Thinking Anglicans

Covenant – Tuesday roundup

Jim Naughton wrote about it at Episcopal Café in The Anglican Covenant: a tool for the strong to oppress the weak.

So many points have been made against the proposed Anglican Covenant, which will be voted on this week by the Church of England’s General Synod, that one risks redundancy in expressing one’s own reservations. Mine have to do primarily with how the covenant would operate if approved. It is a dangerous document which takes John Adams’ famous formulation—“a government of laws and not of men”—and stands it on its head. The covenant is a document that sets forth a system for adjudicating disputes based on criteria that are almost entirely subjective and ad hoc.

In this peculiar system, one can do nothing that offends another province in the Communion, and anything that does not. Offense is judged not by analyzing the act, but in analyzing the response to the act. This is governance by hurt feelings, a system in which power flows to those who complain the loudest and the most frequently. The covenant lacks any of the safeguards, contained in most civil codes, to protect the accused from frivolous accusations. Hence there is no cost and much potential benefit in lodging complaints simply to keep one’s theological adversaries on the defensive. There is great incentive for them to behave in similar fashion.

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. Having conducted an investigation under standards of its own devising, the Standing Committee can then respond in whatever manner it chooses including the imposition of “relational consequences…”

Andrew Goddard has written yet again, this latest is titled The Anglican Covenant: Why a ‘Yes’ Vote is Significant.

As General Synod approaches its crucial vote on the Anglican covenant, recent discussions have revealed that there are at least three significant perspectives at work in the debate on the covenant and that there are some important differences between them which have not been explicitly articulated. Broadly speaking there are (1) those who, though unhappy with elements of the final text, are supportive of the covenant, (2) those who are against it and whose views are represented on the left by Inclusive Church and Modern Church and (3) those who are against it (though appear to be proposing to abstain in the Synod vote) on the right from a more conservative/GAFCON perspective. What are the reasons for the differences?

There is also an article by Benjamin Guyer at Fulcrum titled In Praise of Rhetoric? Anti-Covenantal Myths of Puritanism and Anglicanism (Part Two Richard Hooker)

Meanwhile, today the No Anglican Covenant Coalition issued a further press release, the full text of which appears below the fold.



LONDON – As the Church of England General Synod prepares to debate the proposed Anglican Covenant, a group of unlikely campaigners are working hard to ensure that there is a serious debate about the potential risks involved.

Started just three weeks ago after online conversations among a small number of international Anglican bloggers, the No Anglican Covenant Coalition has built on the work of two English groups, Inclusive Church and Modern Church, to set the shape of the debate.

“A month ago, General Synod and the entire Communion were sleepwalking into approving the Covenant without a proper discussion of the issue,” according to Coalition Moderator, the Revd. Dr. Lesley Fellows. “In some places, the Covenant was being presented as a means to punish North American Anglicans. In Britain, the United States and Canada, it was being spun as nothing more than a dispute resolution mechanism. I’ve spoken to many Synod members who were only dimly aware of the Anglican Covenant. An astonishing number of people thought I was referring to the Covenant with the Methodists.”

The week preceding the General Synod debate has seen a flood of articles criticizing the Covenant, including:

  • an article by Canadian canon law expert the Revd. Canon Alan Perry, challenging the assertion that the Covenant would have no impact on the constitution and canons of member churches of the Communion;
  • an article by the former Chancellor of the Anglican Church of Canada, the Hon. Ronald Stevenson QC, a former judge of the Court of Queen’s Bench, critical of the lack of clarity regarding the disciplinary procedures in the Covenant; and
  • an article by the Bishop of the Convocation of American Churches in Europe, the Rt. Revd. Pierre Whalon, challenging the idea of enhancing communion by excluding those who disagree with the majority.

“We are all strongly committed to the Anglican Communion, but we are not convinced that this proposed Covenant will do anything to keep the Communion together,” according to the Revd. Malcolm French, the Coalition’s Canadian Convenor. “Covenant supporters have hurt their case by being dismissive of critics while failing to make a compelling case for this proposed Anglican Covenant. And no one has been prepared to explain the initial and ongoing costs to implement the Covenant.”

Within the last three weeks momentum has gathered to encourage the Church of England to wake up. The first test will come tomorrow, when General Synod debates the Covenant and votes on a motion for initial approval, the first step towards final approval at a later session. Although significant decisions such as women in the episcopate normally require a two-thirds majority, questions should be asked about why the English House of Bishops has proposed only a simple majority for the Covenant.
The articles referred to, and several others, can be found at:

Revd. Dr. Lesley Fellows (England) +44 1844 239268
Dr. Lionel Deimel (USA) +1-412-512-9087
Revd. Malcolm French (Canada) +1-306-550-2277
Revd. Lawrence Kimberley (New Zealand) +64 3 981 7384
Revd. Hugh Magee +44 1334 470446

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13 years ago

From the TEC perspective, the covenant’s dead. Even if our bishops sign on, they’ll be signing up themselves and empty churches, because we *are* a liberal church, and we can – in this country – go ahead and take our priests and start new parishes. The Old Catholics will be glad to have their ranks swelled, the Lutherans and Mennonites don’t care about our bishops. So, all that will happen is TEC will be freed of a dusty relic of anglophilic empire. The “followers” the covenanters will get may be given the “official” brand of Anglican – so what? It… Read more »

Father David
Father David
13 years ago

Just as the Covenant is designed to create second class Anglicans – so to the Ordinariate will create second class Roman Catholics.

Father Ron Smith
13 years ago

“The covenant is a document that sets forth a system for adjudicating disputes based on criteria that are almost entirely subjective and ad hoc.” – Jim Naughton, ‘Episcopal Cafe’ – The Provinces of the Global South, themselves, (according to David Virtue of virtueonline) have no intention of signing up to the Covenant anyway, so what now can be the objective of committing the rest of the Provinces to subjective criteria that can outlaw their actions willy nilly? From that veraciously anti-TEC web-site, it is obvious that the Global South Primates are planning to go it alone, in their plan to… Read more »

13 years ago

If one wishes to be a Thinking Anglican, Geyer’s essay is a must. I have my own take on Reason in Hooker in my book, Word Without End (1998).
I see the covenant has passed and by a whopping margin.

Father Ron Smith
13 years ago

Yes, Mr Seitz, and as a part of the founding ethos of that Covenant – with the ACO – on the grounds of your needing to be safe from gay cooties, how can you now be pleased that your most loyal followers in the Global South – have rejected the Covenant? What, really would you like to happen in the world-wide Communion? Presumably, you and the ACO are going stand out like a sore thumb in the US, with only ACNA and Robbie Duncan to sustain you.

13 years ago

I did not realise how out of touch you were re: ACI’s relations with ACNA and Gafcon (which is only part of the Gs).

Father Ron Smith
13 years ago

It just goes to show how our haste to comment often turns against us. I meant, of course, to comment on the machinations of the ACI – ‘Anglican Communion Institute’ – self-styled – not the ACO – ‘Anglican Communion Office’

In any event, it looks like ACNA and the Global South are set to go it alone. Are you and the ACI going to set up shop with them, Christopher?

13 years ago

Ron–I am now just repeating myself; see my previous remark. I did not realise how out of touch you are about the ACI and its ecclesiology. ‘Set up shop’ with ACNA and the Global South? The GS is not monolithic and it is not Gafcon. ACI is not ‘setting up shop’ with ACNA, with Gafcon, nor with the GS tout court, as it is not a single bloc. I don’t understand your question, but let’s just leave it before more confusion is introduced as you seek to score some odd points. grace and peace.

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