Sunday, January 31, 2010

Governance - Charles I, FNUC and the norms of governance

In some ways, the feast of St. Charles, King and Martyr, may seem an odd day for a reflection on governance. Charles I believed in a particular sort of earthly governance - the Divine Right of Kings - which was already passed its best before date when he was executed 361 years ago. Yet he defended the Church of England from the joyless fatalism of the Puritans and the people of England from the rapacious greedof those who stole the common lands into private ownership.

Perhaps governance is on my mind because of tomorrow's annual meeting of the parish - my first as incumbent though my fourth as priest in that place.

Or perhaps governance is on my mind as I consider the tragic destruction of the once-promising First Nations University of Canada.

It started with such promise, 35 years ago, as the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College, a part of the University of Regina. It was officially opened in its new digs by HRH the Earl of Wessex in 2003, and was the first place visited by HM the Queen during her visit to Canada in 2005 (before she had actually officially arrived).

Unfortunately, just a few weeks before HM's visit, the process of destruction had begun. Saskatchewan Federation of Indian Nations Vice-Chief, Morley Watson siezed control of the university administration, ostensibly on behalf of the Board of Governors. He siezed files and computer hard drives and he suspended the university president and two senior officials.

The FSIN's interference in the running of FNUC lends credibility to the worst stereotypes of Indian politics. FNUC is in crisis, but none of the First Nations politicians want to do anything about it - except collect per diems and sign off on sweet deals for their patronage appointments.

It didn't have to be this way.

It doesn't have to be this way.

But the FSIN leadership refuse to accord the institution the kind of autonomy which is the norm for universities throughout the world. In the last week it was revealed that the former Chief Financial Officer had not resigned, but had been fired for calling attention to the fact that senior administrators had been allowed to convert significant unused benefits into a cash payout, contrary to existing policy. More than a quarter million in unused vacation was paid out in cash to the president and other senior officials.

Although cleared in the courts, there are continuing issues about academic freedom. The institution was on probation with the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada - the organization that accredits degree granting institutions. FNUC is currently under censure from the Canadian Association of University Teachers - meaning that CAUT would advise academics not to apply for positions at FNUC. As of this weekend, apparently the federal and provincial governments are seriously considering pulling a combined $12 million in funding to FNUC, with a plan to restructure FNUC degrees to be completed and granted instead through the University of Regina.

In any other institution, this bizarre sideshow would not be tolerated. Unfortunately, for the powers that be at FNUC, it's just business as usual.

Educational attainment among First Nations people lags behind the rest of the population. Education - including post-secondary education - is the key to the future for the next generations of First Nations youth.

The relatively trouble free success of the Gabriel Dumont Institute or the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies demonstrates that Saskatchewan's Aboriginal people are fully capable of leading and managing post-secondary institutions. Yet when it comes to FNUC, the circus continues and never seems to end. First Nations status is offered up as an excuse for ignoring the norms of academic governance.

As I see it, it is only partly a failure of governance. It is principally a failure of ethical leadership - beginning with Morley Watson and continuing with every First nations politician who has chosen to screw over the future of his people by running FNUC into the ground.

Charles I lost his head before the Crown could begin to negotiate its way in an enlightened and democratic society.

It was tragic - certainly for Charles.

It would be equally tragic if Canadian First Nations had to lose their university before learning to negotiate their way among the democratic norms of academic governance.

In the meantime, here is a video of the execution of the martyr king from the movie Cromwell.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

". . . Losing its moral authority to govern."

On this mild but relatively humid Regina day, a number of concerned Canadians turned up in Regina to protest Stephen Harper's abuse of Parliament and of democracy. Organizers estimated the crowd at 500 - CBC says 200 - I'd call it about 350. I haven't seen a national attendance estimate for all the 60+ rallies across the country, but it given the Globe and Mail estimate of 3,000 in Toronto, it will be certainly in the tens of thousands - possibly more than 100,000. That's on a Saturday afternoon - which is a work day for an awful lot of folk from that generation most inclined to protest.

Let me be clear about something off the top. Proroguing Parliament per se is perfectly legitimate. There was a time, in fact, when the Canadian Parliament was prorogued annually and came back a few weeks or months later with a new session and a new Throne Speech. There's nothing wrong with that.

