Weekly Anglican Covenant Round-Up

The Church of Ireland “subscribes.”

The Church of SE Asia “accedes.”

Last week, the Diocese of Quincy said no.

Episcopal News Service points out the wiggle-room in the language used: “The original request to the communion’s primates and moderators was that the member churches should consider the covenant and decide ‘on acceptance or adoption’.”

Last week, Tobias Haller had some useful reflections on the notion the Anglican Communion and the Covenant. He concludes:

since only those who adopt the Covenant have any chance to help guide it in a productive, rather than a destructive, direction; and further, since at this point among the most vocally opposed to it are those who also most wished to employ it in this surgical fashion, this may present a reason for those who really do want to encourage the communion to stay together in spite of disagreements — at least among those who wish to self-select togetherness over institutionalized schism — to adopt the Covenant with the understanding that Section Four shall never be appealed to or employed, and perhaps to move for its amendment or removal.

The Anglican Covenant Scorecard

The Diocese of Michigan says no.

The Diocese of Kansas says no to Section 4.

The Diocese of Colorado says no.

The Diocese of California says “Not so fast:”

We also find great hope in the ongoing Indaba process, noting the Lambeth 2008 Conference set a way forward by departing from legislative process at the level of Communion and instead cultivating conversations that lead to mutual understanding and strengthen our bonds of affection. A wide majority of our members believe that these Communion processes and direct relationships are far more life-giving in the Gospel and Spirit-filled than pursuing the formal structures offered by the proposed Anglican Covenant.

The Diocese of LA votes no.

Maori Anglicans in New Zealand vote no.

Mark Harris’ prognostications for Mid-April are here.

The No Anglican Covenant blog keeps an up-to-date list of resources.

The Anglican Covenant, back in the news

The House of Bishops is meeting this week. Among the topics of conversation is the proposed Anglican Covenant. Bishop Kirk Smith live-tweeted the first set of conversations: Bishop Smith’s tweets. There’s also a brief and not very informative report from ENS.

But there have been other developments in recent months. The Church of Ireland held a colloquium recently with papers for and against, as well as proposals for that Church’s response. The papers are well-worth reading. The full report is here.

For background, Kate Turner’s essay is helpful. Jonathan Chatworthy argues against the covenant with several salient points. Among them, he argues that the definition of the church put forward in the document is “far too steeped in Reformation Protestantism,” and that the description of Anglicanism put forward in Sections 1-3 would become foundational for Anglicanism. He also argues convincingly that it would lead to centralization of power, limit provincial autonomy, and have dire implications for local initiative, theological development, and ecumenical efforts.

Chatworthy sees the covenant as introducing something quite new to Anglicanism–revolutionary, in fact. He describes the approach of classical Anglicanism in the following terms:

Classic Anglicans, on the other hand, expect the insights of modern research to shed light on current church debates. The way to resolve disagreements is to allow the different points of view to be publicly expressed, defended and criticised. Debate should continue until consensus is reached. Any attempt by church authorities to curtail debate and impose their own view would be to abuse power and suppress the search for truth.

For Classic Anglicans, therefore, the Covenant is equally unsatisfactory but for the opposite reason: not because it does not draw a clear enough line between two kinds of Anglican, but because it proposes to draw any line at all. The Covenant is at fault for seeking to pre-empt theological agreement by ecclesiastical decree.

His description of the way power is deployed in the covenant is illuminating:

Critics point out that it is like a school playground. You are free to do whatever you like, but if you don’t do what we tell you we’ll all walk away and we’ll have nothing more to do with you. At the very least it’s a power game.

If that’s not enough for you, the Church Times has produced a handy guide to the covenant: Anglican Covenant_18 March. Church of England dioceses are beginning to weigh in as well. The Diocese of Litchfield approved it; the Diocese of Wakefield rejected it.

Another view against it from Nathaniel Rugh: rugh_case.

Tactics and Strategy in the Anglican Wars

It turns out that the so-called Oxford Statement was written over a month ago, but released on November 24. In it, a number of Primates declared their intentions not to attend the Primates’ Meeting in Dublin in January. The timing of the document’s publication is odd, however. It appeared on the day of the vote in General Synod to send the Anglican Covenant to the dioceses. According to Thinking Anglicans, it came out during the debate in General Synod, but too late to affect the voting.

One wonders whether GAFCON meant to upstage the Church of England’s meeting; whether they were asserting their independence, and the irrelevance to them of the Church of England’s position; whether they meant to release it earlier in order somehow to affect the voting (what we in the US call an “October surprise”).

