Ephraim Radner offers some Thoughts on Rowan Williams, the Covenant and recent Anglican Meetings

From here:

I have had my own disappointments and outright disagreements with Canterbury’s chosen course of action at various points over the last few years, and I have shared this with him personally. Where some have urged a “bolder” response to TEC, within the limits of his ecclesial and moral authority, I have urged the same thing. But I categorically reject the charges made here that he has set about to undermine agreements made among the Primates, as at Dar es Salaam, or to manipulate and ignore legal processes such as those in place at the ACC last May.

In the first instance, RW was personally a key player (not the only one) at getting the Dar agreement nominally accepted, through face to face persuasion on the floor, as it were. That has been stated by several GS primates present at the time. But the agreement was also made possible by the compromise work of primates who were not personally disposed to aspects of its content, e.g. Australia. The Dar agreement, in other words, was intrinsically fragile, based as it was on temporary dynamics and uncertain internal commitments. The sense of Lambeth, it soon became apparent, was that its prosecution was thereby vulnerable from the start, and at the first sign of withdrawal of strong support outside of the meeting, Lambeth decided that pressing the agreement concretely would be counterproductive to the agreements actual aims. These “signs” included TEC and AMiA both immediately rejecting key provisions, and their allies quickly standing behind them.

I believe that RW gave up too quickly, choosing instead (as he has consistently done) to rebuild alternative consensus for change through other groups (e.g. the Windsor Continuation Group). This is fair game to debate and criticize, it seems to me. But the notion that RW was the skunk in the patch here is, to put it bluntly, a matter of sinners throwing stones. The Primates Meeting had already proved to be, in certain respects, a place where bishops behaved badly, and the fact that it was judged to be a weak reed should surprise no one. I don’t believe it needed to be left at this place, but again, that is matter for debate.

As for the ACC, we all know that the running of this meeting was a procedural disaster that has set back the ACC’s credibility enormously, fanning the flames of suspicion by all and sundry. No one can mitigate that loss of trust or the justifications in general for that loss. But there is a long way between such generally well-founded worries about the ACC’s ability to do its job fairly and well, and condemning this or that individual with deliberate and malicious intent. “Manipulation” there was, I would think, although any precise assessment of blame is not possible to come by. And Canterbury’s role in this demonstrates confusion””albeit deeply regrettable confusion””rather than strategic subversion. Furthermore, the outcome with respect to the Covenant strikes me as a sign of recognition of this fact: amazingly expeditious revision, and starkly restrained in its focus. People don’t seem to admit mistakes much anymore in public; but the manner of this outcome adds up to an admission of sorts. That is my read of the matter, and I don’t think it is particularly pollyannish. Not, that is, in the face of the anti-Stalinists and anti-Czarists faced off against each other.

I remain convinced that those leaders””bishops, clergy, and laity””who can order their service to the church for the long haul, steadily and solidly faithful, ordered, engaged in commonly established processes of ecclesial life, honest and charitable, and perseverant in their commitments within and for the sake of the people shared (not just locally), will prevail. That is a promise of the Lord, it seems, to “those who endure to the end”. People like Abps. Chew and Mouneer Anis presently, or Gomez recently; and others. And, for all my concerns about this and that, Rowan Williams too has demonstrated a perserverence that is bound to his faith in Christ Jesus as Lord, and not to self-interest. From that certainly I can be strengthened. So should others be, whether or not they can affirm his decisions in this or that particular matter.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Anglican Consultative Council, Anglican Covenant, Anglican Primates, Archbishop of Canterbury, Instruments of Unity, Lambeth 2008, Windsor Report / Process

10 comments on “Ephraim Radner offers some Thoughts on Rowan Williams, the Covenant and recent Anglican Meetings

  1. robroy says:

    Ephraim+’s statement was largely a response to my own, so I might take a little time to respond. Ephraim+ is, of course, right in being hopeful. Hope is a virtue. Christ will in the end be victorious. However, I think Ephraim+ is doing some spinning:

