Dr. Radner and "in principle" acceptance of Covenant

Dr. Ephraim Radner, a member of the Covenant Design Group, has written a lengthy reflection on ACC-14 and the Anglican Covenant. It is posted on both the Anglican Communion Institute pages and on Global South Anglican.

Towards the end of the essay he lists several next steps, among them is item four:

"4. I see no reason why there may not begin immediately a process of “in principle” acceptance of Section 4 as currently written – and of the Covenant as a whole — now by any province or diocese. Nothing forbids this, and it would in fact prove a far more clear “response” to the document (something the ACC says it wants) than any kind of committee statement. There is no reasons that non-provincial structures could not express their “in principle” acceptance; this would not contravene the ACC’s desire that “only” scheduled members be “invited”. (It needs to be said here that the ACC simply has no authority in this matter, period; but my suggestion does not even need to tread into those waters.) Furthermore, if the Archbishop of Canterbury were himself to make such an invitation for concrete positive response where desired, parallel to the gathering of other responses, some measure of trust might be restored in this process."

Once again the proposition is put forward that dioceses and not "churches" and "non-provincial structures" (read the Anglican Church in North America) can sign on to the Covenant. This is an idea that must please the Communion partner bishops and the ACNA folk.

Of course they can do so. They can do so quite independent of any permission by any body or person, including the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The question is not about who does or does not think the Covenant is a good thing or a "signable" document. The Anglican Covenant was commissioned by the Anglican Communion and the receiving agent turns out to be the Anglican Consultative Council. When it is given to them it is a report, in this case apparently the final report of the Covenant Design Group. What they do with that report is their business. Dr. Radner seems to believe that the CDG's work ought to stand as a whole, as did the Windsor Report, accepted or rejected as a whole.

Dr. Radner raises some serious questions about the difference between the CDG's expectations - that the Draft would be presented for an up or down vote of acceptance and on the basis of that sent to the churches - and the ACC's actions, which involved voting on each section and making changes that were felt to be necessary, and referring section 4 to a group for further action.

While I read with care his comments and appreciated the viewpoint of one who spent considerable time working on the several drafts, I am unpersuaded by his arguments. The CDG's product was essentially given over to the ACC as a report - the report of their work. At the end of the day the members of the CDG deserve a "well done, good and faithful servants" response and then should be expected to leave the matter with those who received the report.

Instead Dr. Radner now argues that the ACC should not have mucked around with the text, passed it on to the Churches, and barring that should ask the CDG to make what final changes might be made and pass it on to the Churches. After that thread of argument he then takes up the alternative, that since this is not going out in final form to the churches of the Anglican Communion until the end of the year at the earliest, why not send it around in its current form to all communion loving Covenant Anglicans or proto-Anglicans and let them show their fidelity now? That is, why not send it in its current form for a popular vote by dioceses and provinces and proto-provinces and whoever?

The object of such an exercise is to show that the ACC process is not the true sentiment of the Communion and that there is a rising groundswell for the Covenant just as it is. Supposedly this will impress the Archbishop of Canterbury who will then see more clearly the will of the people of Anglican land.

This is a very bad idea. Dr Radner has done great service in this matter, but he was in service to those who commissioned him to this work. Now is not the time to call for a groundswell popular action. To this point he has been the agent of representative (or perhaps monarchical) government. Now he is reaching for a different mandate for the content of this document.

Now the Covenant is no longer a covenant, it is a declaration of independence - a declaration that dioceses, proto-churches and perhaps even parishes and individuals can sign on to a rising wave of Anglican sentiment such that no agencies dare interfere.

Being a lover of independence I applaud Dr. Radner's suggestion that anyone can sign on. Being a lover of freedom and justice I would not sign this Covenant under the conditions he proposes or under any others, save within the community of a Church. The Anglican Covenant is not worth the paper it is written on, save as a document for the churches of the Communion. Otherwise its value as an aid to deeper bonds of affection among member churches of the Anglican Communion is completely compromised.

All of this is personally moot, of course. I am of no importance here, not being a bishop or a metropolitan, or archbishop or whatever. As a citizen of the faithful community I fine this covenant business interesting but not vital to my life in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, for which any institutional form existent is but a shadow.

As a deputy to General Convention and member of Executive Council I have considerable interest in the Anglican Covenant as a covenant among the churches (meaning the provincial or national and regional churches) of the Communion. That interest is because the Anglican Covenant idea is brought forward as an aid to the expression of the bonds of affection that makes us a communion. If it is not such an aid, it is not worth the attention. Dr. Radner's suggestion makes the Anglican Covenant less interesting and less worthy of attention.


  1. "I am of no importance here, not being a bishop or a metropolitan, or archbishop or whatever" - a philosophy ACI might usefully adopt (not that I would suggest that this might have been your subliminal message).

