Comprehensive Unity: The No Anglican Covenant Blog

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Defining the Faith

The Revd. Canon Alan T. Perry has written an interesting essay on his blog. The entry is called “Defining the Faith.” In it, he considers Section 1 of the proposed Anglican Covenant. This section, titled “Our Inheritance of Faith,” is, I think, meant to be uncontroversial. Indeed, it has attracted little criticism.

I criticized at least a small part of Section 1 in my own post “Rule and Ultimate Standard of Faith.” Perry, however, takes a broader view, pointing out that, although Anglican churches have historical connections to one another, it is somewhat of a stretch to say they have a shared history. The events and documents that have played major roles in the history of Anglican churches are different from church to church.

Perry finds that Section 1 simply pays too little attention to context, in terms both of time and place. He concludes:
In setting out the fundamentals of the faith, Section 1 pays lip service to context, but it really doesn’t seem to be aware of the implications of context for how we might be able to live out the same faith in different ways in different contexts, and how we might be able to build creative relationships across the apparent boundaries of our different contexts.
“Defining the Faith” can be read here. An entry for it has also been added to the Resources page of the No Anglican Covenant Web site here.

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Resistance to Central Authority

Ronald Stevenson, QC, the former Chancellor of the Anglican Church of Canada, has produced another useful article. In this piece, the retired Court of Queen's Bench judge points out the long history of resistance to centralized authority within international Anglicanism.

Some History of Resistance to Centralizing Authority in the Anglican Communion

These notes are largely based on a paper on The Autonomy of the Canadian Church within the Anglican Communion written by Archdeacon Harry Huskins. I have also drawn from my 2003 paper, An Anglican Understanding of Authority.1

1. The autonomy of the overseas branches of the Church of England was established by decisions of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in the Colenso cases in the mid 1860s. The events that led to those decisions, and the decisions themselves, preceded and in part precipitated the calling of the first Lambeth Conference in 1867.

2. In the invitation to the first Conference Archbishop Longley said the meeting would not be competent to make declarations or lay down definitions on points of doctrine and in his opening address he said it had never been contemplated that the Conference should assume the functions of a General Synod of the Churches in full Communion or take on the role of enacting Canons binding on those represented at the Conference.

3. That conference rejected attempts to (1) establish the Conference as a General Synod of all the Churches in full Communion with the Church of England, (2) create a structure that would see diocesan synods and bishops subordinated to provincial metropolitans and synods and those in turn subordinated to some form of Anglican Patriarchate, (3) establish a Spiritual Court of Appeal in matters of Faith and uniformity in matters of Doctrine, and (4) create an executive power for the Conference.

4. When Archbishop Tait called the second Conference in 1878 he said there was no intention to gather the bishops to define any matter of doctrine and no intention that questions of doctrine should be submitted for interpretation in any future Lambeth Conference.

5. The 1878 Conference concurred in a recommendation that there should not be a central tribunal of appeal in disciplinary matters and said the duly certified action of every Province in the exercise of its own discipline should be respected by all other Churches and by their members.

6. The 1888 Conference expressed reluctance to consider creating an authority which might, whether as a Council of Advice, or in a function more closely resembling a Court, place the bishops in circumstances prejudicial alike to order and to liberty of action. The Conference confirmed the position in an Encyclical Letter.

7. Thus the early Conferences established that the individual Provinces of the Communion were the highest level at which legislative, judicial or executive authority would be exercised.

8. The 1867 Conference had said, and subsequent Conferences reaffirmed, that Provinces could adapt or add to the services of the Church , i.e. the Book of Common Prayer.

9. The 1930 Conference recognized the autonomy of particular churches and said the Churches in communion with the See of Canterbury were bound together not by a central legislative and executive authority, but by mutual loyalty sustained through the common counsel of the bishops in conference. The 1930 Conference also reaffirmed that the formation of a central appellate tribunal was inconsistent with the spirit of the Anglican Communion and that the establishment of final courts of appeal should be left to the local and regional churches.