    [blockquote]In the first instance, RW was personally a key player (not the only one) at getting the Dar agreement nominally accepted, through face to face persuasion on the floor, as it were. That has been stated by several GS primates present at the time.[/blockquote]

    He alloted only four hours at the DeS for discussion to the TEC issue. Then at the beginning of the conference, he sought to influence the entire conference’s tone by bringing out his subcommittee report. This stated the TEC was largely Windsor compliant. Unfortunately, one of the subcommittee members, the primate of Central Africa, [i]had not even seen the document.[/i] The certainly smacks of manipulation and machinations. Next we have ABp Drexel Gomez’s statement that the ABC worked vigorously against imposing a specific deadline. In the end, the ABC did accede to the unanimity the primates.

    Rowan Williams is supposedly first [i]among equals[/i]. The DeS accord and mechanism for dealing with the American question may or may not have been workable. Yet, Rowan Williams took it upon himself to personally torpedo the unanimously agreed upon DeS communique by 1) stating the “deadline is no deadline” and 2) issuing the early invitations to Lambeth in the summer [i]before[/i] the September HoB meeting. (The ACO offered the lame excuse that this was for “travel purposes” but the website had always stated that invitations would be issued in November – more manipulation and machinations.) And finally 3) he then made the JSC as the judge of DeS/Windsor compliance with Ms Schori (whom he had appointed) not recusing herself.

    Ephraim+ asserts that the Covenant was not “dreamed up in the heads of a bunch of deviously secretive American and British elites…” But the Covenant is Rowan Williams’ baby and “deviously secretive” is a fairly apt descriptor of Rowan’s hand in all of this.

    Retired ABp Tay asks the fundamental question, what is the purpose of the Covenant? Is it to bind together Christian and post-Christian entities? I think it is clear that the answer for Rowan “everyone-at-the-table” Williams the answer is yes, and ABp Tay is right to condemn it.

    Matt Kennedy+ has called the Covenant a “sub-Christian” document. I don’t see how one can look at it and not see it as appallingly timid. The question is whether it can used, weak as it is, to accomplish the necessary pruning. Some of the GS primates will be collectively agreeing to the Covenant. I hope that they use the opportunity to make a stronger statement than just the feeble Covenant. In particular, they should condemn a false unity in the structure of the Anglican Communion and reassert true, Bibilically faithful union in Jesus Christ. They need to reassert that “border crossing” is [i]not[/i] equivalent to TEClub revisions but rather rescuing people from being exposed to a false gospel:
    [blockquote] The third fact is the manifest failure of the Communion Instruments to exercise discipline in the face of overt heterodoxy. The Episcopal Church USA and the Anglican Church of Canada, in proclaiming this false gospel, have consistently defied the 1998 Lambeth statement of biblical moral principle (Resolution 1.10). Despite numerous meetings and reports to and from the ‘Instruments of Unity,’ no effective action has been taken, and the bishops of these unrepentant churches are welcomed to Lambeth 2008. To make matters worse, there has been a failure to honour promises of discipline, the authority of the Primates’ Meeting has been undermined and the Lambeth Conference has been structured so as to avoid any hard decisions. We can only come to the devastating conclusion that ‘we are a global Communion with a colonial structure’. [/blockquote]
    In fact, they should collectively affirm that the entire Jerusalem Statement, not just this excerpt, as the true vision of unity. It is time to openly (but respectively) state that it was Rowan himself who undermined the primates conference and his invitation to consecrators to Lambeth openly violated Windsor. His appointment of KJS to the JSC violated Dromantine. Rowan Williams has proved himself untrustworthy. It is pastorally irresponsible to ignore this. Let the GS primates go ahead and sign on to the flawed document. I hope they then work on amending it a minute afterwards.
    [blockquote]Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents and harmless as doves.[/blockquote]

  2. Matt Kennedy says:

    Robroy, I agree with all that you have said and add that, in fact, the ABC was a coauthor of the infamous Subcommittee report which absolved TEC of Windsor violations…there is no rationalizing the ABC’s actions. He undermined Dar before and afterwards and has, since that time, worked to ensure that there will be no Christian discipline in the Communion.

