On the "Maturity" of the Anglican Covenant: Stay Awake!

The Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Jamaica is underway. At the end of the first day not much clarity has come regarding the fate of the Anglican Covenant draft currently under consideration.

Canon Kenneth Kearon has been quoted by several sources as noting something about the Ridley Cambridge Draft Covenant having a "text mature enough to send on to the provinces."

The Anglican Journal, from Canada, records Canon Kearon as saying, “I think the Covenant Design Group thinks that it has done what it can with the text and feels that it is now mature enough to be handed out to the provinces,” added Canon Kenneth Kearon, secretary general of the Anglican Communion. While it is up to the ACC to make a decision, “the hope is that the ACC will feel that it’s mature enough to go to the provinces,” said Mr. Kearon. “No instrument of the Communion is going to make a decision about the covenant, it’s up to the member churches in the Communion.”

He later makes this comment: “We’re not looking for a substantive majority – the covenant will only ever apply to those churches of the communion which decide (to sign on to it)."

The American Anglican Council reporters, Chris Sugden and Robert Lundy report, "The 14th meeting of the ACC will consider the Ridley Draft of the Anglican Communion Covenant, and make comments on it, but is not expected to make any alterations to the text. "The text is mature enough to send on to the provinces who will make the decisions," said Secretary General Kenneth Kearon at the opening press conference.

Canon Kearon confirmed that the covenant will only be operative for those churches which decide to sign on to it. However, he admitted that ACC-14 will need to decide whether it will be individual dioceses or provinces that will sign up to the Covenant."

So right out of the starting gate it appears,
(i) The Ridley Cambridge Draft Covenant, while it may be commented upon, is not to be altered, but rather the decision will be made to either send it along to the churches as is, or not.
(ii) It is only operative for the churches who decide to sign on and does not imply that churches that do not sign on are not part of the Anglican Communion.
(iii) There is no substantive majority that would make it apply to the whole of the Communion.
(iv) What 'church' means will have to be decided by the ACC itself, although the list of the ACC itself is offered as a possible definition, with the four to six "peculiars" that are "extra provincial" considered as some sort of special case.

The emerging picture is thus the same old church within a church idea.

(a) There will be an Anglican Communion with levels or spheres or circles of engagement - those not part of the covenant community and those part of it. It would be up to the Instruments of Communion to decided which church or leader is on the list of each instrument.

(b) There is no tipping point easily discerned that spells the difference between being in or out of the Anglican Communion. The Anglican Covenant is is about itself as an organizing principle. Which means it could become a new definition of a world wide Anglican community of churches, an Anglican Covenant Communion, if you will.

(c) The clincher is that this is not a constitution that requires ratification by existing churches but a covenant that is a new endeavor.

(d) The question of who can sign is thus a window into the wider issue, namely, the emergence of a new world wide body, the Anglican Covenant Communion, eventually replacing the old, the Anglican Communion.

ACC-14 thus has several primary tasks related to the Anglican Covenant:

If it accepts the proposal that the text can only be either sent on to the churches or tabled, then ACC-14 must state clearly just which entities it is to be sent to.

If the proposed text goes forward it must be accompanied by a document that spells out what the ACC understands by various sections and that document must have equal standing with the Draft itself, acting as it were as a bill of rights. The Draft as it stands has without doubt Constitutional and Canonical implications for all the churches involved. The implications are hidden behind the surface assertion of autonomy, but autonomy is of no importance here because a new and different "core" Anglican group, the Anglican Covenant Communion, is under consideration. ACC-14 cannot send this draft on to the churches hoping for approval without such an appended document.

The real problem - and it is devastating - is that by making this a matter for individual church "sign-up" rather than a substantive agreement among the churches of the Anglican Communion, the several circles of pan-Anglican engagement are confirmed. And that being so eventually those of us not part of the Anglican Covenant Communion will be in a separate ecclesial community from those who are.

The primary difference between the two communities is the matter of provisionality. Provisionality has two sides: On the one, Anglicanism has traditionally held that it's understandings of matters theological and moral are put forward with the provision that these understandings are provisional, awaiting the full revelation of the whole truth to the whole faith for all time. On the other, Anglicanism has held that the interpretation of received witness already accepted by the whole of the Christian faith (the content of the New Testament, the Creeds, the Sacraments) is also provisional, awaiting perfection as those interpretations more adequately reflect the intent of The Word of God that lies behid that witness.

The end result? The community of churches that constitute the Anglican Communion, a community in which there is some sense of provisionality as regards decisions made by any one of them, will continue. But there will be another Anglican worldwide body, the Anglican Covenant Communion, in which the limits to provisionality are much greater.

And of course there will be the third Anglican group which will have nothing to do with so loose a covenant and opt for a world wide church with specific Constitution and Canons. They, of course, will not be the core of the wider Anglican fellowship, but an offshoot, no longer Anglican at all. This is because Anglicanism without provisionality is either Geneva or Rome writ small.

The question of the maturity of the Anglican Covenant is this: Is the text of the Ridley Cambridge Draft Covenant such that it can, with appropriate codicils, be received and assented to by a sufficient number of provinces of the Anglican Communion to push the matter to a constitutional level? If not, then the Anglican Covenant is a sham: it becomes immediately divisive. If not it becomes a means of separating sheep from goats.

