Responses to Questions on the Draft Covenant: Turned in!

Well, after being caught up in other things I finally returned to the Draft Covenant and the call for responses. This thing is too long, but there it is. My final sense: Out of fourteen questions I could only answer one in the affirmative (Question 1) and one partially so (Question 4). Out of a fourteen question review I could muster only 11% worth of positive comments. My sense is that the Draft Covenant is a mess, and the writers would be better off starting over. Here is what I sent in:

In reference to "The Report of the Covenant Design Group."

Question 1: Do you think an Anglican Covenant is necessary and / or will help to strengthen the interdependent life of the Anglican Communion? Why or why not?

Answer: Yes…but not this one.

An Anglican Covenant would be useful to those ends; perhaps not called a Covenant but a Compact, or even a Constitution. But the Covenant as proposed in these preliminary remarks is unnecessary, dangerous for the health of the Communion and, to the extent that the Draft Covenant is proposed as the Covenant, disastrous for interdependent life in the Communion. So my answer is, it is not necessary but useful, and this particular Draft is neither. Here is why:

The preliminary remarks of the whole report, titled "The Report of the Covenant Design Group" constitute the wind up for the pitch. The pitch is a carefully worded plea for the rapid legitimatization of a particular Covenant, here a so called "draft covenant." The "dual track approach" makes the Covenant we might wish to have essentially the Draft Covenant we have received. The supposed "dual track," in which there is longer term consideration of a text and a near recognition "in the general substance of the preliminary draft set forth by the CDG (Covenant Design Group) a concise expression of what may be considered as authentic Anglicanism," is no dual track at all. It is a single track with several stops.

The preliminary remarks of the CDG document make it clear: This Draft Covenant is being presented with the hope that it is "robust enough to express clear commitment in those areas of Anglican faith about which there has been the most underlying concern in recent events…" It is presented as the basic framework of the Covenant to come, not as a stop gap while a better more permanent document is developed.

The process by which this Draft Covenant will be turned into something for which only "fine-tuning and adoption" is necessary is indicative of one of the primary characteristics of the Draft Covenant itself. The weight of the Draft Covenant text and its consideration by Lambeth will be pressed by the Primates, the heads of the thirty-eight churches of the Anglican Communion. The CDG (i) "proposes that the Primates give consideration to a preliminary draft text, (ii) that they commend the text to the Provinces for study and response, (iii) that they express an appropriate measure of consent to this text and (iv) express the intention to pursue its fine-tuning and adoption through the consultative and constitutional processes of the Provinces." The Primates assume extraordinary power in this process and that assumption must be challenged now.

It is important to note that item (i) of this list was the consideration at the Primates Meeting in February 2007 and item (ii) is the consideration by the Provinces, of which our work is part. The Communiqué of the Primates Meeting devoted only two paragraphs to the Anglican Covenant (pars 15-16), but it too assumed in its "Key Recommendations" what the Draft Covenant proposes, namely a greatly enhanced role for the Primates. Item (iii) is again a matter for the Primates, prior to Lambeth, and (iv) finally gives the fine-tuning over to the Lambeth Conference and in turn to Provincial bodies for consideration.

This particular scenario makes it clear: The Provinces have only two occasion when the voices of the baptized, other than Primates, will be consulted – one is now and the other begins at Lambeth. If we wait until Lambeth to derail the expansion of Primatial powers we will only have the option to buy in or buy out of a Covenant that has become the benchmark for membership in the Communion. The specifics of the CDG Report is a "railroading" of the whole discussion down the track to a loyalty oath disguised as a "draft" covenant subject to "fine-tuning."

This is why we must firmly object to the CDG's "Draft Covenant." No matter the wide agreement that some sort of instrument to strengthen our interdependent life. This instrument fails completely in that task.

I share the wish that there be an instrument "which would articulate our common foundations, and set out principles by which our life of Communion in Christ could be strengthened and nurtured." That is why my answer to the general question is "yes." But the answer lies elsewhere, not in this text.

In reference to "An Introduction to a Draft Text for an Anglican Covenant."

Question 2: How closely does this view of communion accord with your understanding of the development and vocation of the Anglican Communion?

