Comprehensive Unity: The No Anglican Covenant Blog

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Observations from the November General Synod

It is no exaggeration to say that the members of the No Anglican Covenant Coalition were shocked and saddened by the events of the November 2010 meeting of General Synod, and many of our supporters have expressed similar sentiments. In a spirit of trying to understand what is happening to the Anglican Communion, we have carefully read the Presidential Address and listened to those who spoke in the debate. Our considered thoughts and conclusions are below:
In his Presidential Address on 23 November 2010, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams presented a message of fear and gloom to the Church of England General Synod. He suggested that, if the Synod did not accept the Anglican Covenant, we could witness the “piece-by-piece dissolution of the Communion.” The “risk and reality of such rupture [of some aspects of communion] is already there, make no mistake,” he said. “Historic allegiances cannot be taken for granted.” If we try to carry on as usual, he warned, there is a danger of creating “new structures in which relation to the Church of England and the See of Canterbury are likely not to figure significantly.”

The Archbishop’s message was clear—be afraid of rejecting the Covenant. It is the only lifeboat in the troubled sea of Anglicanism, and doing nothing or being idealistic is not an option. It is particularly ironic that Dr. Williams painted a picture of a frightening Anglican dystopia should the Covenant fail, as he and other supporters of the Covenant have been quick to accuse Covenant sceptics of “scaremongering.” It is also surprising, both in this speech and in the subsequent debate, that concerns were raised about the decline of the role of the Church of England, as well as references to its being “the mother church” that needs to set an example, whereas Covenant sceptics have been accused of being “Little Englanders.”

The interpretation that most people put on the speech was that Dr. Williams saw the Covenant as the only way to keep the GAFCON Primates and their allies in the Anglican Communion. Ironically, even as the 24 November debate on the Covenant was going on, GAFCON issued its “Oxford Statement,” which rejected the Covenant as being “fatally flawed” and insisted on the more conservative Jerusalem Statement as the foundation of international Anglicanism. …
Our complete analysis is available on the Resources page of the No Anglican Covenant Web site. You can view “Observations on the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Presidential Address and the Anglican Covenant Debate in the Church of England General Synod, November 2010” directly by clicking here.

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Monday, November 29, 2010

Tiers Upon Tiers

I have been thinking about how the “final draft covenant” might make the communion look if approved. It is an interesting if not pretty picture. Consider if you will.

  • England if it makes the blunder its leaders want and signs the covenant will be in full communion with Mexico. It will be in something less with TEC and AC Canada which might be described as the second tier.
  • Some of GafCon's ten churches will be in the second tier too because of “incursions.” Southern Cone already is.
  • Now a problem arises in that they refuse to be in anything with TEC. So they will have to be in a different second tier which of course makes no sense. Call the North American tier 2a and part of GafCon 2b.
  • But wait! AC-NA is in GafCon but not the Anglican Communion. It cannot by rule sign the covenant. So it is not able to be in tier 2b, presumably it is now tier 3.
  • The balance of GafCon can be in another tier two because it cannot be tier one with Mexico and England. We can call that 2c.
  • If New Zealand does nothing further its endorsement of only part of the covenant means it is another separate tier, in full communion with TEC and Canada, but not signed like England or Mexico. So it gets tier 4.
  • The two provinces in India are combined churches with non-Anglican memberships. That makes the covenant impossible for them, yet they are in full communion as far as I know with everyone. That is tier 5.

Five tiers: day one and the juridical mechanics of the covenant have not even begun to throw out the bad folks. TEC's complaints against various incurssion minded churches have not been filed, Canada has not finished its new marriage canon, nor has TEC. Sydney has not begun lay consecration of Eucharist. Forward in Faith has not yet stalked out of Church of England to avoid girl cooties. Five tiers on DAY ONE!

Imagine the fun the communion protocolists will have arraigning seating at the next Lambeth conference or setting up all the meeting rooms for the Primate's meeting! Imagine the fun journalists can experience asking the archbishop about his stated fear that the communion might become a group of separated clusters without the covenant! Imagine if you dare the obtuse prose he will use to call this "unity."

I wonder what if we all tried to simply pray together and work out joint missions where they make sense? What if we all agreed that because we share the heritage of the Book of Common Prayer, we won't try to harm each other but will try to get along? I bet that covenant could be written on a single sheet. of paper.


Bishop Saxbee on the Covenant

As an Episcopalian living on the western side of the Atlantic Ocean, the overwhelming vote in the Church of England General Synod to send the Anglican Covenant forward to the dioceses was perplexing. In particular, I know that not all CofE bishops are fond of the Covenant, yet none voted against the measure. Although, in one sense, the General Synod did nothing more than did The Episcopal Church General Convention in 2009—see Resolution D020—the passionate arguments for and against the Covenant in the weeks leading up the the 24 November 2010 vote and the very personal plea made by the Archbishop of Canterbury in his Presidential Address the day before made the action of the Synod seem momentous, perhaps more important than it actually was. (In light of the Oxford Statement from the GAFCON Primates’ Council, of course, the vote looks completely irrelevant.)

Helping me put things in perspective is the speech given by Bishop John Saxbee, Bishop of Lincoln, in the Synod debate. The Rev. Dr. Lesley Fellows has conveniently transcribed this speech and posted it on her blog. Here is a sample of what Bishop Saxbee said:
In relation to the Anglican Covenant, I’m on record as saying in this synod that I entirely support the process, as long as it never ends. …

Anglicanism has been described as a fellowship of civilised disagreement. Well I leave you to judge whether a two-tier Communion with first and second division members answers to that description of civilised disagreement. It frankly feels like we will be sending sincere and faithful Anglicans to stand in the corner until they have seen the error of their ways and can return to the ranks of the pure and spotless.
You can read the entire speech here.

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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Dr. Joan Gundersen on the Covenant

Not surprisingly, the Houses of Bishops and Deputies email list has hosted a number of discussions about the Anglican Covenant among those who will make decisions related to it at the 2012 General Convention of The Episcopal Church. Below is a post made by Dr. Joan R. Gundersen this morning. Dr. Gundersen, a church historian, is, among other things, director of administration for the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh and president of Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh. I asked for permission to reproduce the post here because it raises some issues that have not been much discussed.
I have several problems with the Covenant.

First it is the proverbial camel’s nose in the tent. It is a deliberate step on a path designed to turn a communion into a church. This is not the intent of all supporters, but if needed, I could give you actual citations to statements by original drafters and the ABC [Archbishop of Canterbury] that support this point. Turning the Anglican Communion into an Anglican Church would destroy the very essence of Anglicanism by replacing diversity with uniformity and affection with legalism.

Secondly it is twenty pages long. When the early Councils of the church met, they turned out documents that could be measured in paragraphs, not pages—witness the creeds. The ACC [Anglican Consultative Council] constitution is six pages long. The 1789 Constitution for the Episcopal Church was two pages (three if you add the signatures) and the first set of canons was eight including signatures. The Articles of Religion occupy nine pages of our current prayerbook. The Chicago Lambeth Quadrilateral fits on two. The Catechism takes only 18. Eighteen pages is also the length of the original U.S. Constitution (at least that is what it fills in one of my Constitutional History texts. The amendments add another six pages.) So what do we have in 20 pages of the Covenant? Modern legislative bloat. It is all about putting up fences. Should it be adopted, it will be patched here and then there and slowly it will creep up in size beyond the original 20 pages.

