Bosco Peters and Tobias Haller (and me) on the Anglican Covenant.

Bosco Peters and Tobias Haller have both written wonderful pieces on the Anglican Covenant. The recent very different sorts of "pro" covenant decisions made by the Province of South East Asia and the Church of Ireland have made these posts important reads. Read them both.

The GAFCON crowd seems, unlike the Province of South East Asia, unwilling to sign on to the Anglican Covenant believing it to be too weak and the enforcers too westernized to do much in terms of discipline. South-East Asia assumes the Covenant can be understood rightly to both require strong assent to Lambeth 1998,1.10, and strong enforcement by the Primates.  SEA thinks somehow that its opinion will be shared by other Provinces. Why I don't know. 

The foundational mistake, never corrected, is the idolatrous lifting of a single resolution of a Lambeth Conference to status not even granted the Lambeth Quadrilateral. Lambeth 1998, I.10 has become a marker for puritanism of the worse sort.  That resolution will continue to plague the Anglican Communion in till someone or some body had the courage to gut it and turn it into an offering and a sacrifice. Meanwhile it will tempt even the most faithful into an idolatry unworthy the people of God.

Meanwhile the Church of Ireland seems to think it can sign the Covenant and still maintain autonomy. Good luck to that one too. 

The Anglican Covenant is being considered here in The Episcopal Church with considerable thoughtfulness, both in dioceses and on a Church wide level.  While particular dioceses have opined one way or another about the Covenant, we know that Deputies have a freedom to vote as they believe right rather than vote the will of those who elected them (it is often pointed out that they are deputies, not representatives).  So while the diocesan opinions pro or con will influence the Deputies and Bishops voting in General Convention,  much will depend on the debate and hearings at Convention itself.

I am disposed to vote against the Anglican Covenant, but am committed to hearing the arguments out. Perhaps a good reason for voting for the Covenant will be presented and I will change my mind. But I have to say neither the Church of Ireland or the Church in South East Asia has given me reason to rethink my stance. 

Some argue that it might be appropriate to vote for the Covenant with the understanding that it could be changed or perfected later (sort of like - for us Americans - adding the Bill of Rights to the Constitution after it passed. Such hopes for change are a chancy business at best and we can not assume wide spread support for new elements being added to the Covenant.  

Others believe we need to adopt the Covenant in order to "stay in the game."  They argue that those who were going to break have (GAFCON folk) and that the rest of the provinces are in no mood to act punitively towards the Anglican Church of Canada and The Episcopal Church. But what then do we do with South East Asia?  They have signed on precisely demanding a rigorous separation out of those who disobey Lambeth 1998, 1.10.  If our signing on went otherwise uncontested, I suspect SEA would buy out.

My sense is that there is no reason to buy on in order to stay in some game. The Episcopal Church is what it is. We ordain women and partnered gay and lesbian persons to all orders of ministry. Having made previous decisions that they are, along with the straight men, worthy children of a loving God, we have decided that they by baptism may explore the sacramental vocation to marriage and ordained ministry.  We do this and we are not going back. 

If South East Asia prevails in its insistence to the idolatrous conformity to Lambeth 1998, 1.10, then we will not be fit for the Covenant. If the Covenant is seen as not requiring obedience to Lambeth 1998, 1.10 then SEA will leave in a snit and we could indeed sign on, but why would we want to?  If signing does not widen the community of churches belonging to the Anglican Communion but in reality is a source of division, why sign?

The only argument I can find for signing has been the thought that moderate voices and churches in the Communion will prevail and since the carping right has crapped out it leaves churches willing to continue in communion at the table. That being the case, it is argued, we should be there. If we are not, then some of the right will return to the table, and voila, it will be theirs.

The problem with this analysis is that it is entirely political. It does not address the problem that the Anglican Covenant is a really bad theological, historical and "Anglican" idea.  "Staying at the table" is a very high level and abstracted sort of ecclesial ideal.  There is nothing in Scripture, Reason or Tradition to support the notion that unity in a small part of fractured Christendom has anything to do with the unity that Our Lord prays for, nothing to support the notion that we are called to unity as a Communion in some particular way that cannot be expressed in ecumenical relations with one another.

Perhaps, as I have suggested often in the past, we ought to think of the Anglican Communion as a particular form of ecumenical life, one in which a rich heritage of liturgy, understanding of Scripture and history, and foundation in poetic sensibility prevail. 

I look forward to the debate at General Convention. I hope all deputies and bishops are preparing for first class discussion while there. But as yet I see no reason to buy on to this flawed and contrived document. It possesses neither theological bite nor poetic sensibility. It is a mostly uninteresting compendium of already well understood Anglican ideas along with an un-enlightened sense of the role and function of the episcopate on a synodical level. It is a mess.


  1. "Lambeth 1998, I.10 has become a marker for puritanism of the worse sort."

    Therein lies the problem. And therein makes this whole covenant process absurd.

  2. I cannot work out what you are trying to say here, Mark. On the one hand there is a fine vision of 'poetic sensibility' and all that, which I take to be an openness to journeying together through the uncertainties of our faith. On the other hand is a blunt assertion of fundamentalist sensibility: with a judgement like this, "Meanwhile it will tempt even the most faithful into an idolatry unworthy the people of God"; and a foundationalist statement like this, "The Episcopal Church is what it is. We ordain women and partnered gay and lesbian persons to all orders of ministry. Having made previous decisions that they are, along with the straight men, worthy children of a loving God, we have decided that they by baptism may explore the sacramental vocation to marriage and ordained ministry. We do this and we are not going back."

