The Anglican Covenant and the smoking gun of fundamentalism.

In a previous post I spelled out the sense that the Anglican Covenant was at best a so-so document, mostly unworthy of our complete pledge of our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor. 

That article made use of the Preludium Anglican Communion Pledge-o-meter, an instrument of honesty in communion that has not found wide use because so simple as a graphic as to be unworthy of the wildly complex mess that the Covenant discussion has become. Here is what the Pledge-o-meter had to say about Section 4 of the Covenant

"Greatest LFH" and "Least LFH" refer to life, fortune and honor.  Section 4 got such low marks as to make it almost impossible to consider adapting the Covenant. I wrote, " The Pledge-O-Meter makes it clear, at least to me: I am willing to stake my life, fortune and honor on Jesus Christ. I am willing to give my all for others in following the Lord Jesus Christ. I am not willing to do so for the demands for unity as determined by the Instruments of Unity."

Often there are comments on articles in Preludium, but about the Pledge-o-meter there were none. Well, there it is.  Still, it seemed like a measured way to approach the Anglican Covenant.

But that way of parsing the Covenant issues seems not to have been too popular. Most who write in opposition to the Covenant do so from a larger overarching suspicion that the whole thing will be badly used in the hands of the powerful, the angry and the frightened.  They see the Anglican Covenant as a whole, and see it as a VERY BAD IDEA.

So the search is on to find something about the Anglican Covenant that points to it being anti-Anglican, some smoking gun that would lead us to believe that violence will by it be done to Anglicanism and the Anglican Communion as we know it.

Foundationalism and Fundamentalism:

That smoking gun is fundamentalism, and its presence is first hinted at by the following passage in the Covenant,  (4.1.2) "In adopting the Covenant for itself, each Church recognises in the preceding sections a statement of faith, mission and interdependence of life which is consistent with its own life and with the doctrine and practice of the Christian faith as it has received them. It recognises these elements as foundational for the life of the Anglican Communion and therefore for the relationships among the covenanting Churches."

Now the preceding sections (1-3) clearly spell out sources of faith statements, understanding of mission and basis of interdependence and claims that these are consistent with the "doctrine and practice of the Christian faith" as received.  What precisely has been received is not spelled out in the Anglican Covenant but comes with the package, unaddressed.

Note that:

The Anglican Covenant mentions the creeds three times, doctrine once. Yet one of the first of the stumbling blocks for Churches in the Global South was the fact that Bishop John Shelby Spong of Newark, was not tried for heresy, condemned or otherwise repudiated by TEC's House of Bishops. His stance on various elements of the Creeds were viewed as contrary to the fundamental beliefs of the Christian Church. But the Covenant only refers back to the creeds, the scriptures, the prayer book, the Articles of Religion, etc, but does not interpret them. It assumes our understanding of them to be as "received."

The Anglican Covenant mentions deacons twice, priests twice, and bishops ten times. On none of these occasions is there any mention of the specific roles of deacons or priests. Yet the writers of the Covenant have known full well that the Diocese of Sydney was in the process of determining that deacons could preside at the Eucharist. The Diocese of Sydney seems now to have made the decision to go forward with this plan. Read HERE. This move will be viewed by many as contrary to the fundamental beliefs of the Christian Church. But nothing in the Covenant does more than refer back to the traditional standards of the Christian Church.

The Covenant addresses neither of these cases any more than it does the case of the ordination of gay or lesbian persons as Bishops, the blessing of same-sex couples, and the ordination of women.  The Covenant refers, as always, to the received teachings of the Church.

So where is the gun? Where is the smoke?

It lies in the argument that we all know and to a large extent agree - that all the foundational material for the faith as found in the creeds, prayer book, articles, scripture, etc. There we will find the fundamentals of the Christian Faith spelled out pretty clearly and plainly.

Which means, of course, that the stance of the Anglican Covenant is foundationalist - founded in the Lord Jesus Christ (the Church's one foundation) and in the foundational statements and narratives of its faith - and fundamentalist, involving clear belief in various assertions of the faithful community and by extension excluding belief in other assertions. 

