Wednesday, March 21, 2012

One Saturday - Two Contests

It will be an interesting Saturday this Saturday.

This weekend is a very busy and likely decisive weekend for two campaigns I've been involved in over the past while.

In one case, the immediate campaign has been shorter in duration and it will come to its conclusion this weekend as Canada's New Democrats select a leader to replace the late Jack Layton who, Moses-like, led his party to the brink of power last May before succumbing to cancer last August.  Two of the original nine candidates have withdrawn from the race - although Romeo Saganash's withdrawal was too late to have his name removed from the ballot.  Many New Democrats have already voted in the preferential advance vote, while a likely smaller number will vote this Saturday, ballot by ballot and live, whether at the convention in Toronto or in the comfort of their own homes.

Anyone who has been paying attention will know that I am supporting Niki Ashton, the MP for Churchill constituency in Manitoba.  As the youngest candidate in the race (and having the arguable disadvantage of probably looking even younger), Niki has faced some criticism based strictly on her age.  Of course, if her age is her greatest weakness, then the simple passage of time will overcome it, which is better than can be said for some other candidates.

Anyone who claims to have a clear picture on how the convention will play out is almost certainly blowing smoke, and read-in media frames have distorted the race significantly in some respects.  Live voting for the first ballot opens after the candidate showcases on Friday, with the first ballot results announced Saturday morning.  I expect we will know the result by the early afternoon.

The other contest - the interminable marathon, it seems - is another round of voting on the Anglican Covenant in the diocesan synods of the Church of England.  I'm one of the original cadre of the No Anglican Covenant Coalition, and when we started organizing ourselves around 18 months ago, it seemed a bit of windmill-tilting quixoticism - an ecclesio-political juggernaut endorsed by the great and the good of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion Office was not going to be stopped by the flailing machinations of a band of bloggers.

Early on, we decided that our initial beachhead had to be the Church of England.  After all, an Anglican Covenant without the Church of England was too bizarre even for traditional Anglican fudge.  We lost an initial attempt when General Synod voted to refer to Covenant to the dioceses for approval.  And we ran into no small opposition when Anglican Communion Office and Church of England bureaucrats abused their positions to ensure that only pro-Covenant propaganda was provided for background.

Yet in the small scale skirmishing of the synods, we have found our feet.  In order to return to General Synod for the next step in the approval process, the Covenant needs to be ratified by the clergy and laity (voting separately) in 23 of the Church of England's 44 dioceses.  With 17 dioceses yet to vote, the "No" side is two dioceses short of scuttling the Covenant.  This Saturday, another six dioceses will vote.  While no one from the Coalition is interested in public prognostication, it is entirely possible that by noon Saturday (where I am), the Covenant will be a dead letter in the Church of England.

That wouldn't be an end of it, of course.  There will still be pressure - though perhaps less - for other Provinces of the Communion to adopt the Covenant.  The next round of tactical objectives will be to defeat the Covenant over the next six months in the Episcopal Church (USA and other places), the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of Australia and the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia.  But a defeat of the Covenant in the Church of England drastically alters the playing field.

It'll be a busy Saturday for Canada's New Democrats and for the No Anglican Covenant Coalition - and doubly busy for me.

And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

" . . . even if it just scrapes through . . . "

Today's results in the Church of England leave the proposed Anglican Covenant teetering on the brink, with 12 dioceses in favour and 20 opposed.  If just two of the remaining 12 dioceses say no, the Covenant is effectively dead in the water.

But Times Religion columnist Ruth Gledhill, speaking on BBC Radio, made the point that even a narrow win may not be much consolation to those who seek to centralize authority in a two-tracked Anglican Communion:
If that document fails on the Mother Church of the Anglican Communion - or even if it just scrapes through - it will really lack the authority it needs to be effective.

The interview can be heard here, beginning at about 1:33:00.

Friday, March 9, 2012

There was no YouTube in 1867

Back in 1865, at a point when the amalgamation of the British North American colonies to form the Dominion of Canada was still a drink-fueled fantasy of an Upper Canadian lawyer named John Macdonald, the colonial Anglican bishops hereabouts decided they were quite upset by Anglican goings on in southern Africa (the dubious opinions of the Bishop of Natal) and England (the reviving of the English Convocations).  Indeed, they were so upset that they sent a letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury proposing a:
national synod of the bishops of the Anglican Church at home and abroad.

In due course, Archbishop Charles Longley was persuaded this would be a good thing, and he proposed a Pan-Anglican conference of all 144 Anglican bishops from throughout the world.  He invited the bishops to Lambeth Palace for late September of 1867, just a few months after the creation of the Dominion of Canada.

