Thursday, May 3, 2007

Responding to the Draft Covenant

This is a team blog of the 2006 General Convention Deputation from Missouri. We are using it as a place to write our thoughts in response to the questions posed by the Study Guide sent out by Executive Council. We are to respond to the Study Guide by June 4. I undertook to set up this "virtual meeting" because the time is short and the month of May is very full. We are inviting all clergy and people in the diocese of Missouri to send comments in response to the questions to our deputation chair Jack Fleming who will forward them to the General Convention Office. The deputies are meeting again to formulate, if we can, a group response at 8 a.m. on May 24. We will be trying to make our responses as specific as possible. As the moderator, I'll start us off in the next note, but posters can respond to any question they like. As moderator, I am requesting that Missouri posters identify themselves as such and we'll pass those responses on also. Our goal is to inform the diocese about the draft covenant and to encourage as many people as possible to respond to it, in whatever way they choose.
There will eventually be a list of links, but for now, let me suggest this background reading for joining the discussion:

  • The Report of the Drafting Committee and the Draft Covenant itself can be found here.
  • The Study Guide for Responding to the Anglican Covenant can be found here .
  • Comments on the Covenant Process by the two Episcopal members of the drafting committee. The Rev. Ephraim Radner and the Rev. A. Katherine Grieb

You can google "Draft Anglican Covenant" for yourselves and see the comments of many bloggers, those for and against one or another part of the covenant. This is a place for Missourians to reflect.


rf said...

I think the whole project is ill-conceived from the start. Typically covenants of this kind are only useful if the parties to the covenant are already quite homogenous in their beliefs. Although covenants and confessions are often forged out of sharp debate, nevertheless useful documents like the "Mayflower Compact," the "Westminster Confession" or the "Augsburg Confession" only grow out of a group of quite like-minded individuals.

In such cases, the set of promises in a covenent serves to define some agreed-on boundaries for the group and to pass along these shared beliefs to future generations. The covenant is an expression of mutual trust, but it is not an instrument designed to CREATE trust.

Can a covenant resolve a dispute between parties with strongly held divergent opinions? Only, it seems to me,

1) if the dispute is resolved (because one side "wins," or one side "surrenders," or the sides mutually agree on a settlement) and then the outcome is embodied in a covenant, or

2) if the covenant says, in effect, "we agree to disagree."

I think that the Draft Text by the Covenant Design Group does not fit path 1). It is clear that the different sides in our disputes have not resolved their disagreements. To an observer it appears, indeed, that the disagreements are becoming sharper.

One might interpret the Draft Text as an attempt to follow go down path 2). Just for example, item (3.1) in the Draft states that all the churches commit to "uphold ... biblically derived moral values..." That could be an soothing, eirenic statement if all parties had come first to a mutual trust -- a trust in which each would be able to accept that the others were, in fact, fulfilling (3.1) in good faith. In that case, (3.1) would, in effect, be saying "we are all committed to uphold biblically derived moral values and we can live with differing conclusions in different churches because we trust that the Holy Spirit will eventually make the truth clear when everyone has such a commitment."

Unfortunately, it also seems clear to me that there are parties in this dispute who would never say "we agree to disagree" on the issues at hand. Therefore I don't find it plausible to think about the Draft Text along the lines of 2).

Because this attempted covenent is a reaction to mistrust and argument rather than an outgrowth of trust, I think it won't work (unless one side, in signing on to the covenant is actually "surrendering.") Even worse, if the Draft (or something like it) were approved and accepted, then I believe that it would quickly become a weapon rather than a tool for healing. Can't you hear the accusation already? -- "Aha! you agreed to (3.1) but you're not living up to it." And when that happens, the Draft itself also sets in place mechanisms for the "discipline" of the offender.

In short, I think the idea of this "covenant" puts the cart before the horse. It cannot create unity; a effective covenant can only be an expression of unity.

Ron Freiwald
Christ Church Cathedral

Lydia said...

Thanks so much for contributing to the conversation Ron!