Comments: Anglican Covenant: report made to ACC-15

The covenant is meant to be a process for unity but has clearly failed to attract unity of support – indeed it is so divisive that its proposed existence defeats its own reason for existing.

In the debates surrounding the attemptive and abortive ‘launch’ of the covenant, too much alienation of the Episcopal Church has taken place, in a climate that seemed to recognise Christ too little, in that province’s sincere pursuit of faith. This climate has arguably failed to honour clause 2.1.3 of the draft covenant: “in humility... exercising patience and charity and in recognizing Christ in one another.”

The proposed (and here in England rejected) covenant is flawed by a fundamental contradiction between what it says and what it proposes: on the one hand it affirms provincial autonomy and denies top-down meddling or control:

“3.1.2. Churches of the Anglican Communion are bound together not by a central legislative and executive authority”

On the other hand, the covenant proposed that provinces commit and submit to processes of top-down intervention, and effectively authority in contradiction of their supposed autonomy, with central legislative and executive authority potentially imposing sanctions if the central authority was not accepted:

“(4.2.4) Where a shared mind has not been reached the matter shall be referred to the Standing Committee... relational consequences which may result.”

and

“(4.2.5) The Standing Committee may request a Church to defer a controversial action. If a Church declines to defer such action, the Standing Committee may recommend to any Instrument of Communion relational consequences which may specify a provisional limitation of participation in, or suspension from, that Instrument.”

and

“4.2.6. the Standing Committee may make a declaration that an action or decision is or would be “incompatible with the Covenant”.”

and

“4.2.7. the Standing Committee shall make recommendations as to relational consequences which flow from an action incompatible with the Covenant.”

In short, the proposed (and rejected) covenant was an effort to impose doctrinal uniformity and to constrain provincial autonomy, with alienating consequences, if the central and executive authority was not obeyed.

(continued...)

Posted by Susannah Clark at Sunday, 18 November 2012 at 2:18pm GMT

(continued...)

Where profound cultural differences exist between disparate provinces – over men having sex with men, for example – the danger (and it was what precipitated the idea of the covenant in the first place) is that a uniformity might have been imposed (by threat of sanctions epitomising the assertion of a central authority).

However, many Anglicans recognise that this ‘imperial model’ of a central, top-down attempt to impose uniformity, was entirely foreign to the genius and tolerant acceptance of diversity, which makes Anglicanism what it is: a community of varied human beings and cultures, who found their unity not on uniformity but on Christ, and who are able to “recognise Christ in one another” (2.1.3.) even in great diversity... even if we disagree on some things.

Communion is found in the eucharist and in Christ, and it should not be for a central Standing Committee to threaten loss of communion (at whatever level) simply because of differing views, sincerely held, in the context of faith in Christ.

The inability of some provincial Churches to accept “unity in diversity” – which has been a feature of Anglicanism from its earliest days – and the potential alienation of those they don’t agree with – places those Churches, that seek the covenant to impose uniformity, in a position at odds with the very heart and grace of Anglicanism.

Let’s be straightforward and non-equivocal about this. The driving motivation for the covenant was to provide a mechanism to deal with conflicting views on human sexuality. The pressure for such a mechanism came from Provinces that wanted uniformity required of those with different views. The “consequences” written into the covenant were, in fact, instruments of control. So the covenant is driven by an attempt to control by “a central legislative and executive authority” contrary to 3.1.2.

Many Anglicans see this perfectly clearly, and just don’t accept that because (for example) the dominant culture in Nigeria or Uganda is extremely hostile to homosexuality, that set of values (with claimed biblical mandate) should be imposed on societies and churches where gay and lesbian relationships are blessed, celebrated, valued and endorsed.

(continued...)

Posted by Susannah Clark at Sunday, 18 November 2012 at 2:24pm GMT

(continued...)

You can’t run Anglicanism with that kind of authoritarianism, imposing requirements of uniformity.

Put simply, it’s not Anglicanism: it’s more like evangelical Protestantism. Which is probably why it has been the evangelical protestants within the communion who have been most belligerent, most demanding of ‘repentance’ by those they hold different views from, and most vocal in driving forward the project of the covenant, so as to impose one set of views of human sexuality upon another set of views, even though the Communion is clearly divided on the issue.

Yet faith in Christ, and unity in Christ, just carries on.

It is God, not the Standing Committee, who holds us in communion with Jesus Christ.

For centuries there have been varied religious views and traditions in our Communion, held by grace in a diversity, and that is how Anglicanism works and operates: by dependency on grace in our diversity, even though we are not uniform.

The desire for a tight and uniform morality structure, effectively imposed on all provinces as a condition of continuing membership... has really more in common with the near-fundamentalism and evangelical ‘sola scriptura’ models of independent protestant churches, whether Baptist, Pentecostal, or similar.

