The Anglican Covenant and its "reform."

The Anglican Covenant continues to get some play in AnglicanLand news. As The Episcopal Church becomes more focused on the run up to General Convention 2012 essays for and against the Covenant continue to appear. The Living Church has done a fairly consistent job of defending the need for an Anglican Covenant and the latest effort of TLC was posted on August 19 by Andrew Goddard. "Section 4: Commitment in Word and Deed," is an effort to defend the most difficult section of the Anglican Covenant.  If fails to satisfy.

Never the less, Andrew Goddard makes one remark that bears further exploration. He writes,

"The weakness of the Covenant lies not in the text and its alleged centralization but in the fact that many of the Covenant’s drafters and supporters now doubt that the standing committee and the instruments are sufficiently “fit for purpose.” Numerous resignations from the standing committee, concerns about the ACC’s new constitution, and the principled refusal of many to attend both Lambeth 2008 and the Primates’ Meeting in Dublin indicate that major reforms of the instruments are now urgent, not just for their own sake but for the sake of the Covenant.

The Inter-Anglican Standing Commission for Unity, Faith and Order is considering such reforms. Unless these reforms come soon there is the real danger that Section 4 will simply plant this new promising seed of the Covenant in shallow soil or among thorns."  (Emphasis mine)

Now the churches in the Anglican Communion were presented with the text of the Anglican Covenant as a "final" text. There are provisions in the Covenant for revisions, but they assume that sufficient churches have signed on to the Covenant or are still considering signing on to make such reforms or changes as those churches wish. That hasn't happened yet. 

To change the text while churches are considering adoption, or to have a body of the currently constituted Anglican Communion commissions or committees engaged in reform of the Covenant document while asking churches to buy on to the current text raises a series of process issues. Most importantly it suggests that the current Anglican Communion Office believes the Covenant to need reform, even while it is asking churches to sign up.

Worse yet is the possibility that  IASCUFO  might be working to reform the nature and relation among the "instruments" of Communion in ways that will not themselves conform to the Covenant. This is not about changing the text of the Covenant, as it pertains to the work of the instruments (particularly in Section 4) but about changing the realities on the ground - that is the actual expectations of the various instruments.

The Anglican Communion website says this about the Inter Anglican Standing Commission on Unity Faith and Order this way:

IASCUFO was established by the Lambeth Conference and the Primates' Meeting, and endorsed by ACC-14. The commission is building on work previously undertaken by the Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission, the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Ecumenical Relations and the Windsor Continuation Group. It reports to the Standing Committee and its mandate is to review all issues of ecumenical engagement, and developments in the areas of unity, faith and order in the Anglican Communion and among ecumenical partners, in order to advise the Churches of the Anglican Communion or the Instruments of Communion in order to promote common understanding, consistency, and convergence. The Commission met for the first time in Canterbury in December 2009 and developed a vision that gives expression to its mandate. 

So IASCUFO has every business in looking at issues about the Anglican Covenant.  But their timing is way, way off and if they are indeed "considering such reforms" they are undercutting the foundational document even before it has gained approval from more than a handful of Churches.

Why would we sign a document we know is already being "reformed" without our input or say and which will become potentially even less useful as a unifying document than it now is?

We were asked to buy onto a "finished" text. If it's not finished, then perhaps we should wait. Not all has been revealed, let the buyer beware.


  1. Members of the No Anglican Covenant Coalition have raised exactly the same questions as Mark has raised in this essay. If “reforms” are being considered, Anglican churches need to be told what is going on.

    Organizationally, the Anglican Communion is a dysfunctional mess. Adopting the Anglican Covenant will only make it a dysfunctional mess with a dysfunctional Covenant. Everyone needs to step back and consider what a reasonable Anglican Communion would look like.

    If Episcopalians were inventing the Anglican Communion from scratch, it would surely look different both from what we have now and from what we would have if all the Communion churches adopted the Covenant. We are running headlong toward the edge of the cliff. Is there no one to yell “Stop”?

