The Anglican Covenant Solves Nothing.

After all has been said and done, I have come to the conclusion that:

  • The Anglican Covenant solves nothing.
  • Lamentably, it becomes what it hoped to address - a problem of division.  
  • Worse, it has become an instrument of death, not of life.

Here on Preludium I have been clear about the various concerns I have had about the Anglican Covenant. (See the right hand sidebar for a listing of the pertinent blog entries on the Covenant.)  At the same time I have been careful not to come out against the Covenant, but rather in support of the further conversations so that, when addressed, the issues would be joined with some clarity of position and the marshaling of appropriate supportive arguments.  I have been committed to being open to new arguments in support of the Covenant. I still am.

I have been honored to serve on the various writing committees concerned with The Episcopal Church response to the Anglican Covenant from its inception as an appendix to the Windsor Report to the final draft which we now have in hand.  I was pleased to work with Dan Martins, bishop elect in Springfield,  in rewording his resolution on the Anglican Covenant at the last General Convention. Dan did not particularly like the revision, since it fell far short of his intent, but he recognized it as a compromise that would have to do.  As part of that compromise I have felt it necessary and useful to support conversation without completely committing myself to a recommendation of a negative or positive "vote" on the Covenant.  I am still committed to hearing new arguments, and still committed to conversation about the Anglican Covenant.  

But I also believe we have all, in all likelihood, heard enough.  The Anglican Covenant solves nothing. 

The Anglican Covenant was conceived as an instrument for unity - unity in common expression of our faith as a community of Christian churches with strong historical and ecclesial ties, and unity in the face of internal divisions. It was meant to be a short document outlining what it is Anglicans believe and how it is that members of the Anglican Communion come to address differences in moral and ecclesial understandings.

It does neither. The belief formularies of the various Church in the Anglican Communion remain the same - primarily found in the way we pray and what we say in prayer, and the way we order our common life by way of ministries of it various members of the church. The Anglican Covenant is no substitute for, or summation of, such commonly held matters of prayer and order.  

The moral and ecclesial understandings concerning marriage, divorce, communal life, requirements for ordination, qualities of holy living, etc, are unaddressed in the Anglican Covenant, save by reference to various of the "instruments of unity" which themselves have no standing other than respect and reverence due (which is pretty high).  But in no way does the Anglican Covenant provide a means whereby ethical, moral or even ecclesial differences are resolved.  The Covenant fails therefore to do what it claims to do - provide a basis for giving our unity a common face and for maintaining our unity as it concerns matters that divide us.

It solves nothing.

It also becomes itself a problem that divides.  Members and spokespersons for various church in the Anglican Communion have opined that the Anglican Covenant is either open to misuse by churches that wish to control what other churches do, or is incapable of producing the sorts of redirection needed when innovation is felt to have gone too far.  

Those who believe the Anglican Covenant might be useful as a means of keeping various parties in conversation and movement to the fullest extent of communion possible find themselves questioning the extent to which they have sold out their own positions on various matters to a compromise in which only the most bland and least challenging sorts of development are possible. The Anglican Covenant as an instrument of compromise has become an instrument of division, division between people and within persons.

I have waited for the convincing argument from the "middle," from the great body of Anglicans who go to church, support mission and outreach, their diocese, and their church - The Episcopal Church, the Church of England, the Church of Nigeria, The Church in New Zealand, and on and on.  Most of these Anglicans want to be in relationship with Anglicans around the world, find some comfort in belonging to a world wide community of churches and give and work and pray for the mission of the church. So do I. 

The most that comes from this "middle" body is the desire to both do good and be good, and the hope that the Covenant improves the possibility of both. But their arguments for the Covenant do not persuade.

I have, however, become convinced that the problem most clearly present in the Anglican Covenant is the idolatry that attaches to it. It has become an idol, replacing genuine repentance and renewal on all fronts with weak, small and false gods.