Normally prorogation happens when a government's legislative agenda is mostly completed. This is important because any government bill still on the order paper at the time of prorogation automatically dies. If the government still wants to pass the bill, it has to be reintroduced and go through the entire three reading process again. (Private member's bills, by contrast, resume at the point they had reached at prorogation, provided it is the same Parliament and there hasn't been an election.)

One of the Prime Minister's great complaints, of late, has been that the anti-democratic and unelected Senate has been holding up important government legislation. Ironically, by proroguing Parliament, the Prime Minister has actually killed all those pieces of legislation. Every one of them. Stone dead.

And not for the first time. Many of those same bills died when Parliament was dissolved to call the 2008 general election (in violation of his own fixed election date law), and then died again when prorogation saved his sorry political backside when Parliament was about to vote non confidence in his government. I trust that Harper Conservative bills, like cats, have nine lives.

Three times he's killed his own legislation - legislation he constantly claims is important - purely for short-term, tactical political considerations.

Only four times in Canadian history has a Prime Minister advised the Governor General to prorogue Parliament solely in order for the Prime Minister to avoid being accountable to the House of Commons. All four cases are demonstrations of corruption, cowardice and contempt for Parliament. (My old friend Ralph Goodale said at the rally that it had happened three times. Doubtless he wanted to skim over Jean Chretien's cowardly abuse of Parliament.)

* In 1873, Sir John A. Macdonald wanted to avoid a non-confidence motion related to the Pacific Scandal, where the Conservative Party had received illegal kickbacks from contractors building the national railroad.

* In 2003, Jean Chretien wanted to avoid having to deal with the fallout of the Sponsorship Scandal, in which the Liberal Party was the beneficiary of a criminal conspiracy involving government sponsorship contracts, particularly in Quebec.

* In 2009, Stephen Harper wanted to avoid a non confidence motion which would have resulted in the defeat of his government in a circumstance where the Governor General would most likely not have accepted his advice to call an election, thus leading to a Liberal - NDP coalition government.

* In 2010, Stephen Harper wanted to avoid answering questions about the abuse of Afghan prisoners who had been turned over by Canadian troops to the Afghan police and military. (As I've blogged previously, if Stephen Harper really were the brilliant strategist the national media and his mother believe him to be, he could easily have used that issue to enhance his own reputation and to trash the Liberals. The confluence of events suggests to me that Stephen Harper may be stupid as well as cowardly.)

Much of the political history of Great Britain from 1200 to the 1800s was about securing Parliament as a bulwark against the arbitrary exercise of executive power by absolutist monarchs. As the late godfather of Canadian political scholarship, Eugene Forsey, wrote more than 65 years ago:

"The danger of royal absolutism is past; but the danger of Cabinet absolutism, even of Prime Ministerial absolutism, is present and growing."
The Royal Power of Dissolution of Parliament in the British Commonwealth, 1943

Or, as another political thinker from central Canada remarked more recently:

When a government starts trying to cancel dissent or avoid dissent is frankly when it's rapidly losing its moral authority to govern.
Stephen Harper, 2005

Stephen Harper. He was right. Then.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

New beginnings

It seems odd to talk about celebrating a new ministry when I've been with these people for three years already. But later this afternoon, we will have a Celebration of a New Ministry and I will be inducted as the new incumbent of the parish where I currently hang my biretta.

It certainly wasn't something I had planned, even when I re-entered active ministry a few years ago. I was quite happy to be a simple massing priest, doing services and the occasional interim. But circumstances changed and the Spirit (I hope and trust it was the Spirit) had different ideas.

I took every step to ensure that I did not interfere with the parish's search for a new incumbent, and was comfortable with the prospect of leaving the cure of these souls to another right about now.

Vocation is a funny thing - and often the only way to test a vocation is to try and walk away from it. In this case, it pursued me - to the point that one wise priest advised me to "get to Ninevah before you end up in the belly of a fish."

So here am I.

Your prayers (and where feasible, your presence) are requested.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Haiti - Unlike Pat Robertson, do something useful

For those who have paid any attention to the ravings of Pat Robertson over the years, his idiotic lies about Haiti should come as no surprise. Pat Robertson preaches a false gospel of American exceptionalism with a huge dollop of bumph about how God will supposedly reward those who enrich his "ministry."