  2. Of course TEC can decide it does not want a covenant of any kind.

    What is at issue for many of us is not what TEC will do, but whether the covenant will enable the communion to continue for those who want this expression of worldwide Christianity. This is also Goddard's concern.

    From what I have seen, given TEC's present direction, it ought NOT to sign a covenant. It wishes instead to be a national denomination, with 'special features' (same-sex marriage; a baptismal covenant that improves on all former rites; etc).


  3. "...a three day trip into the bowels of Episcopal-land, where the discussion of just what to do with the Anglican Covenant is taking place."

    I take it this present entry emerges from your discussion in the 'bowels of Episcopal-land' -- special committees indeed.


  4. You are correct, Mark, that Andrew Goddard's defence of section 4 fails to satisfy. In fact, some of teh points he cites in support of the Covenant actually form the basis for very solid arguments against it.

    I have responded to him at length here.

  5. The only reason the so called instruments need tuning is because they did not do what the rump group of Primates and their camp followers like TLC wanted them to do. Right from the beginning I argued that the 4 IU would battle for dominance. That is what is happening now as the Primates battle the SC of the ACC.
    The admission that the 4 IU are unworkable is HUGE. The attempt to modify them as people are considering the covenant is just another chapter of this bungled effort.
    As a Deputy I am a No vote on the Covenant in 2012.

  6. Deacon Charlie Perrin24/8/11 11:16 AM

    Franklin, you wrote:

    "[TEC] wishes instead to be a national denomination, with 'special features' (same-sex marriage; a baptismal covenant that improves on all former rites; etc)."

    Isn't this what the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral intends? I have always held that an "Anglican" covenant is the most thoroughly UN-Anglican thing in the world. If it were ever to actually go into effect those member churches would no longer be "anglican" but merely a new protestant version of the Roman hierarchy.

  7. While I am not in favor of the Covenant, I appreciate
    Goddard's admission that so-called instruments have had their value eroded, largely IMV by those who have refused to show up. I think it was Arbp Tutu who said an essential characteristic of the Communion was that "we meet."
    The refusal of some to meet has done great damage.

  8. The work of IASCUFO on reform of the Instruments should be no surprise to anyone. It has been public knowledge for some time. In 2009, the final report of the Windsor Continuation Group made the following recommendation:

    “76. IASCUFO (The Inter-Anglican Standing Commission for Unity, Faith and Order - for which, see below), as a priority, should be invited to produce a concise statement on the Instruments of Communion, their several roles and the authority inherent in them and to offer recommendations for developing the effectiveness of the instruments. This statement should be discussed by the Primates' Meeting and the ACC and sent jointly by them to the provinces for study and response. Although provincial responses could be collated by IASCUFO and brought to the next Lambeth Conference for expressing the mind of the Communion, it will be important to move to a common articulation of the role of the Instruments as swiftly as possible, and consideration should be given to whether these reflections could be incorporated into an ongoing development or revision of the text of the Covenant.”

    This recommendation of the WCG report was explicitly endorsed by the Primates at their meeting in Alexandria in 2009 and by ACC-14 in Jamaica through Resolution 14.09, by which the ACC:

    “affirms the recommendations of the Windsor Continuation Group …[and]
    asks the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order to undertake a study of the role and responsibilities in the Communion of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meeting; the ecclesiological rationale of each, and the relationships between them, in line with the Windsor Continuation Group Report, and to report back to ACC-15….”

    A sub-committee of IASCUFO, chaired by Michael Poon of SE Asia has been working on the reform of the Instruments. None of IASCUFO’s work is directly related to amendment of the Covenant, but both SE Asia as a province and Poon as an individual have well known views on the role of the Instruments. This has long been in the public domain.


  9. One set of changes to the Covenant text that we saw included gradually with each draft was a more accurate description of each of the "Instruments." That was most apparent as the Primates' Meeting was put in its historical sequence and described in its original purposes (or, to put it bluntly, put in its place). So, with each draft the Covenant text was changed to meet the instruments. So, now we're considering changing the "Instruments" to meet the purposes of the Covenant? That begs the questions of whose purposes, whose principles.