Anglican practice in its best moments has understood the need to distance the believer from simple idolatrous solutions - be it a resort to biblical literalism, a reliance on tradition in creed, prayer or practice, or a reduction of reason to rationalism.  The Anglican Covenant does little to encourage biblical theology, practice that builds on tradition, or reason that embraces the creation rather than attempts to rule the creation. It is a regressive document, one that falls short of what Anglicanism offers at its best.

At the same time it does not call us as Anglicans to genuine renewal or repentance.  

We have much in Anglican history for which repentance is required, particularly repentance from the West. The pathetic morphing of the great scandal for which the West ought to be repentant into the minutia of criticisms of the sexual proclivities of some few of its population who wish to align those actions with vows of fidelity and enduring love is itself a scandal.

More to the point, the repentance required of the Western powers and their South and Eastern power siblings is so large that it requires our unwavering focus. We in the West, and particularly we in the United States and those who are our allies in Europe, need to be held to account for the worse sort of colonialism, that of inducing perpetual war against all who would call us to account as devils, hypocrites, evil, or simply greedy,  and calling it righteous.  

But our Anglican partners can not bring themselves to say these words. Instead they will be angry about small acts of love and bravery in a broken world. For members and spokespersons of the "Global South" to focus on the election of one gay man in a committed relationship as bishop and not to focus on the criticism of imperial capitalism gone amok is itself a sign of Anglican failure. What we in the West need is not the arrows shot at the few who are in their eyes illicit lovers. What we need is the confrontation of our acquiescence to the greed and imperial powers of America and the West.  

I would suggest that this has not happened because those who have made the issues of gay and lesbian and female vocations to ordained ministry the "issue of the day" are in fact unclear about their stance concerning the dismal and idolatrous reality of America and the West, or are afraid.  

We are not confronted in these matters by our Global South critics precisely because these critics are themselves in relation with and to some extent managed by Western agents who are not at all supportive of a real criticism of the West. So alternative targets are produced, and silence about the rest is maintained.

So the Anglican Covenant, no matter its maker's intentions, is produced as a dog with few teeth, so that it does not bite its masters but only chews on the bones they throw - namely the ministries of people who are throw-aways in the systems to which they are all committed, namely women and gay and lesbian persons, lay persons without power, and young people.

There is not one word of hope in the Anglican Covenant for any of these, no mention of the greed and avarice of imperial powers, no confrontation with principalities and powers, no confrontation with racism. There is only the promise that all controversy will be dealt with by generous allowance for objection and extended requirements for going slow.

I hazard a guess that Martin Luther King, Jr., would know what do to with this, and what his mentor Gandhi might think of the whole thing. Perhaps they too would say:

The Anglican Covenant is the Solution to Nothing.

I remain willing to hear out all possible support for this or some other Anglican Covenant, but I am not persuaded that there is any reason to say other than this: 

No to the Anglican Covenant.

My hope is that the Synod of the Church of England will in the next days also say No.


  1. Anglicans in various ways are challenging the principalities and powers of this world, doing so in response to the Word of God revealed in Scripture. Within that Scripture some things are said which some Anglicans ignore, or even reject, and other Anglicans are looking for a means to call that ignoring and rejecting to account. The Covenant is that means but it is being vigorously opposed by those who do not wish to be called to account. One form of opposition is present in your post, Mark, whereby rejection of Scripture on a matter is minimalised and a large set of wanton failings of all Anglicans is described as more serious in offence, then the Covenant is noted as not addressing these wanton failings. Conclusion: Covenant bad, say No to Covenant!

    In the process of saying this No, you even slate the Covenant as itself a cause of division, adding to the many causes in the Communion. Poor old useless Covenant.

    If TEC, ACCan, CofE, my own church ACANZP and others do not sign to the Covenant, then nothing will change. If we do sign then things will change, not so much because of the Covenant per se, but because we have committed ourselves to a new common life. But let's not blame or bless the Covenant in respect of no change or change: we are responsible for any change.

    The point of a Covenant is that people sign to it. That's what makes it work. Apparently many do not want to make it work. So be it: but nothing will be solved by not signing!

  2. I think we all know, and even the conservatives would have to admit, that the only reason the idea of the Covenant even came about was to punish TEC. There really is no other factor that pushed this. It only exists as a means for the anti-gay folks to punish those who are Christ like and inclusive.

