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Friday, April 10, 2009

Anglican Covenant: Fate or Faith?


The latest draft of the proposed Anglican Covenant has just been released. It is being called the Ridley-Cambridge Draft.

Right. In the midst of Holy Week. As if we don't have enough to do than read this third draft of something that begins to feel more and more like a few people's personal agenda than something the entire World Wide Anglican Communion wants or needs.

Dave Walker's cartoon captures my sense about this completely.

Well, okay. If you don't know where to find it and you've got about 15 - 20 uninterrupted minutes to wade through the thing, and another 30 minutes or so to compare it with the last couple of drafts, and then comb through cyberspace to read what learned and not so learned as well as other Anglican dignitaries are opining about it, here it is.

You can read some of the responses here.

You can read them all, including the response from Bonnie Anderson, President of the House of Deputies over at Episcopal Cafe.

If you need a Good Friday meditation on the Stations of the Cross, I suppose this exercise will do.

Here's my initial response:

As many of the regular visitors to this part of the neighborhood may remember, the real highlight of Lambeth, for me, was the presentation by Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, who spoke on, "The Relationship between the People and God."

It was, in a word, brilliant. Click on the link above to read for yourself (it's a much better read than the Anglican Covenant - trust me on this.)

What's amazing is that, after Rabbi Sacks' presentation, everyone - almost to a person - was thrilled and enthralled. There was a buzz about it for days.

By inviting Rabbi Sacks to deliver this address, I thought the ABC had done a splendid job, finally, of framing the issue of Covenant in a way in which I - and many other people - could embrace.

Rabbi Sacks says things like:
"In a contract, two or more individuals, each pursuing their own interest, come together to make an exchange for mutual benefit. So there is the commercial contract that creates the market, and the social contract that creates the state.

A covenant is something different. In a covenant, two or more individuals, each respecting the dignity and integrity of the other, come together in a bond of love and trust, to share their interests, sometimes even to share their lives, by pledging their faithfulness to one another, to do together what neither can achieve alone.

A contract is a transaction. A covenant is a relationship. Or to put it slightly differently: a contract is about interests. A covenant is about identity. It is about you and me coming together to form an 'us'. That is why contracts benefit, but covenants transform."

Lovely, right? Sign me up for a covenant that is all about "identity" and "respecting the dignity and integrity of the other" and "bonds of love and trust" and "transformation". I am so in!

Sacks then talks about
"The three covenants set out in the Bible's opening books of Genesis and Exodus. The first, in Genesis 9, is the covenant with Noah and through him with all humanity. The second, in Genesis 17, is the covenant with Abraham. The third, in Exodus 19-24, is the covenant with the Israelites in the days of Moses. None supersedes or replaces the others."


Now, hang on, because it is here that Sacks gets brilliant. Quoting Rabbi Soloveitchik's work, he talks about two different kinds of covenant.
"There is, he said, a covenant of fate and a covenant of faith, and they are very different things.

A group can be bound in the covenant of fate when they suffer together, when they face a common enemy. They have shared tears, shared fears, shared responsibility. They huddle together for comfort and mutual protection. That is a covenant of fate.

A covenant of faith is quite different. That is made by a people who share dreams, aspirations, ideals. They don't need a common enemy, because they have a common hope. They come together to create something new. They are defined not by what happens to them but by what they commit themselves to do. That is a covenant of faith."

A covenant of fate vs. a covenant of faith.

It seems to me that the Anglican Covenant, in all of recent incarnations, will never be what we need because the Design group is starting from a place of fate and not faith.

I suspect that they want this Covenant to repair the 'disaster' of the paradigm shift that has been going on in TEC by facing a common enemy of progressive theological thought in general and homosexuality in particular.

The current and past drafts of the Covenant call us to huddle together for comfort and mutual protection. At times, it reads more like a contract than a covenant.

If we need an Covenant in the Anglican Communion, I believe it needs to be one of faith - made by people who share dreams, aspirations and ideals. A covenant needs to express a common hope, and be defined by what we commit ourselves to.