Thirdly, a covenant should be something that people embrace positively, not reluctantly. Can you imagine trying to use this 20 page document as a tool for evangelism? Does it describe a faith in a way that is clear or inspiring? Hardly. Documents entered into with caveats and concerns, in a spirit of distrust and a sense of coercion, are dead on arrival.

—Joan Gundersen, Pittsburgh Lay 3 GC 2012 [third of four lay deputies to the 2012 General Convention]

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Anglican Covenant – Perhaps I was Wrong

I have been trying valiantly (IMHO) to understand what the Anglican Covenant is FOR. You wouldn’t think that would be a troublesome task, but it really has been a problem. I thought that the Archbishop Rowan would spend a lot of time giving us the answers to some simple questions during his Presidential Address:
  1. What is the Covenant FOR?
  2. What alternatives have been considered?
  3. What are the downsides?
  4. How will this be managed?
  5. What review processes will occur?
  6. What if it doesn’t achieve the aims?
I listened intently to the Presidential Address, and was disappointed once again to hear loads of things that the Covenant is NOT:
  • the first time we have discussed the Covenant in Synod or in the Church of England
  • a tool of exclusion and tyranny
  • possible that we can carry on as usual
  • possible for the Church of England to derail the process
  • tying our hands
When I had the radio debate with Bishop Gregory Cameron, Inclusive Church and Modern Church were accused of scaremongering, so I felt a bit cross that a lot of the focus of the Presidential Address seemed to be about DANGER (and some of that felt nationalistic too):
  • the piece-by-piece dissolution of the Communion
  • new structures in which relation to the Church of England and the See of Canterbury are likely not to figure significantly
  • risk and reality of rupture is already there, make no mistake
  • historic allegiances cannot be taken for granted
But finally we got onto what the Covenant IS:
  • a voluntary promise to consult
  • about loyalty
  • about catholicity
You see, I thought the Covenant was about unity, and that made no sense because we do all agree that the Covenant will produce a two-tier Anglican Communion. But perhaps the Covenant has nothing to do with unity – it is about Orthodoxy – about making sure everyone has common sets of beliefs, about a Narrowing of Anglicanism. For a wonderful reflection on this see Paul Bagshaw’s post.

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Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Druidic Covenant, chapter 2 – A Parable

(This follows on from here)

Anastasia did sign the contract that her father Archdruid Rowan sent to her. He said that it was a question of trust and loyalty and it was the only way of keeping the family together – to make forceful the bonds of affection. So she signed it. Her brothers Miles and Lucas refused as they said it wouldn’t punish Cassandra and Marcus for their ‘homosexual lifestyles’. Marcus and Cassandra also declined to sign it, because, more than anything, they felt abandoned and betrayed.

There were fewer people at the table, the following Christmas, and the atmosphere was one of mourning rather than celebration. Anastasia was the youngest child, she had just turned eighteen and she felt like crying. Things were about to get worse. Nadia spoke up and asked a question, ‘Anastasia, I have heard that you have a boyfriend, I think you should be honest with us, are you having sexual relations with him out of wedlock?’ Anastasia gasped and blushed, not daring to answer. ‘I think her reaction is evidence enough said Nadia, I will no longer eat with her at the table until she repents’.

Archdruid Rowan knew what to do and was relieved that they had both signed the contract. ‘You must go to mediation and try to resolve your differences’. Anastasia swallowed hard, she wasn’t at all sure she wanted to do that.

The next day, Anastasia found herself in a room with the mediator and Nadia. The mediator explained the process. She said 'You must talk to each other whether you like it or not, and then, when I have heard enough, and if you can't agree, I will decide who is right and who is wrong and recommend that one of you repents. Failure to do so will result in you being classed as a second tier Druid and you will not be able to eat at the main table until you repent'.

Anastasia put her head in her hands and wept bitterly.


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Reflections on General Synod

I spent Tuesday and Wednesday watching the General Synod debate in London from the Public Gallery, the main item on the agenda was whether we were going to send the Anglican Covenant to the dioceses for them to consider or not. If the Dioceses approve the Covenant then it will come back to the General Synod for a final vote to make it legislation. These are my reflections on the two days.

1. Loyalty.
The Presidential Address from ++Rowan focussed heavily on loyalty. Those who opposed the Covenant were seen as disloyal to each other, to other countries, to the quest for unity, and by implication to ++Rowan. It became apparent over the two days that whether you liked the Covenant or not, a vote against it would be a vote of no confidence in Rowan. Ironically, during the debate GAFCON said they won't sign, so there will be at least eight Provinces in the second tier.
Giles Fraser, President of Inclusive Church seemed less than impressed, saying, "All the archbishop's hard work in getting it through and using up one of his lives, seems rather pointless."
2. Continuing the 'Discussion'.
Archbishop John Sentamu said that General Synod had voted for the Covenant four times already, so why not vote for it a fifth time. This surprised me because my understanding was that all the other times they were just voting to continue the discussion of the Covenant. ++John then went onto say that this vote wasn't about agreeing to the Covenant, it was merely to continue the discussion in the Dioceses. The problem is that the Dioceses do have a tendency to think that General Synod pass things down to be rubber stamped and we will need to work very hard to achieve good debates in the Dioceses. If it is passed by the Dioceses then I hope when it comes back to General Synod that ++John won't say that General Synod had now agreed to the Covenant five times already!

3. Depression and Joylessness
One speech reminded us that when people Covenant it should be a celebration. There was no joy in the hall, just much anxiety. The good people of General Synod were signing up to a document that would create a two-tier communion,  this had the feeling of divorce rather than marriage, and the seriousness and sadness associated with that.

4. Odd thinking
People were told by ++Rowan that they shouldn't come with their minds made up but one wondered whether that meant Rowan had came to the debate without his mind made up? Campaigning and leafleting was heavily criticised and seen as the worst sort of secular politics. I'm not sure that secular or politics are necessarily bad, in this case they gave information which informed the debate. Also, ++Rowan's speeches reminded me of secular politics - it reminded me of Margaret Thatcher's TINA (There Is No Alternative) and Tony Blair's speech telling us we had to go into Iraq.

5. Good debate
Most of the concerns that we have written about here were aired during the debate. It is fair to say that there were more voices of concern than voices in support of the Covenant. Someone tweeted that my blog was being quoted, and it did sometimes feel like that. I was amazed that the Bishops in general seemed concerned too. However, as ++Rowan had made it clear that it was a loyalty test, no Bishop voted against him.

I hope that as we take the debate to the Dioceses we will have a chance to consider what a church looks like when it is based on the radical and recklessly generous love and inclusiveness of Jesus Christ. We can ask the question of whether the Anglican Covenant takes us closer to this or further away, ask ourselves whether we are signing up to the Covenant because of love or fear.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

CofE Synod Passes Covenant

With little opposition, the General Synod of the Church of England moved the adoption process for the Anglican Covenant along today. This is not the final vote on the Covenant. More comment will be forthcoming. Thinking Anglicans has more information now.

UPDATE: A statement from the No Anglican Covenant Coalition is available here.