    If you cut it to the bare bones it is exposed for the ugly truth it is.

  3. I have signed a covenant, a long time ago with the Christ of the gospel. The Christ of the widow's mite; the Christ that gave us the two great commandments; the Christ of the Good Samaritan; the Christ of the feeding of the 5000; the Christ of the beatitudes; the Christ of the healing of the lepers; the Christ of the Samaritan woman at the well; the Christ of the cross and the Christ of the Resurrection.

    It is time to move on, or more appropriately, through this covenant thingy and let's get on with who we really are. The Epsicopal Church is poised to lead the world, how about it?

  4. Thanks, Mark.

    In New Zealand we have a Consumer Guarantees Act. Last year I checked, and the proposed “covenant” is not “fit for the purpose” and will not “do what it is meant to do.” http://www.liturgy.co.nz/blog/anglican-covenant/2171

    More recently I had the analysis confirmed in a newspaper advice column: http://www.liturgy.co.nz/blog/covenant-confusion/4506


  5. The CofE synod will do what Rowan wants....few people find anything very objectionable in the covenant and even fewer will stand up to support TEC's actions since 2003 - that is the reality. R Williams ain't no conservative.... expect the synod to go with him and feel it is not being at all draconian...because so few have any issue with the covenant, including section 4

  6. I'd like to hear what the opponents to the covenant understand the future of the communion to be. Obviously the Instruments are broken. Attendance at ACC meetings -- unlikely. Canterbury as focus of unity -- gone. Primates Meetings -- in doubt. Lambeth Conference -- already broken. So is the idea that historical catholic anglicanism will devolve to associations of the like minded? This is the price it seems for introducing a new 'teaching' on marriage and sexual conduct. Is this new 'associative ertswhile anglicanism' OK? I know that americans see the world like the old New Yorker maps: TEC = 90% of the map. But if they look at the communion as a whole, is this new anti-covenant anglicanism OK?

  7. TEC is not 90% of the Communion. It's the part of the Communion in which I live, and act, and worship. It is the part for which I have some small responsibility. It happens to be a part of the Communion to which a great part of the world looks for leadership. America is what it is. We are a convenient focus for everything from aspiration and mindless adoration to violent loathing. We certainly do not always exercise our power well, wisely, responsibly, or gently. But in these things, TEC at least is behaving the way this nation is supposed to behave--making itself into a light on a hill. And those who say we are doing so by ignoring scripture are wrong--simply, critically, thoroughly wrong. Torah scholars cannot agree on the actual meaning of the passages in the Pentateuch. There is both too much and too little text in the NT for any sort of agreement, and in any event, those who claim the Pauline prohibition as authority would have to, for the sake of the Biblical consistency they claim to value so highly, have to reverse the churches' teachings on slavery, which I do not believe they would do. And in the one place where Jesus confronts a person in a homosexual relationship (the centurion and his catamite)He apparently sees the centurion's faith as vastly more important than either the catamite's slavery or the centurion's homosexual relationship with him. And that's all we have. If we do not any longer believe we should follow John in hating/blaming Jews, then why do we believe we should follow Paul's single comment on sexuality. Jesus is explicit on the subject of divorce, and I can agree that we may have become too casual about it, but who among the thinking conservatives would suggest that we precisely follow Jesus's clear words to the (Aramaic) letter on that?

    I really wish conservatives would stop accusing progressives and moderates of ignoring the Bible. It's a false charge and it rings increasingly shrill.

    The Covenant is not, Father Carrell, about unity in Christ. I wish it were. It's about membership in a club. Unity is in Christ, not in Covenants that cherry-pick membership. Who are we to say who is welcome at the Supper? And that, demonstrably, is what the Covenant intends to do.

  8. Devon--that's fine. What about the questions regarding the future of a global Communion? Or is the TEC centered Christianity the thing that matters.

