The Anglican Covenant: No Playing with Guns in the House.

Boys with toys.

We lived in a communal household on a farm for eight years - five and sometimes six adults and two children. The children were boys, 10 days apart in age. Apparently almost all boys get into playing at gun stuff - taking aim, shooting, falling over, etc. Ours were no different. We had two rules - no real guns or things that looked like real guns (sticks would do just fine) and no guns in the house.

No guns in the house.

The Anglican Communion is a large house, a large tent, perhaps the sort of house in which there are many rooms.  The Anglican Covenant has been billed as a kind of rule of life / rule of belief statement, one that spells out something of what we all hold in common. But near the end of the Covenant it becomes as well a standard against which inclusion and exclusion in the life of the Anglican Communion is based. The Covenant includes something that looks as if it could be used as a weapon, as a basis for some members bringing other members to judgment.  The Covenant includes a gun that can be aimed and fired.

It doesn't look like a gun, it looks like a stick. But by a series of carefully described processes the Standing Committee can recommend "relational consequences" and finally recommend that a Church be suspended from participation in the life of the Communion. 

Here is what the Covenant says:

"4.2.5)  The Standing Committee may request a Church to defer a controversial action. If a Church declines to defer such action, the Standing Committee may recommend to any Instrument of Communion relational consequences which may specify a provisional limitation of participation in, or suspension from, that Instrument until the completion of the process set out below.

(4.2.6)  On the basis of advice received from the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meeting, the Standing Committee may make a declaration that an action or decision is or would be “incompatible with the Covenant”.

(4.2.7)  On the basis of the advice received, the Standing Committee shall make recommendations as to relational consequences which flow from an action incompatible with the Covenant. These recommendations may be addressed to the Churches of the Anglican Communion or to the Instruments of the Communion and address the extent to which the decision of any covenanting Church impairs or limits the communion between that Church and the other Churches of the Communion, and the practical consequences of such impairment or limitation. Each Church or each Instrument shall determine whether or not to accept such recommendations."
Outside the house, while we are playing in the yard  and pretending, these sections of the Anglican Covenant may look like a stick instead of a gun.  But there is every possibility that the stick - gun will indeed come into the house, and in the house it is a gun. In the house section 4.2 can become a weapon in the hands of some.

Understand - upon agreeing to the Anglican Covenant a Church agrees to the monitoring of its life by the Standing Committee. " 

(4.2.2)  The Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion, responsible to the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meeting, shall monitor the functioning of the Covenant in the life of the Anglican Communion on behalf of the Instruments."

If The Episcopal Church sign the Covenant it could immediately be subject to review by the Standing Committee, particularly if complaint is made. 

TEC's current and past behavior in regard to the moratoria of the Windsor Report which we were "invited" to observe would become the subject for judgment by the Standing Committee.  Should the Standing Committee so determine, it could recommend to the Primates, the ACC and to the Archbishop of Canterbury as the one who issues invitation to Lambeth, that they suspend inclusion of The Episcopal Church.  

Signing the Covenant is not the issue, weapons in the House is.

If The Episcopal Church doesn't sign the Covenant it could be argued that it would lose its place in the meetings of the various "instruments of unity" but that is not at all clear.  The Anglican Covenant does not state that only those who sign are part of the Anglican Communion. It does say that only those signing or considering signing can be party to decisions about recommendations for suspension or exclusion (4.2.8) but it also says that Churches that "withdraw" from the Covenant (or who never sign, I suppose) are not automatically excluded from the various instruments (read bodies) and do not repudiate thereby being "Anglican."  Not signing means just that - not signing.  

Those who sign on, however, get to exercise judgment and can recommend exclusion from the bodies of the Communion, and those bodies in turn would be guided by some sort of majority vote to expel from their ranks offending persons.  So the gun is there, loaded and ready to be used whether or not we sign on the Covenant. 

The Episcopal Church, and any other Church in the Communion, is under no obligation to rush to sign the Covenant. Our process is by no means the slowest in the Communion. It does us no good to worry too much about signing on now or later. As soon as member Churches sign on they, and those Churches still about the business of signing on, begin to be clearly part of the judgment circle and can begin to make recommendations about suspension or exclusion.

Time to take our time.

So here is where it stands:  If TEC turns down the Covenant we are still part of the Communion and its instruments until such time as those who have signed or are still considering signing meet together to pass judgment on TEC and those recommendations are carried out by the instruments themselves.  If TEC signs or is still considering signing, it can still be under the gun, but cannot be excluded from the circle making the judgment call.  It at least is part of the decision making under 4.2.8. TEC is still in the room for discussion about its fate.