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

No Anglican Covenant Gathers Momentum

That is the title of the latest news release from the No Anglican Covenant Coalition as the Church of England’s General Synod prepares to debate the Anglican Covenant. You can read the news release here.

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New Items in Web Site References

As we approach the Church of England’s General Synod vote on the Anglican Covenant scheduled for tomorrow, a number of useful links have been added to our Resources page on the No Anglican Covenant Web site.

A personal favorite of mine is Jim Naughton’s essay published on The Lead yesterday. (Its entry is here.) In “The Anglican Covenant: a tool for the strong to oppress the weak,” Naughton argues that the judgments called for in the Covenant are subjective and that a church’s doing the right or logical thing is irrelevant, only whether another church is upset by it counts. He calls this “governance by hurt feelings.”

A related objection has been made by the former Chancellor of the Anglican Church of Canada, Ronald Stevenson. In “Some comments about The Anglican Communion Covenant,” he argues that the wording of the Covenant is sloppy. Referring to the diverse terms used in the documents, he asks
Are “faith”, “historic faith”, “Christian faith”, “catholic and apostolic faith”, “common faith”, “shared faith” and “faith . . . of the Communion” all synonymous and sufficiently stated in the Nicene creed?
Stevenson also has concerns about the thoroughness of the procedures set forth in Section 4. (The entry for this essay is here. The text also appeared on this blog in an earlier post.)

Another item added to our resources is the recent Anglicans Online article by Bishop Pierre Whalon of the Convocation of American Churches in Europe. His essay asks if it is really wise to ostracize churches with which we disagree, as called for by the Covenant, albeit somewhat obliquely. (The entry for “Covet a Covenant?” is here.)

The Rev. Canon Mark Harris is a much-read blogger and a member of the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church. His blog Preludium has addressed the Anglican Covenant in its many incarnations a number of times, and we have added some of these posts to our list of resources. In “The RC Anglican Covenant Draft: Review of the Whole,” for example, Harris walks the reader through the Ridley Cambridge draft in an amusing, but helpful way. (The entry for this essay is here . You can find links to other Harris posts on the Resources page.)

The Rev. Dr. A Katherine Grieb, of Virginia Seminary, reported to Episcopalian bishops on her experience on the Covenant Design Group on March 19, 2007. Her somewhat lengthy observations are helpful in understanding the motivations behind the covenant idea. (The entry for “Interpreting the Proposed Anglican Covenant through the Communique [sic]”—her talk was given shortly after a meeting of the primates—can be found here.) Paul Bagshaw’s post, “The architect’s manifesto” also addresses the intent of those who have argued for a covenant. This idea predates the election of Gene Robinson. (The entry is here.)

Finally, I should mention my own blog post “What will the ‘orthodox’ do?” There does not seem to be a unified strategy among Anglican conservatives as to what to do about the Covenant. I discuss some of the things conservatives are saying. I did not mention an essay by Charles Raven, however, which is an interesting read. (The entry for “What will the ‘orthodox’ do?” is here.

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Monday, November 22, 2010

Just how many logical opinions are there about the Covenant?

Defenders of the Anglican Covenant have recently been telling us that it’s quite cuddly, not at all punitive. On the other hand anyone over about 21 will remember the great debate over gay bishops, and the enthusiasm for ‘disciplining’ those provinces which don’t take a hard line against same-sex partnerships. Is this Covenant really the same one as the threatened procedure to kick the USA out of the Anglican Communion?

Yes, but... The provinces are self-governing, and don’t want to give away their autonomy. The current draft has therefore been designed to emphasise that they will retain their autonomy and will not be punished for anything they do. By trying to produce a text acceptable to both sides, it satisfies neither.

Nor should it. We are dealing with a conflict between two incompatible understandings of knowledge – epistemologies – between which no compromise can possibly work. One is the inclusive one used everywhere outside religion: in order to find out the truth you ask questions, gather relevant data, develop and check theories. All this assumes that you don’t know it all, you don’t have certainty and we learn from other people. Philosophers call this ‘coherentism’ because our confidence in our knowledge depends on how well our beliefs cohere with each other.

The other is the dogmatic one: there is one supreme source of information, it provides truths with certainty, and if you dispute any one of its truths you are definitely in error. Philosophers call this ‘foundationalism’ because the idea is to begin with absolutely certain foundations and build on them by deducing other certainties.

These two accounts are mutually exclusive. Any attempt at compromise fails because foundationalism has no place for it: for the foundationalist, every knowledge claim is either deducible or it isn’t. Today philosophers accept that foundationalism misdescribes the way we get to know things. We don’t deduce certainties from each other; we learn things in a wide variety of different ways, all of which are to some extent open to error. That’s why coherentism is more popular today.

The one discourse where foundationalism is still taken seriously is in religion. Those who have been demanding a Covenant with strong punitive sanctions work with a foundationalist account of Christian doctrine. Examples are on and Scripture says, so we obey, and anyone who disagrees has no business here. The determination to split Anglicanism on these lines was quite clear before the controversies over Jeffrey John and Gene Robinson; the Kuala Lumpur Conference of 1997 and Drexel Gomez’ To Mend the Net (2001) were both clearly spoiling for a fight.

This Christian foundationalism lacks evidence: there never has been a satisfactory account of how God revealed the Bible without involving human reason. Secondly it is psychologically disastrous: it sets people up to think they know the truth with certainty, so anyone who disagrees with them is certainly wrong, and off we go with endless denunciations and schisms. Thirdly, it is hopelessly impractical. The Bible just isn’t a consistent set of moral commands and doctrinal statements which anybody can easily understand.

Nevertheless, having said all this, it offers an account of Christian believing which theoretically fits together. Accept the foundationalist account of the Bible as divine revelation and the rest follows, including the utter unacceptability of gay bishops. It’s a theoretically consistent position. Also theoretically consistent is the coherentist one: we have our views on Christian doctrine but we don’t have certainty and we expect to learn from other people so it’s best for the church to contain a wide variety of voices.

From the perspective of both these positions, the Covenant isn’t good enough. For the foundationalists if it is established, it could end up failing to kick out provinces with gay bishops. This is absolutely true: it could. On the other hand, for the coherentists it could end up kicking out provinces with gay bishops, or provinces which dissent from whatever line is being laid down at the time. From the coherentist perspective, if Anglicans are disagreeing over something, the disagreement should be resolved on the basis of the evidence and the best arguments, and that means allowing debate to continue as long as necessary.

The Covenant tries to sit in the middle between these two positions, in the hope of satisfying both sides. But there is no consistent compromise position. What seems to have happened is that the leaders of Anglicanism have followed the lead of the Windsor Report in opting for a foundationalist solution, but on paying attention to what it would mean, have step by step moved away from it – but without ever formally abandoning the foundationalist intent.

Either we are to be told what we may or may not do and believe, or not. Either Anglicanism is to be foundationalist, or it will be coherentist. If we have a new system which tries to keep both sides happy, all that will happen is that the foundationalists will carry on denouncing the coherentists and demanding their expulsion. Sometimes toleration needs to be defended against the intolerant.


Canadian judge questions lack of clarity in Covenant language

The Honourable Ronald Stevenson, QC is the recently retired Chancellor of the Anglican Church of Canada. He served 22 years as a Judge of the Court of Queen's Bench in the Province of New Brunswick, Canada.

