Thinking Anglicans

Anglican Covenant: Mostly Harmless?

Alan Perry has written an article about the Anglican Covenant, which he has titled Mostly Harmless.

I have had a number of conversations with well-informed, thoughtful Anglicans, many of them in leadership positions such as Synod members and bishops and ecclesiastical lawyers, which convince me that a large number of people have essentially adopted a narrative about the proposed Anglican Covenant, a narrative which seems to be relatively uninfluenced by anything like reading the document. Their comments typically go like this:

I don’t actually believe that the Covenant will accomplish what it is supposed to do. It won’t really address the tensions in the Anglican Communion. But I don’t believe that it is the Abomination of Desolation, either. I don’t think it’s going to have any ill effect. Recommendations of Relational Consequences are nothing to worry about.

This reminds me of the succinct description of the Earth and its inhabitants in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: “Mostly harmless.” Not to mention feckless.

I’m not sure about that assessment, but let’s assume it for a minute. What amazes me is the conclusion reached based on it:

Since it’s mostly harmless, even if it’s also not likely to produce any positive effects, I will vote to support it because by doing so we can show our commitment to the Anglican Communion and our loyalty to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Now, I am committed to the Anglican Communion, and loyal to the Archbishop of Canterbury, but I don’t grasp how this conclusion follows from the assumption that the proposed Covenant is both harmless and feckless.

Concerning the Archbishop of Canterbury, he has this to say:

And as to demonstrating loyalty to the Archbishop of Canterbury, surely supporting a proposed Covenant which we believe will eventually just sit harmlessly on a shelf gathering dust is equally ineffective. Do we participate in a charade simply to avoid hurting the Archbishop’s feelings, or to cheer him up by giving him something in the win column? Is that not to play the role of the royal advisers, praising the Emperor’s new clothes to his face whilst trying to avoid sniggering behind his naked back? In what way is that loyal to the Archbishop?

And he includes this specific reference to the Church of England:

What will happen when a woman is appointed as Archbishop of Canterbury, if some churches can’t accept her authority as an Instrument of Communion? Could a question be raised as to whether the Church of England in making the appointment was not sufficiently cautious, or failed to obtain sufficient consensus? How harmless will the Covenant look then?

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Father Ron SmithMarkBrunsonJohn RochTobias HallerAlan T Perry Recent comment authors
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Erika Baker
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Erika Baker

It has always astonished me that everyone seems to think about the Covenant only in terms of the disputes it arose from, not in terms of possible future disputes. If the more liberal churches relegate themselves to the second tier of the Communion, those who are currently in the centre will become the new liberal churches compared to the others, as the Communion as a whole lurches to the right. It is highly likely that these new liberal churches will eventually be singled out for relational consequences in a future dispute over some issue we may not yet even have… Read more »

Tony Whatmough
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Tony Whatmough

I can’t understand either the motive to vote yes in order to support the ABC. He is a big boy. He is an academic, he knows that he has to fight his corner and defend what he believes is right – he’s had to do this all the time in his academic life. We all need to do what is right, not what will hypothetically protect someone’s feelings.

Erika Baker
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Erika Baker

Tony
I don’t think it’s about protecting the ABC’s feelings. The problem is that he is the head of the CoE as well as the head of the Anglican Communion and it is unthinkable that the Communion should be headed up by someone who comes from a church that has relegated itself to the second tier of that Communion.

Tobias Haller
Guest

Instead of “mostly harmless” I see the Covenant as “mostly useless” and “possibly harmful.” If ever there was a salmonella-tainted curate’s egg, this is one. And for the Curate to keep munching on it to please the Rector’s Wife…

Marshall Scott
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Erika wrote, “it is unthinkable that the Communion should be headed up by someone who comes from a church that has relegated itself to the second tier of that Communion. Perhaps that’s so in the Church of England. However, from Anglicans abroad (the Anglican diaspora?), that’s not so much a problem. For those of us who expect to be relegated to “second-tier” status ourselves, this helps us focus on the statement within the Covenant itself that the definition of who’s in the Anglican Communion (at least so far) is still participation in the Anglican Consultative Council, and not participation in… Read more »

Martin Reynolds
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Martin Reynolds

“…the Communion should be headed up by someone who comes from a church that has relegated itself to the second tier of that Communion.”

Oh! The Church in Wales had better look out then ….