Enough bloggers have embedded video of his bizarre (and historically out to lunch) ravings about the Haitians making "a deal with the devil" to overthrow Napoleon III (who, BTW, was not born until four years after the conclusion of the slave revolt which resulted in a free Haiti). But this is consistent with his perverse, anti-Christian sermonettes which have, in the past, defended minority white rule in Rhodesia / Zimbabwe, claimed that the 9-11 terrorist attacks were caused by gays and lesbians, called on his supporters to pray for the deaths of US Supreme Court justices and called on the Bush administration to assassinate foreign heads of state.

Most of the commentary to date - including mine - has been understandably outraged. But perhaps The Huffington Post has the more effective and more appropriate commentary. Even as a senior public relations practitioner, I have trouble imagining God holding a news conference. But if God did want to comment on Pat's rambling lunacy, it might well go like this:

NEW YORK (The Borowitz Report) - In the wake of his comments about the earthquake in Haiti, televangelist Pat Robertson has become a "public relations nightmare" and a "gynormous embarrassment to me, personally," God said today.

Okay, a bit irreverent, I admit. But isn't that more or less what most Christians would want God to say about this if God did have a news conference at the Grand Hyatt, New York City?

Outrage is all very fun, of course. But outrage at Pat Robertson's collossal stupidity does nothing to help the victims of the Haitian earthquake.

So, do something useful.

Here's a challenge.

For every nasty and unprintable word you have written, said or thought about Pat Robertson's slanders and lies, donate a dollar to help the people of Haiti.

There are several reputable charities collecting money designated for Haiti. I suggest the Primate's World Relief and Development Fund, the Anglican Church of Canada agency supporting international development, relief, refugees and justice. You can donate through your parish church (simply designate your cheque "PWRDF - Haiti), or you can donate online here. When you click "donate," you will be able to designate your gift to Haiti Relief.

Instead of embedding a video attacking the people of Haiti and mocking them in their tragedy, I'll leave you with this video of the Governor-General of Canada, the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean. Her Excellency is, herself, a Haitian refugee who came to Canada as a small child. From this humble beginning, she has risen to be the Queen's Representative and de facto head of state in her adopted country. She still has family in Haiti, and refers here to a severely ill uncle who has been reported safe. This is not your typical public statement.

Watch this video instead. It is far more edifying.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Considering the Anglican Covenant

The Anglican Journal reports that the Canadian House of Bishops has passed a resolution recommending "consideration" of the proposed Anglican Covenant. The House stopped short of recommending adoption.

Covenant-sceptic though I may be, I agree with the House on this. The proposed Anglican Covenant should be given open, transparent and thorough consideration by the Anglican Church of Canada. The fact that nothing about the Covenant process to date has been in any way open, transparent or thorough is certainly not in its favour. But that does not preclude our responsibility to take this document - conceived by fiat and developed in the smoke-filled back rooms of the Communion - and give it a fair hearing.

I want to hear the case for and the case against the Covenant. Of course, since the Covenant is a radical reconfiguration of Anglican ecclesiology, I rather believe the onus is on its supporters to make the case - but let them make it, by all means.

Let the debate be vigorous and passionate. And let it come to the floor of this summer's General Synod.

And then?

Let me tell you a story.

J.S Woodsworth had as good a Christian pedigree as any figure in the history of Canadian politics. Woodsworth, a former Methodist clergyman, had actually been arrested and charged for sedition during the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919 - for quoting scripture.

No. Seriously. He was arrested and charged with sedition for quoting the prophet Isaiah. I'm not making this up.

Eventually the prosecutors realized how stupid they appeared and stayed the charges - stayed them, never dropped them.

Subsequently, Woodsworth was elected to the House of Commons and served there until his death just over 20 years later. He was the only Canadian MP to vote against Canada's entry into World War II. When the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation made the decision to support the war, Woodsworth offered his resignation as party leader. The party pleaded with him to stay on as leader, even though they were not prepared to follow his lead on this important issue.