    Franklin, you wrote, "What is at issue for many of us is not what TEC will do, but whether the covenant will enable the communion to continue for those who want this expression of worldwide Christianity." That overlooks the point that to this point "this expression of worldwide Christianity" has included the Episcopal Church, with all our messiness, creativity, and occasional idiosyncracy - as it has included to this point every other Anglican church's idiosyncracy. It's not that there can't be an Anglican Communion without the Episcopal Church, or without other "progressive" Anglican national/regional churches; there certainly can be. However, I'd have to question in what way such an Anglican Communion would represent "continuity."

  10. Canon--you are entitled to conclude that a covenant is un-anglican. If the majority of provinces of the Communion should sign it, then you would have your view of anglicanism preserved, and the Anglican Communion via a covenant would have theirs. (The Lambeth Quadrilateral was the means for Anglicans to speak with other church bodies. It was NEVER designed as an identity-maker. That is a latterly conceived invention).


    TEC has decided historically that it wishes to be a constituent member of the Anglican Communion. I believe it no longer wants that. That is fine. The covenant offers an opportunity to say No. Continuity will be maintained for those anglican provinces that believe constituent membership is what the covenant outlines.

    What is confusing is all the emotion from people like Deimel about going over cliffs, just say Stop etc. Fine. Let TEC say no. That might indeed help clarify the position of the great majority of anglicans in provinces other than TEC.


  11. What Franklin seems to miss is that continuing membership in the Communion does not necessarily require agreeing to the Covenant, nor does signing on make a body like ACNA a member. I see the Covenant, at its best, as a way to deal with disagreements within the Communion, or, at its worst, as a way to "purify" the Communion. I think that it is a poor way to do either.

  12. I am missing nothing, Fr Weir. Would you dispute that, should the vast majority of anglicans adopt the covenant, and TEC not, that 'anglicanism' would continue in two tracks? One, representing a conciliarism judged to be, by the preponderance, a continuation of the Anglican Way...and another, in which national autonomy and denominationalism were preferred. Presumably this latter configuration would have an international component and would seek to defend itself as a form of anglicanism. It would however have opted not to covenant with those Anglicans who view the covenant as preserving the true character of Anglicanism.

    What you are missing is that not to sign the covenant is to subscribe to a kind of anglicanism willy-nilly. That is fine. It may help the vast majority of worldwide Anglicans understand the way they do not want to go (autonomy and national denominationalism/exceptionalism).


  13. As a PS -- the Archbishop of Canterbury could well decide--the incumbent at least--that he wishes to remain in some kind of communion with both tracks. To my mind, that suits his way of doing things. This leaves my main point undisturbed however. TEC is a form of anglicanism, to be sure. But communion is already broken across provinces. The covenant could establish what that brokenness means in reality, in terms of who wishes to persist in autonomous action and independence (denominationalism). The rest of the Communion will then have a better sense of its own identity and mission. It will be 'recognisable' for ecumenical purposes (as will be TEC, for different reasons).

    This is all to the good, in my view. The next step would be acknowledge that segments of TEC at the diocesan level want to associate with the covenant adopters. The diocesan freedoms enjoyed in TEC (each with their own canons, each supporting the 'national church' financially as they wish) would permit this.


  14. Franklin,
    My point was that the Covenant text itself is clear that adopting the Covenant or not has no automatic effect one whether a Church belongs to the Communion or not. Clearly there are those who think that one of the relational consequences could be loss of membership in the Communion, but this is not, I think, a likely consequence for simply deciding not to sign on. There has been talk about two tiers within the Communion and we ready some de facto divisions, but those divisions do not change the fact that all the member Churches are still members. We are already living with relational consequences, including some diminishing of resources for mission because of the refusal by some to accept any financial help from TEC.

  15. Changing the rules of the game after the game has started and while the game is still on does not seem at all a good or fair way to function.

  16. Fr Weir

    The 'tiers' idea is something that the covenant envisions and that could go a long way toward securing the integrity of Anglicanism as an 80M member body.

    The TEC majority can reject the covenant in favour of an independent US denomination, and can find others who wish this understanding of anglicanism.