In its October 2004 Windsor Report the Lambeth Commission on Communion recommended that the primates consider, and urged that the provinces of the Communion adopt, “a common Anglican Covenant which would make explicit and forceful the loyalty and bonds of affection which govern the relationships between the churches of the Communion.”(1)

A ‘possible draft’ Covenant was appended to the Windsor Report. Subsequently three formal drafts were produced seriatim - the Nassau Draft, the St. Andrew’s Draft and the Ridley-Cambridge Draft. Section Four of the latter met with substantial criticism and was revised. In December 2009 the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion approved a final text of The Anglican Communion Covenant (hereinafter “the Covenant”) and distributed it for formal consideration for adoption by the Provinces of the Communion. The text can be accessed at

Millions of words have been written and spoken by proponents and opponents of adoption of the Covenant. Many of those who have written to support or oppose adoption are experts in theology, ecclesiology or other relevant fields in which I neither possess nor claim any expertise.

Canon Alyson Barnett-Cowan, the Director for Faith Unity and Order at the Anglican Communion Office has recently cautioned “that for any Anglican or Episcopalian to be able to properly enter into a discussion about the Covenant it is vital that they first read it for themselves.”(2)

As one trained in the law (60 years a law student) and who has both written and interpreted documents that define relationships and prescribe processes for the resolution of differences my principal concerns are with the quality of the language of the Covenant and with the processes set out in Section Four for the maintenance of the covenant and dispute resolution.

I make my comments with the greatest respect for those who laboured and brought forth the several drafts. I count a number of them among my friends.

Is the Covenant written in language that meets the standards of a Church with a tradition of rich literature in its formularies? I will briefly illustrate my concern about the language of the Covenant by examining how the word “faith” is used therein.

It is noteworthy that word “doctrine” appears only once (4.1.2) while the word “faith” is used 27 times either alone or qualified. Some who claim to be “orthodox” Anglicans frequently refer to “the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude, v. 3, NRSV) or some variant thereof. What does “faith” mean in the Covenant?

The Introduction to the Covenant Text refers to “the historic faith we confess” and to “the Anglican expression of Christian faith” and says “Our faith embodies a coherent testimony to what we have received from God’s Word and the Church’s long-standing witness.”

By Section One of the Covenant, entitled Our Inheritance of Faith, each covenanting Church would affirm “the catholic and apostolic faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds” (1.1.2), “the Holy Scriptures . . . as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith” (1.1.3), and “the Nicene Creed as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith.”(1.1.4). (3)

By section 1.2.1 each covenanting Church would commit itself “to teach and act in continuity and consonance with Scripture and the catholic and apostolic faith, order and tradition, as received by the Churches of the Anglican Communion.”

Section Three of the Covenant is entitled Our Unity and Common Life. In it we find references to “the central role of bishops as guardians and teachers of faith” (3.1.3) , “our shared faith”, “the common faith of the Church’s members”, “the faith and unity of the Communion” (3.1.4) and “the common standards of faith” (3.2.4).

And Section Four, Our Covenanted Life Together, refers to “a common faith and order” (4.1.1.) and “the Christian faith” (4.1.2).

Are “faith”, “historic faith”, “Christian faith”, “catholic and apostolic faith”, “common faith”, “shared faith” and “faith . . . of the Communion” all synonymous and sufficiently stated in the Nicene Creed?

As I mention below the Covenant purports to provide a process to address questions relating to the meaning of the Covenant. Will that include questions of interpretation of the Scriptures which Churches adopting the Covenant would reaffirm as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith?

Next I turn to my concerns about Section 4.2 which is headed The Maintenance of the Covenant and Dispute Resolution.

The word “Dispute” only appears in the heading and seems to encompass “questions”, “matters”, “matters at question”, “actions” and “decisions”, expressions that are used perhaps interchangeably but not necessarily synonymously in section 4.2

The operative section, 4.2.3, invokes a process only “When questions arise relating to the meaning of the Covenant, (4) or about the compatibility of an action by a covenanting Church with the Covenant.” I will refer to the two categories as questions of interpretation and questions of compatibility.

Section 4.2.3 says questions of either category “may be raised by a Church itself, another covenanting Church or the Instruments of Communion.” Note that Instruments is plural. May one Instrument raise question or must all four Instruments do so in concert?

What does the Covenant say about questions of interpretation? They may be raised and when raised it is the duty of each covenanting Church to “live out the commitments of section 3.2" which, abbreviated, are

• to have regard for the common good of the Communion
• to respect the constitutional autonomy of the Churches of the Communion
• to spend time in matters of theological debate and reflection, to listen, pray and study with one another
• to seek a shared mind with other Churches
• to act with diligence, care and caution in respect of any action which may provoke controversy
• in situations of conflict, to participate in mediated conversations
• to have in mind that our bonds of affection and the love of Christ compel us always to uphold the highest degree of communion possible

Assuming that a question of interpretation has been raised, that the covenanting Churches have lived out those commitments, and that the question has not been resolved, i.e that a shared mind has not been reached, what happens? Section 4.2.4 says the question shall be referred to the Standing Committee. The Covenant does not tell us who will make the reference or, for that matter, who will decide that a shared mind has not been reached.

With respect to questions of interpretation it must be noted that section 4.3 says the withdrawal of a Church from the Covenant may raise a question of interpretation (as well as one of compatibility, not with the Covenant, but with the principles incorporated within it).

But the Covenant does not provide for the resolution or answering of a question of interpretation in the absence of either a shared mind or an agreement facilitated by the Standing Committee. The Standing Committee may take advice to determine “a view on the nature of the matter at question” whatever those words mean. And although section 4.2.4 suggests the Standing Committee may refer a question of interpretation to the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meeting for advice, section 4.2.6 does not authorize the Standing Committee to answer or make a declaration with respect to a question of interpretation although it may do so with respect to a question of compatibility.

The prescribed process is somewhat more complete with respect to questions of compatibility. When such a question is raised, again each covenanting Church has a duty to live out the commitments in section 3.2. If no shared mind is reached the matter is referred to the Standing Committee which attempts to facilitate an agreement. Failing agreement the Standing Committee, when appropriate, must refer the question to both the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meeting for advice. If such a reference for advice is not appropriate that would seem to be the end of the matter for the Standing Committee can only make a declaration under section 4.2.6 on the basis of such advice.

Section 4.2.6 says the Standing Committee, on the basis of advice received from the Council and the Meeting, may make a declaration that an action or decision is or would be incompatible with the Covenant. The language of sections 4.2.4 and 4.2.6 allow for such a declaration only if advice from both the Council and the Meeting provides a basis therefor.

Strangely, nothing in the whole of section 4.2 anticipates the possibility of the Standing Committee making a declaration that an action or decision is compatible with the Covenant.

A final concern. Much emphasis has been placed on section 4.1.3 of the Covenant the second sentence of which says, “Nothing in this Covenant of itself shall be deemed to alter any provision of the Constitution and Canons of any Church of the Communion, or to limit its autonomy of governance.” If a Church adopts the Covenant without qualification or reservation it might be argued that the Act of adoption does have the effect of altering the Church’s Constitution or limiting its autonomy. In my opinion any Church planning to adopt the Covenant should consider including in its Act of adoption a statement such as “The adoption of The Anglican Communion Covenant by this Church does not, and shall not be deemed to, alter any provision of the Church’s Constitution or Canons or limit its autonomy of governance.”