With or without signing the Covenant, there is now a gun in the house, a gun that will be used by some of the boys, sure as shootin'.  The instrument meant to encourage common life by not appearing as a rod of judgment but just a stick, has, on entering the house become a gun.

And here is the problem with the Covenant: Its articles concerning "The Maintenance of the Covenant and Dispute Resolution" (4.2) are meant to be reasonable and engaging means of resolution and continuance of life together. But in the hands of some Church leaders they can become means of pretty much instant expulsion.  Bang, bang....

A Rest from Judgment.

The rule, "No guns in the house,"  how might that be applied to the Anglican Communion?

I believe only by stipulating a moratorium on entertaining complaints involving noncompliance with the Covenant until such time as sufficient member Churches have signed on. That would not mean that no complaints would be heard, but only that they would be heard directly by the instruments themselves, not by the Standing Committee. (The Archbishop could, for example, recommend that members of errant Churches not be invited to serve on committees. His recommendation could be accepted or ignored.)  In the "on hold" period, the judgment stick or gun in part 4.2 of the Covenant could not be invoked.

The moratorium in all likelihood last for five to seven years.  In that period those matters that continue to divide, and new divisive matters, would be dealt with by the Instruments as they currently exist. But we would have time to also consider healing and reconciliation on several levels.

A Rest from Walking Away from the Table.

A second moratorium might also be proposed: A moratorium on walking away from the table - no member Church of the Communion would withdraw itself from participation in the Instruments of Communion or from participation in the Eucharist or the common life of the Communion. If we can't sit down with our opponents, who can we sit with? Our friends? Once we divide friend from foe we will end up finally sitting alone.

Be not afraid.

Of course we need not be afraid of the sticks become guns:  Out "there" in the yard they were after all only sticks - at best instruments to poke and even to thrash. When brought into the house, they may appear as guns, and have a nasty habit of going off. But, in reality, they are still just sticks.  

Above all we need not be afraid of being expelled from the Anglican Communion. If it happens it happens. If it does not it does not. 

Philip Marlowe, in Raymond Chandler's PLAYBACK, says, "Guns never settle anything. They are just a fast curtain to a bad second act." If the boys with guns in the house go, "bang, bang, you're dead!" well, it is just a bad second act.  In the third act it will turn out that we didn't die, we changed. And in the third act perhaps the boys will put away childish things and change as well.


  1. I certainly see your point, Mark; but I'm also conscious that it doesn't have to be a gun. An awful lot of folks have suffered horribly at the hands of a person with a stick.

    Those who are committed to a rush to judgment, and to the Covenant-as-proposed as the tool for judgment, have already spoken of pushing their own to sign as quickly as possible, and then once (if) they reach a majority of the churches in the Communion of meeting to amend the Covenant-as-proposed in such a way as to make it a better tool for their purposes, a sharper stick. Holding out for the traditional position that membership in the Communion remains in the hands of the Church of England and then the Constitution of the Anglican Consultative Council seems wisest. Could we find ourselves excluded from the Instruments? Perhaps; but it would take years, and wouldn't be a matter of our own abdication.

  2. Mark,

    I thought your earlier comments about joining the marginalized summed up what needed to be said about the Anglican Covenant and the Anglican Communion. Its time to stop the anxious wringing of hands about losing 'our place' in the synagogue's front rows, and join the ranks of the excluded. So if TEC joins and gets asked to leave or if it votes not to join the heart of the matter is in letting go of belonging to a club that serves to validate its members legitimacy and joining hands with those who are considered illegitimate. What is so terrible about that? Jesus didn't cater to the in-crowd and they despised him for it. Perhaps the message to be sent to the AC is we'd like to come, but not without our gay and lesbian, bisexual and transgendered brothers and sisters. Let the in-crowd decide if there is room enough for them. If not, why would you want to belong? Let the decision be upon those heads who want to cast the first stone.

    Sarah Flynn

  3. Mark,

    I thought your earlier comments were right on target. TEC should be less concerned about joining the Anglican Covenant and more concerned with standing with the excluded and marginalized.

    Perhaps the respnse should be along the lines of 'yes we would like to belong, but we are only coming if you welcome all our sisters and brothers. If there isn't room for them, then there isn't room for us.

    The Anglican Communion exists it seems to validate the legitimacy of churches. That validity is the same sought by the scribes and pharisees and Jesus chose not to cater to the in crowd. They despised him for it.

    Better to join hands with those who Jesus welcomed into the Kingdom, than to crave after the approval of those who who exclude those whom He welcomed.

