The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, was interviewed by the Daily Telegraph's Jonathan Petre. The article included several comments about the centrality of communion with the See of Canterbury to inclusion in the Anglican Communion. They have been widely discussed in Anglican blog-land. But the Archbishop spoke to Anglican Communion issues after the following comments on Britain and the matter of a written constitution. Remembering that Dr. Sentamu was a judge in Uganda in the past his remarks provide an interesting twist on the matter of an Anglican Covenant. Here is what the article said (I have printed the quote in purple and specific sentences of special interest in red.
"Dr Sentamu, a former judge who was forced to flee the regime of Idi Amin, was particularly critical of the rising tide of bureaucracy and Government legislation and he questioned moves towards a written constitution.
"Britain has an unwritten constitution which hasn't failed this nation once," he said. "Why is there a clamour for a written constitution?
"Why are people suggesting that writing one would make Britain a better place? I don't believe it."
He continued: "I think people look for things like a written constitution document because there isn't a shared vision which is big enough to contain all of us," he said.
"The more you write down your laws and have more of them my view is that you are becoming less and less of a free society.
"More regulation implies in the end that you don't actually have confidence that people will act justly.
"And the more laws people pass, it seems to me, that is a society full of fear, of worry, of anxiety....
"I wouldn't want to be a judge in this country. I don't think there is enough time to read the legislation coming out. There is too much of it."
He said he believed that 99 per cent of British people would like to live in peace with their neighbours but there was a "little core that is nasty".
He added: "You can't use legislation to cure a bad minority. It just doesn't work."
Later in the interview the following was written:
"As long as someone does not deny the very basic doctrines of the Church - the creation, the death, the resurrection of Christ and human beings being made in the image of God - then the rest really helps but they are not the core message.
"And I haven't found that in Ecusa or in Canada, where I was recently, they have any doubts in their understanding of God which is very different from anybody. What they have quarrelled about is the nature of sexual ethics."
He nevertheless emphasised that Dr Williams does expect those who attend Lambeth to abide by the decision-making processes of the Anglican Communion.
"The Archbishop of Canterbury is very clear that he still reserves the right to withdraw the invitations and that those who are invited are accepting the Windsor process and accepting the process about the covenant."
The Archbishop on the one hand has considerable reservation about Britain adapting a written constitution, and on the other hand supports the ABC's concern that those accepting invitation to Lambeth are "accepting the Windsor process and accepting the process about the covenant." Interestingly both the Windsor Report and the intent in developing an Anglican Covenant (in whatever form) are precisely about formalizing "the decision-making processes of the Anglican Communion." They are, in other words, documents on the way to a written constitution for the Anglican Communion.
The Windsor Report was never intended to be more than a document that was part of a process. Primarily because of the insistence of the realignment and Global South communities it has become more than an item in a process. It has become something of a proof-text regarding ecclesial standing within the Communion. The Anglican Covenant has been seen both as an idea worth pursuing by a process of decision making and, as an idea, a proof-text for continued participation in the process. For this reason the draft Covenant was accompanied by the proposal that it be accepted in principle and debated only as concerns specifics.
The Windsor Report and the draft Anglican Covenant have both been understood in some circles to make constitution building (under the guise of a covenant) mandatory. The report of the drafting committee attempted to make the outline of the draft somehow beyond question, leaving only fine points for late discussion.
The Archbishop of York has some serious doubts about the need for a written constitution for Britain. Why does he not have similar doubts about the development of an Anglican Covenant?
Will the Anglican Communion be genuinely helped by having a written Constitution? – For that is what an Anglican Covenant will ultimately come to entail.
Perhaps the Archbishop might apply his concerns for the one to the concerns for the other.