Thinking Anglicans

Anglican Covenant: another result and some comment

The Diocese of Sodor and Man voted yesterday against the Anglican Covenant. The voting was as follows:

Bishops: 1 for, 0 against, 0 abstentions

Clergy: 5 for, 12 against, 0 abstentions

Laity: 21 for, 15 against, 1 abstention

This means that 11 dioceses (25%) have now voted against the covenant, and 7 dioceses (16%) have voted in favour of it.

The letter in last week’s Church Times from Diarmaid MacCulloch is now available to non-subscribers, see The Anglican Covenant: worse than schism?. The original version of this letter is copied below the fold.

Liam Beadle has written an essay titled The Anglican Communion Covenant: A Church of England Objection from an Evangelical Perspective which is also available as a PDF file.

It would be interesting to conduct a survey of what it is that English Anglicans most value about their Church. It might be its worship; it might be its restraint; it might even – particularly if we are asking a group of evangelicals – be its formularies, namely the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer and the Ordering of Bishops, Priests and Deacons. It should therefore be startling to Anglicans that we are being asked to agree to a covenant which ignores our liturgical tradition, responds to a presenting issue, and adds to our formularies. Several dioceses in the Church of England have already voted against the proposed Covenant, and in this short paper I seek to explain my own reasons for rejecting it…

Original version of the letter to the Church Times

Anglican Covenant: where next?

Twenty years into the reign of that good and pious monarch George III, in 1780, John Dunning MP tabled a motion in the House of Commons that ‘The influence of the Crown has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished’. It was passed, despite much fury from the government of the day (which had just inadvertently created the United States of America by its stupidity). Dunning’s Motion did not end the efforts of the executive to accrue power and centralise; those efforts are with us still. Nevertheless, to use a phrase which Dunning would not have recognised, but would have relished, it was a reality check: it reminded royalty and the executive to preserve a delicate balance amid parliamentary politics and not try undue self-assertion. Although George III was pretty cross at the time, his successor still sits on her throne, while the descendants of many monarchs contemporary with King George look back on the guillotine, the firing-squad or ignominous exile.

A triumphalist whiggish anecdote from British history, yes, but on the weekend of 18 February, a very whiggish event happened in England. Four Anglican diocesan synods were asked to vote in favour of the Anglican Covenant, with every pressure from the executive (that is, the vast majority of the Bench of Bishops), and all four synods declined to do so. It was a sign that the incoherence of the arguments in favour of the Covenant was beginning to become clear. We have been assured that the Covenant is vital for the future of the Anglican Communion, and so not to approve it will lead to break-up and theological incoherence. Equally, we have been assured that the Covenant has been watered down so much that it won’t change very much really, so it is perfectly safe to vote for it. Above all, not to vote for it will be very upsetting for the Archbishop of Canterbury, who supports the Covenant. This argument, widely if a little surreptitiously canvassed, irresistibly reminds me of a MacCulloch family anecdote: my grandfather was taking morning worship in St Columba’s Episcopal Church, Portree, around 1900. It was a hot day; a party had come to church from one of the great houses on the Isle of Skye, and one of the young ladies said to her hostess in a stage whisper, ‘Oh, I think I’m going to faint’. The matriarch majestically retorted ‘You will do no such thing. It would be disrespectful to Almighty God, and distressing for Canon MacCulloch.’ Although the admonition was on that occasion successful, that is no way to do theology. The future of Anglicanism can’t be decided on whether a momentous theological decision will hurt any one person’s feelings.

The Anglican Covenant is bad theology for many reasons: the most important of which is that it gives to central bodies the authority to decide who is fully an Anglican, in a way that offends every canon of Anglican history. It also makes an elementary mistake about discipline in our tradition. There is no question but that the Covenant originated in a wish on the part of certain primates of the Communion to put the Episcopal Church of the United States and the Anglican Church of Canada in the Naughty Corner. If anyone tries to deny that, let she or he read a collection of essays from 2002, To mend the net, co-edited by Archbishop Drexel W. Gomez of the West Indies (Chairman of the Covenant Design Group, no less) and by Archbishop Maurice W. Sinclair of the Southern Cone. Now it is obvious that every body with a common purpose needs rules which may amount to discipline; but discipline in our Church is exercised against erring individuals, not against entire ecclesial bodies which have in prayer and careful thought about real pastoral situations, have come to their own decision about what is right for their own situation in a God-given place. It is a nonsense to try to spank an entire Church, although authoritarian-minded folk have often tried it over the centuries of Christian history. On 18 February, four Anglican dioceses made that point. So far, ten dioceses in England have voted down the Covenant, and only five have voted for it. Now, perhaps, those bishops who back this ill-thought-out and potentially disastrous measure should get the message, and let the Covenant quietly subside into the swamp of bad ideas in Anglican history.