  9. I continue to think that the Communion was in some ways better off before the advances in communication of the past 25 years. Now everything that happens is heard about - and, perhaps, offense is taken - almost immediately. Perhaps if we all slowed down a bit, practiced deep breathing, and didn't rush to judgment (or condemnation) we could deal with our differences in healthier ways. Maybe Peter's right that the important thing is signing on and committing ourselves to a new common life, but I still think that the common life we have had is worth preserving and I don't think the covenant will help. What will help is patience and a willingness to bear with one another even when we disagree.

  10. I daresay that Anglicanism will continue to be practiced globally.

    Between Fr Mark and Devon, there is nothing of use I could add, but to note that exclusion is generally contrary to the Way shown to us by Christ and unity does not depend on documents.

    In Christ there is no East or West,
    In Him no South or North;
    But one great fellowship of love
    Throughout the whole wide earth.

    In Him shall true hearts everywhere
    Their high communion find;
    His service is the golden cord,
    Close binding humankind.

    Join hands, then, members of the faith,
    Whatever your race may be!
    Who serves my Father as His child
    Is surely kin to me.

    In Christ now meet both East and West,
    In Him meet North and South;
    All Christly souls are one in Him
    Throughout the whole wide earth.

    We certainly don't need no stinkin' covenant.

  11. It seems to me that all sides are very selective in the reading of Scripture. For example, in this country, Scriptural exhortations to social justice and against greed are ignored while regulations on sexual behavior are perhaps way over-legislated. Where I grew up, the apocalyptic books were studied exhaustively while things like the Sermon on the Mount and the Last Supper exhortation in John were passed over without much attention or commentary.

    I'm puzzled as to exactly why the Chicago-Lambeth agreements are no longer adequate, and that some kind of magesterium (Roman or Genevan) with enforcement powers is now urgently necessary.
    The Issue (of which I am an incarnation) seems hardly on the level of the Trinity or the Resurrection.

  12. I find it very odd that opponents to the Covenant within TEC belong to a church which has a constitution and canons the existence of which they neither protest nor do they demur from as means of determining unity in Christ. It is well noted around the Communion that in a variety of ways those not adhering to the constitution and canons of TEC (e.g. recent departers) are not viewed as being in unity with TEC. So I am afraid that I find that protestantions from within TEC that unity does not depend on pieces of paper is not worth the paper on which they are written!

  13. Peter-

    There is a real difference between a member church of the Communion and the Communion itself and, because of that difference, there is nothing inconsistent about those who support constitution and canons not favoring the covenant. The former are necessary elements of an autonomous church, while the latter appears to many of us to be a tool that doesn't fit the current need. We don't need ways to make "official" the "relational consequences" that already exist within the Communion. What we need is a recognition that we need each other as partners in the work of mission. It is that work that has been diminished, more, IMV, by the unwillingness of some to remain in partnership with TEC, than by the negative effects of TEC's actions on other member churches. I continue to have real difficulty understanding why the sexuality issue - and not some others - is seen as communion-breaking. It is not that I don't understand how someone could disagree with me on this issue; what is still a mystery to me is why this disagreement is grounds for breaking communion. Why didn't the Church of England break communion with TEC in the early 1800s over slavery? Why not over divorce?

  14. Christopher (P.)23/11/10 3:24 PM

    But Peter--

    For me, it's not A covenant that's bad, it's THIS covenant. For it comes out of the desire to punish and to constrict, and not to glory in the Christian liberty that Galatians and Luther speak of.

  15. I'm afraid I don't buy Peter Carrell's argument that it's this covenant or chaos. I'd rather have anarchy than be bound by a bad contract. I'd prefer to have a good contract. It seems we had one for about a century until all those gays started coming out of the woodwork, and women started speaking up in church. I wonder if it's really the women and gays that are the problem, or the emotional reaction against them is the real problem.

  16. Thanks to Devon for about as concise and clear a summary of scriptures relating to same-sexuality as I've seen. He omitted only the Sodom story, which describes an incipient gay-bashing rather than the homosexual rape Biblical literalists want to see.

