Sunday, May 10, 2009

RESUSCITATION OR RESURRECTION? Second Thoughts on the Demise of the Anglican Covenant

Twelve hours after the fateful vote on the Anglican Communion Covenant in Jamaica on May 8, I posted some “Initial Reflections” with the theme: “The Anglican Communion Covenant is Dead: Long Live the Covenant!”

I have had some second thoughts on this subject. No major retractions, but some expansion of a couple themes, particularly about two archbishops – in this case, Henry Orombi and Rowan Williams – and a final reflection on whether and how the disaster of May 8 can be reversed or redeemed. [N.B. I have added some Third Thoughts at the end of the second section.]

Where was Uganda?

In looking at the crucial tallies – 33 to 32 against the “fourth moratorium” on litigation; 33 to 30 in sending the Covenant back for revision – many have questioned the depletion of Uganda’s delegation at the meeting. To be sure, Archbishop Henry Orombi was eligible to vote as a member for Africa of the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates and Anglican Consultative Council. In addition, one other delegate, Bishop Paul Luzinda, cancelled at a late date. When it proved impossible to process another Uganda clergyperson (visa delays being standing problems for African travellers), the Church of Uganda turned to the Rev. Phil Ashey, who is canonically resident in Ruwenzori Diocese and who was already booked to attend. One of the early maneuvers of the powers-that-be came when the JSC denied Fr. Ashey a seat on grounds that he was a boundary-transgressor.

So Uganda was represented by one laywoman, Mrs. Jolly Babirukamu. Mrs. Babirukamu has held the important post of Provincial President of Mother’s Union, which in East Africa is a highly honoured institution. She voted with the Global South during the Covenant deliberations in Jamaica and called for prayer at a critical moment of confusion, but clearly she alone could not counter-balance the various politicos who dominated the session. With all due respect, this is why the claim that the ACC is the most representative body because it includes laypeople is a ruse. Assemblies like the ACC contain two types of laypeople: professional laymen, schooled in the wiles of ecclesiastical politics, and ordinary laypersons like Mrs. Babirukamu, who are expected to be seen and not heard.

I said in my Initial Reflections that I would have wished Henry Orombi to have attended the ACC meeting. On second thought, I would have liked him to be present on Friday. The rest of the week, so far as I can determine, was a colossal waste of time and money. At the risk of sounding like Judas, I ask: couldn’t the week-long cost of the meeting – add to that the $1.5 million indabafest funds – have been better spent on the Millennium Development Goals?

Henry Orombi is a powerful evangelist and charismatic leader, with a special passion for reaching young people. That is what he did before he became archbishop, and he continues this ministry inside and outside Uganda. Didn’t I understand that bishops are to be chief evangelists? Anyway, he decided that honouring a commitment to a renewal conference in UK took precedence over a week of political maneuvering in Jamaica. Would his presence in Jamaica have made a difference? Perhaps so, but it would not have been decisive had the Archbishop of Canterbury been true to his responsibilities.

While I do not want to excuse the Church of Uganda for its inept preparation leading to reduced representation at the ACC, I think it does say something about how the ACC is regarded in much of the non-Western world. The churches here know what a bishop is; they know what an Archbishop is and even a chief Primate is; hence they can understand three of the so-called Instruments of Unity in the Anglican Communion. But they don’t understand what a consultative council is, why it is constituted as it is, and they don’t frankly take much care in preparing for its meeting. Add to that the language barriers, the arcane procedures – most lay Africans are mystified by indaba – and it is easy to see how this Council is manipulated and ends up tarnishing what silver is left of Anglican integrity. I suggest that the ACC be offered up as a sacrificial lamb in place of the Covenant.

Where Was the Primate of All England?

Some have questioned my reference to “perfidious Albion” – the fact that Rowan Williams intervened at a critical moment to delay the approval of the Covenant - on the grounds that the current occupant of the throne of Augustine in Canterbury hails from Wales. True, and the occupant of York is Ugandan by birth. But the point is that the Church of England is the Mother Church and the Archbishop of Canterbury occupies his place of honor in the Communion for that reason. It was because of his role as primus inter pares that the Primates of the large Global South provinces deferred to his request to initiate the Windsor process and then the Covenant process. One must therefore pin responsibility for the breakdown of the Covenant approval on Canterbury.