    Sarah J Flynn

  4. Would it be good for TEC to spend more years involved with AC politics? Not good for TEC or the AC in my view - prefer we get away from the institutional unity programme.... it diminishes all as all are called to compromise principles - for the sake of being on AC committees and at meetings!

  5. Well said Mark,

    I think you are right, I'll link to this article if I may on my blog later.


  6. Holy Crackers, Father Mark! Once again you attribute characteristics to the Primates that are far beyond their comprehension, and well out of touch with reality. The primates, specifically, those who hail from the Global South and those that have signed on to the Jerusalem Declaration, have created a poison pill that is euphemistically called the Anglican Covenant. Yes, in a real world, in a benign world, the way you describe this thing playing out is probably fairly accurate --- but that is not now nor has it ever been veiwed as such by the likes of Peter Akinola, Henri Luke Orombi, and, most important, Robert Duncan. The long and the short of this Anglican Covenant is to drive TEC out and install ACNA. Call it a stick, a gun or a popsicle, it matters little. The posion pill will be used if we vote it in and the Primates will take care of TEC if we do not vote in favor.
    And, oh by the way, who died and left the Primates Council god?

  7. You know, Observer, I understand the comment about not participating in the politics, and your repeated appeals to a standard of integrity. One difficulty important to us on "this side of the pond," as it were, is that to this point participation in the Anglican Communion has been defined by Communion with the Church of England and the See of Canterbury; and then latterly by participation in the Anglican Consultative Council. We're not interested in principle in walking away from either of those; and neither are we interested in changing that definition. Thus, our ambivalence: we don't enjoy being reviled, nor (some comments here and elsewhere notwithstanding) reviling; but neither do we want the innovation of defining participation in the Communion by participation in the Covenant-as-proposed.

    Now, it's possible that participation in the Communion might be redefined; or we might have the "two track" event Archbishop Williams imagined (although not, I think, as he imagined it), and in either case find ourselelves explicitly excluded or effectively sidelined. However, so far we're committed to maintaining communion, and the Communion, as much as we can based on Canterbury and ACC, as opposed to organizing something simply for our convenience. It may come to that; but only after we've exhausted the possibility of Canterbury and ACC.

    You know, we've said as a Church (and as a Deputy to the last General Convention I say "we" very thoughtfully) both that we feel called to open full participation in the life of the Church to all, and also that we feel called to maintain communion as widely as possible, even with those who disagree with us. There is certainly a lot of tension between those positions, but maintaining our integrity requires our best efforts to do both.

  8. Again, Observer, I refer readers of this thread who may be taken in by unassuming nature of your latest post, to your 2:35 am post on this thread, where they may assess for themselves the extent to which the veneer of reasonableness you assume when posting to this site reflects your actual opinions.

    I would also mention JCF's observations on "Concern Trolls" in the final post on this recent Preludium post.

  9. If recent actions by the ABC and Canon Kearnon are any indication, boys will be boys and even sticks should be left outside.

    Perhaps if we are also outside, we could build something new and sturdy with those sticks.

  10. Rabbit--you need to get a life and climb out of blogdom. Leave Observor alone. You are stalking him. That's not good for rabbits! AJM

  11. Fred,
    The Jerusalem Declaration group include many who are as sceptical of the covenant as the general opinion on this site.
    For example, some of the provinces in this group consider themselves out of communion with TEC and are wary of signing a covenant which TEC might also sign. They don't wish to be under the discipline of the "Standing Committee" which they regard as tilted to the left.
    At some points these conservative voices and some of the progressive voices are saying similar things.
    In offering these thoughts I hope I am not dismissed as a "concern troll". (the word verification ironically is "stings")
    John Sandeman

  12. Drawing conclusions about what lies behind the disinterested facades of the "Observers" and "Curious-es" of the "reasserter" blog world is no more stalking than observing that Tokyo Rose, in her day, was maybe just a wee bit biased, would have been stalking, AJM. The link I have posted above makes it very clear indeed that Observer is in reality an outspoken, implacable foe of TEC. It is fair, therefore, to draw the conclusion that his or her honeyed words in these parts are likely an attempt to lull the unwary into believing that the "temporary" withdrawal of TEC from the Communion - coincidentally leaving the pitch clear for the machinations of ACNA & its backers - would be a fair and honest move. "Liberals", after all, are such suckers for the "fair & honest" thing, are they not, AJM?

    I again refer you to David & JCF on "Concern Trolls".