  3. Br_er Rabbit says:

    The ABC needs to be called to account for his duplicitous statements in support of the HOB meeting in New Orleans.

  4. jamesw says:

    A few thought on Radner’s comments and the Covenant.

    1. The supposed timidity of the Covenant itself. Br_er Rabbit wrote elsewhere about the Covenant vs. context, and I largely agreed with him. The issue is NOT the text of the Covenant, but rather those who must implement it.

    An example: Back in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s Canada brought in a new constitution along with the now infamous “Charter of Rights”. Back then, Canada was not nearly so much the aggressively secular authoritarian nanny state that it is now. In the discussions to create the Charter of Rights, the issue of homosexuality came up and a clear decision was reached NOT to protect “equality rights” based on “sexual orientation”. And nowhere in the Charter can such protection be found. On the other hand, protection of religious freedom was explicitly included in the Charter text. Sounds good, right? Well, what everyone should have realized was that the Charter text and $2 would buy you a cup of coffee at Starbucks – the real issue was who interpreted the Charter. And that was done by a handful of liberal political appointees, otherwise known as the Supreme Court of Canada. And in the course of some 2 decades, homosexual rights (which don’t even appear in the Charter text) have come to trump religious freedom (which DOES appear in the text).

    The lesson is that no matter how firm a text you may have, it matters nothing if the folks interpreting and enforcing it won’t do so. On the flip side, there is the historical example of the power grab of the U.S. Supreme Court in the Marbury v. Madison case. Prior to this, the USSC simply did not have (nor did anyone think they did) the immense power as the final arbiters of the US Constitution. Yet in that decision, the USSC cleverly took on an incredible amount of power that had never been formally given to it.

    So the issue is not so much the text of the Anglican Covenant (though there needs to be SOMETHING there to hang the hat on), but rather WHO is doing the interpretation and enforcement of it. As I see it, there is enough in the Covenant for good leadership to use, thus the real issue that needs to be addressed is the Communion’s leadership.

    2. I do not agree that Rowan Williams has an agenda of secretly brokering TEC’s heresies into the Communion. Had he wanted to normalize TEC and its heresy into the Communion, he could have done so in a much more competent and easier way then this. Nobody doubts that RW is a highly intelligent man. Were I in RW’s shoes back in 2003 and had I wanted to keep TEC in the Communion without consequence, I would simply have issued a statement saying something like “I wish TEC had more widely consulted, but VGR was elected according to TEC’s C&C and so there is nothing I can do about it.” In other words, if RW is a secret agent for Anglican liberalism, he is terribly incompetent about it.

    On the other hand, nor do I buy the argument that many CommCons make that RW is the only real Christian in all of this, and that he has a brilliant, non-violent, uber-Christian plan for the Communion which nobody else can understand because we are either (a) not Christian enough to understand it; or (b) too stupid to recognize the true genius (and I don’t think Radner is of this ilk). Rather, I think that RW is much more complex. He, like most Anglican clergy, finds conflict deeply disturbing and he wishes it would just go away. He doesn’t want to have to be the bad guy. He prefers making learned reflections from the ivory tower rather then making the tough and sometimes messy leadership decisions on the ground. He is susceptible to being bullied (and caving in) to those who put the most pressure on him.

    I think that if everyone in the Communion would be okay with TEC’s heresies, RW would be as well. But I also think that RW believes that TEC ought not to have done what it did, because that is not the Anglican consensus. RW will always look to the thing which punts the issue down the road, because then he doesn’t have to make the tough exclusionary decision. Also, since liberals tend to be more pushy and politically clever (conservatives internationally tend to be more “polite” and politically naive), RW is more susceptible to being bullied by the liberals at critical times.