Whatever the case, it seems to me that their actions have undermined all those, beginning with the Archbishop of Canterbury, who are trying to hold the Anglican Communion together; indeed all those who think the Anglican Communion is worth preserving, in whatever form.

Walking Apart: The End of the Anglican Communion

So, it turns out it wasn’t the Episcopal Church or the Anglican Church of Canada forced out of the Anglican Communion by the Global South Primates, but rather the Global Primates who have walked away. And they chose to do it on the same day that the Church of England General Synod voted to send the Covenant to dioceses for discussion.

For all the criticism of the Archbishop of Canterbury, on this blog and elsewhere throughout the last weeks, criticism that continues even today, the effects of his statements and years of effort, however futile, seem to have preserved something of Anglicanism, in spite of it all. Oh, there are apparently those who are leaving, the GAFCON Primates who signed the statement yesterday that they will not attend the Primates Meeting in Ireland in January. But as others have observed, it’s never quite clear whether all the signatories of GAFCON statements have actually signed or even agree with the statement. They have also made clear that they are having nothing of the covenant. The full statement from that group is here.

Mark Harris’ comment on this development is spot on:

GAFCON is on its way to forming an alternate way to be Anglican in the world, one which the Covenant does not support and the existing unifying elements in the Anglican Communion are irrelevant.

His full commentary is here.

Here is what Tobias Haller has to say.

Oh, I have no doubt that this is not the end of efforts to keep things together. But the Covenant was the last best shot from Williams, et al, to hold things together, and with the GAFCON folks not playing along, I see no way forward. Unless something radical happens, the Primates Meeting will be a rump; the conservative Primates not attending, or forcing the ABC to disinvite our Presiding Bishop, which would also lead to others pulling out, I suspect.

Whatever they will say about the Archbishop of Canterbury down the line, they won’t be able to criticize him for not trying hard enough to keep the Anglican Communion together. In my view, the timing of the GAFCON statement was a direct attack on Rowan and on his vision for Anglicanism.

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s address at General Synod

The ABC’s address to General Synod today is available.

He talks about the Anglican Covenant and decision facing Synod concerning the ordination of women bishops. Here is the heart of his defense of it:

The Covenant offers the possibility of a voluntary promise to consult. And it also recognises that even after consultation there may still be disagreement, that such disagreement may result in rupture of some aspects of communion, and that this needs to be managed in a careful and orderly way. Now the risk and reality of such rupture is already there, make no mistake. The question is whether we are able to make an intelligent decision about how we deal with it. To say yes to the Covenant is not to tie our hands. But it is to recognise that we have the option of tying our hands if we judge, after consultation, that the divisive effects of some step are too costly. The question is how far we feel able to go in making our decisions in such a way as to keep the trust of our fellow-Anglicans in other contexts. If we decide that this is not the kind of relationship we want with other Anglicans, well and good. But it has consequences. Whatever happens, with or without the Covenant, the Communion will not simply stay the same. Historic allegiances cannot be taken for granted. They will survive and develop only if we can build up durable and adult bonds of fellowship. And in this respect, the Church of England is bound to engage in this process as one member of the Communion among others. The fact is that the mutual loyalty of the Communion needs work, and the Covenant proposals are the only sign at the moment of the kind of work that has to be done.

The ABC is rarely clear in his writing but the key sentences seems to be these: “The question is how far we feel able to go in making our decisions in such a way as to keep the trust of our fellow-Anglicans in other contexts. If we decide that this is not the kind of relationship we want with other Anglicans, well and good. But it has consequences.” One might turn the question back on him, because clearly the decision to ordain women bishops has led to the breaking of trust with some groups within the Church of England. He would undoubtedly say that he wants to keep the trust of those fellow-Anglicans, but they had no desire to do the same. So then what?

More interesting still is his decision to build his essay around John Wesley. A good Anglican, certainly, but when it became necessary, he took actions that led to the creation of the Methodist Church in the USA. That wasn’t an action taken lightly, but it certainly broke the trust with the Church of England and with Episcopalians in the US. And those actions had enormous consequences for both denominations, impoverishing each in some ways, but at the same time creating structures that would contribute to the enormous growth of Methodism in the US.

One might conclude that Rowan wants us to follow Wesley’s lead and go our separate way.


More developments in Anglicanism

Some interesting developments. An excellent essay by Jim Naughton on Episcopal Cafe; one of the more important observations:

One doesn’t have to be a lawyer to notice that the covenant contains no standards of evidence, and provides for nothing resembling due process, The Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion can investigate complaints in whatever manner it sees fit. Perhaps this is unsurprising. If the only fact at issue is whether a party has given offense, the only evidence necessary is the offended party’s assertion that they are, indeed offended.