So in quick order it would appear that the Anglican Covenant commits us to belief in the Virgin Birth (sorry Bishop Spong), the unsuitability of gay persons in relationship to be ordained bishop (sorry Bishop Robinson, Bishop Glasspool), the unsuitability of the ordination of women (sorry all you who are), and the belief that the ordinal stipulates and tradition requires that the Eucharist be presided over by the Bishop or in the bishop's absence a priest (Sorry Archbishop Bishop Jensen).   It doesn't say so, and it doesn't have to. It also will take us back into challenges about divorce, women speaking in church, women covering their heads in church. 

Full disclosure requires that I specify that in this line up I'm struck out a number of times: I say the creeds, including the virgin birth, but I do so with what seems to be a minority understanding of what this is all about. I am mostly with Bishop Spong on this. I took part in the ordination of the Philadelphia Eleven believing that they were quite suitable although undeniably illegal. I would be honored to have Bishop Robinson or Bishop Glasspool as my bishop, although neither has presented me with that opportunity. I have attended celebrations of the Eucharist presided over by what we would consider lay people - clergy ordained outside the context of the historic episcopate - and on several occasion in a Disciples of Christ Church where a lay person presided, and believe I there received the Body and Blood of Christ. I have been divorced and remarried (now for 43 years).  I have never believed that women should keep quiet in church or anywhere else.

This stuff of returning to fundamentals, to fundamentalism,  is not about someone else. It is about all of us. It is about me. And in the hands of those wishing to take us there,  the Anglican Covenant paves the way.

It is for this reason that the Anglican Covenant begins with a section on Scripture and the magesterium that provides correct interpretation of Scripture. It is Scripture and Catholic Tradition that take the lead in Section One. Reason, however defined, is a distant third. Catholic tradition is itself a renaming of the claim to orthodox understanding of Scripture. The three legged stool of Scripture, Reason and Tradition becomes one legged, and that leg is fundamentalist.

Will signing on to the Anglican Covenant mean a more stringent application of fundamentalism in the Anglican Communion, or just a return to some sort of order and moderation of change?  Its hard to say. But it is not hard to imagine a day when three Primates announce that, because of the decision of the Archbishop of Sydney and the synod there, they will call for investigation to the end that either Sydney will cease and desist from allowing deacons to preside at the Eucharist, or Sydney and the Church in Australia (for not clamping down) will no longer be represented in the various instruments of the Anglican Communion.

For sure the Covenant will be put into practice, as it is already in the workings of the Archbishop of Canterbury's office, to work "consequences" on those who do not conform to the moratoria of the Windsor Report.  And with a bit of practice, perhaps they will go back and address the scandal of Bishop Spong by keeping an eagle eye out for future bishops holding unorthodox belief. We have not seen the end yet of the demand that Churches zip the lip of errant bishops.  Fundamentalism is waiting to come to a Province near you.
 An early statement of this Anglican fundamentalism can be found in the workings of the Kuala Lumpur statement of 1997. See the Second Trumpet from 2nd Anglican Encounter in the South,  Kuala Lumpur 10-15 February 1997.

The whole of the statement was formulated around the theme of The Place of Scripture in the Life and Mission of the Church in the 21st Century. Among the witnesses made to this place was the following:

"6. Scripture, the Family and Human Sexuality
Reflection on our Encounter theme has helped further deepen our resolve to uphold the authority of Scripture in every aspect life, including the family and human sexuality.
6.1 We call on the Anglican Communion as a Church claiming to be rooted in the Apostolic and Reformed Tradition to remain true to Scripture as the final authority in all matters of faith and conduct;
6.2 We affirm that Scripture upholds marriage as a sacred relationship between a man and a woman, instituted in the creation ordinance;
6.3 We reaffirm that the only sexual expression, as taught by Scripture, which honours God and upholds human dignity is that between a man and a woman within the sacred ordinance of marriage;
6.4 We further believe that Scripture maintains that any other form of sexual expression is at once sinful, selfish,  dishonouring to God and an abuse of human dignity;
6.5 We are aware of the scourge of sexual promiscuity, including homosexuality, rape and child abuse in our time. These are pastoral problems, and we call on the Churches to seek to find a pastoral and scriptural way to bring healing and restoration to those who are affected by any of these harrowing tragedies."

This statement makes it clear that the Global South participants believe that fundamental issues are at stake here - principally "Scripture as the final authority in matters of faith and conduct."  What matters in Scripture rate being about faith and conduct?  It is not spelled out, but we know: any matter that is understood by those in authority to be of such importance.

