April 14, 2011
The Rev’d Dr. Paul Avis is the general secretary of the Council for Christian Unity in and canon theologian of Exeter Cathedral in England. He has written several books on Anglicanism and Anglican identity that I have found helpful along the way. He has recently published an article in The Living Church (April 10, 2011, p.17) called Catholicity Outweighs Autonomy in which he argues that catholicity means ‘interdependence’ and that the proposed Anglican Covenant “seeks to flesh out in practical terms what interdependence might mean”. He concludes his appeal for Christians to “bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2) by saying “Any expression of communion is to be treated with great respect and care. It is an imperative of Christian love to seek communion with our fellow Christians. We are called to seek, maintain and extend communion. To do that we are inspired by the Holy Spirit…Ultimately, then, the future of the Anglican Communion is not a political matter, but a spiritual issue. I believe we should consider the covenant in that light.”
Well, so do I. And having considered it in that light, I reject it. The first three sections are inoffensive in themselves. They are theology crafted by a church committee and read as such. The fourth section which is what really “fleshes out in practical terms what interdependence might mean” is ultimately the control section and which undermines our attempt to be truly catholic in ways that put the relationships of the first three sections into practice in a way that is expressed and lived out differently than the power and control of hierarchy, --an option that is already available to us in the Roman communion.
The work of being in and staying in relationship across cultures, theological commitments, and huge financial difference is hard work. I hope to take a team to the Diocese of Western Tanganyika this autumn. All Saints’ has been in a relationship with that diocese, largely through the Bible College in Kasulu, since 2003 and we have made it thought serious official brokenness, changing personal relationships, Episcopal succession and other challenges. We do not try and change our brothers and sisters in, say the role of women in their church and society even though we believe they would be strengthened by educating and bringing women into leadership. We know that they would prefer that we not affirm gay and lesbian Christians as such but recognize that it is “not their issue”. The more troubling aspect of our relationship at the moment ahs to do with sorting out what is personal and whether there is any sense in which it could be said to be ‘institutional’. What I believe , for them, is a simple act of faith, namely asking for money, including asking for money for their own families, is for us a problem as we believe that gifts flow from relationship but that we are interested in strengthening and supporting the ministry of the church rather than the ministry of a particular priest or bishop. Rather than going on at this pint about other challenges such as that of developing a truly African theological tradition when everyone educated in the West tends to end up a bishop who does not have time for writing and teaching and the other things that might develop such a theological tradition, I’d like to return to the point of this piece and say that we are in relationship because we are Anglicans, because we grow through the challenge of recognizing, understanding and appreciating difference. The proposed covenant is not necessary to serve ‘catholicity’ or ‘interdependence’. It is, in effect, born of a desire to substitute rules for relationship and a means of control of some over others in spite of the (many protestations to the contrary. I’m agin it and hope that Dr. Avis might come to that conclusion as well.