    I find it frustrating, the persistent refusal of some traditionalists to concede the experience of non-heterosexual persons. St. Paul suspected something was going on but was against whatever it was, the tradition ever after was silent or opposed, so QED -- all those gay couples and individuals living productive lives and contributing to the community are just sinners and perverts. And we don't know whether the antis' intransigence is because "gay" is outside their experience and therefore unimaginable, or because it's all too much inside their experience and therefore must be suppressed wherever it appears.

  17. As we used to say at my Southern university, we are majoring in the minor. Christian witness does not require the Anglican Communion, but is does require the Church.

    This whole covenant business is a proxy for something else, and it is very un-Christian.

  18. I quite like the phrase 'covenant or chaos' and may use it in the future as it is attributed to me :)

    I do not think, Daniel, that if an autonomous member church needs constitutions and canons the Communion is so different in form that it does not need them or something similar. Nevertheless I accept that the Communion could be a body of member churches intentionally different to the member churches, relying on relationships, bonds of affection, and general goodwill. The question then is whether that reliance will itself be reliable going into the future. My sense is that it will not be, and thus chaos, anarchy, and the like will be our future. If so, let's be clear that is what we are choosing when we reject the Covenant.

  19. I appreciate the possibility that 'this Covenant' is a bad covenant and not a good covenant. In my own personal reading of Covenant discussion on the internet I am not seeing many opponents of the covenant make proposals for an improved covenant. It would be interesting to see what form and content such a covenant would have.

  20. You know, Peter, I have seen suggestions for a "better" covenant, as recently as Tobias Haller's thought about adopting the Preamble as a covenant in its own right. Certainly, there have been various suggestions over the past few years about doing what it appears A/NZ/P has done in considering each section separately, and adopting Sections 1, 2, and 3. And, of course, several voices associated with GAFCON/FoCA have suggested adopting the Jerusalem Declaration instead.

    I think, though, that we are at the point where this is the only document we are going to have; or at last that we won't consider another unless and until this one fails in enough national and regional churches. So, at this point it's either too late or too soon to consider any alternatives.

  21. Hi Marshall,
    The JD is badly flawed (around its definition of 'orthodox'). The preamble and/or S1-3 are fine statements but we need some 'teeth', so S4 is needed. I am happy with most of S4 (but uncertainty about the Standing Committee being the group which should figure in the process as it does). Clearly many are not happy with S4 (too much or too little teeth seems to cover many objections). Do you know if any opponents are offering an improved version of S4 rather than wishing it be deleted?

  22. I'm not interested in the survival of Anglicanism, worldwide or other, but in doing what I know Christ calls me to do.

    If Anglicanism and a "worldwide communion" are your first choice, you'd probably do better founding some sort of public service organization and pretending it's about God.

    Finally, if it's chaos, chaos is better than unity with evil intent, and that's what the conservative agenda is; at least God can bring something out of chaos.

  23. So is the idea that historical catholic anglicanism will devolve to associations of the like minded?

    WILL devolve? It already HAS! And this Anglican Covenant will do NOTHING to change that.

    This is the price it seems for introducing a new 'teaching' on marriage and sexual conduct.

    No. Same old teaching . . . extended to ALL the Imago Dei (it wasn't so long ago, in many places, black people weren't permitted to marry, because THEY were seen as both materially AND morally "inferior", too).

    Does this mean, in extending God's Grace to "the least of these", the proverbial "Elder Brother (to the Prodigal" will pull away and sulk?


    "I did not come to bring peace, but a Sword" . . . the Sword of Justice! :-D

  24. Trouble for those not wanting any Communion wide standards or discipline is that they are arguing against people like Rowan Williams.... the attempts to paint pro-covenant positions as hardline, conservative, controlling etc do not work because so many liberal people want a covenant. TEC needs Rowan on its side to win in the AC debates.... but the covenant is not something he has any difficulty supporting. P Carrell is right...TEC wants order in its own backyard... it is reasonable that the AC wants some order too.... at least not to face the consequences of unilateral actions.

  25. Covenant has passed by whopping numbers. Sam

  26. If it is "teeth" that are required, then none of this covenant can be saved IMHO.


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.