    On the whole I am drawn to the conclusion that you really want the fundamentalist sensibility to prevail in the life of the Communion. It is a straight fight over several rounds to see which fundamentalism will be the winner. Perhaps you have won a round here. Perhaps GAFCON will win the fight overall. Who knows?

  3. Thanks, Mark, for pointing to my blog post. I think you expand well my issue that provinces are providing quite different translations of what the Covenant means.

    You bring up an important issue: there is no mechanism for revising the Covenant once signed.

    [Comparisons with it being a constitution for the communion, hence, are clearly false - all constitutions have a mechanism within them for revision]

    Similarly, I realised the fascinating pickle if the CofE doesn't subscribe, accede, or adopt the Covenant! We would have a "covenanted communion" around an ABC who wasn't part of it!!! ROTFWL!!!

    However, someone(s) in the CofE has set their threshold SO low, and managed to keep parliament out of it, in spite of being established, that subscribing, acceding, or adopting it seems inevitable! No one there appears to be impolite enough to be challenging this publicly there.

    & I outlined what anyone who wants to pass the Covenant in their own province can learn from this: http://www.liturgy.co.nz/blog/anglican-covenant-3/5423

    Christ is risen!


  4. woops - writing in too much of a rush: 4.4.2 allows a process of amending the Covenant.

    So are we anticipating SEA seeking to amend what they have acceded to? Is this what they are foreshadowing?


  5. So SE Asia has issued a signing statement. I remember someone of recent history who was nuts enough to almost fancy himself king of the world, who issued a lot of signing statements over an eight year period.

    Many of us did not pay him any heed either.

  6. Thanks, Mark. I think it will be important to point out that the Covenant -- which at this point is a hodge-podge of more or less traditional Anglican principles from the Lambeth Quad to IASCOME -- nowhere grants to the Lambeth Conference the powers S E Asia appear to accord it. On the contrary, 3.1.4.ii accords to Lambeth only its traditional roles of "counsel, consultation and encouragement." Since the implementation structures laid out in Section 4 can only implement what the rest of the document actually says, it is important to bear in mind that its power is now rather constrained.

    It is important we take the opportunity, as did the Founders of the US, to sign on even if the document is imperfect (which it is!) so as to be able to be part of the implementation and, yes, amendment. A Bill of Rights would not be a bad idea...

  7. Anglican Scholar19/5/11 8:12 PM

    It seems most of the commenters here are reading F. Harris as petty, fundamentalist literalists. Who are you to insist that Fr. Harris must be read this way with all your subjective certainty?

    A more enlightened, profound reading of Fr. Harris notes how he's really speaking in rich metaphors. This is a midrash about the deep necessity of full inclusion of sock puppets in the public media. Sock puppets tend to be misunderstood by conservative Americans and others, and as such are only rarely heard from. Most news shows, sitcoms and such have never had a single appearance of a sock puppet in their entire running history.

    Commenters, I do believe that if only you open your minds, you'll see that this has been Fr. Harris's persistent message in the last months - I know it's difficult to give up the petty habits of literalism, but be aware of how much grief fundamentalism is bringing to our society! I am afraid you are damaging the Communion with these outdated views and likely to cause much grief.

    And unless Fr. Harris is properly understood, we're likely to continue the practice of excluding sockpuppets from public media indefinitely.

  8. At the risk of being overly literal, Fr Tobias draws an analogy with the Founders of the United States and our second attempt at nationwide government. It often seems lost in our conversation concerning our wonderful and flawed constitution, that this was our second attempt.

    Never forget that the Bill of Rights are AMENDMENTS to the Constitution. There wasn’t a hope of amendment, there were commitments from the Constitutional Convention and a text to consider. I often wonder why, given their importance to our political life, they weren’t included in the body of the document. The document is, as I assert, flawed.

    The details concerning both the creation and ratification of the US Constitution are glossed over in favor of a “creation myth” at our nations founding. It wasn’t pretty. And it’s fair to say that the constitution would never have been ratified without a fairly concrete commitment to also ratify the Bill of Rights.

    We still ponder the “intent” of the Founders concerning the words of the Constitution and its amendments. We interpret their meaning in ways that might surprise the authors. But of this I am sure, there would be no constitution without the Bill of Rights.

    Something to consider when we take up consideration of the Anglican Covenant.

  9. Let me second Point of Order (although I realize no second is required!) I'll be reflecting again a bit more on this at my blog, but I think in the hypercritical fray to say all the bad things about the proposed Covenant, we miss some very important points in the opportunity it presents. Some see it as giving new powers and sway to the 4 Instruments; but on the contrary it provides rather limited language to which, for the first time, we are invited to subscribe. No longer will Lambeth be able to be held up as a forum for the "mind of the Communion" -- or if someone does, we can point to the Covenant as limiting the Conference to the scope of its original intent: not as a doctrinally defining body, but as a forum for consultation. This is just one of the positive aspects of having an agreed text (however imperfect) instead of the collection of wandering traditions upon which we now depend for inter-provincial regulation.

    The trajectory of the development of this document has been positive through its various revisions, and I see no reason for that to stop if the well-intentioned members of the Communion sign on.


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.