Ronald C. Stevenson
The Sunday Next Before Advent / Christ the King 2010


1 The Windsor Report, para. 118.
3 The latter two were taken from the Lambeth Quadrilateral of 1888.
4 In a paper prepared by Katherine Grieb for the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church in March 2007 Dr. Grieb said the InterAnglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission had noted that a covenant is not self-interpreting; someone has to say what it means and how it is to be applied in a particular situation.
Accessed November 17, 2010

Editorial Note: The Stevenson paper is available as a PDF file from the Resources page of the No Anglican Covenant Web site here.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Jonathan Clatworthy’s Reply to Andrew Goddard

From the Revd. Jonathan Clatworthy at Modern Church:

Andrew Goddard has now provided a lengthy defence of the Anglican Covenant against the arguments in our advertisement of 29 October. At over 15,000 words it bears witness to Dr. Goddard’s commitment. It is not light bedtime reading, and a point by point reply would not be either.

Indeed, Andrew Goddard’s response is not light bedtime reading, nor light reading for any time of the day. The ad by Inclusive Church and Modern Church ran in the Church Times and the Church of England Newspaper. To me, Jonathan’s reply stands alone quite well as a caution against the adoption of the Anglican Covenant, even for those who have not read Andrew Goddard’s response, which is titled “How and Why IC & MCU Mislead Us On the Anglican Covenant”. I disagree with Dr. Goddard that the ad is in any way misleading.

The text and its potential

Dr Goddard writes that ‘The IC/MCU statement... pays little or no attention to the text of the covenant itself’. We have in fact paid close attention; but rather than treating it as a good idea which just fell out of the sky, we judge it in the light of its potential. What matters is not how it describes itself, but how it could be used once it was in place. Furthermore we already have, in the controversies of the last decade or so, clear indications of how some groups intend to use it.

Persons in favor of the covenant repeatedly accuse those of us who question the need for a covenant for the Anglican Communion or oppose this specific covenant of not having read the document. We grow weary of the repetitions, because we have read the document, most of us several times, and the Draft Covenant reads no better on the second, third, or fourth perusal than on the first.

Discipline, subordination and punishment

The most obvious disagreement is whether provinces will be subordinated to the international authorities and threatened with punishment if they do not obey.

Goddard considers this a ‘highly implausible spin’. He does not explain why, but he does reply:

In fact, the Windsor Report’s stated aim was that a covenant ‘would make explicit and forceful the loyalty and bonds of affection which govern the relationships between the churches of the Communion’ (My emphasis) (para 118).

I confess that I burst out laughing when I read the quote from the Windsor Report. That the compilers of the report believed it is at all realistic that true loyalty and bonds of affection can be forced is ludicrous. In a ruthless dictatorship, one might be forced to make a pretense of loyalty and bonds of affection, but true loyalty and affection would tend to be squelched.

Jonathan continues:

What counts about the Covenant text is not whether it claims to be punitive, or even whether its framers intend it to be, but whether it can be used in a punitive manner, and the answer is clearly yes....If a province rejects ‘recommendations’, it can be excluded from the Covenant’s ‘enhanced’ relationship with other provinces and international committees. Given that this ‘enhanced’ relationship turns out to look very much like the relationship most provinces thought they already had with each other, the effect would be a demotion.

Back to the tiers, first tier, second tier. Will there be a third tier for the truly disobedient provinces, those nearly, but not quite beyond the pale?

Skipping over the sections on “Redefining Anglicanism” and “Would the Covenant make the Church more inward-looking?”, not because they are unimportant, but to keep my post from running long and still expecting that you will read them, I move on to Jonathan’s words on:

New dogmas

We wrote (in the ad):

Every time the Standing Committee upholds an objection it will thereby establish a new ruling, another doctrine Anglicans are expected to believe. Over time Anglicanism will become less inclusive and more dogmatic.

We already have an example. The 1998 Lambeth Conference declared homosexuality ‘incompatible with Scripture’ and the Windsor Report, bounced by the threats of schism, took this to mean that there is an Anglican ‘consensus’ on the matter. This ‘consensus’ was the basis on which it declared that the North American churches were out of order in consecrating a gay bishop and producing a same-sex blessing service. In other words, despite the fact that Lambeth conference resolutions have never had legislating powers, Windsor treated Resolution 1.10 as binding on Anglicanism - in effect, another constituent of Anglican belief to add the the Bible, the Creeds and the Thirty-Nine Articles.

A report came to be dogma. I refer you to the words of Bishop Martin Barahona, the retired primate of Central America, which have a permanent place on the sidebar of my blog.

“The Windsor Report,” he said. “It’s just a report. When did it become like The Bible. The Covenant. Why do we need another covenant? We have the Baptismal Covenant. We have the creeds. What else do we need?”

Not an Anglican Covenant; not this punitive Anglican covenant.


The bitter controversies of the last decade have indeed been most unfortunate. The presenting issues have been ethical and theological disagreement. They should be resolved by patient, informed ethical and theological dialogue, not by ecclesiastical power politics and threats of exclusion.

Do I hear an “Amen”?

(Jonathan Clatworthy’s reply is available from the No Anglican Covenant Web site here.)

June Butler

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Six reasons why the Anglican Covenant is Unbiblical

1. Judge not.

The Covenant gives a facility for the Provinces to ask ‘questions’ if they perceive that another Province has done something ‘controversial’. There is an opportunity for the least tolerant to try to incur ‘relational consequences’ on others.

2. First will be last
The Covenant offers an opportunity for the ‘in’ group to have ‘enhanced’ relationships, whilst those who have offended get to be in the second tier. My guess is that Jesus would be in the second tier.

3. Wheat and Tares
It seems that God lets wheat and tares grow up together so that pulling up one doesn’t damage the other. It is a shame if the Anglican Church can’t take the same approach.

4. Gamaliel Principle
It is hard to know what is of the Spirit and what isn’t. The Gamaliel principle is normally a good one, that if it isn’t of God it will fail.

5. Love your enemies
It seems that we need an Anglican Covenant because some of the Primates can’t bear to be in the same room as others – and because they disagree on theology. Is this really an example of loving one’s neighbour and do we want to institutionalise this behaviour?

6. Jesus would have been in trouble.
It seems that there is a view that the majority should be able to drown minority positions in the church, preventing changes that are inappropriate. However, Jesus’ view was in the minority, as were the views of the prophets and indeed it all started with a single minority view – that of Abraham.


Saturday, November 20, 2010

Cut the apron strings

Mr. CatOLick on voting at General Synod: on this business of "getting behind Mr. Williams because he is such a nice chap" - sometimes the apron strings have to be cut and let the children go their separate ways!

"We have to find new ways of being united that are not ways forcing ourselves to be what we are not"

h/t to Lesley's Blog

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Web Site Updates

The ability to search No Anglican Covenant material has been added to our Web site. Click on SEARCH at the right below the menu bar. A pop-up window contains the search form. Try out this new feature and see how it works. The thoroughness of the search cannot be guaranteed; we are at the mercy of Google, but Google usually does a pretty good job. Send comments and complaints to the Webmaster (see Contact page).