    Anyone else hereabouts an admirer of Dr Radner's succinct prose?

  2. No, no, a thousand times no. In fact, what part of no does Dr. Radner not understand?
    Time for the Episcopalian Bill of Rights, and apparently none to soon.

    My "scret word" is vodoonogr as in "hit you in the head until your skin turns red"

  3. I tend to believe in the Freedom of Speech. If a diocese or other group wants to endorse the Covenant, who am I to say they don't have the freedom to express their opinion.

    The important part is that the ACC has not endorsed, and I doubt that it will take any notice of, entities other than provinces of the AC accepting the Covenant.

  4. This really does transform the Covenant into a sort of Confession, doesn't it?

  5. Tobias: Yes, it does.

    Ephraim Radner is God's way of reminding us all that just because we are very bright doesn't mean that we no longer need to get over ourselves.

    "merabl" as in "merabl dictu"?

  6. I am grateful, Mark (as I often am), for your tempered tone in criticizing my views. You've tried to grasp one of my suggestions, and are not persuaded. Fair enough. I do want, however, to try to clarify aspects of the suggestion itself that have informed its purpose, and that you do not address.

    Ephraim Radner

    First, the suggestion of "in principle" adoption is made within the context of deep dismay by many in the Communion (so it appears) over the process and outcome of the ACC meeting. This is a crucial element to bear in mind that you do not mention: rather than drawing churches closer together in the Covenant process, the ACC meeting seems to have pushed them further apart. A large number of GS representatives went home angry and alienated. And, of course, not only them. Although there have been some arguments to the contrary, most observers of the meeting's treatment of the Covenant on the floor agreed that it was not well-ordered, at best. And the credibility of the outcome for the disposition of the Covenant text is not, as a result, great at present. Yes, I am committed to the Covenant process in the sense that I believe in it and want it to work. My suggestion comes out of this context, and it is motivated precisely by a desire that this process indeed be and be perceived as a "Communion-wide" one. I have heard no other suggestions for recapturing some credibility in this regard, but I welcome them. I have heard suggestions, on the other hand, from both "liberal" and "conservative" perspectives that the process itself is useless, as is its purpose. This is a tack I am not willing to take.

    Second, the notion of an "in principle" adoption is precisely that it not preempt the process that the ACC has itself left the Communion. But since this last is, in many churches' eyes (rightly or wrongly), tainted, offering some decisive views about the Covenant text in a way that provides a clarity some churches feel they were no permitted to express formally at the ACC, seems a reasonable way to try to bridge a serious divide. This is not a "declaration of independence" at all, but an attempt to respect the views and process of a divided Communion for the purpose of maintaining some kind of relation that can be built upon in the near future. The "in principle" aspect is precisely a matter of restraining actual adoption in order to await whatever revisions, if there are any, are given to the text.

    Third, I realize that it may seem as if I am, retrospectively, demanding an "authority" for the CDG that it simply doesn't have. Again, however, the issue is the context of the moment. You are certainly right that the CDG was only a servant of other Communion bodies. Of course I accept that! But there are no blank checks in terms of Church order. Who exactly decided that the text would go to the ACC remains, for instance, very unclear to me. Not that it matters in itself, except that I know many would like to have a sense of the process itself that led in this direction. Certainly, the ACC was not the body that comissioned the Report. (I thought it was the Archbishop on behalf of the Primates. Have they had or will they have a chance themselves and "on their own", as it were, to respond to the text?) In any case, as an Anglican Communion Christian I have as much responsibility as anyone else to urge an integral process of counsel and deicision-making with respect to the health of the common body. And in this case, the outcome to the ACC meeting does not seem to have furthered that goal as it might have, and I am duty-bound to speak openly on the matter. I claim, however, no more authority than you do! You have a blog, and share your judgments (often harsh) about people, policies, decisions, and so on with the world; I, in my own way, do the same. Both of us, however, are generally dispensible. I have no illusions.

  7. I think TEC is already on record as to supporting the development of a Covenant "in principle." The idea of accepting a particular document (still under revision) "in principle" does not appear to me to add to forward movement, but to introduce the very confusion and possible polarization we would hope to avoid.

  8. J.E. Scully19/5/09 10:19 AM

    Please note that Prof. Radner does not speak for the whole Covenant Design Group. Some of us prefer to have done the work and leave it in the hands of the ACC and the Provinces and readers to analyse and comment and get into debate about it. It is, as you correctly identity, Mark, a report, and, just as I was pleased by the level and some of the content of engagement with St. Andrew's during the Lambeth Conference, I am also pleased by the engagement by the ACC. J.E. Scully

  9. J.E. Scully...thank you for your comment here.


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