First, a comment on the scriptural references. They are arguably solid biblical precedence for something, but not for anything having to do with the Anglican Communion. The larger calling of Jesus Christ in Acts 2:42 "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers," does indeed provide a larger calling, but that calling is ecumenical – that is it is available to and provided for in the widest possible understanding of Christian koinonia, "fellowship." It has nothing in particular to do with the Anglican Communion or a specific calling of this particular group of Christians.

Thus the notion that the Anglican Communion has a "special charism and identity among the many followers and servants of Jesus Christ" is not shown in any way by the scriptural references or the wider call to all Christians. It is an assumption, one I might add that has no warrant, even in our own sense of common life. The Chicago version of the Quadrilateral had the famous four points of the Lambeth Conference 1888, Resolution 11 (in a slightly different version), but in addition was proceeded by four points regarding inclusion: We desire that all may be one; that all baptized in the name of the Trinity are members of the Holy Catholic Church' that we are ready to forego all preferences of our own; that we do not seek to absorb other Communions but to co-operate with them on the basis of common Faith and Order. This runs counter to the notion of a special charism and identity.

This Introduction assumes an Anglican Communion that takes its place as an equal with other great communions, that it has or can have "a coherent testimony and that we can be a global body.

This brief introduction is entirely insufficient. It says nothing about our development or vocation. Rather it speaks to the idea of establishment as an institute of God's chosing. It denies all we have been about ecumenically; it sets us apart with a special charism and identity, promotes us as a global body, and presupposes an emerging world wide church. It is in a word imperialistic.

"An Anglican Covenant Draft"


Question 3: Is this a sufficient rational for entering into Covenant. Why or why not?

No. This is a sufficient rational for proclaiming ourselves a kingdom like any other ecclesial kingdom.

This is not a rational. This is a proclamation of solemn covenant. It is fine as a ritual statement. The giveaway is the final phrase "to grow up together as a worldwide Communion to the full stature of Christ." The progression of the scriptural quotations is focused on Ephesians 4:1-16 which becomes the basis for the "full stature of Christ." It is perhaps worth noting that the "we all" to which this passage is address is either much larger than this or that entity called a "communion" or it is individual, in which case it does not apply at all. The scriptural quotations are a smoke screen. The proposition is that the purpose of this covenant is that the Churches of the Anglican Communion…grow up together as a worldwide Communion to the full stature of Christ." Again it is arrogant, imperialistic, and dim-sighted.

The Life We Share.

Question 4: Do these six affirmations adequately describe The Episcopal Church's understanding of "common catholicity, apostolicity and confession of faith"? Why or why not?

In part, but only in part.

The second affirmation includes the Lambeth version of the Quadrilateral's statement on Holy Scriptures, which reads "The Holy Scriptures of the Old an New Testaments, as "containing all things necessary to salvation," and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith." The Chicago, US House of Bishops version said only "The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament as the revealed Word of God." The reference to "the rule and ultimate standard of faith," is subject to considerable interpretation and raises questions as to just what church rulers make that interpretation.

The fifth affirmation makes the assertion that with the leading of the Holy Spirit the Anglican Communion has "borne witness to Christian truth…", (one presumes in ways that are particular to the Anglican Communion) in "Its" historic formularies. Which are these? If the reference is to the historic formularies of the ancient creeds, the "its" is to the undivided catholic church of the first centuries. If the reference is to formularies of the Church of England and its successors, just what are those formularies?

The sixth affirmation states "our loyalty to this inheritance of faith as our inspiration and guide…" but it does not offer any context for the expression of this loyalty.

In all this is a mixed section. The biblical quotations are again unhelpful.

Question 5: The Thirty-nine Articles of Religion and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (of the Church of England) are not currently authoritative documents for The Episcopal Church. Do you think they should be? Why or why not?

The Thirty-nine Articles are sufficiently archaic that I would be hard pressed to defend them, unwilling to sign them, and uninterested in belonging to a church bound by them. On the other hand the article on the Holy Scripture is echoed in the vow I took at ordination and I firmly stand by that. So the Articles have substance, some of which has persisted to this day as authoritative by way of inclusion in the Book of Common Prayer, which has authority along with our constitution and canons. But the document as a whole is properly understood as historical, and significant as part of our heritage.

The 1662 Book of Common Prayer provides an instrument that has "borne witness to Christian truth," of course. Authority, in our church, concerns the Book of Common Prayer of this Church, at this time the version authorized in 1979. There are significant differences between the English book of 1662 and the American book of 1979 that real differences in authorized actions are now present – concerning the ordination of women, the inclusion of the baptized in the reception of communion and the formulation of a baptismal covenant immediately come to mind.

