Comprehensive Unity: The No Anglican Covenant Blog

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Analysis of the Provincial Votes By Jonathan Clatworthy

From Jonathan Clatworthy, who is both a member of Comprehensive Unity: The No Anglican Covenant Coalition and General Secretary of Modern Church, we have received this analysis of recent actions by provinces.


So neither Ireland nor South-East Asia decided to adopt the proposed Anglican Covenant – but neither felt able to just say no. Ireland voted to ‘subscribe’ to it, South-East Asia to ‘accede’ to it. As both provinces know, these are meaningless expressions; the Covenant will only come into force if the provinces sign on the dotted line to adopt it. Why are they pussyfooting about?

There is a good reason. Provincial leaders are under immense pressure to sign the Covenant, but few of them like it. It was originally conceived as a way of threatening the USA with expulsion over gay bishops. The present text makes two changes to that aim. Firstly, instead of directly threatening to expel, it sets up an international system which could respond to complaints by expelling but could decide not to; we wouldn’t know the result until after it had been set up. So GAFCON have decided this is not discipline enough and have gone their own way, leaving the rest of us wondering who still wants it.

The second change is that the Covenant makes no mention of same-sex partnerships. It would be possible for one province to object to any initiative by another and demand a judgement from the newly empowered central authorities. Anglicanism would become a confessional sect where we were told what to believe.

So what do provinces do? If they refuse to sign, they may find themselves effectively expelled. If they do sign, they will no longer be able to run their own affairs without constantly checking whether someone in another part of the world objects. So they opt for a third alternative. There isn’t one, but they act as though there is. Whether ‘subscribe’ and ‘accede’ end up counting as ‘adopt’ will no doubt depend on which side has the cleverer political manipulators.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Guest Post on Authority

I am honored to offer you a post from the House of Deputies / Bishop's private blog. Fr. Jim Stockton, as am I, is a read only member of that list who submits posts via full members from time to time. I generally find his contributions logical and on target.

Note that Fr. Jim's email address is below and he has received a copy of this post. So you can comment here and he will be able to see and respond or you can comment to his email account directly. Also below is the address of his own very excellent blog.

Welcome to our blog Fr. Jim! Thank you for permission to post the following.


No argument can be made for the proposed covenant that is not an argument for what the Virginia Report termed 'a universal authority' in the Anglican Communion. It may be the case, but I personally have not noticed anyone contend that the proposed covenant would give new power to the so-called 'four instruments.' To the contrary, just as was suggested by the commission behind the Virginia Report, then as was recommended by the commission behind the Windsor Report, a single universal authority (one, not four) is now proposed by the text of the proposed covenant. This single universal authority would be the Standing Committee. The text of the proposed covenant claims that the covenant would not interfere with the respective constitutions and canons of the Churches of the Communion, but the claim is contradicted by the very proposal of the Standing Committee itself. For those arguing in favor of the proposal, or considering doing so, I suggest that they attempt to explain how it is that the surrender of the autonomy and autocephaly of each Church of the Communion is a step forward. I suggest that they explain how this proposal is not massively contradictory of the Church of England's own origin in its historic rejection of the interference of foreign authority in its own affairs; how it is not also contradictory of TEC's origin in similarly rejecting England's rule over its affairs. There is a reason that we are not hearing arguments made along these lines. No argument can be made for the proposed covenant that is not an argument for a trans-provincial and universal authority whose powers would supersede that autonomy of each Church of the Communion.

No argument can be made for the proposed covenant that is not an argument for ceasing to honor the contexts of ministry in which each of the Churches of the Communion exists. One can certainly suggest the possibility that the affects upon the Anglican Communion of TEC's rejection of the proposed covenant would be negative. Surely, then, one recognizes also the possibility that the affects of TEC's adoption of it would be negative to at least the same degree. What witness to the age-old Anglican ideal of the contextualization of ministry would be undone by TEC’s adoption of the proposed covenant? What witness in the wider context of the U.S. and the world to the Love of God for all would be undone? It is quite right to note that what TEC does in response to the proposal can and will affect countless lives, both within and outside the Episcopal Church and within and outside the Communion. We need to take this responsibility very seriously. So, it is important to note that choosing not to adopt the covenant is not equivalent to fleeing the argument. Nor is it equivalent to leaving the Anglican Communion. It is choosing to fight by claiming our rightful place in the Communion, by protecting the legitimacy of our contextualized ministry, and by inspiring other Churches to do the same. No argument can be made for the proposed covenant that is not an argument for ending the recognition and respect for the particular contexts of ministry in which the Churches of the Communion serve. To argue for the proposed covenant is to argue that the differences are irrelevant.

No argument for the proposed covenant can be made without first denying these very important realities.