On his last trip to Winnipeg, months before his death, he met with the executive of the Winnipeg North CCF to discuss the nomination of a candidate to replace him. According to legend he told them that three essential things must be observed:
* the process must be open and aboveboard,
* the process must be unassailably democratic,
* the candidate selected must be Stanley Knowles.

In due course, Knowles - a clergyman of the United Church of Canada - was nominated, and went on to his own distinguished career in the House of Commons. Despite always being an Opposition MP he was frequently offered the post of Speaker (which was a gift of the Prime Minister in those days), and his knowledge of the intricacies of Canadian parliamentary procedure.

I don't fancy myself a modern day Woodsworth by a long shot. But I am inclined to adapt his three requirements for our present circumstance.

* The process to determine the Canadian response to the Anglican Covenant must be open and transparent.

* All concerned Canadian Anglicans must have the opportunity to have their views taken into consideration.

* The ultimate decision must be a resounding "no."

Monday, January 11, 2010

If you think your position is moral, why are you hiding?

Curious legal debate in California.

In May of last year, the California Supreme Court ruled that LGBTQ Californians had the right to marry. Opponents of equal marriage petitioned for a ballot initiative to amend the state constitution to say that "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." As Proposition 8 (PropositionH8 to supporters of equal marriage), the initiative passed by a narrow margin in last fall's election.

As usual in American politics, nothing is ever over until it's been litigated to death. A court case was scheduled to start today to hear arguments that the constitutional amendment is invalid because a plebescite cannot deny the rights of individual citizens. Ironically, the petitioners bringing the action include both Al Gore's and George Bush's lawyers from the 2000 Florida recount.

But that's not the curious part.

Those seeking to overturn the amendment wanted to have the deliberations broadcast live and available on YouTube. Their opponents objected. They didn't want their testimony available for Californians to see. As of this morning their opposition to having the proceedings broadcast has apparently been upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States.

All Saints, Pasadena has issued a statement on today's ruling. It quotes the Rev'd Susan Russell, a senior associate of the parish and a former leader of Integrity USA as saying, in part:

"As a person of faith, one of the core biblical values I claim is ‘the truth will set you free’ (John 8:32). Those who argue against marriage equality should have nothing to fear from the truth – and if their arguments do not stand up to the scrutiny of our legal system then the people of California deserve to know that.”

I agree with Susan. If the defenders of Proposition 8 believe that they are advocating a moral and righteous position, why do they want to hide?

Liars hide.

Hatemongers hide.

People telling the truth don't need to hide.

Why are these people trying to hide?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

What would they make of it?

It has been the practice in England that the see of Canterbury alternates between High Church and Low Church incumbents. On the retirement of the evangelical George Carey, it was the turn of the Anglo-Catholics. Despite his ambitions, Michael Nazir-Ali was probably never really in the running.

Thus, over the last two generations, the catholic William Temple was followed by the evangelical Geoffrey Fisher, the catholic Michael Ramsey, the evangelical Donald Coggan, the catholic Robert Runcie, the evangelical George Carey and the catholic incumbent, Rowan Williams.

Williams, in his previous positions as a seminary professor, and as a bishop and later Primate of Wales had established a firm reputation, not only as an Anglo-Catholic, but as a political and theological progressive. The self-described "hairy lefty" was a member of the Christian Socialist Movement (affiliated with the UK Labour Party), opposed the invasion of Iraq, supported the ordination of women, had written positively about the place of LGBTQ people in the life and witness of the church and had even ordained a partnered gay man to the priesthood. Affirming Anglo-Catholics were thrilled when his appointment was announced.

I now have an appreciation for how it must be for any Canadian progressive who was ever so foolish as to have voted for the Chretien Liberals. You get promised a national child care plan and real action on climate change, and instead you get corporate tax cuts, the savaging of Employment Insurance and the pepper spraying of peaceful protesters.

We expected an Affirming Catholic in the tradition of Ramsey and Runcie. Instead, we got a centralizing curialist who (by fecklessness, I think, rather than duplicity) has advanced the far right agenda of misogynists, homophobes and the American far right.

I am moved to wonder what the great catholic Archbishops of Canterbury of the last century - Temple, Ramsey and Runcie - would have thought of the direction in which their successor and would-be standard-bearer is driving the Communion.

With a hat tip to Tobias Haller, here is an excerpt of Robert Runcie's opening address at the 1988 Lambeth Conference.