Neither of these documents are authoritative in their full form. Rather they are informative of our common life. If that is the understanding of affirmation five, then fine. If the understanding is that it is primarily or exclusively through those articles or that prayer book that we find the witness of the church, this section is deficient.

By the way, the reference to the 1662 Book's "ordering of Bishop, Priests and Deacons" is an odd entry. The current printing of the BCP includes the ordination services as part of the book, so one wonders why that needs to be added. If the effect is to say that the three "sacred" orders are indeed necessary then other matters come to the fore: Is this to counter the movement in some parts of the communion to consider lay presidency of the Eucharist? Or is it to expand the fourth point of the Lambeth Quadrilateral which references the office of bishop, as shaped by local needs and makes no reference to priests or deacons at all? Either way, in an ecumenical age it is an overreach to affirm that Christian truth is somehow borne witness to in our ordination program.

Our Commitment to Confession of Faith:

Question 6: Is each of these commitments clear and understandable with respect to what is being asked of the member churches and are they consistent with statements and actions made by The Episcopal Church in the General Convention? Why or why not?

No they are not uniformly clear and understandable. Some concerns about these commitments:

Item one: "uphold and act in continuity and consistency….received by and developed by the communion of member Churches." This is a statement of conformity to some communion wide reception and development process. This is not spelled out in any informative way. Further, the language, "biblically derived moral values" must be unpacked or rejected, for as it stands it tells us nothing about the value of the values (some quite at odds with others) found in Holy Scripture. I do not believe there are biblically derived moral values, but rather that there are values discovered in following the Lord Jesus Christ that resonate with some of the values presented in the biblical material. This whole section needs reworking.

Items two and three seem to me fine as they stand. I would point out that item three, if applied to this draft as a whole would lead to the wholesale deletion of the biblical references under each heading.

Item four echoes a theme of transformation in the phrase "transformative power" that is also in item three, "transform cultures." The transformation of cultures, nations, and indeed the whole world is quite properly something we can commit ourselves to engage. The problem is that "transformation" also carries particular meaning for those who believe that gay and lesbian sexual activity is a sin. In that context "God transforms lives" is about transforming gay and lesbian people into straight people, and if not that into celibate persons. This section needs to be reworked.

Item five, concerning common pilgrimage, is both too limited (what about more ecumenical pilgrimage?) and too triumphal. I am not at all sure that committing to "common pilgrimage with other members of the Communion to discern truth" has anything to do with effecting change sufficient that "peoples from all nations may truly be free and receive the new and abundant life in the Lord Jesus Christ." Perhaps the pilgrimage ought to be with them, not with our fellows. Needs massive rework.

The Life we Share with Others:

Question 7: Is the mission vision offered here helpful in advancing a common life of the Anglican Communion and does it need to be part of the Draft Covenant? Why or Why not?

It is helpful, and perhaps might be the core of a new draft Covenant.

I would suggest that we be clear that "communion is a gift" does not mean necessarily "the Anglican Communion." In the recitation of our history as a particular communion of churches we need to be clear that our struggle to stay in communion is because of our awareness of the great gift communion is, not because of our sense that it is something only we have. The second paragraph needs to be changed to begin, "As this Communion continues…."

This section is good enough that it needs only to be kept from triumphalism.

Our Unity in Common Life.

Question 8: Does this section adequately describe your understanding of the history and respective roles of the "Four Instruments of Communion"? Why or why not?


The first affirmation seems to be a repeat of the Lambeth Quadrilateral's fourth point, on the Historic Episcopate, but it adds, "and the central role of bishops as custodians of faith, leaders in mission, and as a visible sign of unity." This is considerably more than what the LQ suggests for unity. The core phrase, "custodians of the faith" needs to be unpacked. It occurs neither in the 39 Articles, nor in the BCP (English or US) as a phrase in reference to the role of bishop. We do ask, "will you guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church." (518 BCP, TEC) I would submit that "custodians of the faith" is an overreach, for custodial centrality may indeed rest with the whole body of faithful people who ultimately elect the bishops, determine actual practice and work in the fulfillment of the Gospel imperatives as they are understood in each age and place.