ACC-14 cannot in good conscience claim the Ridley Cambridge Draft Covenant a "mature" document. Perhaps with a carefully drawn up codicil it can become a combination of the Lambeth Quadrilateral, two additional parts concerning liturgy and mission and the five marks of mission, making a total of eleven points of agreement. These eleven might make it as signs of what it means to be Anglican. All that end matter - the Instruments of Communion, the Joint Standing Committee, the role of the JSC and such are straw laid down so that we might not see that these things lead to the very two-tiered Anglican system dreamed up by the ecclesiastical bureaucrats and oligarchs that gave us this mess to start off with.

ACC-14 representatives: Stay awake!


  1. Mark - do you mean to say "provisionality" (n) rather than "provisionally" (adv) in "The primary difference between the two communities is the matter of provisionally. Provisionally has two sides:...."?

  2. Mark - I don't accept that it was "ecclesiastical bureaucrats and oligarchs" that gave us this mess in the first place, but innovations in doctrine and praxis among liberal north American provinces that upset the much larger majority of Anglicans around the world, followed by a completely inadequate expression of regret rather than repentance. We mean completely different things by repentance, and atonement, and even revelation and inspiration, such that we have ended up with two irreconcilable expressions of faith.

  3. brian f. thanks, I meant provisionality, the spell checker meant provisionally. (sigh) Thanks for catching this.

    The ecclesiastical bureaucrats and oligarchs in question are the people who gave us this solution. The problem was caused by some people (me included) acting in ways that other people found outside the faith.

  4. Mark, I fear that the RCDC may slip through the ACC approval process pretty much unaltered, with the result that the Anglican Communion will end up more divided than it is now.

    All animosities in Christian communities wound, but do not kill the Body of Christ. Whatever happens in the already-broken Anglican Communion, the Body of Christ lives on. Thanks be to God.

  5. John 2007 thanks Mark Harris, truly, for writing

    "The problem was caused by some people (me included) acting in ways that other people found outside the faith."

  6. It is a judgement by others that place the actions taken, (so-called "innovations in doctrine"), as "outside of the faith." I guess I have lived too long in the US of A to believe that the "much larger majority" is always about what is "right and good".

    I believe that each of us must read, mark and consider Scripture and doctrine, and then choose and live as we believe, in the knowledge that God loves us all in the midst of all our differences. It has nothing to do with the opinion of the "larger majority," which would probably be the easier road.

  7. How ironic that Brian F once again trots out the "innovations in doctrine and praxis" meme on the same day that Orombi throws a hissy fit and screams about provincial autonomy and warns the ABC that the Windsor Report and the Instruments have NO authority over the decisions of a province to attempt to seat an extra-Anglican priest as the "Ugandan" representative on the ACC, and one who proclaimed quite proudly that his organization goes behind the scenes and blows things up (even though he tried to walk it back and claim he meant "powers and principalities."

    As per the usual, its " one set of rules for thee but no rules for me" when it comes to the conservatives. We didn't "repent" for Robinson+ even though the Windsor Report and the Primates communiques have no true authority yet we are the "villains" when Orombi claims the same freedom as he tries to mess up the ACC meeting and the AC adoption with conservative subterfuges.

    And that vast majority of Anglicans worldwide sure are hiding themselves well, what with the several provinces who have publicly declared their concerns with the Ridley Draft of the AC, their willingness to attend Lambeth, the continuation of the Primates Meeting, and so on.

    I agree with you, Brian F that we have "two irreconcilable expressions of faith" -- I have blogged before on the question of whether we even worship the same deity. The stuff I've read on SFF and T19 and the malarkey being put forth by the reasserters has made me realize that there is precious little in common between the Jesus I serve and the one that tells conservatives that the ends justify the means, lying is OK after all (10 commandments be darned), vilifying fellow Christians is A-OK, and that scripture can be read literally to bash LGBT Christians but interpreted on all other matters to suit the conservative credo.

    I'm with Mark all the way on this one and we are awake, indeed.

  8. Sigh.
    I appreciate the comment from Priscilla in large part because almost six years later... I'm a really, really, really fed up with the assertion that the people of the Diocese of New Hampshire have to repent of anything. It is amazing to me how much energy has been expended on trying to erect enormous stumbling blocks to the full participation of LGBT people. Now there are covenants. I would recommend that we read the Baptismal Covenant... and pay special attention to the last part about respecting the dignity of every human being. I think we'd all get along a lot better if we'd just try to do that, with God's help.

  9. Brian, far greater departures from Anglican belief and practice happen every day in Sydney than have ever taken place in New Hampshire.

  10. Okay nlnh,
    I don't claim to know everything that happens in my town but please give me time and place about the things you believe happen in Sydney "every day" that are against Anglican belief and practice.

    John Sandeman

  11. Lay presidency, of course.

  12. The Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen, has refused to allow lay presidency in Sydney, and threatened to use his power to veto synod motions that were aimed at introducing it.
    The appelate tribunal of the anglican Church of Australia (the churches court) has ruled that lay presidency would require a change in the canons.
    Jensen has said that he will not allow lay presidency to be introduced while it is illegal. There is little chance of a change in the law.

    John Sandeman / Obadiah Slope

  13. The Mormon leaders in Salt Lake City strongly disapprove of polygamy--even though quite a few of them are themselves engaged in "plural marriages."

  14. Prayers from the Epicenter!


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.