One of the characteristics of Anglicanism is our Reformation inheritance of national or provincial autonomy. The Anglican tradition is thus opposed to centralism and encourages the thriving of variety.

This is a great good. There is an important principle to be borne witness to here: that nothing should be done at a higher level than is absolutely necessary. So Anglicans have become accustomed to speak of a dispersed authority. And we are traditionally suspicious of the Lambeth Conference becoming anything other than a Conference.

We may indeed wish to discuss the development of more solid structures of unity and coherence. But I for one would want their provisional character made absolutely clear; like tents in the desert, they should be capable of being easily dismantled when it is time for the Pilgrim People to move on.

We have no intention of developing an alternative Papacy. We would rather continue to deal with the structures of the existing Petrine Ministry, and hopefully help in its continuing development and reform as a ministry of unity for all Christians.

[The Lambeth Conference, 1988, The Truth Shall Make You Free

(London: Church House Publishers, 1988).]

I have trouble imagining that Runcie - who stood up to the free market false gospel of Mrs. Thatcher - would support his successor's curializing Covenant or his open pandering to homophobes and hatemongers.

(The photo depicts the 102d Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, and the 100th Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey.)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

I don't believe in the Bible

I have no doubt the title will shock many. After all, isn't it a basic assumption that a Simple Massing Priest would believe in the Bible?

But the Christian faith is not about believing in the Bible.
Yes, at my ordination to the priesthood (and at my ordination to the diaconate some months previously), I did solemnly affirm "that I do believe the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the word of God, and to contain all things necessary for salvation." I believe the holy scriptures. I don't believe IN the holy scriptures.
Belief IN the Bible turns it into an idol - and it calcifies God's revelation before it is complete. Thus, 500 years ago, Galileo was condemned for saying that the earth revolves around the sun - just as today some condemn Charles Darwin for saying that particular life forms developed through natural selection. For those who believe IN the Bible, science is a threat or an enemy.
The Bible is the narrative of God's loving relationship with his creation and with his creatures. The creation accounts in Genesis (and there are two different accounts) are not intended to be a science textbook about HOW God created the world, but a religious text about God's purpose in creating the world. Using scripture as a scientific text is as silly as using Origin of Species as a theology text.

So, what do I believe in?

Let me tell you the story of Maria Skobtsova - or St. Maria of Paris and Ravensbruck as she is known to our Orthodox brothers and sisters.

Maria was a Russian noblewoman born a few years prior to the Russian Revolution. After fleeing Russia, she eventually settled in Paris, where she became an Orthodox nun and worked among the city's poor. When the Nazis occupied Paris, she and her companions began providing baptismal certificates to Jews hoping to avoid deportation.

Eventually, she and her companions were arrested. St. Maria ended up in the Ravensbruck concentration camp. On Holy Saturday, 1945 - just over a month before the end of the war - she took the place of a Jewish woman and was executed in the gas chamber.

St. Maria is obviously an heroic woman.

She is also a very wise woman.

She once said: "We Orthodox do not place our faith in a book or in laws. We believe in a person."

"We believe in a person."

We don't believe in the Bible. We believe in the person to whom the Bible - and the whole history of the Christian Church - bears witness.

We believe in the person of Jesus Christ.

This Sunday's Gospel is about who Jesus Christ is. "You are my Son, the Beloved."

Jesus is not who or what people expected when they looked for a Messiah. They were expecting a military or political leader who would free them from Roman occupation. That's what the holy scripture had promised . . . they thought.

But that's not what they got.

Instead, they got a carpenter's son, an itinerant rabbi who told them that the Kingdom of God was already among them. They got a wanderer who seemed to question the religious authorities. They got a storyteller with obscure sayings.

Instead of being driven out, the Romans seized this unlikely liberator and executed him.

No, not what the people expected at all.

Every year, there are thousands of sermons preached and hundreds of books and articles written about how it will be when Christ returns. Some of them set out elaborate scenarios based on their own (often peculiar) interpretations of the Bible they believe in.

Authentic Christianity does not place its faith in a book, but in a person.