    In the end, I think that what RW hopes for is that the TEC institutionalist-liberals win out, and that he doesn’t fully appreciate how his actions have actually tended to strengthen the extremist-liberal position and undercut the institutionalists in TEC. However, I also think that if the institutionalists don’t win out, RW’s next hope would be that the TEC extremists refuse to sign the Covenant and begin to walk away on their own (this way, RW never actually has to make the decision).

    3. I read something about geology the other day that really makes me appreciate Dr. Radner’s arguments that much more. It has to do with the geological forces on the Hawaiian islands. Basically, the Hawaiian islands represent the plate in that part of the Pacific Ocean moving very slowly over a volcanic hot spot. As the plate passes over the hot spot, the volcanic activity pushes the rock up, and a new island is formed. As that island moves off the hot spot, erosion eventually wears the island back into the sea. This happens slowly, but surely. Visitors to Hawaii don’t notice this, but there are little signs of the inevitable direction. But it would be silly to point to one rain storm or one lava flow as saying “but the island hasn’t disappeared yet” or “the new island hasn’t arisen yet”. The point is that things are happening slowly but surely, and it is important to look at the long term, as well as just the short term.

    So it is with the Anglican Communion (though hopefully a little faster!). I think that Radner is right in pointing out that the Covenant is a significant development. Not because it solves the immediate Anglican problem of what to do with TEC. But rather because it sets out a basic Christian framework for a Communion and then sets out some basic relational issues that pertain to that. Like any document, it needs to be interpreted and enforced. But if the TEC radicals do win out and refuse to sign the Covenant (which I think is increasingly likely), then the ship of the Anglican Communion will – slowly but very surely – be moving back towards a catholic and Christian route, as those that interpret the Covenant will come increasingly from the more conservative parts of the Communion.

    So no, there is no silver bullet in the Covenant, but it is part of a significant movement which is slowly moving the Anglican Communion in the right direction.

  5. billqs says:

    I concur that the prime issue is not really the Covenant, its the enforcement of the Covenant. Since many of us are still trying to make out exactly what the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion is, our opinions tend to fall most squarely on how we view ++Rowan Williams.

    It’s really hard to make out just who Rowan Williams is, or why he has made some of the decisions he has. That is one reason why it is easy to ascribe bad motives to him, sometimes on both ends of the Church spectrum. Some of his actions are frankly inscrutible, unless you ascribe bad motives to him.

    #4 makes some interesting points, however, I don’t believe a direct statement in 2003 that “VGR stands because he was duly elected by the province” would have done anything but instantly split the communion in two. It would not have been the smart move. If anything in 2003 the conservative presence in the “Global North” was both stronger and much more united. An imprimatur from the Archbishop of Canterbury to the election of a non-celebate gay Bishop would have caused a dramatic, headlong battle many times worse that what has actually transpired.

    Frankly, the smart thing to do to broker in “TEC’s heresy” would be remarkably similar to what RW has done: keep kicking the can down the road, send mixed signals, make contradictory statements, and then, only if it’s absolutely necessary, perform an action that sabotages any real discipline or resolution from being applied. This isn’t the only lens in which to view RW’s actions, but one could certainly be forgiven in feeling this just might be the most plausible answer.

    What’s the most charitable lens to view the ABC’s actions and words? I think RW sees his calling as keeping the Anglican Communion together at ALL costs. I think this is the only other shoe that fits to mix metaphors. Politically he’s definitely on the Left, but his religious views, especially his Christology, are moderate to orthodox. As a result, I think he has affinity with both sides in the debate, but often ends up disappointing both sides. (I think he has let the reasserters down far more than the reappraisers.)

