Sunday, 4 March 2012

Anglican Covenant: two bishops defend it

This week’s Church Times carries a letter from the Bishops of Bristol and Oxford, which is behind the paywall this week, but is freely available from the Diocese of Bristol’s website at Bishops of Bristol and Oxford’s Anglican Covenant letter.

With a large number of dioceses soon to debate the Anglican Communion Covenant, and with there being in some quarters suspicion or even hostility towards it, we would urge pause for reflection as to what is at stake, both for the Anglican Communion as a whole and for our own Church of England.

The Covenant process has been developed with the full participation of all the churches of the Anglican Communion. It is likely the most consulted-over document the Communion has ever known. At heart, it offers a way for the churches to renew their commitment to each other and to express their common Anglican identity and mission. It’s something our own church has been at the centre of shaping and developing…

And it concludes with this:

The Anglican Communion Covenant is currently under consideration in all the churches of the Communion, according to their own processes for adoption. Already nine have decided to adopt it . A luke-warm response, or worse, rejection, of the Covenant in the Church of England would meet with bewilderment in the wider Communion. Some would ask with the prophet Isaiah, “Can a mother forget her children?”

But it would also impoverish the Church of England. Our church life and mission is infinitely the richer for the relationships we share around the Communion. The Covenant offers us a precious opportunity to consolidate those relationships and to demonstrate our commitment to one another as churches. Let’s not miss this opportunity offered to us in our time.

A detailed and comprehensive response to this letter has been published by Paul Bagshaw and can be read at What is not being said about the Covenant? It needs to be read in full, but here is an extract:

I choose to believe that many, perhaps the majority, of the English bishops are personally committed to the Covenant - but always and only in broad generalisations.

In essence we are told: the Covenant is A Good Thing, it doesn’t change anything but is vital to keeping the Communion together, and the consequences of not passing it are horrendous.

But this advocacy never seems to address what any critical reader of the Covenant text might ask:

  • The bishops’ say there are no new powers or structures; but what does the text actually contain?
  • And if there are no new powers or structures then how can choosing or rejecting it possibly make so much difference?
  • In particular, if the Covenant leaves provincial autonomy just where it was then how can it have any effect on future decisions a province might contemplate?
  • In sum: what’s so wrong with the Communion that we currently have that it will fall apart without the Covenant, but which the Covenant - by merely restating what we already know and practice - can possibly resolve?

I struggle to see the logic.

But I do see something missing. The ultimate power of Section 4 of the Covenant is to exclude an offending province by recommending to every other province that they turn their backs on it. All lesser powers of exclusion and demotion stem from this central power…

Alan Perry has compiled aggregate voting statistics here. It would be very interesting to compare the voting totals in each diocese with the corresponding totals for the recent parallel voting on women bishops, to see what the comparative levels of attendance were.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Sunday, 4 March 2012 at 8:39pm GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Anglican Communion | Church of England

What is at stake in the Covenant process is indeed the Anglican Communion but not as they (the bishops) describe it.

The Covenant, if passed or undertaken, will institutionalise permanently a huge three way schism throughout the Communion, as follows:

1. Those who will not sign up, i.e. the equatorial Anglican Provinces and breakaway groups who are otherwise keen to establish their 'Anglican' credentials.
2. The Episcopal Church and others such as Brazil and New Zealand who feel they out of conscience cannot sign up
3. The rest, who out of what is now a misguided loyalty to Archbishop Rowan Williams, will sign up.

Ironically, it now looks as if the Church of England will be in group 2.

What a mess the Covenant is. It is an example of a bright idea, ill-thought-through and likely to cause far more harm than good.

What is needed now is an acknowledgement from Lambeth that it has failed as an idea. Then we need at least a few years of doing nothing other than making dialogue and praying, that way we all still remain more or less in communion.

Posted by: Concerned Anglican on Sunday, 4 March 2012 at 10:21pm GMT

An excellent article by Paul Bagshaw - in response to the Bishops' Letter to the 'Church Times'.

How can one hope to draw back together into the Communion those Provinces (GAFCON) that have already refused to remain within its fellowship?

Not only have the GAFCON Provinces separated themselves out from Eucharistic Fellowship with TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada - on issues that are non-negotiable - they have also withdrawn from the existing 'Instruments of Communion' - the Lambeth Conference, and the Archbishop of Canterbury's invitation to a Primates' Conference.

How can a Covenant process (yet another proposed 'Instrument of Communion') bring together those who have rejected the other Instruments?

The rest of the Provinces are already partners in the Anglican Communion as we have always known it. What more do we need to do to 'strengthen bonds'?

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Sunday, 4 March 2012 at 11:16pm GMT

"A luke-warm response, or worse, rejection, of the Covenant in the Church of England would meet with bewilderment in the wider Communion. Some would ask with the prophet Isaiah, “Can a mother forget her children?”"

Please. Drama queens much?

Rejection of THIS Covenant will PRESERVE the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. No more and no less! TBTG! :-)

Posted by: JCF on Sunday, 4 March 2012 at 11:35pm GMT

“It is likely the most consulted-over document the Communion has ever known.”

