The reading from the Daily Office Lectionary for today is from the Book of Wisdom (14:27-15:3). It begins with this verse:
For the worship of idols not to be named is the beginning and cause and end of every evil.
Earlier today we had a brief (too brief, in my opinion) discussion of the proposed Anglican Covenant at the clergy conference I was attending. There was some suggestion that the conflicts now occurring in Anglicanism stem from different world views, different cultural biases, different understandings of Scripture.
I’m not sure about that. I really don’t think the conflict (whether it be over the place of GLBT persons in the church, the role of women in the church, or – as it once was – the use of candles and processional crosses) is a clash of world views, of cultural biases, or Scriptural interpretation. I think the conflict is about power. And, to be more specific, I think it is about the idol of power and about the worship of that idol.
We need to name this worship, as Solomon says in this verse. The Anglican Covenant is (in my opinion) the product of the worship of the idol of power. A power which they do not currently enjoy (to determine matters of doctrine and discipline independently of the rest of the body of the church) is given to “bishops and synods”. A power which they do not currently enjoy (to offer “guidance and direction” to the provinces in regard to whatever they deem to be troubling matters) is given to the Primates.
“Power,” as Lord Acton noted, “tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The covenant document places no counterbalance, no check on the decisions, the “guidance and direction” offered by the Primates. It hands them absolute power — it creates a “plural papacy” or “papacy by committee”.
The website of the Anglican Communion lists forty (40) provinces or “member churches” and four (4) extra-provincial dioceses. So this multi-headed papal beast would have forty members, a Primate for each province. What the covenant does not make clear is how the “guidance and direction” of the Primates would be determined. Would they have a sort of “executive committee” which would make an initial decision on which the the full body of the Primates would then vote? And what would be a determining vote? Would a simple majority of 21 Primates carry the day? Would a 2/3 majority be needed? Would unanimity be needed? Or would a vote even be taken … would they work according to that mysterious process called “consensus building”?
Power is a difficult thing to handle. You can lose control of it quickly. It can blow up in your face. I think those who are recommending this Covenant ought to rethink what they are proposing. They may put into place processes they will be unable to control on other issues in the future.