Saturday, October 30, 2010


At the Lambeth Conference in 2008 this presentation was made to the gathering of Anglican bishops by Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sachs, Chief Rabbi of the UK. It is a remarkable article on Covenant: what a covenant is, what it is not. It is a worthwhile read not only because it is appropriate as the conversations develop around the Anglican Covenant, but it reminds us that is through covenant that God first called humanity into relationship in the Judeao-Christian tradition.

I was also appreciative of the rabbi’s explanation of what contracts are, the contracts of power and the contracts of wealth that bring order into governance and economics. Sachs states:

The state is about power. The market is about wealth. And they are two ways of getting people to act in the way we want. Either we force them to – the way of power. Or we pay them to – the way of wealth.

But there is a third way, and to see this let's perform a simple thought experiment. Imagine you have total power, and then you decide to share it with nine others. How much do you have left? 1/10 of what you had when you began. Suppose you have a thousand pounds, and you decide to share it with nine others. How much do you have left? 1/10 of what you had when you began.

But now suppose that you decide to share, not power or wealth, but love, or friendship, or influence, or even knowledge, with nine others. How much do I have left? Do I have less? No, I have more; perhaps even 10 times as much.

How simple an explanation! I am so thankful for those who can succinctly illustrate how humanity functions.

In my move to TX, I have come up against “the free market society” writ large. I have spent weeks trying to find a doctor who will take Medicare. It is genuinely scary because I cannot find a SINGLE doctor who will take new Medicare patients. It as if there is a collective idea here that if doctors do not take any new Medicare patients, they can ignore how broken the whole Medical industry is in Texas. They have allowed the Market to dictate the laws of medical practice to the detriment of society. The once noble profession of medicine and its emphasis on healing and caring has been lost to the power and wealth dictates of state and market.

There is a disconnect between the state and the market that only serves those who have opted out of Medicare sometime in their work history. And as I am the last of the “pre-Boomer” generation, the situation of health care in this state is going to get critical very quickly. We, in our nation, and in our world have so dichotomized our existence between state and market that we have forgotten the glue that keeps us from being sterile as a humans.

It is that third way that is at the centre of who we are as human beings that is being left out in the name of free market economy, or orderly governance and it is that third way of caring—the most marked way that makes life worth living, and lifts us from the place of being mere animals to the place where there is nobility to human race.

It is that covenant—that sense of being willing to love that gives purpose to living. Neither the state nor the market has room for love. The political and economic realms cannot entertain such “fuzzy thinking” as caring and sharing. The mechanisms that make them work cannot include the human or the humane simply because we have made science of them both.

It is the third way of faith, whether it is faith in God or in Creation or in humanity, that provides a way forward, a way that does not sterilize that unique quality of humanity, the ever-changing dynamic of Creation or the constantly breaking in of the Holy.

I am unwilling any longer to say that Church (with a capital C) is the way to promulgating love. I have seen the institutional Church depend upon the mechanisms of political power and market economy so completely of late that we have lost our ability to speak the words of Love, Caring, Sharing and Faith. It is as if the church has failed to read its own Scripture when it comes to managing itself and can only use the “world’s” ways. This does not mean that I would abandon the Church. I have been too long a person of her creation that I could not desert her. But at the same time, I cannot find in her the conversations that speak a faith in God, humanity or Creation that can call down that Third Way—those conversations of love that call humanity to its humanness, that calls people to find something beyond power and wealth that gives life to what it means to live in joy and respect with others.

‘The Anglican Covenant’ as it has been promulgated by the Archbishop of Canterbury is a document of governance, not a proclamation of a common call to relationship in the name of Christ. At best it is an attempt at ecclesial posturing and power. It does not speak of relationship and journeying together. It speaks of who may have voice and who may be in communion with us. It is a disciplinary tool rather than a celebration of how God interacts with us and how we share God’s life in the face of state and market.

If the Anglican Communion is to continue to have any on-going conversation with the issues that face our world, we must be free to embrace the issues and speak to the issues that are raised in the particular environments in which we live. Our responses in love that remind us of how God has loved us need to be flexible enough to address the inhumanity of political and market structures in the name of Christ. It is the only way that the Anglican Communion can even hope to be supple enough to meet the new era that is upon us in religion.


Kirkepiscatoid said...

Well, and your Medicare story is a perfect example of how the word "covenant" has been exploited. We enjoy the wide varieties of medical specialties in this country b/c money was earmarked in 1965 for medical education in the form of residencies, and doctors enjoy the privilege of serving in those specialties because unlike in 1965, they could afford to do complete residencies instead of the one year internship, as residents could then get a half-decent salary.

So they are breaking a covenant that said, "We will all be cared for when we are 65."

Why does it seem to me the so-called "Anglican", so-called "covenant" has elements of this in THEIR carryings-on?

Revd. Neal Terry said...

Do get hold of 'the dignity of difference' by Rabbi Sachs. It is a challenging read and goes into more depth on the notions of covenant/contract.