The second affirmation, regarding the "four instruments" begins well but rapidly works its way into affirming that which is NOT the case at present.

Concerning the description of the four instruments:

The Archbishop may be considered "first among equals," but the Latin gives it away: "Primus inter pares" is an elitist bit of ecclesial snobbery and should be dropped immediately. Honor and respect have nothing to do with being "first."

The Lambeth Conference is described as serving "as an instrument in guarding the faith and unity of the Communion." This easily slides into the temptation to give utterances by the Lambeth Conference greater power than they ought to have. At the moment pronouncements by Lambeth Conferences are more or less godly advice. They are not enforceable norms. This section assumes the beginning of synodical power. To Lambeth.

The Primates' Meeting, is described as working "in full collaboration in doctrinal, moral and pastoral matters that have communion-wide implications." There are many problems with this statement. It is the Primates that work or do not work in collaboration. The Primates' Meeting is the context in which some of their work takes place. It is not clear that they work in full collaboration. The Primates issue communiqués from time to time, authorize papers to be written, receive reports, talk among themselves, etc. That they work together or say or do anything binding on any member church is unclear. To affirm that they do as described here is to potentially give them authority they do not have. This section appears to be a boost in the authority and power of the Primates, in meeting or otherwise.

The last section reduces the Anglican Consultative Council to a programmatic agency, reducing the one representative body in the Anglican Communion to an enablement arm of decisions made by others. This is absolutely untenable.

Unity of the Communion

Question 9: Do you think there needs to be an executive or judicial body for resolving disagreements or disputes in the Anglican Communion? If so, do you think it should be the Primates' Meeting as recommended by the Draft Covenant? Explain.

No, and no.

There are dispersed powers in the Communion as it stands and those might be discussed and made clearer. The Archbishop of Canterbury, for example, may by executive decision invite who he wishes to Lambeth. Let that rest there. The Anglican Consultative Council should manage the budget for the whole of Anglican Communion activities. Let executive powers rest there for budget. The Lambeth Conference sets its concerns before the communion for local adaptation and for communion wide discussion. Fine. The Primates Meetings, and indeed the Primates in any configuration of consultation, work at understanding one another's churches and the whole of what it means to be part of the Anglican Communion. The core executive authority to determine who is in or out of the Communion rests with the ACC who enrolls new members of the ACC, and in the ABC who invites to Lambeth. The Bishops at Lambeth and the Primates are invitees, and in that sense have no executive role. They exercise the judicial role as our "fathers and mothers in God" but that is not judgment in a legal sense, but in the sense of hopefully godly admonition.

I believe executive powers should lie with the ACC and the Archbishop of Canterbury as the powers that invite, and judicial review (if that is what we might call Godly admonition) should lie with Lambeth Bishops and the Primates.

The commitments in section six need to be carefully reworked, if not dropped in their current form entirely. In particular the fifth section, regarding the role of the Primates, is unacceptable, for reasons I have already outlined.

Question 10. What does the phrase, "a common mind about matters of essential concern…" mean to you?

I believe this is a goal concerning practical matters – translatability of ordained persons from one jurisdiction to another, commending members of one province to the care of the churches in another when those persons are residing or visiting there, sharing of resources in teaching, health care, social justice, etc, where differences in theological understandings make sharing difficult (for example in teaching for equality for women, health practices that do not assume abstinence, social justice programs that can and sometimes do rely upon liberation theology understandings, biblical study that is evangelistic in its interpretation of scripture, or alternately concerned with critical examination of the texts, etc. I am not, for example, convinced that homosexual behavior is a matter of essential concern for Christians, although how all persons treat one another is.

It may be important to seek a common mind, but more it is important to agree as to what is a matter of essential concern. The recent events of the Anglican Communion has lead me to believe that there is a confusion between the two, such that we are having to address matters not at all essential as if they were.

Our Declaration

Question 11: Can you affirm the "fundamental shape" of the Draft Covenant? Why or why not?

No. It is filled with magisterial weight, gives too much power to the Primates (not just in meeting but as a body of people), takes away leadership from lay persons and clergy not bishops, presupposes a world-wide church, and takes part in the sin of being a "kingdom like other kingdoms."

Question 12: What do you think are the consequences of signing such a Covenant as proposed in the Draft?

The end of the Anglican Communion as a fellowship of Churches, and the beginning of the Anglican Communion as a federation with binding law, that is as a supra-provincial ecclesial state.