Jim +

The Rev. James V. Stockton
The Episcopal Church of the Resurrection
2200 Justin Lane
Austin, Texas 78757

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Mark Harris does it again

On his blog, Fr. Harris offers a carefully designed flow chart to explain the adoption process. Go there, read it. Reflect. Do it now! It is worth your time.

The Blog

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Monday, May 23, 2011

Section 4: A holy or unholy mess?

Episcopal Café is running a series of essays from The Chicago Consultation on the proposed Covenant. Chancellor Sally Johnson discusses Section 4 and raises some issues about the process and language that we need to heed:
The focus of this article is on the procedures and processes for handling disputes articulated in this final draft. Unfortunately, the deletion of the Appendix and its replacement with Section Four does not resolve any of the issues previously raised. In fact, it may have made matters worse instead of better. The Appendix attempted, if inadequately, to create a justice system in which the outcome could be respected based on the process used to reach it (often referred to as “the rule of law”). Section Four, however, proposes a justice system in which the outcome is supposed to be respected based on the nature of the group that makes the decision, rather than on how the decision is made. In doing so, the new system gives significant power and great discretion to a group that previously did not exist.

In the final draft of the proposed covenant, references to the “Joint Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meeting” have been changed to the “Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion.” While this might appear to be an insignificant change, it may be a highly significant one. The language itself suggests that there is a body, “the Anglican Communion,” that has a “Standing Committee” with independent authority and governance powers separate from the meetings (Lambeth Conference and Primates’ Meeting), the office (Archbishop of Canterbury) and the body (Anglican Consultative Council) referred to in recent years as “Instruments of Communion.”

Read it all here.

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Yes, well sort of, kind of, conditional consents begin to arrive.

Communion leadership displaying impatience with the processes in the Anglican Communion has proclaimed that the current "draft" of the so-called "covenant" the "final document." Sending it to the provinces, the message was take it or leave it. To say the least this is not working out. The provinces are clearly not buying the whole thing even when they somehow attempt to accept something.

New Zealand and Japan seem to have accepted, provisionally, three quarters of the thing. The onerous section four is not approved. It is not clear where in the "two tier" system the leadership seems to embrace that leaves them.

In what can only be called Pyhrric victories1, the so-called "covenant" was "approved" in two provinces over the last few weeks. In the case of Ireland, the "approval" is so conditioned that it does not apply to Ireland! In the case of the Province of South East Asia, the approval is in the context of an extensive document that directly contradicts what the document's authors and supporters say it contains.

Ireland noted in "subscribing" that it did so only to the extent the constitution, assemblies, and canons of the Irish Church were and remain superior. This makes sense only if someone else is supposed to be subordinated. In plain English (or perhaps plain Irish) that means they approved "spank the yank / Canadian" not the "covenant."

South East Asia offered an extensive and well written explanation and history that discusses what they think they are agreeing to accept. I have quoted parts here:2.
15. The Anglican Communion Covenant offers a concrete platform in ordering the Churches in the Anglican Communion to be a Communion with a clear ecclesial identity. This is why global South Churches embraced the concept of the Anglican Communion Covenant when it was first proposed (South-to-South Encounter, Third Trumpet, 22). {Emphasis mine}
Oh really? For the first 150 years the only function of the Lambeth Conference was to "advise." There has never been any agreement that the communion may "order" anything.

Supporters would have us believe the "covenant" is neutral, and non-juridical. Here again South East Asia's "affirmation" of the Covenant.
We regret the decisions of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Secretary General to include TEC members in the Standing Committee, despite Mary Glasspool’s consecration (para 12).
To these folks the intended effect is clearly simillar to what Pope Benedict 16 promised the cardinals upon his election: a smaller and more in-line communion.

Finally, the first three articles and the various equivocations from the defenders all claim the draft is not attacking autocephalous standing. And yet in affirming the document, South East Asia clearly asserted a right to interfere in the most intrusive ways. They think the covenant should lead to their ability to dictate how Canada and England choose bishops!
The Anglican Communion should adopt more uniform processes in the election and appointment of bishops, to ensure that such processes are not held hostage to local politics and to parochial understandings of the episcopal office.
South East Asia's guidance on how to select bishops is not likely to be welcome in England, nor will Canada, USA, nor even Uganda seek it. Each church thinks its process quite fine and consistent with the Quadrilateral3.

The effect of utterly unrealistic expectations; Ireland thinks it remains autocephalous, while South East Asia thinks the "Covenant" is about "subordinating" other churches; is inevitable chaos. The "covenant" will be meaningless or worse, the cause of even greater anger. Leadership needed precisely what it rejected: more conversation, more consensus building, more diversity, and more time.