    The vast preponderance can continue the Anglican Way and not be particularly affected by designs for autonomous denominational Anglicanism. The covenant assists in this. TEC gets to be what it wants. It can be 'anglican' on the terms of its own designs. The covenant can help everyone else who so chooses maintain a Communion they believe is at the heart of Anglican Christianity.

    What TEC appears to want, is making everyone else in the Communion in their own image. That needs to be let go of. Let TEC be what it wants to be, and let everyone else maintain an Anglicanism they believe is true to its character. Everyone gets to do what they want.


  17. What TEC appears to want, is making everyone else in the Communion in their own image. That needs to be let go of.

    Franklin, those of us in the Episcopal Church do not want to remake everyone in our own image. We value the great gift of diversity in the Anglican Communion, which has been present from its inception. What you say is simply not true.

    We can play 'tis so, 'tis not forever, but where would that get us? Nowhere, but I had to say it once,

  18. For all I care, the rest of the churches in the Communion can throw snakes.

    All that matters to me is the "love thy neighbor" test, one passed by a lot of non-Christians these days, and failed with alarming and scandalous frequency by many Christians.

  19. One final (I hope) comment: it seems odd to hear the claim that TEC wants to make every other member of the Communion in its image when there is a lot of pressure from GAFCON and others for TEC to conform to their image of Anglicanism. Part of the nature of the Communion is that each member is autonomous in community with other members. There seems to be a move afoot to strip the members of their autonomy - or is just to strip TEC?

  20. The same ridiculous arguments, repeated Big-Lie-style by Franklin.

    Ignore him. Let his kind huddle together and snarl over the bones of a dead faith.

  21. Franklin believes what Franklin believes, No matter how many of us share that we do not feel the way he says we feel, it always falls on deaf ears. He then returns to repeat his mantra yet again.

    I think that he has become so very, very boring. Does anyone agree?

  22. I second Daniel Weir's comment.

    While Franklin accuses the Episcopal Church of trying to remake the rest of the Communion in its image, he's very eager to remake the Episcopal Church in the image of say, Nigeria: top heavy with autocratic bishops, thoroughly anti-modern and anti-liberal, militantly and aggressively evangelical (even if it means killing the Muslim neighbors), with a thoroughly policed and obedient (or intimidated) laity.

  23. I am relieved to hear that what I said appears to be so, is not so.

    TEC can remain true to its goals and convictions. Say NO to the covenant.

    Let those who wish to pursue the Anglicanism they believe is a continuation of worldwide catholic mission adopt the covenant. TEC not adopting may clear up confusion in the mind of many provinces.


  24. Mark is a better man than I. I don't read Franklin, or any "Anonymous" at all - they aren't paying me enough to rent space in my head. Whereas, Mark gives them the benefit of the doubt, bless him. And I thank God that Mark is willing to read the stuff necessary to be able to write a post like this one, so I can go straight to the important point: bait and switch. Thank you, Mark, for being the better man, and for doing all the heavy lifting.

  25. What is the problem?

    Mark Harris does not believe the covenant is a good idea for TEC.

    Neither do I.

    I think when TEC does not adopt it will bespeak a view of anglicanism in which independent theology is the hallmark (unique baptismal covenants; SS marriage; communion of the unbaptized; BCP become a loose-leaf binder; and so forth).

    My hope is that this will encourage those provinces that believe in a Communion and conciliarism to adopt the covenant as the modus vivendi for this view.

    How is any of this controversial? TEC simply does what it wants to do.


  26. Independent theology or contextual theology in the tradition of Hooker?

  27. Hooker's theology as properly understood. He was an avowed conciliarist.

    See the forthcoming TLC essays on this.

    Fr Weir, you will also bear in mind that appealing to Hooker in abstract (contextual-less) terms is perilous. The 80M Anglican Communion was not remotely on the horizon. His conciliarism as applied to this present reality would likely be far closer to covenantal logic than TEC's version of 'reason'. (Ask any historian to tell you what 'reason' meant in Hooker's time. For his purposes, it meant a divine endowment that enabled the Holy Spirit scope for an individual Christian apprehending truth via the Scriptures. As against a magisterial understanding of truth via Trent. Any study of 'reason' in the 16th-17th century will do.