An interest blog post by Mr. Paul Bagshaw has been added to our Resources page, “The architect’s manifesto.” The essay offers insight into how the Anglican Covenant came to be what it is. You can access it here.


Friday, November 19, 2010

Bishop Cameron Backpedals (sort of)

After Inclusive Church and Modern Church published their advertisement assailing the Anglican Covenant, Bishop Gregory Cameron created quite a sensation when, in a letter to Church Times, he accused the two organizations of resorting “to the old tactics of misinformation and scaremongering.” Perhaps his most offensive remarks characterized opponents of the Covenant as “the nearest to an ecclesiastical BNP [the far-right jingoistic British National Party] that I have encountered” and “Little Englanders.” Since then, the good bishop seems to have spent much of his time trying to dig himself out of the rhetorical hole he created.

Today, Cameron, who identified himself in his now famous letter as “Secretary to the Anglican Communion Covenant Design Group 2006-09,” seems at least a little contrite. In a front page story, The Church of Ireland Gazette reports that Cameron “accepts that the comments he made … caused offence.” The Gazette includes this quote from the bishop:
I have to accept that the comparison with the BNP has offended because some people have taken this as an accusation of racism. this was not my intention, and I have never wished to make such an accusation. The Church Times advert reminded me strongly of the rhetoric of the far right in British politics because it claimed that the Covenant was all about the subjection of the Church of England to outside powers, and even suggested it imperilled freedom of speech.

The Covenant itself excludes such an interpretation and clearly seeks to preserve the autonomy of the Anglican Churches - see clause 4.1.3 - while seeking to find ways for the Communion to articulate where it stands as a whole.
The Covenant’s Paragraph 4.1.3 is its self-declaration of innocence of the charge of destroying provincial autonomy. It has been repeatedly cited by Covenant proponents. Like any pleading, however, it should not be taken at face value. (See, for example, my own discussion of the matter, “If it looks like a duck…,” which has just been added to the No Anglican Covenant Resources page.)

Another apparent slur against Covenant opponents is repeated in the Gazette story, this time by Secretary-General of the Anglican Communion, Canon Kenneth Kearon: “Bishop Gregory was responding to the recent advertisements that contained a number of incorrect statements. A full and engaging debate on adopting the Covenant can only be had when everyone has read it.” We have read the Covenant, Canon Kearon, which is why we are so alarmed. Like Cameron, Kearon should practice making his point without insulting his opponents’ intelligence or integrity.

In the same issue, The Church of Ireland Gazette carries an editorial about the Covenant discussion and about the prospects of the Covenant itself. The editorial ends with this paragraph:
The Covenant has already been through a considerable ‘mill’ in the Church of Ireland, with the Archbishop of Dublin having been drafted in last year by the Archbishop of Canterbury and Canon Kearon to help sort out its contentious Section 4, which includes ‘dispute resolution’. However, despite this, will the No Anglican Covenant campaign take root in Irish soil and threaten an easy passage for the Covenant when it next comes before our General Synod? It is, indeed, quite possible that the campaign will find a certain resonance within the Church of Ireland because, while there undoubtedly is a widespread concern in our ranks about the extent to which diversity of teaching in the Communion is acceptable, there is also a natural caution about centralised ecclesiastical power and just where it can lead.

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The Druidic Covenant - A Parable

Once upon a time the Archdruid Rowan lived in his house in the woods in England. He had thirty-seven children, and they had all left home and were spread across the world, but they all came home at Christmastime.

One Christmas, one of the children spoke up at the dinner table, her name was Cassandra. She had always been a girl who knew her own mind and didn’t follow convention, but her announcement was to shock some of her brothers. ‘Daddy, I’m a lesbian’, she said. The dinner table immediately went quiet, and you could hear a pin drop. All the children knew that Miles and Lucas hated gays, and called for the death penalty for homosexuals in their own countries. Marcus spoke up, ‘Maybe this is the moment to mention that I am bisexual’. All hell broke loose, cruel and vindictive language was used, and some of the children stormed off. It was a mess.

All year, Archdruid Rowan pleaded with his children to come together for the following Christmas, but Miles and Lucas refused to attend if Marcus and Cassandra were there. With great reluctance, Archdruid Rowan started to draw up a contract. He said there would be two or more dinner tables in his house and asked all of his children not to do or say anything that might be controversial. If they did then they would have to sit on alternative dinner tables, he had some friends who would arbitrate.

Miles and Lucas felt cautiously optimistic about the contract. They felt it should read, ‘You can be part of this family, so long as you aren’t gay and don’t do anything else to upset anyone’. Christmas the next year was tense. Lucas attended, but Miles didn’t. Archdruid Rowan hadn’t finished the contract but it was very, very long and essentially said, ‘You can be part of the enhanced family if you think and do the right things, if you do anything controversial there will be ‘relational consequences’ and you will sit on other tables.

Cassandra had some more news. ‘Daddy, be happy for me, I have entered a civil partnership with my lover’. Lucas snorted his ale all over his spiced grouse. Archdruid Rowan was furious. ‘I told you not to do anything like that until we all decided it was acceptable’, he shouted. Everyone sat in silence, but as they looked at the disgust on Lucas’s face and the empty chair where Miles used to sit, you could almost hear them saying, ‘Like that is ever going to happen’. After a few minutes the children all started to make their excuses and left.

A few weeks later, the contract arrived in the post. One of the children, Anastasia, rang up her father. ‘Dad, please don’t make us sign this, surely we don’t have to sign a contract to be part of the family?’ Her father replied tersely, ‘No, you don’t have to sign it – but if you don’t then you won’t sit on the first table’. ‘But Dad’, Anastasia argued, ‘our tradition is that all are equal and all are welcome, even sinners and tax-collectors’. ‘That is my final offer’, replied Archdruid Rowan, ‘it is up to you what you decide to do’. And with that he put the phone down and Anastasia broke down in tears.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Does the Anglican Covenant really mean what it says?

by Canon Alan Perry

The No Anglican Covenant Coalition has been saying that we are concerned about its implications for the governance, autonomy and constitution and canons of the Provinces. Proponents have responded, at times rather pointedly, that the Covenant does not imply any change to the Constitution or Canons of any Province. Backing up their claim, there it is in the Covenant text itself, at section 4.1.3 which states, in part.

... mutual commitment does not represent submission to any external ecclesiastical jurisdiction. Nothing in this Covenant of itself shall be deemed to alter any provision of the Constitution and Canons of any Church of the Communion, or to limit its autonomy of governance...

But, to ask two pointed questions:

What does that mean?

Can it mean what it seems to say?

To get at that question, I should like to begin by stepping back to look at what constitutes ecclesiastical legislation. Usually, when we speak of Canon Law most people assume that it refers to the Constitution and Canons of a given jurisdiction, and little else. It does refer to these, obviously. But ecclesiastical law also includes a variety of other instruments, including (but not limited to):
  • Acts of Synod,
  • episcopal directives,
  • Acts of Parliament (or equivalent),
  • Measures (in the Church of England).

Acts of Synod are particularly relevant in this discussion, because every motion adopted by a Synod is an Act of Synod, and is thus ecclesiastical law, whether that law is as simple as adopting the minutes of a previous session, or agreeing to the ordination of women as priests. (Canada did this by a simple Act of Synod, and not a change to the Canons.)