Not everyone was convinced this was a good idea.  The Archbishop of York, for example, William Thomson (whose predecessor was none other than Archbishop Longley) thought it was a decidedly bad idea, and would inevitably result in an attempt to impose external authority on the Church of England.  Arthur Stanley, Dean of Westminster Abbey, tried to get the idea laughed out of Convocation, observing:
Whenever bishops have met in councils, even in the earliest times, they have almost invariably done an infinite deal of mischief.

At the end of the day, only 76 of 144 bishops attended the first Lambeth Conference.  Archbishop Longley's assureance that the conference would neither have nor claim the status of a Pan-Anglican synod failed to reassure either Archbishop Thomson or Dean Stanley.  Thomson and most of the bishops from the northern province refused to attend.  Stanley refused to allow Westminster Abbey to be used for any part of the event.  Bishop John Colenso of Natal, prefiguring the eventual unpersoning of New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson in 2007, was simply not invited.

Of course, Longley won the immediate skirmish.  The conference did not claim any synodical authority, and its resolutions were not binding on Anglicans at home or abroad.

But here's what didn't happen.
  • The Archbishop of Canterbury didn't put out a YouTube video essentially calling Archbishop Thomson's and Dean Stanley's views "completely misleading and false" - and not only because there was no YouTube in 1867.
  • The Bishop of St. Asaph didn't bleat on to The Times that critics of the conference idea were facists - and not only because the term "fascist" hadn't been invented yet.
  • The Bishop of Sherborne didn't wander about the country claiming that anyone who didn't support the conference idea was being disloyal to Archbishop Longley - and not only because the bishopric of Sherborne didn't exist.

These things (or their 1867 equivalents) didn't happen because these arguments were and are slanderous, malicious and desperate.

Archbishop Longley may well have sworn a blue streak in his parlour at Lameth Palace over Archbishop Thomson's intransigence.  But he was at least able to grasp the subtle reality that someone might honestly disagree.

It is not "false and misleading" for people, after honest inquiry, to come to different conclusions.  Accusing people of lying just because they disagree with one's point of view is often evidence that one has run out of coherent arguments.

Archbishop Longley chose not to conduct himself in public like a petulant child who wasn't getting his way.

Some will argue, based on the success of the Lambeth Conferences over many decades, that Archbishop Longley was right and Archbishop Thomson wrong.  And they may be correct to argue so.

But that still doesn't mean that Archbishop Thomson's honestly held views were "misleading and false."

Of course, given the way that some - including the present and previous Archbishops of Canterbury - have demanded that Anglicans everywhere conform to certain clauses of Resolution 1-10 of Lambeth 1998, perhaps Archbishop Thomson wasn't so much wrong as just ahead of his time.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

New AntiCovenant Developments

Lots has happened in the struggle against the proposed Anglican Covenant over the past couple of days.

On Wednesday, we announced the appointment of three new patrons.
  • Bishop Jim White is the Assistant Bishop of Auckland in the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia;
  • Dr. Muriel Porter, OAM is a widely respected journalist and author and a laywoman in the Anglican Church of Australia;
  • Dr. Sarah Coakley is the Norris-Hulse Professor of Divinity at Cambridge.
They join:
  • Bishop Peter Selby, retired Bishop of Worcester in the Church of England;
  • Bishop John Saxbee, retired bishop of Lincoln in the Church of England;
  • Dr. Diarmaid MacCulloch, Kt, Professor of the History of the Church and Fellow of St. Cross College, Oxford;
  • Dr. Marilyn McCord Adams, Distinguished Research Professor of Philosophy, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and former Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford.

One of that august group, Professor McCulloch, has produced a video in support of the Coalition's work.

In addition, Professor McCulloch has written a blogpost at Comprehensive Unity commending an excellent online paper by Canadian Archdeacon Edward Simonton which uses the history of the Scottish Episcopal Church to undercut the implicit Anglican history incorporated into the proposed Covenant.  Professor MacCulloch draws out two of the most salient points in his blogpost, but the entire essay can be found here.


Finally, well-respected Church of England open evangelical blogger Benny Hazelhurst points out that the progress of the Anglican Covenant through the diocesesan synods of the Church of England demonstrates that it simply is not the unifying instrument its backers claim.  (Note that the term "evangelical" has a much different meaning in the Church of England than it does in North America.)

At the end of the day, the Anglican Covenant has shot itself in the foot. Even if somehow the Church of England and others adopted it, it would simply leave the Communion limping along nursing its wounds and looking for someone to blame. The divisions which it has engendered make it precisely the wrong solution to the problems facing the Anglican Communion.

This weekend, six more dioceses will be voting on the Anglican Covenant (Ripon and Leeds; Bath and Wells; Southwark; Carlisle; Coventry; Worcester).  We are likely to know the results of all six votes by mid-afternoon here in Saskatchewan.  And those results will tell us if the pro-Covenant propaganda assault of the past week has borne any fruit.

