Thinking Anglicans

Critical comments about the Anglican Covenant

The following critiques of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Advent Letter have appeared.

Alan Perry Of Advent Letters and Archbishops

In spite of many assurances, some Anglicans evidently still think that the Covenant changes the structure of our Communion or that it gives some sort of absolute power of ‘excommunication’ to some undemocratic or unrepresentative body.

Er, that would be people like me, I imagine. But then, I’ve read the document and analysed it, rather than simply rely on unsupported “assurances” to form an opinion.

With all respect to those who have raised these concerns, I must repeat that I do not see the Covenant in this light at all.

I do wish that the Archbishop would ask someone to respond to the sorts of concerns that I and others have raised, and perhaps even offer a rationale or argument in favour of the Covenant. “No it isn’t” is not an argument, it’s mere contradiction.

It outlines a procedure, such as we urgently need, for attempting reconciliation and for indicating the sorts of consequences that might result from a failure to be fully reconciled.

Well, actually, it outlines the rough idea of a procedure, which is so vague that it’s practically useless, to make arbitrary decisions based on unclear criteria whether a given decision or action of a given Province is or is not “incompatible with the Covenant.” And, although it threatens “relational consequences” it doesn’t define them, so the Archbishop is incorrect to say that it indicates any “sorts of consequences.” The process, such as it is, is a recipe for arbitrariness.

Tobias Haller Noises off…

…The Archbishop also asks a question, and then assumes his question has no takers as he rushes back to square one.

I continue to ask what alternatives there are if we want to agree on ways of limiting damage, managing conflict and facing with honesty the actual effects of greater disunity. In the absence of such alternatives, I must continue to commend the Covenant as strongly as I can to all who are considering its future.

I can, of course, think of any number of “alternatives” to what I continue to see as a deeply flawed and, by its own self-confession, ineffectual effort at conflict management:

  • Reliance on the Covenant for Communion in Mission from IASCOME
  • Restoration of the purely consultative function to Lambeth, with a staunch refusal to adopt any resolutions at all, other than those that directly empower mission and ministry
  • Expansion of ministry and mission cooperation between provinces, focused not on the mechanics of the Communion or disagreements on policies, but on doing the things Jesus actually commanded
  • Continuing to provide forums for the sharing of views between provinces, as in the Continuing Indaba and Mutual Listening Process which is “a biblically-based and mission-focused project designed to develop and intensify relationships within the Anglican Communion by drawing on cultural models of consensus building for mutual creative action.”

and Shedding some light

…In what seems a very disingenuous statement, I just noticed (thanks to Rod Gillis for pointing it out in the comments to the report at Thinking Anglicans) the irony in another portion of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Advent musings:

In spite of many assurances, some Anglicans evidently still think that the Covenant changes the structure of our Communion or that it gives some sort of absolute power of ‘excommunication’ to some undemocratic or unrepresentative body. With all respect to those who have raised these concerns, I must repeat that I do not see the Covenant in this light at all. (¶ 7)

Beg pardon, but it is the Archbishop who introduced language of two tracks or two “tiers” for the future of the Communion. Moreover, the invitation not to participate in, or be suspended from, one or more of “the Instruments” is spelled out in the Covenant at 4.2.5. And further unspecified “relational consequences” concerning the actual status of communion between members churches, is also threatened (4.2.7).

If these are not “change to the structure of the Communion” then what are they? It seems to me they are fundamental changes to the only structure we have. Evidently, the Archbishop thinks otherwise, which leads me to wonder what he means by “structure.”

Andrew Gerns Communion does matter. The Covenant is not the same as Communion.

…Communion is a gift. The problem is not the Communion. The problem is the Covenant.

To make the argument, Dr. Williams begs the question: since he did all the visits and all these events happened without the Covenant in place, then is it possible to be a Communion without the Covenant? Would these connections cease if the Covenant were to not pass? Would Anglicans stop working together or would our voice be diluted in any way without the Covenant in place?

Put another way, would the voice of Anglicanism be any stronger in Zimbabwe and would it influence Mugabe any more if they had the Covenant in their back pockets? Would having the Covenant stop Polynesian islands from being any more submerged and would the urban parish be any more relevant to it’s neighborhood with a fully empowered Anglican Covenant?

Once more he talks about how we must not focus on the things that divide us, while extolling a document that defines itself in terms of division, rather than reconciliation. He says we need this to make room for everyone. Dr. Williams asks for an alternative to the mechanisms outlined in Part IV. He says that no one has offered an alternative. While this point is in itself debatable, allow me instead to make a my own humble suggestion:

Instead of spending time (as Section Four posits) on throwing each other out when we disagree, how about building a communion that encourages dialogue and reconciliation?