A news release from No Anglican Covenant.


Keeping track of all the words written in the last few weeks would be a full-time job. The Church of England General Synod will be debating the covenant tomorrow. It promises to be interesting.


Covenantal Developments

Canon Alison Burnett-Cowan, Directory of Unity, Faith, and Order of the Anglican Communion Office defends the Covenant, arguing that we should read it before criticizing it.

Responses: from the Mad Priest:

From the Episcopal Cafe: “It seems to this writer that people have read it very carefully and are not so willing to gloss over the words as easily as the ACO.”

And from Tobias Haller:

What sense, after all, does it make to turn an ad hoc impairment in communion into something that looks very much like an institutional severance in communion? Since participation in the Instruments is at least in part definitive for membership and participation in the Anglican Commuion, and as the Covenant declares as well, the means by which the members “are enabled to be conformed together to the mind of Christ” (3.1.2), anything remotely resembling permanent suspension by or from those Instruments as a “relational consequence” seems to indicate a serious and debilitating breach in the Anglican Communion and the body of Christ. And the Covenant provides a mechanism to promote it, and little in the way of helping to prevent it. It is the schema for an autoimmune disease in the Body of Christ.

This is a Bad Idea. Please, England, put it down.

And from the No Anglican Covenant blog: A point by point response to some of the more tendentious assertions


Covenantal Commentary

More blogging and op-ed pieces about the Covenant, especially from England. General Synod will be convening soon and this will be high on the agenda.

Paul Bagshaw: “What is the Covenant for?”

Bishop Alan Wilson: “Will the Covenant kill or cure?”

Some statistics on the covenant and other Anglican matters from the Simply Massing Priest

From the Modern Church:

This reveals their main dilemma: how to produce a text which on the one hand is forceful enough impose its demands on the provinces, but on the other will persuade them to sign it. Their solution is to present the Covenant as an entirely voluntary agreement which does not affect a province’s governance or autonomy. Provinces signing it would, as before, act as they wished – so long as no other province objected. Once the Standing Committee upheld an objection, it would impose ‘relational consequences’, which would generally mean treating them like non-signatories.

And more (written for the Church of England)

How would it affect my church?

Is the Anglican Communion imploding of itself?

Events are occurring with great rapidity.

  • The Diocese of Uruguay has petitioned to leave the Province of the Southern Cone. This is in response to a failed proposal to allow the ordination of women in that province on a diocese-to-diocese basis. Mark Harris points out how very different that diocese is proceeding in leaving its province than those dioceses of the Episcopal Church have tried to depart. If their petition is refused, they will appeal to the Anglican Consultative Council. Whatever happens, it’s a reminder that “realignment” works both ways. Fr. Jake points out the irony of a diocese petitioning the Province of the Southern Cone to leave, after the Southern Cone has attempted to poach dioceses from the Episcopal Church
  • Those “flying bishops” who are flying to Rome continue to generate comment. The great historian of English Christianity Diarmaid MacCulloch has written incisively about the absurdity of the original scheme to provide episcopal oversight to those who rejected women’s ordination in the Church of England. Here’s MacCulloch on the perspective this group represents:

They represent one faction, which those of us who enjoy grubbing in historical byways term ‘Papalist Catholics’. For about 150 years this group among High Church Anglicans have performed athletic intellectual gymnastics about what the Church of England actually is. They ignored the fact that it had a Reformation in the sixteenth century, and turned their churches into meticulous replicas of whatever ecclesiastical fashions the Roman Church decided to adopt, while equally ignoring the fact that successive popes considered their clerical status ‘absolutely null and utterly void’. Now they are thrilled to find that the Pope was wrong all along, so they can after all be received on special terms into the ample bosom of the Western Church of the Latin Rite (which is in the habit of arrogating to itself the more general title of the Catholic Church).

  • Another report mentions “50 clergy who are joining the Ordinariate.”
  • And the Anglican Covenant debate is heating up in the run-up to Church of England’s General Synod. Thinking Anglicans has links to the latest entries in the debate. On this side of the pond, the Episcopal Cafe links to presentations past and more recent, by Cheryl H. White, canon theologian for the Diocese of Western Louisiana. From what I can tell, it seems to be arguing that the Covenant is rooted in the Elizabethan Settlement, an attempt to use the Elizabethan Church in support of the Covenant, just as the no-covenant folk use Hooker to oppose it. As I argued with regard to that, let’s debate the covenant on its merits, not on its imputed historical or theological precedents.