The Anglican Covenant puts in place an agreement that we adhere to certain foundational elements - Scripture, Creeds, Sacraments, Episcopacy, Worship, Articles of Religion - and leaves the driving to those authoritatively schooled in Scripture and Tradition.  Just so you know: "Reason" as in "Scripture, Reason and Tradition" does not appear in the Anglican Covenant - not even once.  The nearest we get is in 1.2.2 - "to uphold and proclaim a pattern of Christian theological and moral reasoning and discipline that is rooted in and answerable to the teaching of Holy Scripture and the catholic tradition."
Theological and moral reasoning is far from what was and is meant by "reason."

The Pledge-o-Meter was wrong in that it too narrowly parsed the content of the Covenant. The Anglican Covenant ought to be taken as a whole. And as a whole it is perhaps benign in the hands of the benign, but in the hands of those who are fundamentalist, it will serve them well. It will become the smoking gun.

How long would it take for the fundamentalists among us to arise and eat and work great harm?


  1. One never knows what will draw a reader to the keyboard. I have quite given up guessing.If someone has something to say, well and good if not I have had my say.

    The answer to your final question is about 2 minutes. And at that I may be underestimating their speed.

    The covenant calls us to creationism, sexism, and misogynism all to get a few gays away from our holy selves. It is simply wrong.


  2. Hi Mark,

    It seems just as fundamentalist to be so against the Covenant ...

    I cannot follow you in the following paragraph:

    "So in quick order it would appear that the Anglican Covenant commits us to belief in the Virgin Birth (sorry Bishop Spong), ... It also will take us back into challenges about divorce, women speaking in church, women covering their heads in church."

    It is absurd to think that the Covenant is going to lead to 'women covering their heads.' It is unfair on the Covenant to link all the issues in the paragraph together as though the Covenant is potentially draconian in respect of each. To expect that Christians might believe that Jesus was born of a virgin is quite reasonable: the vast majority have so believed. To expect that Anglicans might adhere to, rather than revolt against, episcopal or priestly presiding is also quite reasonable. It's what Anglicans do.

    That the Covenant might have effect on gay/lesbian bishops is a good question to raise: it is a question of the day, and Anglicans do not seem very settled about it.

    Would the Covenant lead to the overturning of the ordination of women. I suppose it cannot be completely ruled out, but for the life of me, I cannot recall proponents of the Covenant making much of the potential of the Covenant in that direction. What I can see around me is a large amount of lack of interest in the Covenant by those who are vocally opposed to the ordination of women.

    In short: is the Covenant really as bad as you make it out to be? Perhaps for a few. For the whole Communion? I do not think so.

  3. I would not argue that the Covenant is bad for the few but rather for the least among us.
    A common miscomprehension.

    I've always admired Lewis' observation that fundamentalism mimics the mind of a dog who, when you point at something, looks at your finger.

  4. Excellent post.
    I second muscular's comments about the proposed Covenant being bad, not for the many, but definitely for the "least of these."

  5. While I believe Father Carrell to have both a supple and an elegant mind, I also believe that he is naive if he does not see the underlying anti-female agenda of the blasted Covenant. It's like the blasted Tea Party crew here who put their hands on their hearts and swear that their fury has nothing to do with Obama being black. My foot, on both accounts.

  6. What is don't understand is the implicit appeal to the status quo, as against the 'draconian' covenant. What is this status quo? An erstwhile communion of churches, since now 20 or so provinces do not recognise other provinces in communion. The covenant is unacceptable in seeking to reorder what is now broken. Does this mean that TEC is content with a situation where none of its instruments function? The point is that TEC can make it sound like everything is fine in anglicanism, so long as it gets to do what it wants to do (Spong is a good example). But something on the order of 75% of worldwide anglicans will not follow where TEC leads. I gather this is fine, and the breaking of communion simply a tolerable outcome for those who want to move forward with their vision of Christian life (I almost said 'faith and life' but corrected myself, lest 'faith' sound fundamentalist). Many of us would be helped by hearing articulated what this new kind of anglican communion looks like, with TEC's project forging ahead. We already know what the anglican communion looks like -- prior to TEC's decisions of the past decade. AJM

  7. The problem with covenants is that subsequent interpretation will not be in the hands of them that wrote it. Indeed, it is quite fashionable these days for proponents to obfuscate, equivocate, or otherwise prevaricate regarding subsequent intentions that can be easily deduced from a text.