  13. John (or is it Obidiahslope?),

    I understand what those who have signed on to the Jerusalem Declaration have said about the Covenant. They are hell-bent (no pun intended) on putting TEC out of business once and for all and they are more outspoken about it than the sleazy Robert Duncans, ACNA, Communion Partners, et al but it does not change the fact, in fact in heightens it!
    Once again, obfuscation is the order of the day.

  14. As a resident expert in concern trolling John, I have never found you to be engaged in the practice in your posts.

  15. David,

    Thankyou, I appreciate your response. As you are aware (because I have seen your posts on the "other side") being an effective minority voice takes skill so I value your opinion in this matter.

    As someone who is pro-Gafcon, I don't necessarily see that a strong TEC means a weak Gafcon and visa versa. I can see both flourishing depending on the energy their ownmembers bring to the task. Yes, the people you mention probably don't want TEC to do well, but their influence on the future of TEC will be slight compared to TEC's own support base. Similarly, if say ACNA does not go well, I don't think their members can blame TEC.
    And it's both John and Obadiahslope - the pseudonym dates back to Father Jake days when most people seemed to use invented names.
    John Sandeman

  16. My comments were in no way directed towards Mr Sandeman.

  17. A pretty good example why things are so bad -- when comparisons are meant to be apt which speak of little boys with toys and the leadership charged with the instrumental life of the Communion. I hope in years to come, after the judgment has fully purified the tiny wreck that TEC will have become, historians look back and read these kinds of things and shake their heads in disbelief. Equally, all the 'when in the course of human events' whining. Look, TEC will probably be about the size of the Unitarian Church in 10-20 years (under 1M). It will resemble the Scottish Episcopal Church -- about 30K on Sunday mornings, if that. When at last all the conservative voices are driven out of TEC, and TEC becomes what it wishes to be, it will be in essence a 'niche church' with varieties of affluent liberalism. It won't take that much longer. 'Boys with toys' indeed. So much silliness from sixties 'leaders.' AJM

  18. "“Like Special Forces, we go behind the scenes and we blow up things” - Phil Ashey, Chief Operating Officer of AAC. But I guess that's not "playing with toys", is it, AJM?

  19. ...and behold AJM, a classic "Seagull"! (troll. Unless s/he comes back again and again and again)

    I can relate to AJM: I, myself, have "Seagull Troll'd" the odd (!) Conservative blog. From my POV, it's "Just ONCE today, the POWER(-Over) at this blog are gonna hear some Truth!" (i.e., hear Truth from Yours Truly. Am I really just spouting my own self-serving nonsense? Flip a coin! ;-))

    *JUST IN CASE* AJM is here, re

    TEC will probably be about the size of the Unitarian Church in 10-20 years (under 1M). It will resemble the Scottish Episcopal Church -- about 30K on Sunday mornings, if that.

    Can I tell you, AJM, just how much I DON'T CARE ***if*** that's a correct demographic prognostication?

    Jesus on the cross was *one* guy. (Well, one Person of the Holy Trinity, but still.)

    Jesus and the apostles were 13.

    Add the "72 disciples" and we're still talking under hundred. Add all "the [mostly nameless] women", and we're talking what? 500?

    Five hundred people turned the world upside-down, w/ the proclamation/deeds/FOOD of the Coming Kingdom, and you're trying to SCARE us with "about 30K"? Please! }-p

    23,334 people have viewed +Gene Robinson's "It Gets Better" testimony in TWO DAYS.

    I'm not saying they'll all become Episcopalians.

    I'm saying, I want to join THEM! :-)

  20. John,
    As I understand it you use John with us and Obidiahslope with the Standfirm crowd, but hey, we all aren't who we say we are, are we?. The point I am/was trying to make is that those in ACNA have gone too far -- there are only two choices for them, The first is to simply be another denomination in the United States. The second, is to overthrow TEC and become the "only" Anglican presence in the US. The latter is what they can almost taste. They need to get a grip 'cause it ain't gonna happen.

  21. Hey Fred,

    Actually its about technological incompetence. Standfirm have a registration system, and I filled it in some time ago, so I come up there as Obadiahslope. Generally I am Obadiahslope where I have to use my wordpress log in too. When I remember I type my real name at the bottom of my post.

  22. Lapin - pls get it once and for all...suggesting a principled stand does not require one to be in agreement or against TEC...someone who disagrees with TEC can suggest a principled stand to TEC and to the GS ...... principled stands are good.

    Marshall Scott - thanks for comments.....I just think all sides of the arguments (that is all they are now) would be better off not defining in terms of canterbury etc.... history has moved on - none of us are benefitting from being trapped by calls to institutional unity. We're just wasting our energy talking past each other....better to get on with our lives without institutional unity.... I honestly believe that we would all benefit.


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.