Instead of focusing on eliminating conflict by making sure that no innovation can happen without the approval of the most conservative member of the Anglican Communion, how about creating a structure and processes that encourage members of Churches who see the implications of the Gospel differently to come together, listen to one another, pray together, share experiences of mission together, and break Eucharistic bread together?

Mark Harris Canterbury writes a letter. It is Advent after all.

11 comments

  • Michael Merriman says:

    Does anyone know whether Williams ever sees any comments such as these? Or does he exist unaware of such comments? Or is he unable to hear anyone other than himself?

  • JCF says:

    “the sorts of consequences that might result from a failure to be fully reconciled”

    I still can’t believe Cantuar published this line, which reeks as the grossest sort of “Other than that, Mrs Lincoln, how did you like the play?” euphemism.

  • Susannah says:

    Quoting: ‘excommunication’… I do not see the Covenant in this light at all.

    It may not be how Rowan himself would like to exercise its provisions, but it is surely how some parts of the Anglican Communion would urge its use, to address those provinces they disagree with.

    The whole mechanism arose because of diversity of views about gender and sexuality. It was seen by conservatives as a mechanism to enforce a doctrinal uniformity.

    It is a quite different spirit altogether that is needed, and yes, it is an alternative:

    As Anglicans and Christians we should be able to say to one another, “We hold diverse views, but we honour one another as loved by God, and One in Christ.” And so we find our Unity, not in a uniformity that enforces and excludes, but in our diversity and differences.

    And if people refuse to do that… if they insist “Everyone must hold MY views”… then they themselves have to ask themselves why they can’t just live with their own beliefs, and accept that others think differently. And just love one another anyway.

    There IS a holy alternative.

  • Jean Mary Mayland says:

    Brilliant

  • Considering the fact that The whole idea of Covenant arose out of a direct refusal of certain Provinces of the Communion to be ‘in communion’ with certain others – on the basis of their disapproval of same-sex relationships; one wonders how on earth (or in heaven) the present Covenant document can appeal to either the GAFCON Provinces or the rest of us anyway.

    GAFCON has founded it’s own solality – outside of the Communion. They have definitely eschewed any efforts to meet the standard of behaviour needed to ensure koinonia within the Communion, so they likely will not welcome even the best efforts to come back to the Family – as it now exists.

    A Covenant might well work between non-GAFCON Provinces – but not the present attempt with Section 4:2 included. Take that out, I suggest, and start over – with Provinces that really do want to co-exist as Unity-in-Diversity Anglicans.

  • Erika Baker says:

    I’m confused about this talk of alternatives and whether there are any or not.
    Tobias’ suggestions are very good, but they only become alternatives if someone is genuinely willing to look at them.
    And they all are different versions of “live and let live” while concentrating on what unites us.

    But the Covenant arose out of the recognition that this, precisely, is what a large number of national churches are no longer willing to do.

    If they were, those alternatives would not be needed. As they aren’t, those alternatives won’t work.

    So – is it the Covenenant or bust after all?

  • Susan Russell makes a great deal of sense – in her article accessed by Simon’s link above. I guess Rowan is doing what an Archbishop of Canterbury might be expected to do. He is desperately trying to keep the Communion together – when certain of the Provinces are disdainful of being ‘in communion’ with those of us who see the Gospel as inclusive, rather than a puritanical association of the like-minded.

    GAFCON Provinces are now so organically linked with one another that one wonders why the ACO does not just ‘let them go’. But I guess it would be very difficult for any ABC to let this happen on their watch. It could still work for the rest of us – but not through a magisterial Covenant that wants to separate out putative sheep and ‘goats’. Unity in Diversity is the only way for Anglicanism to survive. Porvoo manages this, why can’t we?

  • Simon Dawson says:

    Father Ron asks “GAFCON Provinces are now so organically linked with one another that one wonders why the ACO does not just ‘let them go’. But I guess it would be very difficult for any ABC to let this happen on their watch. It could still work for the rest of us”

    A Gafcon province is not just the Archbishop. A province is made up for all of its members, and we are “in communion” with all of its members, not just the leader.

    “Letting them go” might work for those of us in the liberal West who want to be rid of a problem. But would it work for the gay and women members of Gafcon Provinces who look to that same liberal West for help and moral support.

    Pilate washed his hands of responsibility for saving the life of Christ. Let us not wash our hands of some sense of responsibility for the lives of gay Christians in Nigeria, Uganda and other such places, who look to us for support.

  • So, Simon Dawson; what do you suggest we do – about the intransigence of the GAFCON Primates? Do we keep them in the loop, so that they can extend their particular brand of homophobia to the rest of us?
    It does not seem that even the Covenant (if they could be persuaded to join) would help them to change their position. “You can take a horse to the water, but you can’t make him drink”.

  • Erika Baker says:

    Simon,
    what stops each one of us from continuing to give African lgbt people moral and practical support, through organisations like Changing Attitude or other means?

    What official support is there that requires a formal link between the churches?

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