Diarmaid MacCulloch is Professor of the History of the Church, University of Oxford.

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badman
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badman

What I find interesting is that bishops are unable to carry their clergy and laity with them.

They have lost credibility and influence.

They need to get it back. They will have to earn it. It cannot be taken for granted.

Mary Marriott
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Mary Marriott

Liam Beadle’s paper is excellent.I feel encouraged and built-up by it. It is good to read something really grounded in reformed ideas for a change, rather than the endless diet of concepts derived from RC and anglo-catholic sources, and so often to me feel disconnected from English history, and the spirituality of the BCP. As the paper says, too often these ideas emphasise the role of bishops and provinces, in a fashion that simply is not anglican; and skews the balance of Christian discipleship and witness. The lack of true democracy and the domination of the Church of England by… Read more »

rjb
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rjb

Because I’m deeply sad and don’t have a regular occupation or a real life, I’ve been crunching some of the numbers up on the Modern Church website. We’re now about two-fifths of the way through the diocesan voting process, with 7 synods voting in favour of the covenant and 11 against. In itself this isn’t especially telling, because the voting process is weighted – as it were – in favour of rejecting the motion (since it requires a majority in both the houses of clergy and laity to be passed and not just a simple majority overall). But looking at… Read more »

Craig Nelson
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Craig Nelson

I think I feel about the Covenant like Republicans feel about Mitt Romney. That is, it may well pass, but grudgingly and without conviction and in fear of something worse (whatever that might be). It clearly doesn’t carry unanimity, or even a clear majority within the C of E and the wider Communion. In this situation the only way for it to pass is with the votes of those who really do want it and for others to consider abstaining or voting against. I think having it pass after contestation is the only way to limit possible overextension of jurisdiction… Read more »

Tobias Haller
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Tobias Haller

When there is so little consensus on the “consensus building mechanism” what hope is there for it? If they do this when the wood is green…

David Keen
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David Keen

rjb – given the size of Sodor and Man Diocese, there are going to be some pressing questions about constituencty, sorry, diocesan boundaries if the covenant is defeated 22 dioceses to 21.

Even more so, given that 2 out of 3 houses in Sodor and Man voted in favour, and the overall result was a 27-27 draw. How does that count as ‘rejected’?

Martin Reynolds
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Martin Reynolds

Have others noticed? If you type into Google “No Anglican Covenant” – then the YES group arrives as the first choice – paid advert “yellow pages” section. Does that cost a lot? There seems to have been amendments to the descriptions of those who are quoted in the boxes that flash up on the left of screen. Tom Wright is no longer billed as the “Bishop of Durham” and Andrew Goddard, formerly elevated to the lofty rank of “Theologian” is now described as a: “Writer and Theologian”. Any here who have study the content of those two websites FULCRUM and… Read more »

rjb
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rjb

@David Keen – I don’t disagree with you. As I noted above, the covenant has an awful lot of hurdles to jump through because the voting system has a built-in tenency to favour a down-vote. That’s why I’m looking at the total delegate count, rather than the number of dioceses voting, as a better indicator of the mind of the church. (I should note, incidentally, that the figures I gave above don’t include Durham – which voted yes – and Truro, which voted no; figures for these dioceses aren’t available at this time, but for the reasons given above we… Read more »

Mark Bennet
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Mark Bennet

If we are concentrating on the voting numbers rather than the substantive issues we will never get any consensus or understand properly the concerns of those voting for and against. Even if all the remaining dioceses were to vote for the covenant, there would be work to do to get people together and build a broad consensus. It is astonishing too how the narrative attaching to majorities changes according to the issue. Like it or not, Synod voting by houses across dioceses is the way we do these things. It is interesting, for example, that an earlier comment on diocesan… Read more »

