly, moderates point out that there are other serious issues in the Communion and it is time to get on with things. Yet, I do want to caution that, now that this issue has been exposed to the light, we can't sweep it under the rug. I certainly wish the New Westminster crisis and the Robinson ordination crisis never happened, but they have and we need to deal with those issues. Before we can even get going, we need to figure out what are our common bonds and how do we deal with provinces which disregard those bonds. I get that ECUSA and the diocese of New Westminster believe they are at the forefront of a prophetic call to open the church to homosexuals (I dispute that, but that is the subject of another blog), but we have to recognize that the prophets tend to cause as much conflict as they solve. If this is true prophecy, we will look back on this time and say that the divisions created needed to happen. If it was not, then both New Westminster and ECUSA have to answer for that. The jury is out on the prophetic call, but we had better figure out how to discern these calls or we're just asking for further division and conflict.


Sunday, May 14, 2006

N.T. Wright, Creation and the Church

I'm past due for a post, but life, which tends to get a little too quick for me this time of year, has been busier than usual this last couple of weeks. A combination of a student conference and a basically busy week has conspired to prevent me from blogging.

The highlight of this week, however, was getting a chance to see Bishop N.T. Wright (of Durham) speaking at a conference put on by my wife's college. Before I proceed, I have to say that I'm an N.T. Wright fan. I've read his Christian Origins series (I'm even slowly acquiring it for myself--the books are a little expensive) and several other books and articles by him. I find him one of the more thoughtful and insightful New Testament scholars and theologians in recent times. If any of you have read the much maligned (by both sides) Windsor Report, you'll find N.T. Wright's fingerprints on it throughout. His ecclesiological vision, by itself, if we bothered to listen and act, is sufficient to stabilize our fragmenting Communion and allow us a chance to settle our difficulties with each other. That is a heady vision, I know, but the trick is that many don't accept that vision for various reasons.

Bishop Wright delivered three keynote addresses last week. Unfortunately, time and money meant that I could really only catch one which dealt with Romans 8, 18-25 and the topic of the Creation. I really don't have space to transcribe my notes on this, but his argument emphasized our responsibility for Creation which has been marred by the fall and our failures to live up to our calling at God's image bearers who reflect God's glory and care into Creation itself. Thus, by the Fall, Creation has been afflicted with decay and death which continues to hold sway. The good Creation, like the Promised Land before the Exodus, is held captive by the powers of decay and death, but has been released by Jesus' victory over death; a victory in which we participate now, but for which we still await the final consummation. And we are a people who are called to live in the hope and expectation that we are only living through the labour pains of the new age to come.

None of this is particularly new, mind you. I've seen similar arguments before. Yet, I enjoyed this reminder as well as the elegant and clear exposition of it (which I don't think I've even come close to conveying). And I enjoyed Bishop Wright's elegant refutations, especially his brief excursus on the Da Vinci Code, the Judas Gospel and their popularity. His definition of Gnosticism is masterful: (rough quotation)"At the heart of Gnosticism is the belief that Creation is evil, created by a stupid God". With Bishop Wright, I set myself against that view because I do believe that Creation was and is a good thing, even if it is currently in travail.

What I found particularly appealing about this talk, and which made me wish I could see another, is that Bishop Wright spoke with hope. Hope about the world as we find it. Hope that the evil afflicting Creation and us has already been beaten and undermined. And even hope that our Communion can get through our current crises and survive to pass on these other two, more important, sources of hope to the world around us. In some ways, this last hope is the one that feels the strangest. We can all, I think, grant the first two sources of hope because they are so general and so central to our faith. Yet, this third hope is harder because it is more intimately personal to the life of our Communion and is a place where emotions are rubbed raw. Yet, Bishop Wright's call for patience at a time in which our church travails is just as grounded in our communal hope as Christians. If we can have hope for the world in the state that it is in, how can we note have hope that we can work out our quarrels, whatever they are, in our Church?

Bishop Wright is a precious voice in our Communion today. He is learned. He is clear and firm in his opinions. His call for patience should slow us down, move us from our rigidly defended beliefs so that we can start trying to sort out what God wants of us. Our only chance as a Communion is to bring down the temperature and finally talk about what God wants of us. I pray that, in this corner of cyberspace, we can manage, even a little, to do some of these things in our discussions.