(continued...)

Posted by Susannah Clark at Sunday, 18 November 2012 at 2:32pm GMT

(concluding...)

The covenant does not represent the essential spirit of Anglicanism. It merely accentuates difference, and we’ve seen this in the response to it. Ironically a document that was seen as a means to unity, by threatening diversity with sanction, has accentuated the differences between Anglicans, whereas the Anglican way is to say, yes, we may have different views, but the Lord be with you, and let us keep journeying and worshipping together.

The fact that happens in different ways in different societies, makes it wholly understandable that different provincial churches may have different emphases and even different views on things as they each attempt to live with real life where they are. That is why autonomy is so clearly important. It is letting the Church live and seek to serve and flourish right where it is, in a diversity of societies in a diversity of ways, with, even, a diversity of views.

There is no consensus in the Anglican Communion on human sexuality.

That is the reality.

No consensus between provinces and no consensus within provinces.

To attempt to impose uniformity when it simply doesn’t exist, was doomed to failure (and was the demand, hope and expectation of unrealistic provinces seeking primacy for their own views and values – equally held in faith).

There is no way forward for the covenant because the desired uniformity is a fantasy. We are diverse Christians with diverse views and values living in diverse societies on a diverse planet with amazing and lovely diverse lifeforms. Diversity is written into our very existence.

There is no way forward for the covenant because its motivating desire for uniformity only accentuates the fact that we are completely divided on human sexuality.

The solution is not a sort of Papal-style ‘imperium’ or an ultra-Protestant hardening of rules and dogmatism.

The solution is simply love and grace.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Sunday, 18 November 2012 at 2:35pm GMT

The proposed Anglican Covenant is neither. It is not a covenant. And it is not Anglican.

For these reasons, it has failed. So Communion officials ought to stop promoting it.

To say they are not promoting it, and yet to put out lists and videos that do promote it, falls well short of honesty.

Are you listening, Bishop Matthews? Canon Kearon?

You cannot claim disinterest and at the same time engage in advocacy. Especially when the advocacy is of a cause that would aggrandize your own power.

By all means, allow Dr. Williams a dignified departure. But do not nail the Communion's colors to the mast of a sinking ship. This only makes the Communion look worse.

Posted by Jeremy at Sunday, 18 November 2012 at 2:51pm GMT

For all intents and purposes, the status of the Anglican Covenant is dead. Please stop beating the dead horse. Thank you.

Posted by June Butler at Sunday, 18 November 2012 at 3:21pm GMT

I support whole heartedly what both Susannah and Jeremy have said. The sooner Matthews and Kearon forget the Covenant the better. There is a much better ways of moving forward in a loose , affectionate partnership. It is called the Anglican Commnunion!

Posted by Jean Mayland at Sunday, 18 November 2012 at 3:57pm GMT

Synod might be advised to consider whether, in hindsight, the attempted imposition of a dispute resolution mechanism to resolve insular institutional disputes was ever the wisest investment of time, energy and resources, which could be more usefully applied to situations in the real world, namely the ongoing conflict in the Middle East.

Posted by Andrew at Sunday, 18 November 2012 at 6:54pm GMT

"Provincial Reception of the Anglican Covenant" - the Covenant is so dead in the water in England that putting the loss down as a partial decision because of some following motions is grossly misleading. Provincial Reception in this case just made me think of prosecco, sausage rolls and curled up sandwiches served at some municipal twinning association in the English Midlands. The sort of Reception one would go a long way to avoid.

Posted by Jeremy Pemberton at Sunday, 18 November 2012 at 7:05pm GMT

Wales had some expectation of guidance when they delayed any decision and deferred to this meeting following the English rejection.

The reflection beloved of commentators here that the Covenant is dead did get a mention from the group discussing the Primates and in those reports on the Instruments and the rethink they portray we find the best reason to expect that the vision of the Communion that pervades that document no longer exists.

But the Covenant cannot be consigned to history quite yet.
Churches have adopted it etc - the process is in play and it has to play out. The ACC has given a pointer but doesn't want to be seen cutting accross those who are actively discussing it. Even then if it does just die out those who have taken the Covenant into their system will presumably have to dump it.

Posted by Martin Reynolds at Sunday, 18 November 2012 at 11:17pm GMT

It will no doubt interest many of you looking in on this thread to know that, we in the ACANZP Diocese of Christchurch, New Zealand, debated the Anglican Covenant - very thoroughly - and it was rejected. All this happened under the chair-personship of our esteemed Diocesan Bishop, +Victoria Matthews, who is a member of the Faith and Order Commission.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Monday, 19 November 2012 at 2:36am GMT
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