10. A Report to the 1948 Conference affirmed the Communion’s consistent repudiation of centralized government or of any legal basis of union. That Report said the positive nature of the authority which binds the Communion is seen to be moral and spiritual, resting on the truth of the Gospel, and on a charity which is patient and willing to defer to the common mind.

11. In his opening address to the 1988 Conference Archbishop Runcie said:
We are traditionally suspicious of the Lambeth Conference becoming anything other than a Conference. We may indeed wish to discuss the development of more solid structures of unity and coherence. But I for one would want their provisional character made perfectly clear . . . we have no intention of developing an alternative Papacy.

12. The 1897 Conference had said it was advisable that a consultative body should be formed, in part to act between Lambeth Conferences, to which resort might be had by the national churches, provinces and extra-provincial dioceses for information or for advice. Such Consultative Body proved ineffective because it did not have regular meetings, because of communication difficulties and because it lacked staff. The 1920 and 1930 Conferences declared the Consultative Body was a purely advisory body and did not possess or claim any executive or administrative power.

13. The Consultative Body may have been the precursor of the Anglican Consultative Council whose initial Constitution was accepted and endorsed by the 1968 Lambeth Conference. That Constitution did not, and the Council’s revised (2010) Constitution2 does not, confer any authority for the Council to make decisions binding on the member churches.

14. Resolution III.3 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference affirmed the principle of subsidiarity as it had been articulated in the 1997 Virginia Report of Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission3 - i.e. that “a central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed at a more immediate or local level” provided that those tasks can be adequately performed at such levels.

15. Sir Owen Chadwick in his Introduction to the published resolutions of the 12 conferences from 1867 to 1988 traces the origin, development and growth of the Conference. The Conference has no authority and was only allowed to be founded on that basis. However, he wrote:
It was impossible that the leaders of the Anglican Communion should meet every ten years and not start to gather respect; and to gather respect is slowly to gather influence, and influence is on the road to authority. [The Conference] continued to have that absence of legal authority which some of its founders wanted and which of necessity was denied to them.4

16. Canon (now Bishop) David Hamid described the Anglican Consultative Council and its functions:
The Anglican Consultative Council was set up to share information, to advise on inter-Anglican relations, agreed policies in world mission, and collaboration, dialogues and relations with other Christian Churches, and inter-Anglican communication. It is the only body in global Anglicanism that has a constitution and legal standing. It meets every three years. Every province of the Communion is assigned from one to three members, depending on its population. As the Council is made up of bishops, other clergy and laity, some say that this is the “synodical” instrument of global Anglicanism, inasmuch as the whole people of God are represented. This is an analogy that cannot be taken too far, since there are not bishops, clergy and laity from each province, only from those with a right to three members. Furthermore, not all Anglican jurisdictions are present. The extra-provincial Churches have no voice or vote, unless a member from one of those Churches happens to be made a co-opted member. So the [Council] is not entirely representative of the Communion, and some evolution is clearly still required to make it so.5

17. A common mind and the common good are elusive concepts. Is it realistic to search for a common mind unless all of the participants have open minds? The notion that what touches all should be approved by all is, as someone has said, impossible of attainment because, human nature being what it is, there will always be a dissenting minority.

18. One of the strengths of the Anglican Communion is its acceptance of diversity. As once expressed by Archbishop Tutu:
We have always boasted that the Anglican Church is a church that embraces and welcomes the most extreme diversities. We might say we disagree with you, my sister and brother, on this particular point, but we still remain sister and brother.6

19. In the Introduction to her book, Anglican Diversity7, Patricia Bays said we were asking,
“How much diversity can there be before Anglicanism falls apart? Are there limits to Anglican diversity? How do we define these limits?”

