This is the third in a series of essays on the proposed Anglican Covenant.” The first, entitled “Communion, Order and Dissent,” attempted to present what might be called the inner logic of the covenant”“a logic that rests upon a commitment by all the provinces to “mutual subjection within the body of Christ.” The second had the subtitle “On How To Dissent within a Communion of Churches.” Its purpose was to show that communion, as understood by Anglicans, must have as a part of its ideation an understanding of how to dissent from common belief and practice. Apart from such an understanding communion cannot survive the inevitable disagreements that arise within and between its member churches. This third essay explores ways to address dissent that serve to sustain communion even in the face of actions that plainly are at odds with Christian belief and practice as “recognized” within the Anglican Communion. If an agreed upon understanding of the nature of dissent is necessary to sustain and strengthen communion, so also is an agreed upon understanding of appropriate ways to address dissent. No matter how deep their divisions may be these are questions the Primates dare not ignore if the communion of Anglicans is to be sustained.
In the near term, however, it is a virtual certainty that they will address neither the question of dissent nor that of response to dissent. The Archbishop of Canterbury has invited the Primates to meet in Dublin, but he has done so in a way that guarantees that no significant business will be done. By inviting the Primate of a Church that has acted against the request of all the Instruments of Communion he has called for a meeting a significant number of Primates feel they in good conscience cannot attend. In view of these circumstances, there seems no good reason to call such a meeting. What of any possible value can be achieved?
A primary Instrument of Communion appears to have reached an impasse. The Communion’s mechanisms for sustaining communion have become dysfunctional. A part of the reason for this sad state of affairs is what the Bible calls “hardness of heart.” A part, however, stems from a lack of understanding of how to dissent and how to respond to dissent within a communion of churches.
This essay addresses the question of response to dissent….