The Anglican Covenant: A tempting but wormy apple.

The notion of an Anglican Covenant is as tempting for some as the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The promise is that the Anglican Covenant would make it clear to ourselves and to all the world just who we were and what we stood for and how we would comport ourselves as a Christian fellowship. Many Anglicans can just taste it! A sense of self esteem when we are compared to other world wide churches and a sense of religious order when we look at our own community. The Anglican Covenant would make us one of, you know, THEM, world wide Churches that have real apostolic heft, with bishops and all.

The Anglican Covenant promised a lot, but preliminary taste tests seem to indicate that the fruit is wormy. The apple, it seems, is a bit rotten in places.

In previous posts I have maintained that the Anglican Covenant is reasonably OK up until the middle of section 3, where it begins to be questionable. See the Anglican Communion Pledge-o-meter and my review of the whole of the Covenant.

Here is where things begin to go bad:

From the Anglican Covenant:

3.2 Acknowledging our interdependent life, each Church, reliant on the Holy Spirit, commits itself:

(3.2.1) to have regard for the common good of the Communion in the exercise of its autonomy, to support the work of the Instruments of Communion with the spiritual and material resources available to it, and to receive their work with a readiness to undertake reflection upon their counsels, and to endeavour to accommodate their recommendations.

(3.2.2) to respect the constitutional autonomy of all of the Churches of the Anglican Communion, while upholding our mutual responsibility and interdependence in the Body of Christ[21], and the responsibility of each to the Communion as a whole[22].

From this point on the Anglican Covenant begins to spell out what happens when the level of accommodation is not judged high enough, or where upholding the responsibility of each Church to the Communion as a whole is not seen as being responsible enough.

Over on the Anglican Communion Institute pages there is a lengthy argument to the effect that the actions of General Convention 2009 fall so far short of accommodation to the recommendations of the Windsor Report and so far short of a proper measure of responsibility to the Communion as a whole that The Episcopal Church can be understood to already have rejected the Anglican Covenant. See the argument HERE. The article contends, that "the actions of General Convention repudiating the teaching of the Communion on human sexuality can only be seen as the repudiation of the Covenant itself. The Communion and its shared discernment cannot be separated."

ACI writers and the bishops who signed off on the "Bishop's Statement" believe the way forward for Anglican Communion loyalists is for dioceses independently to sign on to the Covenant. Given the argument that General Convention has repudiated the Covenant, I suppose they have no other option.

But of course the reasoning they give relies on the rotten part of the Anglican Covenant apple. The Covenant makes it very clear that it is not trampling on the Constitutions or Canons of the various Churches in the Communion. But it also assumes that those Churches that sign on to the Covenant will, in effect, give way to the "shared discernment" of the various Instruments of Communion (The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, The Anglican Consultative Council, the Primates Meeting). The bind then is that the Covenant is itself at least ingenuous in its honoring of autonomy, at worse its writers were covering up the meaning of what they proposed.

The ACI is right to point to those sections of the Covenant. I believe they are wrong to say that General Convention is a breach of what is required prior to signing and therefore makes TEC's signing impossible.

Suppose we munch at this apple another way: Ask the question, "are there implications for the Constitution or Canons of a member Church in signing the Covenant?" If there are, then the Anglican Covenant is not properly advertised and Churches would be well advised to munch this apple with care. If there are not such implications, then the force of the ACI argument about prior obedience to existing "shared discernment" being required as a litmus test for honest sign on to the Covenant begins to fall off.

There is an example of disobedience to moratoria not being a great problem. Without any remorse for having done so and no repentance, quietly and without much fanfare the Churches who have ignored the moratorium on cross boundary activities have been absenting themselves, allowing the bishops of the newly formed Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) to take front row as ordaining. Those who went to the Southern Cone have apparently been released into the new pool of bishops in ACNA.

Still, the CANA bishops are considered part of the Church of Nigeria, and it remains to be seen what will happen in Uganda and Kenya. The Anglican Mission in America maintains its East Africa connection and is part of the Anglican Church of Rwanda. ACNA knows its inclusion in the Anglican Communion is in no way guaranteed or confirmed by signing on to the Anglican Covenant. Rwanda and Nigeria will, I suppose, be properly chastised by The Anglican Communion Institute for acting in ways incompatible with the signing of the Anglican Covenant. One wonders if they can sign the Covenant or if those signatures will be found by whoever it is that finds them so, acceptable.