Now we can discern a growing set of conditional approvals that in aggregate amount to very little. The likely outcome of more conventions is more and more varied conditional affirmations. It is possible that Canada and USA will in spite of my and my colleagues opposition, do something like this. Consider what something like "We accept the covenant subject to our constitutional requirement to "respect the dignity of every living human person" or "the covenant is of course subject to the interpretation of General Synod" would mean in African ears!

The "covenant" effort won't hold the church together. It will lead to ever more divisive disputes over exactly what is agreed to and what is to be "subordinated" and to whom.

The smart thing to do is to note Southern objections (from the "Gafcon" primates), negative comments from the recent communion Primates' Meeting, and various partial approvals: then constitute a new group of scholars to review and revise the document. They should be asked to take a careful and very long look at it. In fact it might be a good idea to ask only for a progress report at the 2018 Lambeth Conference.

"Delay," wrote Parkinson, "is the deadliest form of denial4." Communion leadership cannot now, as they should have before say, "Sorry, bad idea!" They can however delay any further decisions until the entire process becomes, as it so richly deserves, clearly irrelevant. The communion is going to have to work out its relationships. It needs perhaps some leadership, but not an unclear, ineffective set of rules. It is time to move on from "covenant" to communion.

1 A "Pyhrric Victory" is one that damages the "winner" more than it does the loser. See This link for more details.

2 The complete document is at this site.

3 See the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral as one of the four elements required for unity:
The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of His Church.

4. C. Northcote Parkinson, The Law of Delay, 1970


Monday, May 2, 2011

Another diocese from the Midwest says "No."

I have re-published this statement this morning. It is precisely the same statement formatted for this medium. Paragraph structures have been carefully maintained but the formatting is now set up for HTML.

Jim Beyer
2 May 2011

The Episcopal Diocese of Quincy
Anglican Covenant Responses

We, the deputies of the Episcopal Diocese of Quincy, each having read the proposed Anglican Communion Covenant thoroughly and prayerfully and various documents in favor and not in favor of adopting the covenant, report our unanimous response (with one lay deputy absent due to serious illness):

1) We have grave reservations about the “instruments of the Communion,” the authority bestowed by the proposed covenant and the hierarchy it creates. The only hierarchy of the Communion has been a spiritual one, bonding all Anglicans to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The Lambeth Conference is an important gathering of the Communion’s bishops, each now by invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury. It may issue recommendations or spiritual advice to the Communion, but has no binding authority.

The Anglican Consultative Council, created by the Lambeth Conference in 1968, is not widely recognized as an authoritative body in the Communion, nor does it appear to be clearly known to the average Anglican.

The Primates’ Meeting seems to have taken on a life of its own and again is not widely understood or seen as a source of authority.

While the present wording of the Covenant does not clearly establish these bodies as an authoritative hierarchy, it is a move in that direction.

We only recognize the Archbishop of Canterbury as our spiritual head, and no other earthly international authority. We see no reason to change this.

2) Despite protests to the contrary, it is clear that section 4 is punitive. It is a break with the history of the Communion, which has been a warm fellowship of churches in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury and who share common sources of worship and tradition.

3) The need or desirability of a Covenant, with or without section 4, seems to us counterproductive, sewing seeds of conflict and endangering the great productivity with which God has blessed our Communion.

4) While manifold blessings are being given us as our global community draws closer together, we must recognize that the world in which we live is still very diverse. The customs, circumstances, growth and spiritual needs of people throughout our world share much in common and yet remain quite divergent as our histories, traditions and social interactions are not always the same. We recognize that the continents and countries of our world each have unusual, sometimes unique, needs to which God, through His Church, will respond in varying ways. We can only respect these needs and differences and recognize God’s grace showered on us all.

5) All of our deputies feels the language of the proposed Covenant is too vague, unclear and not concise. Specifically it was called “gobbledygook.” The average church person probably will have little idea what the covenant really says or means, if she or he can be induced somehow to read it. We doubt few have any real interest in a covenant.

6) We feel rather than binding the Communion together in closer fellowship, the proposed covenant, with or without Section 4, is an invitation to conflict and will lead to further stress and distrust that will endanger our future together.

7) We shall attend General Convention determined to listen carefully and be open to the Spirit. However, with the knowledge and urging of that Holy Spirit we have received up to this point, we shall will vote against adopting the Covenant.

Submitted by:
The lay and clergy deputies to the 2012 General Convention from the Episcopal Diocese of Quincy, 24 April 2011.

The Rev. Robert L’Homme
The Rev. James Clement
The Rev. Margaret Lee
The Rev. Canon Thomas Stone
Ms. Anne Fulton
Mrs. Tobyn Leigh, Chair
Ms. Beverly Everett
Dr. Lin Goldstone