Scott
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Scott

“…the Communion should be headed up…” There is the problem. The ABC is not the head – he is not in charge and nobody is in charge. Putting someone in charge seems like the goal of the Covenant and it is entirely novel in the Anglican Communion. It is entirely contrary as well – it leads to the Worldwide Anglican Church… a whole new creature. This is why, as Tobias Haller says, the covenant is probably harmful.

Erika Baker
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Erika Baker

Marshall and Martin,

do you not think that this is what’s behind the uncritical support for the Archbishop? That this is where the loyalty comes from?
To me, it’s the only thing that makes sense of it.

And yes, I could easily imagine a time in the future when a possible candidate for Lambeth Palace will be avoided as too politically divisive, as not “orthodox” enough, if he comes from a second tier church.

Father Ron Smith
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“I don’t think it’s going to have any ill effect. Recommendations of Relational Consequences are nothing to worry about”. If this statement is, indeed, typical of the attitude of responsible people within the Church of England towards the prospect of embracing the Covenant in the C.of E., then what purpose can the Covenant serve – that would not be negative towards TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada, which have initiated important reforms (towards the inclusion of LGBT persons in the life and ministry of their Churches) that the Covenant process would invoke ‘relational consequences’ against? I think the ‘consequences’… Read more »

Marshall Scott
Guest

Erika, you ask, “do you not think that this is what’s behind the uncritical support for the Archbishop? That this is where the loyalty comes from?” Actually, I can imagine that this is where the uncritical support comes from – certainly within, and perhaps to some extent beyond the Church of England. My only thought is that it’s rather parochial, reflecting a rather specific perspective of the role in the Anglican Communion not only of Canterbury but of the Church of England. I suppose I’m not so surprised that many in the Church of England might have such a perspective,… Read more »

John Holding
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John Holding

I could easily imagine a time in the future when a possible candidate for Lambeth Palace will be avoided as too politically divisive, as not “orthodox” enough, if he comes from a second tier church. – Erika Baker The only candidates that will ever be considered for Lambeth will be from inside the C of E. While there are a limited number of other countries from which a possible Archbishop could come, as s/he has to be a subject of the British Crown, they are few in number and, outside Wales and Scotland, highly improbable. And the original comment was… Read more »

Malcolm French+
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Tobias my friend, how can it possibly be a curate’s egg? I have yet to find any parts of it that are adequate, let alone excellent.

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

“So any likely candidate will come from a second tier church, if the CofE is second tier, and that is not likely in the least to concern the people making the appointment. It might concern other members of the COmmunion of whatever tier, but not those doing the appointing to Canterbury.” The governing bodies of the CoE are now asked to vote for the Covenant. They’re not voting for the next candidate for Lambeth. They know how volatile the Communion is, they have lived through the desaster of the almost appointment of Jeffrey John as Bishop that was foiled because… Read more »

Prior Aelred
Guest

The only arguments in favor of The Anglican Covenant that have ever made any sense to me are from those who say that the purpose is to remove the Americans & Canadians from the Anglican Communion (the bishop makes the excellent point that this could have an impact on pending court cases in these countries). Since I don’t support this result, I also don’t support the Covenant. (QED)

John Roch
Guest
John Roch

The whole point of the curate’s egg cartoon was that you cannot have “excellent” parts of a bad egg.

Alan T Perry
Guest

@Ron Smith: The “quoted” comments are an amalgam of comments I have heard, not just in England, but also in Canada, the USA and elsewhere. So, although it does strike me as a common attitude in the Church of England, it is not unknown outside the C of E.

@Malcolm French: I think the title is adequate and three or four of the semi-colons are excellent.

Tobias Haller
Guest

Thanks John Roch… yes, that is the point. The Curate is simply being politically correct to avoid offending the Bishop. As Alan pointed out, this is for some about expressing “loyalty” to the Primate of All England — including some Anglophiles at some remove from his metropolitan authority!

John Roch
Guest
John Roch

The cartoon was actually titled “True Humility”

MarkBrunson
Guest

For those, like me, who had no idea what the reference to curate’s egg was:

http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/163300.html

Father Ron Smith
Guest

Since the appointment of 2 new Flying Bishops for the Church of England, this brings our attention to the fact that PEVs were a Provincial innovation that was never agreed upon by other Provinces of the world-wide Anglican Communion.

Surely their continuing propagation at this time – when the Covenant is being seriously considered as a tool of discipline calculated to homogenise Anglican institutional behaviours within the Communion – can only draw attention to the prospect of a serious undermining of the proposed covenantal relationship. that could be just one more cause of division. Sauce for the goose…etc?