    Even Scripture, in the wrong hands, can cause quite a bit of wrong, cause wrongheadedness and somehow lead us away from clearly stated intentions in the text.

    One of the few professors that actually molded the way I approach Problems (a technical term for situations with no clear or straightforward solution) insisted that Problem Solvers must hypothetically extend the current state of affairs to their logical extreme. Only then, would we (Problems can be solved only by groups engaged in seeking a solution) potentially see the points of connection where pointed intervention could change the trajectory of the current state of affairs. (As a complete aside, clearly defining the problem was critical. So, it’s fair to ask what problem is being solved with this solution.)

    All that to say that, no, Fr Mark is not being extreme. I believe that he is being modest in his hypothetical trajectory regarding the outcomes implicit in the text of the proposed Covenant. It seems that Lay Presidency and Gay Bishops are in the same place in any reasonable interpretation of the document.

    Anglicanism can and should survive the Anglican Communion. If Anglicanism is truly the Via Media, it will. It was not that long ago that High Mass and Liberation Theology could live in the same parish noisily and happily. But, the Via Media has become a rather narrow via these days. Extreme ideologies and theologies do not feed the sheep. This covenant does not guide the shepherds.

    Shall we use our heads for something other than balance and attempt to solve our Problems (hunger, fear, injustice and oppression seem to be pretty tough nuts)?

    Regarding Fr Mark’s question, “How long would it take for the fundamentalists among us to arise and eat and work great harm?” About a hot New York minute.

  8. "I am mostly with Bishop Spong on this."

    Oh dear. I had pegged you--though I know you are on the other side--as more thoughtful and learned. Now I see how invested you are in the left.

    FWIW, my informal poll in the UK wouldsay: Even many of the most liberal clergy and bishops in the UK (not the Cuppitt followers) can't take Bishop Spong.

    JOHN 2007

  9. John 2007...sorry for the let down. I am invested in this case in self disclosure...
    I have been very critical of Bishop Spong on occasions and over particular ways he states issues. Sometimes I agree with him, sometimes not. This does not make me a liberal. It may make me a radical. I'll learn from anybody that I might better follow Jesus Christ.

  10. I love your one-legged stool!

  11. Isn't it fascinating that a 'threefold cord' became, somewhere only in the middle of the twentieth century (a long way away from Hooker's original formulation -- with undisputed priority to scripture) a 'three legged stool' (or four legged couch, if one likes 'experience'). No reason not to make up whatever principles one wants (like shooting at a barn and drawing a bull's eye afterwards). But why try to claim that this is some historical 'anglican principle.' Nonsense. Hooker would run in the other direction. So, yes, a one legged stool is nonsense -- jut like a 3-legged stool. Neither have anything to do with Hooker. But who really cares? Shoot at the barn ahnd draw a bull's eye afterward. AJM

  12. Unlike its four-legged counterparts, a three-legged stool will stand firm on an uneven surface. Far from nonsense.

  13. Not that you care -- but you miss the point entirely. AJM

  14. No.

    He got the point, and gave that point all the response it deserved.

  15. Hooker spoke of a threefold cord, not a stool, and only spoke of tradition and reason as (1) respect for prior church teaching and (2) the Spirit's capacity to illumine the believer (as against a magisterial conception of authority).
    Just out of curiosity, why are you wearing a costume and holding a mask? AJM

  16. Here's what I said in my 16th century work, "What scripture doth plainly deliver, to that the first place both of credit and obedience are due" -- and for my time and my obedience unto God, the scriptures delivered plainly a teaching about Christian marriage. Therefore what I went on to say had to do with things like vestments, church order, and so forth, "the next whereunto, is what any man can necessarily conclude by force of Reason; after these, the voice of the church succeedeth" (V.8.2). I have been very surprised to learn that my threefold cord has been severed in the 20th century, and transformed in ways I never intended, yrs, R Hooker.

  17. AJM, I would suggest two posts of Tobias Haller's on what Hooker said specifically about reason: here and here. R. Hooker, you might be helped by remembering what else you wrote. Read the comments as well, as they were interesting.

