What's at Stake with the Anglican Covenant. Some questions.

I have no idea what the answer are to these questions, but I believe they have something to do with what is at stake regarding the Anglican Covenant.

First let me say that I continue to look forward to spirited debate and discussion at General Convention. Like some others, The Rev. Tobias Haller, for example, I have decided opinions regarding the Covenant and the Covenant "idea," (I am opposed to them) but remain (I hope) open to other opinion. 

Some of the best of the essays and comments in support of the Covenant are to be found in the comments of people like Peter Carroll of New Zealand and the occasional essays in The Living Church, notably the recent comment by George Sumner, "Recognizably Anglican." They deserve to be read with respect.

Still there are questions that require some sort of answer.

(i)  I raised one in my last post, The Strange Case of the Province of South East Asia and their Letter of Accession.  While I am not holding my breath waiting for an answer from the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion regarding these questions, they remain. The primary question is this, 

"If the Letter from South East Asia is taken as a "yes" vote for the Covenant and that vote is predicated on the assumptions South East Asia has made, does the Anglican Communion office acceptance of that letter as "adoption" mean that the Anglican Communion Office, the Archbishop of Canterbury or any of the instruments of communion agree to or abide by South East Asia's interpretation of the limitations placed on member churches by the Covenant?"

That question is all the more important given the just released disclosure that the Archbishops of Canterbury and York apparently "twisted arms" to get Dean Jeffrey John, gay, etc, off the list for possible choice as bishop. In an article,  Church of England tied in knots over allowing gay men to become bishops,   Andrew Brown wrote, "The leadership of the established church remains tied in knots over how far it can comply with the Equality Act in its treatment of gay people. Church lawyers have told the bishops that while they cannot take into account that someone is homosexual in considering them for preferment, they also cannot put forward clergy in active same-sex relationships and, even if they are celibate, must consider whether they can "act as a focus for unity" to their flocks if appointed to a diocese."

(ii) So another way to state the question is this: If the Church of England's leadership, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is also the "focus of unity" for the Anglican Communion, stands ready to stand down on the matter of putting forward the names of gay persons for preferment, can we in any way expect him not to stand with South East Asia in its salute to Lambeth 1998 1.10?

If South East Asia's estimation of the entry fee for legitimate signing of the Covenant is not challenged by Anglican Communion leaders, it means (at least on an initial read) that for the Episcopal Church to sign the Anglican Covenant in a legitimate and honest way, we must be prepared to say that we will at least not ordain any more gay people in partnered relationships to Bishop and that we will stop this business about moving toward formal church wide liturgies for blessing same sex relationships. I can not image that we will do this.

(iii) One big question for us at General Convention will be this: If we sign on with the Anglican Covenant and proceed with any further elections of gay persons to the episcopate or move towards church wide liturgies of blessing of same sex partners, will our adoption be accepted by the Anglican Communion leadership? 

Well, we won't know until we try it. Or we may simply decide that "trying it" is not worth the trouble, since we can predict with some certainty the outcome - relational consequences such that we are effectively reduced to friend of the family status. Is that assessment about right?

(iv) Now to another question:

There seems to be some clarity from Anglican Communion leaders that no one is being asked to adopt the Anglican Covenant at this time save the already established Churches of the Communion, (the Provinces).  As Churches sign on (adopt) the Covenant it becomes effective for them. Presumably when enough churches do so the preponderance of support will move towards the Anglican Covenant as normative for inclusion in the Anglican Communion. 

Some Provinces are apparently disinterested in the Anglican Covenant, going instead for the Jerusalem Declaration and an alternative Anglican world wide fellowship.  Suppose less than half the Churches in the Communion buy on... what then?  How normative will the Covenant be when the Churches asked to join don't?

(vi) And finally, there is the fake-province, The Anglican Church in North America. It says at the close of its Internet newsletter, "The Anglican Church in North America unites some 100,000 Anglicans in nearly 1,000 congregations across the United States and Canada. The Anglican Church is a Province-in-formation in the global Anglican Communion."  Note the phrase, "a Province-in-formation in the global Anglican Communion."  Says who? 

Of course ACNA says this. They are waiting the day when because we don't sign the Anglican Covenant, or better sign it and get blown off anyway, they can let the dust settle and step in saying, we have been preparing for years.

The questions is: Is anyone in Anglican Communion authority going to step up and say something like, "ACNA is not a Province-in-formation in the global Anglican Communion. There is no such category or activity called "Province-in-formation."

ACNA and CANA (The Convocation of Anglicans in North America) are apparently delighted to assure their constituents that they are part of the Anglican Communion.  That their delight leads to excessive claims would appear obvious. 

But perhaps not.  If they say it long enough, and if The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada and others do not accept Lambeth 1998, 1.10 as the settled mind of the Communion, and if there is no clear renunciation of their claims by Anglican Communion authorities, the unfolding of events may lean towards their interpretation.  