It has been suggested that adoption of the Covenant can be done by adopting a Canon, or by an Act of Synod. Obviously, in either case, it will create ecclesiastical law.

We might understand the Covenant as a form of international law, like a treaty. When a country signs a treaty - say to ban land mines - that treaty becomes part of the country's law. So, to continue the example, it becomes illegal for the country to deploy landmines. So it is with the commitments made under the Covenant. They become part of the ecclesiastical law of the Province signing it.

So, even if the Act of Synod adopting the Covenant does not in and of itself amend any other Act of Synod, Canon or provision of the Province's Constitution, it will change the ecclesiastical law of the Province.

But does it change the constitution of the Province?

Again, I would ask, what is the constitution of any Province?

We might think narrowly of the document labelled Constitution in the Province's legislation, but in fact I suggest that the Constitution of any Province may consist of more than that. In Canada (my Province) we have 35 documents called Constitution, plus a Declaration of Principles at the General Synod level, which in fact is higher than the Constitution.

In addition there is a panoply of civil legislation which also governs us, and which might be understood in a sense to be part of the Constitution. And we also have constitutional conventions, established patterns of how we do things which are not necessarily written down.

In the disestablished Church of Ireland and Church in Wales, the Acts of Parliament disestablishing these Provinces can be understood to be part of their constitutions.

And what of the constitution of the Church of England? Surely it includes all the legislation still in force stretching back to the Reformation. Consider, for example, the 16th Century Act for the Submission of the Clergy, or the various Acts of Uniformity.

Adopting the Covenant will not change any of this legislation directly - but it will add new constitutional conventions, such as the convention of consulting on potentially controversial actions. (And what is a controversial action? How can any Province know in advance? But that's for another blog post.)

If the Covenant becomes part of the law of the Province, as I suggest above, than it is surely higher than other legislation, even if lower than the formal, written constitution. It is, in fact, at least quasi-constitutional in its effect.

Finally, there is the matter of implementation of the Covenant. In 2001, the Anglican Church of Canada, adopted the Waterloo Declaration, establishing Full Communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. The next two sessions of the General Synod (2004 and 2007) spent time adopting amendments to our constitution and canons to implement certain aspects of the Declaration, specifically to allow for transfer of Lutheran clergy into Anglican jurisdictions.

It is not clear yet what amendments to current legislation, or what new legislation might be required to give effect to the Covenant should any given Province choose to adopt it. The Anglican Church of Canada is in the process of studying just that question. It is also looking at what, if any, civil effects might arise from the Covenant. In the haste to design and implement a Covenant, these important questions have been ignored to date.

So, in summary, the Covenant and its supporters say it doesn't change anything in the constitution of canons of any Province. But its adoption would in fact add to the constitutional and canonical framework that governs a Province, and its full implementation might require further amendments to existing ecclesiastical legislation.

Section 4.1.3 cannot truly mean what it says.

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Pleading Guilty over the Covenant

Canon Alyson Barnett-Cowan, Director for Unity Faith and Order at The Anglican Communion Office, has written a defence of the Anglican Covenant against recent criticisms. Here are her points, followed by a response.

The Standing Committee is not new

This hardly matters, but when a committee gives itself a new name and new powers, it’s at least debatable. More important, standing committees are usually committees of a larger body which wants a standing committee. This makes it rather odd that there should be a Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion, since the Anglican Communion has never said it wants one. (Unless you equate the Anglican Communion with the ‘Instruments of Unity’, but as Alyson is at pains to deny subordination I’m sure she doesn’t mean that.)

It is not that one Province would exercise a veto over another, but that there would be collaborative discernment.

If that’s all, then there’s no need for Section 4. It would also help if the Covenant’s proponents publicly declared that they had abandoned the proposals of the Windsor Report and were doing something completely different.

We’ve already had an excellent example of how the veto would work. Just think what happened over gay bishops. Some Anglicans approve of them, some don’t, others again are so strongly opposed that they have been threatening schism. The Windsor Report, Primates’ Meetings and the Covenant Design Group, instead of insisting that Anglicanism allows for differences of opinion, capitulated and agreed that the relevant appointments should not have taken place. The wording of the Covenant is designed to legitimate future such threats whenever objectors kick up a fuss ‘which by its intensity, substance or extent could threaten the unity of the Communion and the effectiveness or credibility of its mission’ (3.2.5). In effect, those who make the most convincing threats of schism will be enabled to hold the rest of us to ransom, as they have just done.

Some critics in the Church of England have suggested that Provinces would become subordinate to the judgements of the Standing Committee. This is not true. The Covenant explicitly says...

Yes it does explicitly deny subordination; but then it goes on to list what will happen to those who reject the ‘recommendations’. Powers are given to exclude them from representative functions. Either provinces do as they are told, or they will be excluded. It may not be as bad has having your fingernails pulled out but it’s still subordination. (These powers have already been pre-empted: it seems that some in high places are so confident that the Covenant will be passed that they aren’t even waiting.)

It is also not true that non-signatories would no longer count as part of the Communion. There will be Provinces which have adopted the Covenant, and there may be (though one hopes not) Provinces which have not. They are equally members of the Anglican Communion, according to the Constitution of the Anglican Consultative Council.

In that case,
(a) What on earth does the Covenant text mean when it expects signatories to recognise Sections 1-3 ‘as foundational for the life of the Anglican Communion and therefore for the relationships among the covenanting Churches’ (4.1.2)? How can Sections 1-3, which non-signatories have not signed up to, be ‘foundational’ if their relationship to the signatories is to remain unchanged?

(b) Why does ‘Recognition of, and fidelity to, this Covenant, enable mutual recognition and communion’ (4.2.1)? Until now mutual recognition and communion have applied across all Anglican provinces; what is this text saying if it isn’t saying that mutual recognition and communion will henceforth be withheld from non-signatories?

(c) What does Alyson’s ominous sentence mean: ‘They are equally members of the Anglican Communion, according to the Constitution of the Anglican Consultative Council’? Has it already been agreed, by some secret committee, that the Anglican Consultative Council has power to decree who is a member of the Anglican Communion?

The assertion is often made that the ordination of women could not have occurred if the Covenant were in place. It is not at all clear that this would have been the case. The consultative processes of the Anglican Communion actually resulted in the discernment that this was an issue about which Anglicans were free to differ.

Indeed they did – and they did so long after the ordination of the first woman priest in 1944, and in the absence of an Anglican Covenant. If the Covenant had been in place earlier it would have been a different matter. Of course we cannot be sure what would have happened, but there would have been a ready-made process available to opponents, anywhere in the Anglican world, to object to any province ordaining women. do churches in communion distinguish between that which may further the Gospel and that which may impede it? There are never simple answers, but the intent is that the Anglican Communion Covenant provides a way of doing this in a collaborative and committed manner.

‘Collaborative and committed’ means that when Anglicans conscientiously disagree with each other, the last thing we should do is set up a committee with power to decree the right answer – or even ‘recommendations’. Instead both sides should put their reasons, their evidence, their arguments and their motivations into the public realm, and carry on listening and explaining to each other for as long as it takes to reach consensus.

Jonathan Clatworthy
16 November 2010

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A spoonful of cyanide helps the medicine go down

Medicine dropperThe English General Synod had its elections in July. Its very first meeting, on 24th November, is to decide whether to proceed with plans for the Covenant, and even in October we at Modern Church were being told that most Synod members, when asked, hadn’t heard of it. Of those who said they had, most thought it was about uniting with the Methodists.