  18. Thanks, I prefer to read known experts in sixteenth century thought. There are several very good treatments of the way the term 'reason' transmigrated after the influence of Locke and Kant on Western thought. One would look in vain in an popular account such as Haller's for any awareness of that discussion. R. Hooker

  19. Mr Scott-- can you explain to me the principles of historiography by which views I held on Christian marriage, and shared with my RC and Calvinist interlocutors, are to be reframed -- by appeal to the selfsame works that held against such views, then and now? Would you like to be turned into your opposite by people reading your work in 300 years? I know I don't. R Hooker

  20. Did Bishop Hooker expound on the difference between making a point and attempting to score one?

  21. Kind Mr Bunny--No, I did not do that. And why? Because I was seeking to commend the Christian Gospel to the English Catholic Faithful. I was not making or scoring points, and I am not now. I was commending the catholic faith, and argued for the centrality of the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit as competent Divine witness to its true apprehension (Reason), and the healthful testimony of ther holy church in times past. How you and others are able to harness that to a modern cause strikes me, sadly, as 'point scoring' - with me as victim. R Hooker

  22. Ah, sibling R Hooker, I might find you interesting if you'd actually read what I suggested, and the quotes used in them from Hooker's Laws and offered critique; or if perhaps you'd cited the scholars you do respect. You assert your perspective clearly, but that in itself offers no evidence that you yourself are any more a scholar of the Laws than I, your nom de plume notwithstanding.

    I fully expect that in 300 years many things I now know will be changed, if not refuted absolutely. I do not expect the Incarnation to be among them; but I certainly expect our understanding of human experiences and motivation to be different, as different as our understandings are now from Hooker's contemporaries. It has been part of the Christian tradition from the first centuries to find ways to discuss the truth of Christ in changing frames of reference, from Neo=Platonism to Aristotelianism to the Enlightenment - and beyond. The Church's changing position on slavery, on the roles of women in society, on the meaning of work, and on the structures of society have all involved changing perspectives on personhood. The Spirit has called us to appreciate new ways of understanding the world as our discoveries of what God has known from creation. Thus, Chesterton puts into the mouth of Fr. Brown that to deny science is poor theology.

    So, yes, I expect things to change, but not because folks deny the truth of the Gospel. It will be because we see new circumstances and new worldviews to which we need to bring the truth of the Gospel.

  23. Dear Mr Scott--I think you take my point perfectly. When in 300 years it will have been determined that the present Divine Hooker saw only obscurely and so was incorrect and indeed against the Holy Spirit (as is now held), I will not be used as a warrant for the new teaching but will simply be evaluated as outmoded. That would be the more honest tack to take: reject my views on Christian marriage (and the goods of such, in what I called a divine 'estate' in my day) and show that the reason they were wrong was the inappropriate role I gave to scripture. You might wish to join the views of those who held for 'development in doctrine' like the blessed Fr Newman, but that too would not end up where you want to go, but would place you alongside the present Pope. This is why we who honor the threefold cord--the heurism I adopt in book Five--look in vain for the true warrants for your new and enlightened views, except to say that it is claimed the Spirit has given rise to them. What Christian writer has held to this account of authority, save Montanus or the gnosticism of the early church (which didn't bother with a Spirit warrant).
    I'd be happy to cite a decent account of the appeal to Reason in the 16th and 17th century. But this ought not to be hard to find.
    (R. Hittinger has written some fine essays on the wrongful use of reason/natural law in the recent period, via appeal to Thomas; I commend them). Yrs, R. Hooker

  24. ".....with me as victim." When all's said and done, so much of this business seems to come down to the psychology of the individual.

  25. Victims, ah victims! I could not agree more. I am merely one person whose views have been misrepresented, in the name of a cause that is not my own. But as for the cry of 'victim,' legion is the name of those crying victimisation in the realm of sexuality. So, I share your concern. Do you have a proposal to stop this, in the name of Scripture and the Gospel?, yr servant, R Hooker.

  26. Your curiosity comes from a lack of exposure to things other than yourself.

    It's Ian McKellen as Magneto - I give my real name, not hiding behind initials or "Anonymous", so my avatar expresses my inner feeling. In other words, I have no use whatsoever for allowing right-winger-pseudo-orthodox into my family - church or otherwise. They are ignorant of God, an impediment to humanity's development, and generally unnecessary to the well-ordered functioning of a universe.

  27. Thus saith a kook.


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.