All of which makes the matter of the Anglican Covenant all the more complex. If we sign without reservations about Lambeth 1998 1.10  (a la South East Asia's interpretation) we betray gay and lesbian members of this Church, will have revolt on our hands in dioceses and among bishops. If we sign without clear signs of repentance, some Churches will work to void our adoption, and it might not be accepted.  If we sign with reservations, I think that is a dead end, as it will not be adoption.  If we don't sign, ACNA is waiting in the wings.

The questions here have mostly to do with how "Anglican Communion authorities" understand the South East Asia letter of accession, what they make of limited success in garnering adoption statements, and whether or not these authorities have had private conversations or sufficient reservations about TEC and ACoC trajectories such that they believe ACNA might be a better alternative.

(vii) Perhaps the basic question is: Is a Church in which gay and lesbian members exercise leadership and are included in sacraments of vocation (ordination and marriage), understood by Anglican Communion  leadership (particularly the ABC or the Anglican Communion Office)  as finally a rotten apple and unworthy of being in the barrel called the Anglican Communion?  If so, get honest and out with it. Say it.  Then we can forget about the Covenant thing.

If not, then we could use some positive encouragement towards signing the Covenant - like support against South East Asia's interpretation, ACNA's contentions and some sense of what we do if the Anglican Covenant gets only partial support from within the existing Provinces.


  1. Mark, I can see some of your questions. It would certainly be interesting to hear, for example, specifically from Canterbury, the ACC, and/or the Primates Meeting on "signing statements," such as those both of Southeast Asia and of Ireland. I think it important to note that Southeast Asia chose to "accede," a term that we've been discussing here at length for its implication of submission to a normative authority - so as to seem that Southeast Asia sees the Covenant as a "constitutional document," something that the Covenant text itself seems to deny.

    The Covenant text in itself makes a distinction between churches of the Anglican Communion and churches signatory to the Covenant. It may well be signatories could so influence the ACC to effect a change so that the standard of Communion membership is changed from ACC membership (as stated in the Covenant) to signing the Covenant. That would seem, though, to require amendment - allowed for in the Covenant, but something that would take time.

    As other have said, I think we might challenge Southeast Asia for ignoring the passages in Lambeth 1998 1.10 that call for listening to the experiences of GLBT persons, for they clearly don't care to observe those literally. What, then, does that make of their "signing statement?"

    I have my own thoughts about issues of trust in our various options, and about risks inherent in each of various options (I cite you, and I hope faithfully). I am interested, too, in these various terms of "adoption." If some "accede," some "subscribe," some "adopt," and still others choose some other term (endorse? embrace? adhere to?), we need to ask whether the terms are sufficiently alike to simply accept, or entail differences that need more exploration.

    An editorial question: in a number of places you write of "adaption" of the Covenant? is that a favorite typo, or an attempt to embrace both "adoption" and "adaptation?" For, I think we could well argue that "signing statements" of the breadth of Southeast Asia's are in fact efforts to adapt the Covenant under the cover of appearing to adopt it.

  2. Gosh, Mark, I would hate to have to sit an examination you set!

    One small observation: it is easy to read awful things into the ABC's behaviour (or alleged behaviour) re turning away this or that gay person for appointment ... and then to read other imminent situations as likely to involve similar awful behaviour. A few years back a bishop close to ++Rowan told an audience I was part of that ++Rowan would crawl over broken glass for the unity of the church. Since then I have understood everything ++Rowan has done through that lens. Sympathy and lenience towards TEC (as some conservatives accuse him): keeping TEC in the Communion. Standing against certain episcopal appointments in his own church (as now flashing across the internet courtesy the late Colin Slee's memo): preventing an almost certain immediate schism in the C of E. Etc.

    Of course it can be counter-argued that he ought to have the courage of his (real, underlying, previously published) convictions whatever the consequences might be.

    But if those consequences are the demise of the Communion (and the demise of the C of E), is that what we really want? Perhaps that is the question we should be addressing first, before addressing the questions you raise.

  3. Mary Clara26/5/11 6:21 AM

    Mark, thanks for this analysis, and Marshall, your insightful followup. I wasn't going to comment until I noticed that the verification word is "nonsign"! LOL. Thanks to Blogger for suggesting another option besides "accede", "adopt", "adapt","subscribe to", "endorse", and so on.

  4. Marshall....adaption is at best a favoriate typo, at worse another example of the fact that I can't spell worth a damn. (I suspect it is the second option.)

    So, I have gone back and made corrections where I saw them needed.

    Thanks for your link.

  5. I think Episcopalians should think hard about giving veto power over the decisions of their General Convention, and over their diocesan conventions, to a group of unelected and unaccountable bishops who make their decisions in secret. I've always said that we need only look across the Tiber to Rome's travails to see the results of unaccountable power making decisions in secret. In the wake of the Colin Slee memo, I'd say we need look no further than across the Thames at Lambeth Palace.