Combining with Inclusive Church we sent a leaflet to General Synod members and bought adverts in the church press for 29th October. Interestingly, we have only been informed of two significant responses in the Covenant’s defence. Both were written by people closely involved with the Covenant process, Andrew Goddard and Gregory Cameron. Both are written in a style suggesting the author was a tiny bit – well – livid. Gregory accuses us of being ‘Little Englanders’ and ‘ecclesiastical BNP’. The British National Party is the main racist political party in the UK, and to accuse someone of being like them is – unless you are a member – to offend.

Just what we needed! A strongly worded condemnation, and – at last – the media takes an interest in the Covenant! Our greatest hit so far has been Radio 4’s dialogue between Gregory Cameron and Lesley Fellows.

Putting the main arguments in these two responses together with the official Briefing Paper to General Synod members, I’ve produced a brief response to their main arguments. Briefer still:
  • Will the Covenant centralise power?
    Rest assured, they say, the Standing Committee will only do x and the Primates’ Meeting will only do y.
    But add x to y, and the already-revealed intolerance of some groups, and it's a recipe for them to impose their views on the rest of us.

  • Will provinces submit to an outside body?
    The Covenant text insists not: the provinces will merely agree to abide by the decisions of the Standing Committee for as long as they are signed up. They can leave at any time.
    But when they leave, the remaining signatories will no longer count them as part of the Anglican Communion, and exclude them from its international functions.

  • Would it make the Church more inward-looking?
    The advert argued that ‘the top priority would always be to “to seek a shared mind with other Churches” at the expense of national and local context’. Covenant defenders reply that this is the way it should be.
    But this would give more authority to international clerics at the expense of people on the ground judging for themselves how to respond to local situations
  • Would the Covenant hinder change?
    The Briefing Paper argues that ‘any process of discernment runs the danger of stifling the work of the Spirit; however, any call (whether to change or to stay the same) requires a process of discernment in order to determine whether it is of the Spirit’.
    But in practice, constructive changes (as opposed to reactions) are bound to appear first in one place, and take time to spread. The Covenant would provide the means to suppress each change at the outset.

  • Would Anglicanism become more confessional?
    The Briefing Paper responds to the complaint that it isn’t confessional enough. We have been arguing that traditional Anglicanism rightly minimises its confessional content.
    Even though the Covenant text doesn’t propose to make Anglicanism more confessional than it is, it provides the means for confessional groups within Anglicanism to put pressure on the rest of us.

  • Is the Covenant punitive?
    The present text is much less punitive than earlier drafts.
    But what matters is: can it be used punitively? We know there is no shortage of people expecting to use it this way. The Covenant does indeed provide the means to do so.

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Reasons to vote against the Covenant

Normally I write long pieces about the Covenant - too long for blogs, if truth be told.

So, in the run up to the Church of England's General synod, I’m intending to make one - shorter - post a day setting out reasons to vote against the Covenant beginning here: Reasons to vote for/against the Covenant - Monday.

(I talk too much too.)

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Monday, November 15, 2010

No Anglican Covenant Logo Files

The No Anglican Covenant Web site includes a page of No Anglican Covenant logos in different sizes that are available to use in the campaign against adoption of the Covenant. All the images are GIF files that were not intended to have transparent backgrounds. Some of the images were uploaded with transparent backgrounds, however. This has now been fixed. If you have linked to an image on the logo page, the image will now appear with a gray background as intended. The size will not be altered. If you copied a logo image that has a transparent background, please re-copy the corresponding image with the gray background. By the way, we would prefer that you copy images from our Web site, rather than simply link to them.

We apologize for any inconvenience.


Covenant smack down on BBC

The Rev. Lesley Fellows, who serves as Moderator of No Anglican Covenant Coalition and our Convener in the Church of England, and the Bishop of St. Asaph Gregory Cameron, who was on the committee that drew up the Covenant, were interviewed by Edward Stourton, November 7, on his weekly BBC “Sunday” program.

Stourton sought to discover why a Covenant was needed at this time, asking Cameron, “But, to be clear, it is about controlling what different bits of the church believe really, isn’t it, particularly in the light of the fact that it comes from the row over the ordination of a gay Bishop in the United States?

Cameron responded, “It depends what you mean by the word ‘control’.”

Fellows followed up by emphasizing that the Covenant as proposed is not Anglican at all, “I think it’s about whether we think we’re a church where we can have different opinions and live together and worship together, or whether we think we’re a church where we all have to believe the same thing. Traditional Anglicanism is a very broad church.”

Cameron tried to defend his earlier slam against those who opposed the Covenant, where he called them “Little Englanders” and “just like the BNP” (xenophobic groups in England) by saying he was shocked that anyone would oppose the document that in intended to hold the Communion together.

Fellows said, “I think actually the Bishop’s got a very difficult argument [that says] ‘We can’t have control without discipline, and then they say, ‘Oh well, it’s not about discipline.’ But the Covenant does say there are relational consequences for controversial actions; that sounds to me punitive.”

Cameron seemed unable to clarify his stance that it was not punitive and how it would work to bring people closer together through separation.

Here is Mr. CatOLick's impression of the interview, he wonders if Mr. Cameron, when making his “little Englanders” and “BNP” comments about those who oppose the Covenant, was only a bit shocked then what would Mr. Cameron say if he were really shocked?

More here.

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Latest Movement News

Anglicans in New Zealand have established their own No Anglican Covenant blog, as well as a Facebook page.

Recall that the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia has expressed approval for Sections 1–3 of the Covenant, but has concerns about Section 4. The matter comes back to the General Synod in 2012.

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Keeping Everything Running Smoothly

Both the No Anglican Covenant Web site and this blog are relatively new, and there may still be bugs to work out. We just corrected a bad link on the Resources page of the Web site, for example, and fixed a problem with line breaks. If you discover problems with either site, do let us know. Also, send us your ideas for improvements. It may sometimes be appropriate to leave comments on Comprehensive Unity, but, in general, you are urged to write to the Webmaster. All contact addresses for the No Anglican Covenant Coalition can be found on our Contact page.

Navigation note: You can always return to the home page of this blog by clicking on the page banner at the top of each page. By clicking on the title of an individual post, you can get to the page containing only that post. It is this page you will generally want to cite when referring people to the post.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Welcome to the No Anglican Covenant Blog

Welcome to Comprehensive Unity: The No Anglican Covenant Coalition Blog. The posters here are the members of the No Anglican Covenant Coalition, an international group of Anglicans opposed to the adoption of the Anglican Covenant now before Communion churches.

If you have not visited our Web site, please do so now and bookmark it for future reference. It contains a wealth of information about the Anglican Covenant and about how the Covenant could change both the Anglican Covenant and even Anglicanism itself forever.

Our blog will be a convenient place to announce changes to our Web site, to take note of other interesting material on the Web related to the Anglican Covenant, and to provide a place where Covenant issues can be discussed.

More information about the Coalition can be found on our Web site, including our purpose and membership and ways of contacting us.

We’re glad you could join us. Be sure to bookmark this site or subscribe to its syndication feed.

We look forward to a lively conversation!