This assertion is nonsense. What became the current Covenant began as a horrible draft produced by a committee led by a bishop with an axe to grind. The “consultation” has been oriented toward making a terrible document less bad. No one was allowed to say that the first draft was a bad base from which to work or that the entire covenant project was misguided.

We should have begun by asking what problem we thought we were solving and what mechanisms might, in actual practice, have a chance of ameliorating that problem.

The present document represents magical thinking. It changes nothing except for further institutionalizing already dysfunctional institutions. It “solves” the problem of deteriorating relationships within the Communion by eliminating the relationships altogether.

Posted by: Lionel Deimel on Sunday, 4 March 2012 at 11:45pm GMT

Interesting reflection on it all :

Posted by: Mary Marriot on Monday, 5 March 2012 at 12:17am GMT

"Can a mother forget her children?"

Of course not.

But neither does she try to bind them into one legal entity.

The healthy course is to let one's children grow up into mature adults.

Independence is part of that.

Posted by: Jeremy on Monday, 5 March 2012 at 12:26am GMT

What the bishops are defending is not the Covenant as it is, but the idea of a Covenant as a symbol of commitment to the Communion and loyalty to the Archbishop of Canterbury. I continue to wish that they would address the actual document on the table. In vain, I fear.

Posted by: Alan T Perry on Monday, 5 March 2012 at 12:35am GMT

"Can a mother forget her children..."

Its hard to have dialogue when things are inflated to this level of emotional hijacking. This is a statement intended to silence, not engage.

And it is a bizarre reconstruction of history - preserving the worst of colonialism while ignoring the reality that the CofE is not the "Mother" church, the various provinces are not "Daughters", the Worldwide Anglican "Church" has not yet been invented, and the Anglican Communion is the child rather than parent of the "Daughters".

Posted by: Scott on Monday, 5 March 2012 at 2:06pm GMT

Historically, people have voted down beloved projects of archbishops of Canterbury. It is very Anglican. No problem there.

When Anglican - Methodist 'scheme' was voted down, Michael Ramsey got on with it.

The former made sense, whereas this new 'scheme' makes no sense.

Posted by: Mary Marriot on Monday, 5 March 2012 at 2:36pm GMT

I posted the following on the Bristol website this morning:
"If the Covenant does not actually do anything new – which seems to be the thrust of the argument above – then what is the point of adopting it? The point can only be to sign up to the fourth section. If any reader hasn’t done so already, go and look at it carefully, and then ask yourself how the provisions sit with provincial autonomy in general or the particular fact that the Church of England has a Supreme Governor – the Queen – whose authority is delegated to Parliament. Either the Covenant is designed to impose control, in which case we cannot constitutionally subscribe to it, or it is not so designed, in which case it is pointless.
While +Mike and +John – both of whom men for whom I have a great deal of respect – are laudable in their loyalty to their Archbishop, the question now is whether or not saving his face is more important than doing the right thing for the Church of England."
I'm surprised that it got past the moderation...

Posted by: Justin Brett on Monday, 5 March 2012 at 3:21pm GMT

'A luke-warm response, or worse, rejection, of the Covenant in the Church of England would meet with bewilderment in the wider Communion. Some would ask with the prophet Isaiah, “Can a mother forget her children?”'

"You couldn't possibly love me and our children and grandchildren if you don't sign this legally binding contract 100 years into our marriage!

Posted by: Counterlight on Monday, 5 March 2012 at 7:57pm GMT

Can't see the plea of the bishops of Bristol and Oxford as anything better than emotional blackmail. Their bluff has already been called. So has Rowan's. They called it - they will live with it. The Covenant is dead - so are many of these bishops. One mercy is that NT Wright has ceased his shouting on this.

Posted by: john on Monday, 5 March 2012 at 8:04pm GMT

Not just two bishops defending the Covenant...

The Archbishop of Canterbury, this lunchtime, recorded a 7 minute video 'Why the Anglican Communion Coveant matters'.

The video and text may be seen on the Archbishop of Canterbury's site:

Posted by: Graham Kings on Monday, 5 March 2012 at 8:16pm GMT

Recently Fulcrum has published the following on the Anglican Communion Covenant:

Benjamin M Guyer, 'Anglicans and Covenants: a very brief history'

Stephen Kuhrt, 'The Anglican Communion Covenant: Fighting to Preserve and Enhance something deeply valuable'

John Watson, 'Are We Anglicans or Baptists? The Anglican Communion Covenant: Interdependence or Independence?'

Posted by: Graham Kings on Monday, 5 March 2012 at 8:22pm GMT

The Archbishop of Canterbury's YouTube video, on which I comment at

seems to be working from the same playbook. The theme "Weak but Essential" seems to reign, as well as the talking point about the poor bereft provinces who will feel "abandoned" should England not adopt the Anglican Covenant -- as if this document -- weak recommendation that it is held to be -- were the very cornerstone of what it means to be an Anglican.

