Comprehensive Unity: The No Anglican Covenant Blog

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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Blogger JimB said...

I read the lady's comments with a growing sense of un-reality. Provinces that do not sign are still members but won't be allowed to participate? What seems to be going on here is that the defenders of the document are taking the view that someone who is not formally expelled but who is deprived of all the prerogatives of membership has not been punished and is still a member.

In a sense that is something one could say of inmates in a criminal jail. They are still citizens / subjects but they cannot vote, choose their domicile, decide what to make for dinner or change their phone number. One wonders what the inmates would say if they knew that the canon thinks they are not being punished?


November 16, 2010 at 8:35 PM  
Blogger June Butler said...

Excellent point by point counterpoint, Paul.

What those in favor of the Anglican Draft Covenant say, in effect, is, "The Covenant is harmless and has no teeth, but we must have it!" To me, the two views cannot be reconciled.

November 16, 2010 at 10:35 PM  
Blogger Concerned Anglican said...

I would expect Canon Barnett-Cowan to respond in this way - it's her job!

Thank goodness you are now raising the profile of this naive and il-advised venture. It's well-intentioned as well which makes it all the more dangerous.

November 16, 2010 at 11:16 PM  
Blogger June Butler said...

Sorry, sorry, sorry, Jonathan! You wrote the post, not Paul, and I congratulate you.

November 16, 2010 at 11:17 PM  
Blogger Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Bravo. Very well said indeed.

November 16, 2010 at 11:43 PM  
Blogger Father Ron said...

This is a very sad attempt to disguise the real intent of the Covenant - which, under Section 4, is calculated to exclude the 2 North American Churches of the Anglican Communion, who have already moved ahead of the rest of the Provinces by OPENLY ordaining Gay Clergy. Section 4's intention cannot be interpreted in any other way.

It would seem that to do things secretively would have been more acceptable than the openness that has characterized the action of TERC and the Anglican Church of Canada - in their ordination of gays, and the instituion of same-sex blessings.

Such a sad commentary on the demise of the Gospel of radical inclusivity that formerly allowed each Province to pursue the cause of the Gospel in situ - without interference from other members of the Body of Christ.

Trust was demolished with the schism of border-crossing and departure for new jurisdictions. It's too late to put the genie back in the bottle.

November 17, 2010 at 5:44 AM  
Blogger Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

The good Canon seems to have forgotten that the phrase "impaired communion" appeared in response to the election of Barbara Harris. The idea that the ordination of women was all smooth sailing is simply false; and to this day women bishops from the communion go to England hat in hand... so to speak.

November 17, 2010 at 3:28 PM  
Blogger Muthah+ said...

I think that some of the writers and proponants of this document really want a Communion that can embrace the Covenant and be one big happy family, but the document belies that all the way round. It says things very sweetly in parts 1-3 and then the ungloved fist arrives in pt. 4. I am sure the Rev. Canon wants to think that nothing will change if we pass the Covenant. But it WILL divide us forever. It is NOT a benign document

November 17, 2010 at 5:35 PM  
Blogger Leonard said...

¨I think that some of the writers and proponants of this document really want a Communion that can embrace the Covenant and be one big happy family, but the document belies that all the way round.¨ Muthah+

Archbishop Drexel Gomez, Chair on the Design Group for the Anglican Communion Covenant said:

THE PUNITIVE ANGLICAN COVENANT: Various Provinces will be forced out of the Anglican Family because ¨what you are doing is an offense to the integrity of the family¨ +Drexel Gomez

I think we can trust him at his word on this one:

November 18, 2010 at 12:20 AM  
Blogger Leonard said...

It´s ¨NOT a benign document¨ according, once again, to Archbishop Drexel Gomez, Chairperson of the Design Group for the Anglican Communion Covenant:

And he asserted that “no one I think who is objective can claim that the St. Andrew’s draft is punitive. What it says is if you sign up for the covenant and you break your word, then you are really removing yourself.”

He acknowledged that a couple of bishops have said to him and publicly that “no matter what you do, you’re still supposed to be in the Anglican Communion.”

November 18, 2010 at 12:26 AM  

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