But was he perfidious? From the left side of the isle, I am sure he is considered the quintessential Englishman, “doing his duty” to save the Communion, even if it went against the wishes of all the former colonies (save thirteen!). No doubt they expect him to emerge in six months time like a Chamberlain fresh from Munich with a piece of paper that all can sign onto or that all will reject as useless.

There are those on the right side of the aisle, however, who believe that he simply made a human error of judgement in allowing the delaying amendments to be voted on. The problem with this charitable view is that he himself stated that it was section 4 – the very section with disciplinary implications – that needed to be revised because it was causing dissension in the Communion. As if there had not been dissension heretofore leading up to this meeting!

Fine, I am willing to concede that Rowan Williams may have slipped up, or been snookered, in slowing down the approval of the Covenant. If, however, he himself recognizes this to be the case, then I would expect him to appoint a select review group that will uphold the Ridley Cambridge Draft and report out to the JSC an unaltered text or at least one where the key provisions of section 4 (including section 4.1.5) are still in place. I shall then expect him to face down Katherine Jefferts Schori and other objectors on the JSC and see the Covenant through to approval so that it may go out to the Provinces. But will he undo the damage of the ACC disaster? That will be the proof of the pudding.

If the above paragraphs sound skeptical, it is because many of us conservatives see so little evidence that we can count on Rowan Williams for anything. For instance, even though he signed the unanimous Dar Communiqué and pleaded with Bishop John Howard to refrain from forcing clergy and congregation out of their church home in Jacksonville (I almost slipped and said St. Augustine (!) because one of my former students, a Jamaican, was forced from his parish in that city by the same Bishop Howard), did he speak up in favor of the fourth moratorium? Did he vote for it? I don’t know, but if he did, it didn’t make the headlines.

A third thought (added 12 hours later): If Rowan Williams really did slip up, as even one of his critics (George Conger) hints, then he could, he must, undo the damage as best he can and as quickly as possible.

1. He can publicly state his error and apologize for the ensuing mess.
2. He can fire Canon Kearon and anyone else responsible for enabling this new crisis.
3. He could convene a special meeting of the JSC immediately and have it declare that the will of the majority of the Communion is to move forward with adoption?
4. He could declare unilaterally that the vote in Jamaica was invalid and that he is sending out the Ridley Cambridge Draft to the Provinces for adoption. There was no constitutional necessity for the ACC to approve the Draft, and in any case the Resolution passed violated the earlier protocol which stated that the Draft would be either voted up or voted down or returned to the Drafting Group.

If he cannot bring himself to do one or more of these items, he should resign.


The Way Forward

So what should orthodox folk do, now that the Covenant hope has been extinguished or at best put on hold? First of all, do what we are called to do: worship God and love your neighbor. Beyond that, I hope that the GAFCON and Global South bishops at the international level and the ACNA and Communion Partners in North America can find ways of working together for the up-building and mission of the Church. With or without the Covenant, we need each other. Each of our movements has its assets and deficits and we can share them as the Apostle commends to his churches (2 Corinthians 8:13-15).

Whither the Covenant? I believe that we should pursue dual tracks. Ok, the Ridley Cambridge Draft is not dead; it is on life support. It is my hope that Rowan Williams will repent of his mistake in Jamaica. I hope that “communion conservatives,” like the Anglican Communion Institute, will make a strong case for keeping the Draft exactly as is. I hope that Henry Orombi will attend the JSC meeting at the end of this year and insist on keeping the Covenant strong.

At the same time, I hope that the Global South movement – those identified with the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans and those not so identified – will resume its leadership on the Covenant. On the one hand, it can be patient and pressure Lambeth Palace not to change the text. On other hand, it can consider making the text stronger: by adding some elements from the Jerusalem Declaration and making the enforcement clauses even stronger. If the Covenant is not resuscitated by the end of the year, the Global South can ready a new Covenant – a resurrection, as it were – that will serve the mission of the Anglican Communion in the “Global Anglican Future.”

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