The 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.