Sam Norton
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Chelmsford Diocesan Synod voted against the Covenant this morning – 2:1 in favour in House of Bishops (+Stephen abstained); roughly 29-26 against in clergy; roughly 37-36 in favour in laity (numbers are from memory, I’m sure the official figures will be out soon enough). There had to be a recount as the first time round there was only one vote difference in both houses of clergy and laity. I think some clergy came off the fence for the second count…

Mark Bennet
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Mark Bennet

According to the figures on the Modern Church tally sheet Chelmsford’s bishops provided the first vote against by a bishop and it looks like the first abstention by a diocesan bishop – though details of Truro and Durham are missing.

Mark Bennet
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Mark Bennet

Sorry – previous comment missed Derby.

c.r.seitz
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c.r.seitz

Looks like there were 7 more pro covenant votes than anti covenant cast in three dioceses today (not counting the pro votes of the Bishops in Chelmsford), and yet the tally will show 2 anti and 1 pro, or 13 and 8 total. Not sure how much this adjusts the figures already given by rjb of the total votes cast.

Simon Sarmiento
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Mark I thought the diocesan in Truro had voted against, but am away from home and without my files to check this.

Malcolm French+
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It is a trifle disingenuous to whinge after the fact about rules that were clear before any of this started.

Frankly, I don’t give a rodent’s rectum if the overall tally of votes shows a huge plurality for the Covenant. Voting by houses has traditionally been used to ensure that radical decisions are not easily made.

rjb
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rjb

@Mark Bennett – I’m not sure that the level of support the covenant document enjoys is not a “substantive issue.” Moreover, I think you are wrong to suggest there has been a conspiracy of silence around the theological issues. If you visit any number of diocesan websites – including those of Hereford and Chelmsford, which voted today – there are theological arguments presented from both sides regarding the covenant document. I can only assume this is the tip of the iceberg with regard to dialogue at a diocesan, deanery, and parish level. I would say that what we have seen… Read more »

c.r.seitz
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c.r.seitz

No one’s whinging that I see. rjb has simply pointed out some interesting realities connected with the covenant process (and its aftermath…).

John
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John

‘It is good to read something really grounded in reformed ideas for a change, rather than the endless diet of concepts derived from RC and anglo-catholic sources.’ I strongly agree with this. One of the many problems in the C of E today is the lack of self-respect. Far too many of its members, including many of its so-called leaders, think we are some sort of weak apology for something else, whether it is ‘true’ Evangelicalism or ‘true’ Catholicism or ‘true’ Orthodoxy. We aren’t: we’re the best (alongside the Episcopal Church of Scotland, the Church of Ireland, and the American… Read more »

Malcolm French+
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rjb, while several dioceses have ensured that balanced information is available, a few have ensured precisely the opposite. Lichfield – the first diocese to vote yes – is a case in point. * Only proCovenant propaganda from Church House and the Anglican Communion Office was provided. * The diocese was approached with a request to distribute contrary material. It was refused. * The diocese was asked for a mailing list so the contrary material could be distributed at no expense to the diocese. This was also refused. * At the synod – 90 minutes having been scheduled for the debate… Read more »

RPNewark
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RPNewark

“Even more so, given that 2 out of 3 houses in Sodor and Man voted in favour, and the overall result was a 27-27 draw. How does that count as ‘rejected’?” Posted by: David Keen on Saturday, 3 March 2012 at 8:54am GMT Under the rules, the votes in the house of bishops do not count; neither does the aggregate vote. To pass, the motion must pass in BOTH the houses of clergy and laity otherwise it falls. In Sodor & Man, the motion to approve the covenant was lost in the house of clergy and therefore failed overall. Some… Read more »

Malcolm French+
Guest

The rules were clear before the process began. The Covenant must be voted on by orders, and unless it is passed by both the clergy and the laity, it is defeated.

It’s really not that complicated – except for the deliberately disingenuous. It is analogous to legislation in the United Kingdom or in Canada or in Australia or in the United States which must be carried in both Houses in order to be considered passed.