20. The word “diversity”does not appear in the proposed Covenant. Does its absence mask the probability that declaring an action to be incompatible with the Covenant would equate a declaration that the action exceeds the permissible limits of diversity? Would the Covenant thus give a central body, the Standing Committee, authority to define the limits of diversity?

21. In his foreword to the 2004 Windsor Report Archbishop Eames said:
The depth of conviction and feeling on all sides of the current issues has on occasions introduced a degree of harshness and a lack of charity which is new to Anglicanism. A process of dissent is not new to the Communion but it has never before been expressed with such force nor in ways which have been so accessible to international scrutiny. Not all the opinions voiced have been expressed in ways which are conducive to dialogue or the encouragement of communion.

22. Those charged with considering adoption of the Anglican Covenant must ask themselves whether, considering developments since 2004, there has been any universal softening of the “degree of harshness and lack of charity” or any indication of a Communion-wide desire for dialogue and encouragement of communion.

Ronald C. Stevenson
January 2011




4 Resolutions of the twelve Lambeth Conferences 1867-1988 (Toronto: Anglican Book Centre, 1992), p. x.

5 Church, Communion of Churches and the Anglican Communion, a paper presented at the Anglican Communion Legal Advisers’ Consultation at Canterbury in March 2002. A slightly revised version of that paper was published in the Ecclesiastical Law Journal (2002) Vol. 6, 352-374.


7 Toronto: Anglican Book Centre, 2001.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Letter to the Archbishop

On December 7, 2010, the moderator of the No Anglican Covenant Coalition, the Revd. Dr. Lesley Fellows wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams on behalf of the No Anglican Covenant Coalition. Since, after more than five weeks, no response has been forthcoming from the office of the archbishop, we have decided to make the letter public. The text is reproduced below. A PDF version of the letter is available from the No Anglican Covenant Web site.
[postal and e-mail addresses]

Lambeth Palace
Greater London
7th December 2010

Dear Archbishop Rowan,

I am the Moderator of the International No Anglican Covenant Coalition, and I am writing to explain why our group is opposed to the Anglican Covenant. My hope is that through this correspondence, we may come to a better understanding of each other's approaches to the Anglican Covenant. These are some of our objections:

Firstly, the Covenant creates a two-or-more-tier Communion, as we know that some Provinces will not or cannot consent to it. This means that some Anglicans are 'in' the Communion, and some are less 'in'. There is no getting away from the feeling that the Covenant creates first- and second-class Christians. This in itself is unacceptable, but it also opens the door to some churches 'asking questions' about others if they perform 'controversial actions', ultimately leading to the imposition of 'relational consequences'. Hence, it favours the intolerant and the very conservative. Jim Naughton has said that the Covenant institutes "governance by hurt feelings". This seems counter to the gospel imperative of not judging others, but bearing with them and concentrating on the logs in one's own eye. A two-tier Communion does not represent unity.

Secondly, it seems unlikely that one can 'make forceful the bonds of affection'. "Where love rules, there is no will to power", Jung said. If we use force and coercion in our relationships, there is no true affection. A Covenant is made in joy at a time of trust - like a marriage. The Anglican Covenant is in reality a contract between parties where the trust has broken down. It may seem to you that this is the only way forward, but a better option is to remain a single-tier Communion, allow people to leave if they must, but keep the door open for their return. Any alternative position cedes too much power to those willing to intimidate by threatening to walk away.

Thirdly, in many countries, such as England, centralised institutions are breaking down and being replaced by networks. There is a great suspicion of hierarchical structures and rules that are enforced from above, particularly when the central authority is both physically and culturally distant. The Fresh Expressions movement is successful because it recognises this. The Anglican Communion, which is a fellowship of autonomous churches, is well placed to thrive in the challenges of this age. If we adopt the Covenant, then we will be less able to be mission-focussed in our own culture because we will be constrained by the Communion's centralised decision-making. One might say that Communion churches are on separate tectonic plates - the plates of modernism, postmodernism, and perhaps even pre-modernism. They are moving apart, and if we try to bind them together more tightly, then schism will surely occur. At this point in history, we need more flexible relationships, not a tightening of bonds.