    IMO Rowan is happy to let the Covenant decide the issue, rather than he decide it himself. I think there are groups on both extremes that Rowan probably secretly hopes will be weeded out by the Covenant. To this end, the Covenant is useful for him. Anyone that does not sign the Covenant is in effect removing themselves from the Anglican Communion- at least the first tier status, without him making the decision himself. I believe he hopes for a covenanted Anglican Communion made up of mostly of centrists. Whether that will occur is another question entirely.

  6. Ephraim Radner says:

    I agree very much with JamesW’s (4) first point: “So the issue is not so much the text of the Anglican Covenant (though there needs to be SOMETHING there to hang the hat on), but rather WHO is doing the interpretation and enforcement of it. As I see it, there is enough in the Covenant for good leadership to use, thus the real issue that needs to be addressed is the Communion’s leadership.”” And to this extent, I somewhat agree with RobRoy’s grudging encouragement to the GS leaders to adopt; but only up to a point — the point of exercising their leadership together in an enaged way with the Communion, rather than in a direciton of disengagement.

    Let me be clear about my own views regarding the Covenant’s “effectiveness”: it will depend on those who “covenant”, and their own submission to Christ’s grace and leading. It is, after all, about Christian persons, not about a text. The only text with inherent divine power are the Scriptures. Marriages fall apart based on those who vow. If vows are ignored or twisted, and their purposes wrested from the God who upholds the faithful, the vows turn from vessels of grace to vessels of wrath. The only thing that will be “sub-Christian” about the Covenant are Christians who adopt it and rebel against the God for whom the covenanting is means of service; likewise those Christians who refuse to commit themselves at all to an accountable common life with others.

    I place no fundamental trust in the people — let alone committees or groups — who may adopt or interpret or reject the Covenant, including Canterbury, the Standing Committee, ACC, Primates, GS, Gafcon, Communion Partners etc.. All will at some point, and some before others and some more deeply than others, prove unfaithful. “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside….”. But I pray for them, myself included, that we might be acceptable to God’s mercy in Christ, even as indeed for the “ungodly”, “while yet we were weak”, he died.

    I have said for a long time that the Covenant — just like the Lambeth Conference — “could be what it wanted to be”, in the sense that those who engage can shape the church according to faithful power of their engagement. Those who do not engage, or who undermine engagement, or who engage perversely, will simply reap what they sow.

    If Rowan Williams or the Standing Committee or the ACC or whomever — through design or distraction or incompetence — seem to be or end up turning faithful Christian covenanting — including this covenant — into sometihng it should not be, there is the power given in the witness of others, a true power in the Holy Spirit, derving at least from THEIR embodying a true covenanting life. Hence, let those who are willing — and I hope the GS churches will do so at least — adopt, and adopt willingly and genuinely, and then let them press for the life of covenanted faithfulness come what may. Yes, it may involve insisting on this or that way of interpretation and life; but it will be an insistance based on genuine commitment and faith, not manipulation and resentment. They can shape the Covenant’s meaning and power as they choose in accord with God’s will.

    So, though I trust no one, I am not fearful. It will be good in the ways that people of good will make of it.

  7. New Reformation Advocate says:

    Feeling calmer and less peevish than I did the other day when I responded quite intemperately to Dr. Radner’s helpful comment that Kendall has rightly highlighted by making it the subject of this thread, I’d like to offer a less provocative comment today. I find Ephraim quite believable in his basic take on ++RW. I’m not as utterly cyncial about his motives as some are.

    Rather, I think Baby Blue’s beloved HHHB principle applies here, i.e., the Hammerstein Hierarchy of Human Behavior, that holds that the majority of disastrous decisions aren’t due to malice or wickedness, but rather to plain old laziness or sheer stupidity. Or fear, I might add (courage after all is one of the cardinal virtues). For the life of me, I can’t imagine the ABoC to be as devious and Machiavellian as some of us on the orthodox side have supposed. But I can easily imagine him tending to be lazy and fearful in a way that’s left him overly passive, with catastrophic consequences. More to the point perhaps, it’s especially easy to imagine him falling into the trap that Martin Luther King famously described as “the paralysis of analysis.” It may be a particularly great temptation for nerdy academics like ++RW.