And unlike the Canadian Senate or the UK Lords, at least both of the synod houses have some sort of legitimacy.

c.r.seitz
Guest
c.r.seitz

I take rjb’s point to be that the overall vote shows how divided the CofE is. All this crowing about ‘second-guessing a process’ is beside the point being made. Show one place where someone has complained that the process is not fair or clear.

Malcolm French+
Guest

There is no point in bringing up the irrelevant consideration of aggregate votes unless one is looking for some fiddle whereby the powers that be will be able to claim some sort of moral victory in the ashes of a presumed (but hardly yet certain) defeat.

Of course, the very narrowness of the margin in the aggregate vote simply proves what the Covenant’s opponents have always maintained: that the Covenant is not a sound basis for unity.

c.r.seitz
Guest
c.r.seitz

“unless one is looking for some fiddle whereby the powers that be will be able to claim some sort of moral victory in the ashes of a presumed (but hardly yet certain) defeat.” What an odd and self-referential comment. I thought rjb’s point was that the CofE is deeply divided. He was not–I did not think–presuming a search for ‘a moral victory.’ He was pointing out that a majority of people at present are pro-covenant, and that especially so amongst Bishop voters. Like a lot of things, that is useful to know. There will be an ‘after the covenant vote’… Read more »

c.r.seitz
Guest
c.r.seitz

BTW. On the matter of ‘self-referentiality’:

Will the ‘No Covenant’ movement also operate in every province prior to considerarion of adoption, or just affluent western ones? Viz., will the coalition want GS provinces to vote No and so launch an effort lining up representatives in places like Burundi, Tanzania, S Africa, Middle East, Indian Ocean, etc who will speak against it?

I ask because of course the fate of the covenant is not in the hands of the CofE or ACofCanada or TEC. By its own terms, it is in the hands of those who adopt it.

Malcolm French+
Guest

Twaddle. One can almost hear the Lambeth apparatchiks grinding out their fallback messaging just in case. “Majority of votes cast…” “Moral victory…” “Not really a defeat…”

cseitz
Guest
cseitz

I didn’t realise we had Lambeth apparatchiks responding at TA on this thread.

If the majority of voters are in favour of the covenant, that will simply be a fact. No point hiding from it.

If a majority of the communion’s members, via their provinces, adopt the Covenant, that too will be a fact.

My question was whether your No movement would also decide that was something they would hope to block, or is this mostly a concern with the western affluent zones.

Father Ron Smith
Guest

” It is helpful to know that if the covenant is defeated in the CofE it needn’t be viewed solely through that lens.” – cseitz –

Yes, Christopher! Some of us – who are not part of either Province – might quite like TEC or the Anglican Church of Canada to take the lead in the ensuing Communion Partnership (assuming that GAFCON has self-elected not to be part of the current Anglican set-up).

Now, how would that suit you, Christopher?

c.r.seitz
Guest
c.r.seitz

Father Smith–in your excitement you forgot to be coherent. Can you tell me what your question is?

Malcolm French+
Guest

Well Chris, “my” No movement would prefer to see the Covenant defeated everywhere. We have, based on various criteria, identified particular tactical priorities.

By the way, the not so affluent Episcopal Church in the Philippines has rejected the Covenant, as has the likely less affluent than average Tikanga Maori.

c.r.seitz
Guest
c.r.seitz

Mr French–if your priorities reach into the GS provinces it will be interesting to see if it acts as an encouragement actually to *adopt* the covenant. This is precisely why the aggregate tally in the CofE will have an afterlife of some kind. The NO movement would likely only produce YES votes in the GS. One can imagine that moderate GS provinces might want to support the CofE efforts to bolster Communion on the terms of a covenant. More conservative ones might well conclude that the No votes are an incentive to now say YES, on the terms of e.g.… Read more »

Malcolm French+
Guest

Thank you for your advice, Christopher. However, given that our band of bloggers has hit well above what anyone believed we ever could, we think we are reasonably capable of setting our own strategic and tactical priorities without the helpful advice of someone committed to our failure.

c.r.seitz
Guest
c.r.seitz

Mr French–no advice given. Only speculation about the consequences. Go right ahead with your No campaign as best you see fit, by all means.

c.r.seitz
Guest
c.r.seitz

No advice given. The No movement will obviously act as it judges best for its No vision. The above is speculation about the covenant’s next season outwith the CofE.