Monday, March 5, 2012

When all else fails, try vague generalities

Clearly the No Anglican Covenant Coalition has been effective in it's campaign, especially in the Church of England.  To date, 21 of 44 diocesan synods have voted on the Covenant, and the Covenanters are losing 13 - 8.  (And frankly, if they hadn't manipulated the process in some of those eight, I expect the margin would be even wider.)  If the Covenant is defeated in 22 diocesan synods, it is effectvely off the table for the life of the present General Synod.

But losing does tend to motivate those with a vested interest.  So, in the past few days we've seen a rush of proCovenant propaganda, including a rather dyspeptic video by none other than the Archbishop of Canterbury.  Links to the current talking points onslaught can be found at Thinking Anglicans, so I'm not going to bother.

Like the rest of the proCovenant pap issuing from official and unofficial sources, today's video and other pieces are long on vague generalities, bloated with vague reassurances that the Covenant really doesn't change anything and seasoned with a more than a soupçon of veiled threats that the space-time continuum will be disrupted if the Covenant doesn't pass.

Has anyone noticed how self-contradictory the entire proCovenant argument actually is?  The Covenant doesn't actually do much, but if it isn't passed the entire Communion will look like Alderaan after the Death Star.

(Apparently blogger no longer supports YoutTube uploads, so go see this video here.)

And, of course, there was no reference at all to the actual text of the actual Anglican Covenant.

There never is.

The thing is, there may well be coherent and logical arguments in favour of this Anglican Covenant.  There may be, but no one has ever presented any.  Instead, we get a lot of vague comments about the importance of the Communion - and hysterical warnings that the sky will surely fall.  Notional argument aplenty in favour of the vague idea of a Covenant, but nary a syllable about this Covenant that's actually on the table.

As one of our number observed:
As an academic, the Archbishop knows that any student who submitted a paper with only unsupported assertions and no argument and no documented reference to the sources would receive a failing grade. Yet he expects 44 synods to give him a pass on this?

And now that he's received a failing grade at midterm, the Archbishop is getting angry.

Anger, you see, is a useful tool when you have no logical argument to make.

Snarling anger and a slanderous insinuations.

In this case, it was the explicit slander that every criticism of the Covenant is "misleading and false," combined with the implicit ad hominem that anyone who doesn't support the Covenant doesn't care about the Anglican Communion or about relationships among the member churches of the Communion.

If that's the best Rowan can come up with in defence of his precious Covenant, then I'm surprised he ever got his A-levels.

As another of my antiCovenant fellow travellers said at his blog:

The fact is we disagree so passionately precisely because all participants in the debate love the Communion. We do not want to see the Communion held to ransom by provinces in one part of the world who disagree with what is happening in another. Those opposed to the Covenant value the Communion we have inherited and do not want to see its 'bonds of affection' replaced by a single, centralising, coercive, excommunicatory Anglican constitution.

When, like Rowan, your argument is fallng apart under examination, there is a natural tendency to lash out, to attribute base and vile motives to your opponents.  It is standard operating procedure in some circles.

Perhaps I was naive to expect better of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Anglican Covenant developments

I've mentioned the launch of the new Yes to the Covenant group in the Diocese of Oxford.  The new astroturf initiative is, perhaps, the best evidence that the grassroots No Anglican Covenant Coalition has been very effective against tremendous odds.

The Yes group's rhetoric was rich in calls for informed decision making.  Of course, to date, the process has been heavily biased in favour of the Covenant, so to hear Covenanters whinging about it was a trifle jarring.  But one must gather one's rosebuds, as they say.

So at Comprehensive Unity, the official blog of the Coalition, I issued a challenge to the Yes group to call for the remaining 27 dioscesan synods to ensure that both sides of the debate were given a fair hearing.  Not surprisingly, they declined.  The whole sorry tale can be found here and here.

When the dioceses of Winchester and Sheffield passed the Covenant last weekend, the Yes campaign were quick to declare victory, although the defeat of the Covenant in Sodor and Man this afternoon suggests that the struggle isn't over yet.  With an 11 - 7 lead, the Covenant's opponents have a significant mathematical advantage.  The Covenant requires approval by 23 of the 44 Church of England dioceses to return to General Synod for further approval.  The Covenanters need to win 16 of the remaining 26 synods, while the Covenant's opponents only need another 11.

As to Sodor and Man, we are awaiting more information on the conduct of the debate, but the results are:
  • Bishops - 1 for
  • Clergy - 5 for, 12 against
  • Laity - 21 for, 15 against, 1 abstention
Note that we have conflicting reports on the results for the laity, with one report of:
  • Laity - 12 for, 21 against, 1 abstention

Either way, I am struck with the absurd and possibly obscure thought that Thomas and his friends have risen up against Sir Topham Hatt, Bt.