I implore you to reconsider your support of the Anglican Covenant. I have the greatest respect for you as a person of God and for the role of Archbishop of Canterbury. However, I feel the Covenant is in a way like suicide - it is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Moreover, it institutionalises inequality and judgementalism. In addition, I believe it will not work and will itself cause, rather than prevent, schism. Let us concentrate on things that bring us together, such as mission, worship and prayer, and let us agree to differ on issues that tear us apart, not judge who is wrong and who is right, who is 'in and who is 'out'.

Our group would very much like to begin a dialogue with you. We have the same aims of strengthening love and unity within the Communion and enabling out churches to go forward in mission, even if we have currently come to radically different conclusions about how to achieve those aims. We hope very much to hear from you.

With very best wishes

Rev'd Dr Lesley Fellows
Moderator, No Anglican Covenant Coalition

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

It's hard to unscare people

Do you think people run around scared a lot? I do. I was interested in this piece that Canon Alan Perry wrote:
Reading the paper yesterday, I was interested in an article about the scandal of the falsified study linking childhood vaccines to autism. Although the initial study has been thoroughly discredited as a fraud, and numerous attempts to replicate the results have failed, there is still great fear that a link might exist and so parents are putting their children at risk of serious diseases by refusing vaccination. This quote from Dr Paul Offit, of Children's Hospital in Philadelphia, leapt out:
"It's very hard to unscare people. You can do study after study, but people are far more compelled by their fears than by their reason."
It strikes me that that's a pretty good description of what's going on in Lambeth Palace and the Anglican Communion Office these days. There's a lot of people who seem to be far more compelled by their fears than by their reason.
Over and over again, I find that if I act out of fear it is the wrong decision. It is a motto of mine to act only out of love, and not fear. I do get sick of feeling scared - I spent many years as a child and young adult being afraid. I think life in all its fullness is a life without fear. Let us model this as Christians, as Anglicans, as Human Beings. I am a strong believer that if we take a step backwards in the face of fear, then the fear will take a step forwards, and we will be boxed into ever smaller places. Fear stops us being free, and the Anglican Covenant is an example of the fruits of such fears.

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Monday, January 10, 2011

Overwhelming Support for the Anglican Covenant?

Recently, I heard An English bishop saying that the Covenant debate in the English General Synod was good because a range of views were expressed and articulated, but ultimately people voted for the Covenant, not because they liked it or wanted it but for other reasons, such as to back ++Rowan or to keep open a dialogue. Hence, if it is passed then it will be next to useless because no one seems to actually want it.

It is the fifth time it has come before Synod, and ++Sentamu encouraged the Synod to vote for it even if they didn’t like it, in order to support ++Rowan and to let the Dioceses have a look at it. So in a sense they didn’t vote for the Covenant at all. Looking back they never have:

In 2008 Sentamu said that:
 “a vote to take note of the report would not commit the Church of England to every dot and comma of the document. The C of E was only one of 38 provinces, and it was too early to say what the final text would be. But an enthusiastic “take-note” would indicate general support for the direction of travel set out by the Windsor report, and an affirmation of Dr Williams’s efforts to hold the Communion together.”
 “Dr Tom Wright, almost dared the Synod not to go along with it. It mattered to millions of Christians in a less fortunate position, he said; the Synod had voted “massively” in favour of the Covenant in 2005; no classical Anglican would have embraced the contemporary idea of inclusivity; and if the Synod voted against it, it would be undermining the Archbishop of Canterbury.”