Now, I know that many of the Covenant Design team members were in the room and heard Rabbi Sachs. I know they applauded as loudly as I did.

With each draft of the Covenant, I read it and scratch my head and ask, "What the heck happened between Lambeth and now?"

I'll let you answer that for yourselves.

Well, if the Covenant Design Team won't pay attention to this brilliant work, I hope you will. Perhaps if we keep insisting on a covenant of FAITH vs. FATE, we might get something that is about identity and love.

Again, Rabbi Sachs' presentation can be found here:

http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/1912

You won't be disappointed. Promise. Even in Holy Week.

10 comments:

Grandmère Mimi said...

Elizabeth, Rabbi Sacks contrast between a covenant of fate v. a covenant of faith says it all.

As I said at Mark Harris' place, "If I had a vote, I would vote 'no' to the Covenant. No good will come of it. I pray the Episcopal Church does not sign on, no matter what changes or clarifications are made to the document."

If we need an Covenant in the Anglican Communion, I believe it needs to be one of faith - made by people who share dreams, aspirations and ideals. A covenant needs to express a common hope, and be defined by what we commit ourselves to.

Yes.

This was never what the Covenant Design
Group had in mind. Or so it seems to me.

DeanB said...

Hi Rev. Keaton,

Thanks for the link to Rabbi Sacks' talk. It's valuable reading for all people of good will.

Looks to me, though, as if the distinction which is relevant to the Anglican Covenant is not the distinction between two types of covenant but between a covenant and a contract.

Bill said...

There are have been times in history when agreements couldn’t be reached and covenants were out of the question. 1776 is one that leaps to mind. There was no going back. Freedom had been tasted and it was sweet. We have seen that over and over again in the course of our history. Slavery was left in the muddy ruts of the Civil War and some years later, women hung up their aprons and went to the polls. Again, freedom was sweet and there was no going back.

Gays are now out of the closets and they too are tasting the sweetness of freedom and acceptance. The states are beginning to fall in line with same sex marriage. Several of the religious faiths are accepting women in the priesthood. Many of those same faiths are accepting gay men and women in the clergy. There is no going back. The closets have been torn down. Some issues are not open to dispute and freedom is one of them.

They can talk and debate and delay all they want. It will not move backward. It will continue to move forward. No woman cleric, no gay man and no lesbian will ever give up those sweet liberties so valiantly fought for.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

DeanB - I agree with your statement, which I think is the essential problem. We talk about Covenant, but what we are getting form the CDG is a contract. If it is to be a Covenant, then I would argue that what we need is a Covenant of "faith" - not "fate."

Jim said...

In conversation with my son who agrees this draft is deeply flawed and cannot pass, I said that a covenant that said what we might do together might be a good thing. This document on the other hand is about who can be among us and that is a bad thing.

The CDG has failed and this document is its failure writ plain.
It is all about boundaries and barriers -- letting in the self-processed holy and keeping the bad people out. Every draft tries to hide what they are about in different weasel language but it is still there.

Better to say 'we affirm the Lambeth Quadrilateral among ourselves' and be done. Then recall that we are a missionary society and start proclaiming freedom in places like the Southern Cone where it is not being done.

FWIW
jimB

(The security word is 'bortr' and that makes sense, bortr's' (giver or take) is what the CDG is about.
FWIW
jimB

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I think both you and your son have it right.

DeanB said...

Hi again,

Forgot to say yesterday, I wonder if Rabbi Sacks grew up singing Malvina Reynold's song _Magic Penny_ in his synagogue youth group as I did --

Love is something if you give it away, give it away, give it away, Love is something if you give it away, you end up having more.

Muthah+ said...

Not now! Not now. I need to stay focused on Easter! How does a covanant declare the freedom of the Empty Tomb?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I know. I know, Muthah+, but that's why they did it, I suspect - hoping to slip it under the wire while most people are too busy to look too closely.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Elizabeth, we noticed.