    WV = "yoiked" indeed!

  6. "But if those consequences are the demise of the Communion (and the demise of the C of E), is that what we really want? Perhaps that is the question we should be addressing first, before addressing the questions you raise."

    It seems to me that if persuasion doesn't work, then there's always intimidation.

  7. Mark, I believe you will get few answers to your questions until more provinces "accede to", "subscribe to" "adopt", or whatever word they choose, the covenant, because the powers at the ACO prefer murkiness to clarity.

    However, I predict that when the Episcopal Church acts in one manner or another, the powers will pounce rather quickly to tell us that what we've done is unacceptable.

  8. Now that is an oxymoron, "unacountable bishop!"

  9. "Now that is an oxymoron, "unacountable bishop!""

    Tell it to the abuse victims in Belgium, Ireland, Germany, Austria, and here in the USA. If any of those bishops were truly accountable, they would have faced criminal charges of obstructing justice years ago based on the complaints of injured laity in their dioceses (they still should). Accountable bishops would never have moved known abusers around from one parish to another while concealing their pasts. Also, accountable bishops would have archives and budgets open to the public and to the light of day. Accountable bishops are answerable to the people in their dioceses, to the people for whom and to whom they are responsible, and to the laws of civil society like all other citizens.

    The days of absolute prince-bishops and obedient peasants ended with the French and American Revolutions.

  10. Sir, I don't think it is the views of TEC on divisive issues which trouble the ABC - given in his published work, he shares those views. Perhaps it is the unilateral actions of TEC (and a couple of others) regardless of the mind of the Communion, without waiting to change it in order to maintain AC unity, which he does not see as showing much concern for .... communion?

  11. Perhaps it is the unilateral actions of TEC (and a couple of others) regardless of the mind of the Communion,...

    Anonymous, please. There is no such thing as "the mind of the Communion". There are many minds of the Communion. We will wait until hell freezes over for all the member provinces of the Anglican Communion to be of one mind. We will be in a state of paralysis.

  12. Grandmere Mimi - TEC doesn't take that approach to its internal matters.... what General Convention decides applies in TEC, right...even if a minority disagree? Well, in 1998, our AC had a vote. In 2008, they didn't because it would have affirmed the result of 1998. Anyway, just because a minority in the AC disagree with Lambeth 1998 1.10 does not mean we have many views..... the ABC is right to refer to the resolution as 'the mind of the Commmunion'. Change it, if you care about unity, before going ahead with actions which he flew over to underline would be horribly divisive. The strange thing is that he agrees with the revision....just not how TEC has gone about it...i.e. unilaterally....leaving him to deal with the resulting division. But, looking at it from TEC's point of view, I can see why that unilateral strategy was chosen given little success in changing the mind of the Communion in the last 50 yrs. Trouble is, the ABC knows TEC cannot afford to be outside the AC....it gives TEC a place on the world stage that it lacks otherwise and for quite a small US denomination, that matters. So, TEC gave him BO33 and let Gene Robinson be (disgracefully) scapegoated re invitations in 2008. He knows TEC needs him more than he needs TEC....because TEC has already sacrificed principles and is still trying to find some way of staying in the Covenant process as a full member....knowing full well that there is a 'mind of the Communion' and it intends to go against it....but still wanting to be in.

  13. He knows TEC needs him more than he needs TEC....

    Anonymous, perhaps what you say is true, if TEC's goal is to be a player on the world stage. God help us all if that is the case. I thought we were to be about the business of our Father, which is spreading the Good News.

    The phrase "the mind of the Communion" demonstrates an arrogance that I find breathtaking.

  14. Grandmere Mimi - some in the AC find unileratl actions breathtakingly arrogant.....I am sure you can see why. Do you not agree that it is quite normal for those with a minority view in groups or federations to go by the majority view until they can change it? If there is a real desire to be in communion with the majority of the AC, diregarding what the ABC (not me!) calls 'the mind of the Communion' is hard to understand - I think that is the only reason TEC does not have 100% support from the ABC.... he seems to agree with the revisions TEC has made but knows that the AC cannot be forced to accept the changes through unilateral actions but has to be persuaded first.

    I guess lots of people in TEC do not appreciate the unilateral actions of the people who have gone to ACNA...they've broken TEC rules....in the same way, many feel TEC has broken fellowship in the AC.....even people who agree with the revisions made.

  15. ...in the same way, many feel TEC has broken fellowship in the AC.....even people who agree with the revisions made.

    Anonymous, (Couldn't you make up a name?) we are willing to approach the table of the Lord, sinners all, with any of our brothers and sisters in the Anglican Communion. As I see it, those who will not share with us at the Lord's table (and remember, it is the Lord's table, not yours, or mine or, theirs) are the ones who have broken fellowship, the ones who have broken communion.


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.