However, back in November 2005 , the vote wasn’t massively in favour of the Covenant – it was to ‘take note’ of it: 
“In the morning, the Synod voted on a motion from the Bishop of Durham, Dr Tom Wright, to welcome the House of Bishops’ response to the Windsor report, accepting the report’s principles; urging the Primates, who will meet next week, to take action in the light of the Windsor recommendations to secure the unity of the Communion; and assured the Archbishop of Canterbury of its prayerful support.”
The ‘overwhelming support’ that has been suggested for the Covenant feels disingenuous to me. I hope, when the document comes to the Dioceses in The Church of England there won’t be a feeling that it must be accepted because the General Synod were so keen on it.


Church of England Links Broken/Fixed

Last Friday evening, the Church of England uploaded a new Web site, breaking many links on the World Wide Web in the process. (See discussions of the changes here and here.) Several of the broken links were on the Resources page of the No Anglican Covenant Web site. Thanks to Thinking Anglicans, we have been able to revise links to retain access to all the relevant documents.

I believe that all links on the No Anglican Covenant site are now functional. Please let us know if you discover any problems.


Friday, January 7, 2011

The Anglican Covenant as a stiff rod

The world is changing radically. This isn’t news – the world is always changing, but there are times when it changes more quickly and times when things are a bit more stable. The first great change was the Enlightenment, and the worldview of people was changing radically, from ‘Classical’ to ‘Modern’. Discoveries in science and the industrial revolution affected every aspect of society. The Catholic Church stood as a temple to the classical ways, with hierarchical power structures and ‘mysteries’, inequalities and myths. These did not sit well with the new ‘modern’ people. So a chasm emerged between people who believed different things.

More recently, a new massive world-view shift has occurred, with the advent of the communications revolution, people have become aware of other cultures and realised that there isn’t a single story – there is no overarching ‘metanarrative’. This is world-view is known as ‘post-modernism’. It has caused a distrust of those who claim to know the Truth, which in turn has given birth to relativism, and as a backlash to that there has been a rise in religious fundamentalism.

The Anglican Communion is spread-eagled across huge tectonic plates, which are separating, putting immense pressure of the Communion. Only one solution to this problem has been proffered. It is the Anglican Covenant. Now I am an engineer by trade. If I was trying to keep two bodies together that are separating then one option is to connect them with a stiff rod, another is to connect them by a flexible chord. I believe that the Covenant is like the stiff rod. However, the forces that are separating the different worldviews are such that the rod will never be sufficient to keep us together, however strong and punitive it is. The alternative is to continue with the flexible connections that we currently have, the shared heritage and shared worship and prayer in the Anglican Communion. I believe that if we allow the Communion to continue to be broad and elastic we may stay together. The Covenant is a recipe for schism.


Sunday, January 2, 2011

Changing the Communion?

Malcolm French (Simple Massing Priest) posted an excellent essay yesterday called “Federation, Communion or Church.” He begins with this observation: “One of the many annoying rhetorical fourishes of late has been the claim that opposition to the proposed Anglican Covenant constitutes a desire to ‘change’ the Anglican Communion into a ‘loose-knit federation’ of autonomous churches.” Of course, the Communion has been a “loose-knit federation of autonomous churches,” and it would continue to be that—not covert to that from something else—if the Anglican Covenant is rejected.

Most helpfully, French offers this quotation from a speech by the retiring Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada Michael Peers:
[W]orldwide Anglicanism is a communion, not a church. The Anglican Church of Canada is a church. The Church in the Province of the West Indies is a church. The Episcopal Church of Sudan is a church. The Anglican Communion is a ‘koinonia’ of churches.

We have become that for many reasons, among which are the struggles of the sixteenth century and an intuition about the value of inculturation, rooted in the Incarnation, which has led us to locate final authority within local churches.

We are not a papal church and we are not a confessional church. We are autonomous churches held together in a fellowship of common faith dating from the creeds and councils, recognizing the presidency of a primus inter pares (the Archbishop of Canterbury), often struggling with inter-church and intra-church tension, but accepting that as the price of the liberty and autonomy that we cherish.

As I said to the members of the Council of General Synod last month, the price of this includes a certain measure of messiness.'
Read Malcolm French’s entire essay here.

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