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Rowan and the real revisionists

I was struck by the irony that the so-called conservatives are pushing for the most radical redesign of the Anglican Communion imaginable. Instead of a fellowship of Churches united by bonds of affection and a common heritage, these wide-eyed revisionists and radicals would have us become a legalistic bund, with central control by a secretive and thoroughly unaccountable star chamber. If one were to take the worst excesses of Pius IX, Joseph Stalin, Joe McCarthy and Oliver Cromwell, you couldn't have come up with a worse system.

Let's consider how this silly Covenant came to be.

A committee produces a report that says "maybe it would be useful if we had an Anglican Covenant something like this."

Then, by quasi-papal fiat, with no honest discussion or consultation about whether or not this is a good idea, some English civil service appointee declares that we are going to have a Covenant whether anyone else likes it or not.

Now, that may be the way they run things in the QUANGO called the Church of England. It is certainly the way the prince-bishops and pompous prelates of the so-called Global South run things in the unaccountable and authoritarian soviets of Kenya, Uganda and Nigeria. It makes one wish that Tony Blair's bonfire of the QUANGOes had gone a might farther, and that a little perestroika would break out in the Global South.

Out here in the real world, where bishops understand that real leadership is a servant ministry and not an open remit for personal aggrandizement, some of us actually think that recommendations of a report are only recommendations of a report until some reasonably open and transparent process concludes that the recommendation should be enacted. The Primate of Central America, Martin Barahona famously said: "The Windsor Report - it's just a report. When did it become like the Bible? "

When indeed?

Now, as if that process weren't unaccountable and arbitrary enough, we can consider the committee which was struck to write this abominable Covenant. When the chair of that committee, Drexel Gomez of the West Indies threw in his lot with those who were seeking to destroy another province of the Anglican Communion, one might think that his position as chair of the Covenant Design Group might - just might - come up for question.

Well, if the political appointee residing at Lambeth Palace had even a hint of leadership skill, one might have expected that. Gomez's outrageous behaviour might have at least raised one of those bushy eyebrows. But no. Apparently being a raving partisan is an essential qualification in designing a document intended to bring reconciliation.

Then we have the Windsor Continuation Group - composed of five bishops and one dean (with two more priests and one lay person as staff and consultants), the members of the committee are alarmingly monochromatic on the presenting issue.

After an appalling first draft and marginally improved second and third drafts, the Covenant Design group manages to produce a "final" draft that includes a bald-faced lie. I refer to section 4.1.1, which says: "Participation in the Covenant . . . does not represent submission to any external ecclesiastical jurisdiction."

Surely the Abominable Covenant was bad enough without actually including falsehoods in the final draft.

The ONLY purpose of the Anglican Covenant is to force member churches to submit to external ecclesiastical jurisdiction. I fail to see how any honest person can defend this clause with a straight face. The intent of the Covenant is that the most authoritarian and reactionary elements of the Communion can dominate and control the rest of us.

Our ecclesiastical tradition came into its own in protest against the idea that foreign prelates should control the actions of national churches. The Abominable Covenant undoes the very essence of Anglicanism in a vain effort to sate the authoritarian obsessions of some of the most nasty and brutish prelates ever to have disgraced the gospel.

Even so, Orombi of Uganda (who quietly supports the judicial murder of homosexuals) is annoyed that the final draft hides the Covenant's appalling purpose under disingenuous weasel words. He wants to add a clause that explicitly says what the present draft does only implicitly - to provide for a process "to initiate expulsion proceedings." Similarly, Venables of the Southern Cone of America wants clarity about "the process by which provinces that break the Covenant will be dismissed."

As if there isn't already enough back-room dealing and double-dealing, the current draft effectively creates yet another Instrument of Union - the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion - and delegates to that secretive and unaccountable body powers that other Instruments, and in particular the Primates, have claimed for themselves without any consultation or agreement.

This protocol on a plate has now been sent out for the various provinces to adopt (or not) according to their own canonical process. For the Episcopal Church (to use just one example) this will not be possible until at least their next General Convention in 2012. If it is determined that conforming to this primatial power grab requires any canonical changes, then the process could only be concluded in 2015.