    Locke will of course change all that. Just as Lux Mundi will alter the tractarianism of Pusey/Newman/
    Keble in the name of continental (German) rationalism.


  28. Franklin, my mention was only to assert that just as Hooker was contextual, i.e., theology for the autonomous English church, so theology in TEC is contextual, theology for the church here, not the church in Nigeria or any other place. It should be informed by theology across geography and time, but cannot content with theology from other contexts as if those were its own. It seems to me, and this may be a bit harsh, that what theology I have seen from within the traditionalist camp, is no more informed than that by progressives by the work of liberationist, feminist, Eco-feminist, and Asian theologians.

  29. Hooker's situation thankfully was altered, in ways that would have warmed his heart. An autonomous catholic anglicanism grew, just as Paul gave thanks to Epaphras (Colossians 1), for growth he did not imagine. But Hooker's conciliarism could easily have accommodated this growth. He spoke of the church universal, not of a denomination or 'national independent church' (the concept properly belongs to Lutheranism as it evolved). He spoke of a universal church, inclusive of the Fathers, Prophets, Apostles. Through space and time. The Church of England was but a subset of this larger--even eschatological--reality.


  30. Hooker's contention that the CofE was Catholic was certainly not agreed to by the Church of Rome. I make a similar assertion about TEC, and I am aware that others in the Communion, to say nothing of the Roman and Orthodox Churches, don't agree with me. I leave any final judgment about this to God. Having heard all the arguments, I remain unconvinced by those who think
    TEC has departed from the faith.

  31. I have always found the assertion that our church is “catholic“ (“Catholic,” if you like) is a stretch. Describing it as reformed catholic requires fewer logical contortions.

  32. Hooker did not believe his account of english catholicity would be accepted by Roman authority (conciliarism had a history already since the 14th century of disputing the 'papal authority' notion). That did not mean he was not correct.

    I think Deimel gets better at the modest/impoverished claims of the new TEC. On his account, TEC is a full-on denomination, not a church in 'one holy, catholic, and apostolic' reality and hope. Even this Rome has not thus far claimed.

    You who wish to create and inhabit an autonomous protestant american denomination threaten to drive out five devils only to find them replaced by a dozen or more. Just within this small compass, it is clear that Deimel and Weir do not agree about the historical claims of anglicanism.


  33. I came across a post entitled "Two Rabbis, Three Opinions," a title which, if memory serves echoes s comment which a rabbi once made to me. The fact that Lionel and I appear to disagree about whether TEC is catholic or reformed catholic is, IMV, one the strengths of Anglican way. One of my colleagues told me about a parishioner who had left his parish because of her convictions on same-sexuality. After some months worshipping in a "traditionalist" parish, she returned because she found that there was little tolerance for her convictions about women's ordination. I value the diversity of convictions within TEC.

  34. Amen, Daniel. In the early church, the very early church, the church of Peter and Paul, differences of opinion were very much present. I don't see a lack of agreement on every jot and tittle as an indictment.

    I thought modesty was a virtue, and Jesus seems to have cared a great deal for the impoverished. Maybe the Episcopal Church is doing something right.

  35. For what it’s worth, I have never understood the horror some folks have of calling our church a “denomination.” In my own taxonomy, even the Roman Catholic Church is a denomination. To my mind, insisting on our “catholicity” comes perilously close to suggesting that we are (or are part of) the one true church. I see this as hubris, just as I view the Anglican Communion’s boast about how big a part of Christendom it is. Like Daniel, I leave the resolution of these matters to God, since I cannot see that it makes much difference here on earth.

  36. Of course an independent national denomination is entitled to do what it wants on matters of faith and practice.

    Other provinces which hold to the view that Anglicanism is a Communion; and that the innovations held with conviction by TEC are not where they intend to go, are also able to adopt a covenant which holds them accountable to the larger will of anglican Christians.

    Everyone gets to do what they want.

    Deimel gets his national denomination (even 'humble and modest'!).