But all of this assumes that signing the Anglican Covenant requires prior conditions or a repentance of former actions.

There is of course none of this mentioned in the Anglican Covenant.

But there is the matter of accommodation to the responsibilities of each (Church) to the Communion as a whole.

The call for honest conversation about just what the Anglican Covenant requires of us is very much in order. I believe the ACI has overshot, wanting Churches to act quickly where there is strong Church-wide affirmations and dioceses to side-step longer processes by diocesan affirmations where there is not that Church-wide strength. I believe that acting that quickly will dampen the care we need to take in considering the Covenant.

Now that we have a text in hand (or mostly) it is time to ask several questions:

(i) In what way would the Anglican Communion be better off in having this Covenant than in not having it?

(ii) Would signing on to the Anglican Covenat mean conforming to the prior "requests" of the Windsor Covenant regarding moratoria on rites for same-sex blessings, the ordination of bishops who are gay and in relationship and cross boundary actions?

(iii) Would The Episcopal Church signing on to the Anglican Covenant require that TEC change its rules in general (in the Constitution), or in specifics (in Canons) to include accommodation to the responsibilities of each Church to the Communion. For example, would sign-on require that we state that no person will be ordained bishop whose life-history is viewed by the Churches of the Communion as inappropriate to the office of bishop? Would there be some assurance needed that changes in the rites of TEC would be limited by the expressed concerns of the Communion as a whole? Would we change the preamble?

The ACI has done us all a service in its most recent essay. It has directed us to look again at the Anglican Covenant "fine print." Its conclusions are less helpful.

The problem here, dear friends, is not with those of us who have reached out and bitten into this apple. The problem is that the author of this apple is not the Author of all. This thing was put together by good people in a difficult situation. They used the best sort of minds to produce a dense and nuanced statement. In doing so they also took liberties with the truth. So they produced an apple with worms.

There are ways to get through this mess.

Throw away the apple.

Eat the whole thing and get stomach aches and worse.

Eat around the wormy parts.

Isolate it from the day to day food and drink of life in communion and community and take some time to reflect on it. If it is rotten, it will get worse. If it is basically sound, it will get better.

But if the ACI is right and there are tests to accompany signing the Covenant, or if it turns out the Anglican Covenant is internally contradictory, claiming that it does not require limits on autonomy but does, then the Anglican Covenant is dead, a tempting but wormy apple.

The Anglican Covenant is not the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The Anglican Covenant is not even about the nature of the communion we share. It is about the role of the episcopate as the engine for greater and more universal unity in the Church and the limitations placed on that power by synodical governance on a regional level.



  1. Well done Fr. Mark!! Given the glacial pace attendant to most documents and instruments, shouldn't we be slowing down and considering whether we want an apple at all? Or whether, to continue your analogy, even if we eat the apple, we might want more? Perhaps a pear might be better. Or better yet, chocolate.

  2. I have an intense dislike for wormy apples.

  3. Ayup, it's all about episcopal authority at the expense of the laity, deacons and priests.

  4. You know what troubles come when you let that old tempter talk you into eating apples. . . .

    My view: No covenant. Remain as we are. Support those who will accept. Follow Jesus wherever he leads us.

    And Mark, I think that stealing churches is not seen as anywhere near as problematic as welcoming GLBT people as equal, baptized members but anyone from Rowan on down to the lowliest of the low, like Matt Kennedy.

    Violating a couple of commandments is nowhere near as icky to Jesus as passing the peace with those yucky you-know-whats.

    Windsor is whatever ACI wants it to be, isn't it?

  5. While a purple apple might be seen as heirloom, this one appears in many ways oblivious to our heritage.

    It does not acknowledge the basic Christian view that all ethical judgments must comport with the Summary of the Law.

    It has no place for Scripture, Reason, and Tradition as the Anglican way of coming to God's truth.

    And for us in The United State it excludes the spirit of 1789 both in the history of our church and of our country.


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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.