Tuesday, November 23, 2010

"Relational Consequences" Revealed

The General Synod of the Church of England is in session this week. On Wednesday, they will consider adopting the Anglican Communion Covenant.

Leading up to that consideration, there are numerous commentaries and discussions being offered regarding the proposed Anglican Covenant. Earlier this month, we briefly discussed it here.

As I wade through all these words about the Covenant, I keep finding myself coming back to the same nagging concern. Regardless of the reassurances being offered by the experts, I cannot see how anyone can read the actual text of that document and claim that it is not intended to create a mechanism which will trigger punitive actions against various Churches within the Communion.

Let me try to briefly show you what I'm talking about. Let's start with just one small piece of section four of the final text of the Covenant:

4.2.7) On the basis of the advice received, the Standing Committee shall make recommendations as to relational consequences which flow from an action incompatible with the Covenant...
"Relational consequences"...an unusual description. It is much kinder and gentler than the legalistic language found in earlier drafts. But does the changing of the description actually represent a different intent?

"The Standing Committee shall make recommendations as to the relational consequences..." To my ear, that still sounds much like something my mother might have said in a moment of exasperation; "You just wait until your Father gets home!" That meant, of course, that she would "make recommendations" to my Dad, resulting in me being grounded (a relational consequences impacting my interactions with my peers) or being sent to my room (a relational consequence impacting my interactions with my family and my peers).

But, maybe I'm just being paranoid? Maybe "relational consequences" doesn't just sound like a kinder description, but is indeed intended to reveal a more compassionate approach to discipline?

To find out more about these "relational consequences, let's consider the commentary provided by the Covenant Working Group:

...A further question has concerned the “relational consequences” which may follow a declaration of “incompatibility with the covenant”. A reality which has to be acknowledged is that if there is autonomy of governance in the Churches of the Anglican Communion, then a necessary corollary of this is that the autonomy of a Church’s relationships of Communion also cannot be constrained. What the covenant seeks to do is to find an ecclesial framework by which a common response to tensions can be discerned and articulated. This contrasts with the present situation where no agreed mechanisms for action exist, and this lack has seriously threatened the integrity of the Communion. What the relational consequences might be were explored by the Covenant Design Group in their meeting in Singapore in September 2008, and were set out in the Lambeth Commentary at page 25. There they were deliberately listed in a range from the lightest “no action”, to the most serious “breaking of ecclesial communion and walking apart”...
So, we are told that the specifics of what these "relational consequences" might be are found in the Lambeth Commentary. It's quite the list:

With respect to relinquishment - we wish to re-conceive this issue in terms of `relational consequences`, namely those consequences which might affect elements of ecclesial relationships within the Communion. Such relational consequences will depend on a number of factors, for example, the gravity of the issue and the response of the Church(es) involved. These relational consequences might include:
• a determination that no action may be necessary
• a request to enter a process of informal dispute resolution (such as mediation, arbitration and reconciliation)
• a request for self-restraint or remedial action or renunciation of the action
• an offer to register a conscientious objection
• warnings about the effects of a covenant breach
• a request to examine conscience about participation in roles formally representing the Anglican Communion
• a request to resign from roles formally representing the Anglican Communion
• non-invitation to the Lambeth Conference
• a request not to attend a particular meeting of an Instrument of Communion
• suspension (or termination) of voting rights in the Instruments of Communion *
• suspension (or termination) of participation at meetings of the Instruments of Communion *
• removal from the ACC Schedule of Membership *
• removal of signatory Church from covenant list *
• declaration that the actions of the Church(es) involved are/would be incompatible with the faith, unity and/or mission of the Communion *
• a recommendation to other Provinces of the Communion about their relationships with the Church to which the consequence applies
• a request to the Provinces to respond individually to the situation of the non-complying Church(es)
• breaking of ecclesial communion and a walking apart
I would suggest to those who are stridently claiming that this document is not "punitive" to carefully consider the above list of "consequences." Specifically, note that twelfth one: "removal from the ACC Schedule of Membership." Thats not getting grounded or sent to your room. That's getting kicked out of the house.

Now, everyone knows that many of the things going on in North America are also happening in England. The English are just not as transparent about it. So, it is not a stretch to envision, if this Covenant is approved, that the day may arrive when the Church of England would face "relational consequences" resulting in being removed from the Schedule of Membership. An Anglican Communion without the Church of England. Imagine that.

For more information regarding this troubling document, go visit the No Anglican Covenant Resource Page.


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