Monday, January 29, 2007

Cultivating Trust

Earlier this month, the Archbishop of Canterbury announced the members of the Covenant Design Group, charged with moving forward the Windsor Report's proposal of developing an Anglican Covenant. ENS is reporting that this Group will deliver a "draft covenant" to the Primates next month as a part of their report.

Two members of the Group are quoted; the Rev. Dr. Katherine Grieb, associate professor of New Testament at Virginia Theological Seminary, and the Rev. Dr. Ephraim Radner, rector of Church of the Ascension in Pueblo, Colorado. They represent two very different perspectives on the importance of the upcoming Primates Meeting, as can be seen by the following comments:

..."For some in our group, the voice that matters is the voice of the Primates," Grieb said. "The Anglican Communion, as important as the Primates are, is much bigger than the Primates. We need to hear the voices of women, of laity and of clergy. They are the Anglican Communion on the ground."

Radner said "everything depends on [the primates' response]"...
As I've stated numerous times before, I'm uncomfortable with the Primates having the final word on any matter, for the reasons Dr. Grieb has listed above. I have also struggled to see any reason for such a Covenant to be developed. It has sounded to me as nothing more than a whip to keep everyone in their "proper" place, with certain individuals given the authority to define the term "proper," and also apparently being allowed to brandish the whip whenever they feel it is deemed necessary.

I may have to reevaluate that assessment in light of Richard's recent commentary on Dr. Radner's recent presentation at Epiphany West. Consideration of the dark side of "autonomy," as can be witnessed in numerous global conflicts, is a strong argument for the need of some agreement of principles by which we can strive for the "common good." I tend to agree with Richard, however, in that I think the claim that what the Episcopal Church seeks is "pure autonomy" is overstating the case.

What I found especially helpful was some details regarding the Covenant Design Group that Dr. Radner was willing to offer:

1. Through study and discussion, the group has generally settled that covenant is understood biblically and traditionally as centered on trust and word keeping. The Design Group is taking this seriously as a modus operandi.

2. There should be nothing "new" in the formulation and articulation of an Anglican Covenant. In other words, the Covenant will be based on agreements and theological expressions that are already extant in the Communion and rooted in Christian tradition. In this case, the baptismal covenant (even as found in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer) is figuring prominently as a resource.

3. The Covenant will not be addressing the particular disputes on the table at present (i.e. human sexuality, women's ordination, etc.) but will rather provide a touchstone for how future disputes may be addressed in the Communion in the future

4. Ways of living together in Communion that have been ad hoc in the past may be made more intentional for the future through the Covenant.
Here is Richard's note of caution regarding the above points and his commentary on them:

I found this hopeful, but I urge caution on drawing too many conclusions at this point, as we bloggers are overly prone to do! I will say that Dr. Radner did seem to make clear, however, that there are expectations, particularly on one "side" of the present mess, that will not be met by this covenant process: namely, expectations that a definitive answer to the present theological controversies and questions of biblical interpretation and polity will be forthcoming. Rather, the group is focused on creating a covenant structure that will help cultivate and engender trust so that further disagreements in the Anglican Communion will have a bounded context in which disputes may be negotiated and/or mediated.
"...creating a covenant structure that will help cultivate and engender trust..." Regardless of what happens in the future, I think that this is extremely important. Somehow, the trust must be reestablished. We simply cannot continue as things are right now.

I'm now more inclined to be open to the idea of some kind of Covenant, especially if it is closely yoked to the Baptismal Covenant. But I'd like to see the details of this draft before giving it full support. I want to trust the Covenant Design Group, but when I read articles like this, which clearly suggests that the chair of the group does indeed have an agenda he is pushing, it is very difficult to do so.

I think the goal of reestablishing trust relationships is worth pursuing. Off the top of my head, I can think of quite a few individuals with whom I disagree on many matters now being debated within the Church who I continue to trust. Unfortunately, there are also many, such as those involved in border crossings, that it is going to take quite a bit of time, if ever, for those bonds of trust to heal.

So, what do you think of the Covenant idea? Do you think there is still a chance that we might be able to cultivate trust among the various perspectives within Anglicanism? Is a Covenant the only way this might be accomplished?


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