    Other Anglicans get to retain an understanding of catholicity and conciliarism they believe is true to Anglicanism historically and theologically. The covenant: 'none must, all may.'

    This seems a perfectly good outcome and harms no one. TEC gets to describe itself as it wishes and argue for its own virtuous autonomy and special endowments.


  37. Christopher (P.)27/8/11 2:16 PM


    You continue to appeal to a mythic unity among non-TEC Anglicans. Where is the unity of the BCP among the different provinces? Scotland, Ireland, New Zealand have prayer books quite different from one another, from TEC, and from 1662. Even the Mother Church (CoE) has options for a quite different order of service. Different provinces have different catechisms. Different provinces sanction moral practices that others would consider quite out of the mainstream, even out of bounds, of which the acceptance of polygamy but is one example.

    If the "Covenant" provinces are predominantly or exclusively from the "Global Middle," or the Global South, the Covenant will be a failure, as its purpose should be to help the Communion as it is, not as we would wish it to be. It may be that England will be the only one to sign on among the "first world" provinces--to use an old but occasionally useful term. That would be fatal to the Covenant's success. The Communion needs to be for its provinces, not the other way around.

  38. I have been active throughout the Communion. BCP differences are minor in comparison to TEC's unilateralism: 1) same-sex marriage; 2) communion without baptism; 3) the idea of unique baptismal covenant promises (a pelagian idea).

    Lambeth Conference many seasons ago laid down agreements re: polygamy.

    Besides all this. TEC actually contends its special character IS special, prophetic, etc. Look at the alternative service books in the SEC. They don't hold a candle to TEC's claims.

    The only point being made here is: TEC does not want to adopt a covenant. It wants to believe it is autonomous and cutting-edge.


    Let those who wish to covenant do so. If the SEC, NZ, Japan and others want to join up with TEC, fine. These are the decisions that will need to be considered.

    I also think it will help other provinces decide about the means for remaining in Communion (covenant, e.g.) if TEC does not adopt.


  39. christopher+1/9/11 2:35 PM

    It's amazing how little this discussion changes over time (I look occasionally....)

    Once again I am stunned by the idea that the unity of the Anglican Communion should henceforth be based on sex and sexuality - specifically some de facto universal prohibition of same-gender sex (and marriage). (Other issues often mentioned generally seem thrown in to make a case that really, really this isn't all about gay sex - not especially convincing for most observers. Too, it often seems to matter more to many what is said publicly on the record - affirmed or disallowed - than what is actually done discretely, say, in the bedroom. There are really quite a few sexual practices we Anglicans could discuss publicly in synod and spend hours pouring over biblical sources to consider....were it not generally easier to focus on those that impact "others" or - for whatever reason - arouse the most ire.)

    Somewhere in this discussion, the odd argument was made that the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral - the traditional Anglican approach to restoring full communion with other Christian churches based on four defining elements - applies *only* to relations with non-Anglican churches. This makes no sense; there can be no double-standard for full communion, and all the rest (exchange of clergy etc.) is a matter of procedure. Unless this is not *really* about maintaing the fullest degree of communion possible while agreeing to disagree on secondary issues...

    Which brings me back to the idea that it looks a whole lot like this is really all about putting issues of sexuality on par with, say, the Creeds and the Episcopate as defining matters of Anglican faith and order. This wasn't necessary when it came to women's ordination, as difficult as those discussions were at the time and as much as some (many) saw this as a core issue of biblical interpretation and practice. Apparently gay sex is just that much more upsetting to some (many) - for whatever reason - than perhaps even the idea of a woman wearing a collar or a miter.

    We need to get beyond the idea that the Anglican Communion means only one thing when it comes to issues of gender roles and sexuality. For centuries we Anglicans have lived - albeit not always comfortably - with differences based on differing biblical interpretations, and we will likely need to do so for centuries more. While working on that, we could also drop the lame idea that the Episcopal Church is the problem here, rather than one part of an ongoing, global discussion on how to maintain the highest possible degree of unity among Anglican churches that apparently disagree on some issues while actually agreeing on far more.


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.