    As to the Covenant, I agree with Br-er Rabbit and jamesw (etc.) that what counts isn’t the text itself, but who interprets the text and applies it now and in the future. But that’s also one of the main reasons why I distrust the whole idea of this Covenant, because it isn’t accompanied by the necessary overhauling of the international structures of the AC that would ensure that worthy leaders were placed in that all-important position.

    Therefore, I’ll repeat here a claim I’ve made before at T19 and SF, namely that the current Instruments of the AC have been utterly discredited and the whole system of Anglican polity at the international level is hopelessly inadequate and must be radically revised or replaced. For starters, the ACC must be made TRULY representative, by making it resemble the Congress rather than the Senate, with provincial representation being based on actual size (Sunday attendance figures, not membership rolls). That would guarantee that the Global South would be totally in the driver’s seat.

    Of course, that doesn’t mean that the Global South leaders can do no wrong. I agree with Dr. Radner about the inherent sinfulness of us all, no matter where we stand on the theological spectrum or where on the planet we live. We should heed the ancient wisdom of Psalm 146, [i]”Put no trust in rulers, nor in any child of earth, for there is no help in them…”[/i] Clearly, our trust must be in the Lord himself, the maker of heaven and earth, whose purposes none can ultimately thwart.

    If ++John Chew can get 20 GS primates to sign the Covenant and actively promote it, well and good. That would be a step in the right direction, no doubt.

    But it wouldn’t be sufficient. Much more radical change is necessary, for Anglicanism to survive and thrive in this strange new post-Christendom world of the 21st century. That’s why, as far as I’m concerned, the Jerusalem Declaration and the FCA movement is FAR more important in the long run than this Covenant.

    David Handy+

  8. seitz says:

    Good insightful comments from JamesW and Radner. If the GS covenants and indicates that the Communion is at its thickest reality around the Scriptures and their faithful interpretation and adherence to them, they have the girth to make the Communion work in accordance with this Covenant text. The text itself is not flawed, but the danger is real that those claiming to implement and interpret it will subvert its true intention, and we will get a Covenant held hostage to committee-ism and casuistry. The GS is big enough that it can insist the Covenant not go this way, and they will have allies, strong ones, within the CoE, including Bishops like +NTW. But they will have to stand strong and warn that a Communion run by ACC-ism is no Communion, and the fallout from this would be enormous (no fully attended Primates Meetings in future; absurd parodies of former ‘Lambeth Conferences’ — worse than last Conference’s indaba-ism — and a ‘Communion’ centered around something like 10-15 percent of the numerical reality; I cannot even imagine the present Queen believing this is an acceptable ‘Communion’ for her CoE to be a part of).
    I think it is harder to assess +RDW than many think, and JamesW sees rightly some of the dimensions. But in the end I do not think speculations about RDW will matter very much. The Communion will belong to the strong elements within it, and the Covenant does not stand in the way of that, but provides an opportunity for the GS and others to seize an initiative. Indeed, it is there for the adopting by the strongest elements and we understand that–unless something unforeseen happens–this will occur in the months to come. Let them interpret it and implement it as they see fit, and that includes signalling strong associations with those within the US wishing to maintain a true Communion. Will machinations from others thwart this? Not if the leadership of the true Communion of Anglicans is strong. That is what we will be praying for.

  9. Br_er Rabbit says:

    Great comments, guys! We need to enter this new era with an aura of hope.
    Sorry if this next idea is a bit off-thread, but…
    A light has dawned.
    I can now see.
    It’s so obvious!
    What does a two-tier Anglican Communion mean?
    The top tier gets invited to the ACC.
    The second tier (most of it) gets invited to Lambeth.

  10. Matt Kennedy says:

    Ah yes my heart fills with rapturous delight as I contemplate the hope of a two tiered communion–heresy and orthodoxy together bound in relational bonds of deep communiony affection