But this provides the opportunity for the Primate of Jerusalem and the Middle East to demonstrate either a complete lack of integrity or a complete lack of intelligence. He suggests that "by the end of 2011 . . ., any Province that has not signed the Covenant should not be allowed to participate in the Anglican Councils (i.e. Primates Meetings, [Anglican Consultative Council], Standing Committee, etc. . . .) until the time when it finally adopts the Covenant."

Right, Mouneer. Several Provinces cannot possibly adopt the Covenant in that time frame, even if they want to do so. Thanks for reinforcing the odious and authoritarian nature of this whole deceitful initiative.

Thinking Anglicans provides a good round up of commentary - most of it calmer than mine. I particularly refer you to the comments of Fr. Jim Stockton of Austin, TX and Canon Giles Fraser of London, UK.

You can also peruse the official commentaries of several Provinces to the penultimate draft of the Covenant, with particular emphasis on Section 4 - the section which establishes a uniquely Stalinist form of unaccountable curial government to which we are all expected to submit. In the provincial responses, one finds some reassuring gems:

From Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia:

. . . it implicitly proposes to subjugate those bonds of affection, that is the actual relationships of good will and faithful engagement, with a commitment to a document that appears to focus more on enforcing doctrinal agreement and applying discipline where it is absent.

. . . most respondents remained concerned about Provincial autonomy. They reiterated the previous response from this Province that had an earlier Covenant been in place, it is unlikely that the ordination of women, the Constitutional Changes which enabled this Church to act more justly to our indigenous partner, and the Shared Primacy, may not have been accomplished.

. . . while the punitive and complex juridical language of the Appendix appears to have been subsumed in a more sanitized form . . . the underlying intent is unchanged.

. . . The creation of this hierarchical, "magesterium" or central committee [the Standing Committee] was described by one writer as by far the greatest and most far reaching innovation the Communion has contemplated since the Anglican Church in its current form was established. The JSC is seen as unrepresentative of this three House Communion, too weighted to Episcopal and Archiepiscopal influence and with little or no accountability other than to itself . . . . in direct conflict with the current model of Provincial independence through Synodical / Provincial autonomous governance . . .

From Australia:

. . . the [Standing Committee] may in effect accrue greater authority than the existing four instruments. This may result in the SC acting like a curia, which would represent a significant change to existing Anglican polity.

From Brazil:

. . . we lament the fact that this process has been conducted without broad consultation with missiologists and liturgists, as well as the polemical circumstances, marked by mutual mistrust and judgement, which conferred a judicial character . . . showing little emphasis on spirituality, liturgy and mission, and accentuating traces of institutionalization that significantly alter the ecclesiological nature of the Anglican Communion, bringing it closer to the idea of a denominational macro-structure.

From Canada:

. . . the description of Section 4.2 as "Dispute Resolution" is misleading. There is no mechanism in the section for resolution of disputes. It is merely a provision for the Joint Standing Committee to make decisions respecting the compliance with the Covenant by a member Church. That is not a resolution of a dispute. There is no provision for input into the decision making from the Church undergoing scrutiny. There is no provision for review of the decisions made by the Joint Standing Committee. There is no provision for mediation or even discussion with the Church under review.

From Scotland:

The declaration . . . that "nothing in this Covenant of itself shall be deemed to alter any provision of the Constitution and Canons of any Church of the Communion, or to limit its autonomy of governance" is undermined by the provisions of Section 4.2.

From Wales:

The Covenant appears to be undestood in some quarters as a tool for the reordering of the Church which will be used to effect a rapid severance between Provinces . . .

. . . free communication and easily available travel gives rise to unrealistic expectations of uniformity and sets up a series of false cultural norms. A false cultural norm of pseudo-uniformity is created when, in reality, the differing norms of one place do not impinge upon the life of another. The 'flattening' of human culture - the sense that there is a certain 'default' setting - is a characteristic of modernity. By contrast, Anglicanism has long celebrated diversity, but not for diversity's sake. Rather, the varied expression of Anglicanism is born of the conviction that the Gospel, because of it's richness which exceeds all particularity, can be mediated in many ways.

For many, the disputes which face the Anglican Communion - same-sex relations, lay presidency at the Eucharist, the ordination of women to the priesthood or the Episcopate - are not matters of human culture but of divine authority in the ordering of the Church. Nevertheless, the Church is unavoidably culturally situated and the Gospel culturally mediated.