It would be also the end of my participation in Anglican Communion affairs, to which I have given a large part of my ministry.

Question 13: Having read the Draft Covenant as a whole do you agree with the CDG's assertion that "nothing which is commended in the draft text of the Covenant can be said to be 'new.'" Why or why not?

I disagree. There are continued insertions of powers to the Primates in particular and in the episcopacy in general that make any ecumenical use of the Lambeth Quadrilateral as a basis for reunion increasingly difficult. This covenant also calls the churches of the Anglican Communion to a new form of supra-provincial engagement that goes well beyond the powers vested in any of the "instruments of unity" as they now are constituted.

Question 14: In general, what is your response to the Draft Covenant taken as a whole? What is helpful in the draft? What is not helpful? What is missing? Additional comments?

In general I find the Draft Covenant almost impossible to use constructively. I have already commented on what is most unhelpful. What is missing is any sense of Koinonia, fellowship, rather than supra-Church, Eklesia writ large.


  1. I agree with much of this, but if bishops are not custodians of the apostolic faith, what is there role--other than administrative.

    Don't they have some special responsibility to safeguard continuity of doctrine and discipline with the past and the wider church, if only by consenting (or not) to the ordination of priests in that diocese? If not, the idea of episcopacy is vacuous.

    I agree, however, that it is difficult to define exactly what the parameters of "continuity" are.

  2. Thank you for your good work on this.

    The draft covenant is a dangerous mish-mash of poor scholarship combined with a naked power grab on the part of the prelates.

    If "the Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this realm of England," I fail to see how the Bishop of Abuja should have jurisdiction in the realm of Canada, or in the United States of America.

  3. A very long-winded way of saying the same answer my four year old used to give whenever he felt threatened: "You are not the boss of me!"

  4. Mark,
    On a whole different subject: this quote from IRD came up today, "And this spring, the denomination’s Executive Council passed a resolution urged against future General Conventions being held in states where the marriage amendments are in effect."

    Is this true and who made such a resolution?

  5. I, for one would not want to have a covenant at all. Anything that we might devise would always be confining.

    Brother French+ has it right. It is one more time when there is too much emphasis on bishops and too little emphasis on the laity.

  6. A very long-winded way of saying the same answer my four year old used to give whenever he felt threatened: "You are not the boss of me!"

    That is a perfectly justified response when those who truly are not the boss of us pretend to have authority over us.

  7. Patrick...bishops are custodians of the apostolic faith, but then so are you and I. Actually it may be that they are custodians, but all of the baptized are the incarnation of that faith. So the objection to this way of getting more information is that individual opinion will only find its way in to informing the bishop of the diocese, and then he or she will take from that what is deemed useful, and the rest may never come to light.

  8. IMO a Christian communion is as by-product of unity in Christ. We don’t create it and we can only preserve it through faithfulness to Christ.

    What about a pastoral role? What about a servants role?

    Mark, I agree with much of what you wrote. I confess that I gave up before completing my response. When I began to read other excellent responses on the internet, I did not feel that I had much to contribute to the discussion, especially since I agree with Lauren. No covenant at all.

  9. Mark and others, the quote I put up was a leftover copy and paste from another blog comment - just in case it didn't parse for you. Here's what I meant to quote:

    I agree with much of this, but if bishops are not custodians of the apostolic faith, what is there role--other than administrative.

    To which I would answer:

    What about a pastoral role? What about a servants role?

  10. On a totally unrelated issue…a technical concern.
    I love and am grateful for your thoughts. I often visit from my handheld. Although my handheld has a big memory, your site compared to others has often been slow to access particularly on my platform. Lately, however, I have been having a real problem, even if I stop all my other running programs and just run internet explorer. (I am running Mobile 2003 with a sandisk wifi card to an 80211b access point) I run out of memory. I don’t know but I thought you might want to know in case others using handhelds are crashing. I have done the usual things like clean up my temp files etc. and swap storage for program but it hasn’t helped. I also thought it might be from using moving to your site from linked sites but that doesn’t seem to be it either. The problem seems peculiar to your site alone. I am wondering about the transfer of the animation of the “one” banner and the picture as just too much for my IPAQ. 3955? I do run animated weather radar so it’s not strictly the “one” animation. No problems on my desktop. Thanks EPfizH


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.