Posted by: Tobias Haller on Monday, 5 March 2012 at 8:36pm GMT

Two postings in quick succession, is Graham Kings trying to make some kind of point? What I have gleaned as a result is just how few writers there are who are in favour of the Covenant.

Posted by: Concerned Anglican on Tuesday, 6 March 2012 at 12:02am GMT

A veritable torrent of stuff!! All imploring us to approve the Covenant. But I don't see any bishop answering squarely the sorts of objections that are voiced by Paul Bagshaw among others:
If the covenant doesn't contain new powers or 'disciplinary' measures then what is Section 4 all about? People as nice as ++Rowan may not read it as disciplinary - but there are a lot of people in our Communion who are a lot less nice than him. And they will want to read the language of Section 4 in a disciplinary way. So we should not touch it with a barge pole.

Rejecting the Covenant is not rejecting all those excellent partnerships and collaborations that have been built up without any kind of Covenant except the free participation of us all in the Anglican Communion. Dioceses and provinces don't need to sever their alliances and relationships - and I don't believe they will. Who is going to feel abandoned? Is Bristol going to stop supporting The Church of Uganda and wherever else it is related to just because the C of E decides not to sign up? I very much doubt it. I am sure that its relationship with that church helps it encourage rather more humane attitudes towards the persecuted LGBT minority in that country. Relationships do not imply agreement with all that either side does, and sometimes relationships are maintained when both sides heartily disapprove of something about each other because we still believe that remaining in contact is better than severing ties. A bit like in families.

The whole exercise is and always has been an unpleasant attempt to control those parts of the Anglican world who have a more liberal attitude to same-sex relations. Living and working through our differences slowly over time is a much better way of carrying on. If people want to fall out over this or any other matter - then you have to let them.

Posted by: JeremyP on Tuesday, 6 March 2012 at 12:37am GMT

Actually, I know for a fact that there are many Anglicans in far-flung parts of the communion who would dearly love to establish stronger links both with other provinces and with the mother church in England. Thinking about ways these formal and informal links might be established and maintained is certainly something that English bishops might concern themselves with at a diocesan level. Southwark's strong links with the church in Zimbabwe might be taken as a model for other dioceses to follow. "Can a mother forget her children?" One would certainly hope not. But nor can she treat them like children forever.

Posted by: rjb on Tuesday, 6 March 2012 at 1:16am GMT

"Some would ask with the prophet Isaiah, 'Can a mother forget her children?'"

Only if they are GLBT, apparently.

I'm with JCF - what absolute hysteria.

It does, however, highlight that it is clear that some of us are "children" and some of us are just "those pesky neighborhood brats."

Posted by: MarkBrunson on Tuesday, 6 March 2012 at 4:36am GMT

This is all a bit late really. The 'yes' side needed to get their message out at the same time as the 'No Anglican Covenant' site/campaign started up, but instead the 'no' side has had the news and blogosphere to itself in England for months. I'm not convinced that lobbying campaigns are the best way to discern the will of God for the CofE, but that's where we have ended up.

Posted by: David Keen on Tuesday, 6 March 2012 at 8:14am GMT

The bishops of the Church of England en bloc with their archbishops, care little for 'the will of God'. What could be clearer ? God has been speaking through lesbians and gays for years now and their voices have been ignored or supressed.
The Baptists have been mentioned with anglian arrogance in a Fulcrum article, but let it be recognised that the Baptist Union is doing better on listening to its lesbian and gay members, than is the Church of England.

Rule by bishops and prelacy has been a great stumbling block in our denomination.

Posted by: Mary Marriot on Tuesday, 6 March 2012 at 2:01pm GMT

I meant the Baptist Union (BG) of Great Britain.

Posted by: Mary Marriot on Tuesday, 6 March 2012 at 8:10pm GMT

In response to David Keen I will point out - yet again - that were it not for the efforts of the No Anglican Covenant Coalition, the ONLY material provided in the Church of England would have been half-baked Covenant propaganda from the Archbishop's apparatchiks.

Rowan et al pinned their hopes on the idea they could get the Covenant through without anyone actually paying any atention to it.

It was a stupid tactical choice because some of us were prepared to ensure there was a proper debate - the very thing the Covenanters were desperate to avoid.

Posted by: Malcolm French+ on Wednesday, 7 March 2012 at 7:23am GMT


Please check whether my last reply was mislaid.

ED: Not mislaid, if it was on this thread.

Posted by: David Shepherd on Thursday, 8 March 2012 at 1:26pm GMT

Bishop Graham Kings, predictably, is with the ABC on this issue - but not with his Ordinary. Now that is interesting. There was a time when the Ordinary was the voice of the Diocese. Not any longer, obviously.

However, we will all soon know which way Urim and Thummim have decreed - on the way forward - or backwards, as the case may be. We Anglicans who are no longer resident in the 'Mother Country' are watching the way things seem to be going - but I guess most Church of England parishioners wonder what all the fuss is about (if only they knew!).

And when it's all over, what difference will it have made - to anyone?

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Thursday, 8 March 2012 at 11:17pm GMT
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