Should the Anglican Covenant have a "bill of rights?"

While we are waiting for the return of "Alleluia," Easter, getting through Good Friday, and the turn around of everything in the Resurrection, there has been time to wander around in Anglican blog land a bit.

Over on KANTINHO DO REV, a blog of the Rev. Francisco Silva, General Secretary of the Anglican / Episcopal Church in Brazil, he has written a wonderful piece, which asks the question, "Could human rights be a criteria for being a part of the Anglican Communion?"

Francisco's blog is always thoughtful, always interesting. But with the Anglican Covenant coming back into conversation as the new draft makes its way into the public arena, it is increasingly important to look at comments on the Anglican Covenant.

We are expecting a new draft very soon, but Francisco's comment is not about the content of this or that draft of the Covenant, but about the need to affirm the Communion's commitment to human rights. He says,

"Those who advocate the creation of an Anglican Covenant should perhaps think about considering respect for human dignity as a pillar of that Covenant. The adherence to the Covenant should include an unrestricted commitment related to the duty to respect the dignity of all people within the the regulatory framework of human rights.

But I think the conservatives would not accept that addition because human rights are not specifically Christian doctrine. The question that I raise therefore here is: Can a church that becomes connivent with human rights violations can be part of the Communion?"

This question was raised specifically because of the Church of Nigeria's support of Nigerian legislation limiting rights of assembly and advocacy. But the question is broader. It raises the concern that the Anglican Covenant makes no reference to any understanding of the rights of persons in the Communion or the Communion's commitment to human rights in the world.

A great deal has been written on the matter of Church autonomy within the Communion, but very little about the expectation that all churches will honor the inclusion of members baptized in other member churches. Nothing is said concerning the reception of communion. In those churches requiring confirmation prior to receiving communion, is there general agreement to honor confirmation by a bishop in another church? Of course nothing is said because this is about the church rights of lay persons, not a hot ticket item usually.

Nothing is said about all Anglican churches pledging to support members of the church in exercising their human rights as defined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights. The support of human rights IS a hot ticket item, but as Fr. Silva notes, it is not central to the church's position because human rights are not doctrinal in all Anglican churches. They certainly are implied in the baptismal covenant that The Episcopal Church and some others now include.

Fr. Silva raises an interesting question: If it becomes clear that a member church is closely supporting limitations on human rights, can that church be held accountable by the Communion? But there is a wider question:

The Anglican Covenant in its final form may not address some of these matters. Is there a way to "append" by way of ACC resolution some commonly held assumptions that underlay the Covenant - assumptions about transferability of baptismal commitment, about support of human rights, etc?

Is there common covenant by the churches of the Anglican Communion to respect the dignity of every human being?


  1. I still think the whole idea of an Anglican Covenant, with or without a human rights declaration, is a bad idea whose time has come. Such a declaration would be an improvement, if only as a poison pill.
    Perhaps a better idea would be a separate resolution modeled on the Baptismal Covenant.

    Lack of a clear unequivocal commitment to basic human rights (of anyone other than embryos and fetuses) is the biggest of all Christian scandals these days, in my view. This is not just a matter of LGBTs, but also of women, labor, racial and ethnic minorities, and relations with other religions.
    It may not be spelled out in the resolutions of the Great Church Councils, but if we really take seriously the idea that all are created by God in His image, then we would strongly back such a public commitment to fundamental and universal human dignity.

    As to the objection that will be raised as to why we should measure ourselves by what those outside think, let's remember that this whole community exists for the sake of all those OUTSIDE the Church door. We're not a country club of the saved. Those folks aren't going to believe a word we say about God's absolute and universal love and saving power if we are always treating them like unwashed heathens, and presenting long lists of exceptions and qualifications to our proclamations of God's unconditional love for all His creation.

  2. Excellent post, Mark. Thank you. I think Fr. Silva is on to an important point here. It is part of our baptismal covenant that we vow to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being. I think some other Churches in the Anglican Communion have adopted or adapted this, but many have not. WHY NOT? If this provision of our foundational baptismal covenant is not explicit in an "Anglican Covenant," then it's not worth the paper it's printed on.

  3. Mark, you are truly filled with the Spirit these days! Your postings have been such a blessing for me (and many, I'm sure) during this Lenten season.

    You have pinpointed here the unease I have had with the idea of the covenant. My meditation for this Lent has been Matthew 25:40

    “The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’

    My own cross is seeing the King in those who harm me and those like me in His name and I am struggling mightily to become more like Jesus in this above all things. This posting helps me see even clearer the mandate given us in this gospel passage and the central importance it should play in all declarations of the Church.

    Thank you!

  4. This is the best idea concerning the covenant that I have heard. In my opinion we do not need a covenant; we have creeds. We already have a baptismal covenant the says we will respect the dignity of every human being. Most members of the Anglican Communion do not have this. While I am by no means perfect in this area, it is a daily aspiration.

  5. I would say that it would be a good idea. It's just that I went through the three currently used, non TEC Prayer/Service books I have at my desk and only the Canadian Book of Alternative services has the question in the Covenant. The other two (A Prayer Book For New Zealand and the 2004 Irish PB) don't even have anything remotely equivalent. The The Irish Book dose have something in it like the Second Confirmation service which is exact, but leaves out the last question, and in the renewal service which has a completely different .
    While the promise to "respect the dignity of every human being" is implied in the other rites, even in the second question in the 1662, as far as I can tell so far only TEC and ACoC state it explicitly.

  6. The newest draft of the Covenant is now available. While I want to look more closely, on a first reading there's wording in their through which one could assert support for human rights.

    That said, I would wish it were more explicit, and that we could make a clearer claim that pursuing human rights is indeed Scriptural in that it is a consequence of "loving neighbor as self."

  7. Pessimistic this may be, but I don't think one Church can try to demand something of another it will not do. All you can do is get on with it within one or more of the Churches, that then is a model for more. The Anglican Covenant just becomes a kind of horse-trade of expectations instead of Anglicans inviting others to act (and seeing when they do not act).

  8. Having just read the latest draft I think what it should have is its own file folder titled "historical fictional documents from a bygone age."

    If this could get more than 5% of the deputy's votes, we need new deputies!


  9. The new draft does have a passing reference to human rights - a commitment “to seek to transform unjust structures of society” - but I don't see that as meeting the challenge posed by the Episcopal Church in Brazil.
    BTW, there was by my count only one use of Provinces and many uses of Churches to describe the members of the Communion. One wonders how that one slipped in.

  10. Is there common covenant by the churches of the Anglican Communion to respect the dignity of every human being?


    Of all the arguments and posturings on the blogs throughout Anglican-land, this has to be the essential question that needs to be answered. If folks can't respect the dignity of every human being, then the Anglican Covenant process is a futile exercise.


  11. Those who are currently paying the "bill" of rights include LGBT, women, and the handicapped. When do they get the goods?


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.