A Three Video Defense of the Anglican Covenant

The Anglican Communion has a variety of Commissions, Committees, Agencies and Boards - what in The Episcopal Church are called CCAB's. A number of them have been busily making reports, issuing statements, and generally going about their business. They are arguably good reasons for having the Communion itself. Reports on their work can be found HERE.

One of those Commissions - Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity Faith and Order (IASCUFO) - was tasked with offering commentary in support of the Anglican Covenant.  It has just produced three videos on them matter. You can view them HERE, HERE and HERE.

They are unremarkable in their depth or scope, and make the basic point that the Anglican Communion needs a framework in which to ground its unity in diversity. So once again the virtues of the various elements of Anglican sensibility are touted as the glue that holds us together.  

But the words seem empty of critical content. Nowhere is there any acknowledgement of the decidedly "episcopal" emphasis in determining Anglican theological understandings, nowhere any hint that perhaps the laity has been undervalued, nowhere are the inadequacies of mouthing allegiance to the "classic" prayerbook of 1662 or the Thirty-nine Articles addressed.  Instead we get arguments that we ought to feel just fine about the various sections of the Anglican Covenant.

Except, that is,  for a brief section of the third video - on the sections of the Anglican Covenant.  There, near the end (about 6:53) Katherine Grieb begins to talk about "false choices." She says, 

"I'm from the Episcopal Church in the United States. I think that many people in my Province believe that the Covenant is only for theological conservatives. But there are many progressives who are interested in endorsing the Anglican Communion Covenant. 

So I would like to identify some choices that I believe are false choices in my view.  I hear people saying "if we sign the Covenant we cannot support the ordination of women." That I believe is certainly a false choice. I hear people saying, "If we sign the Covenant we cannot work towards the blessings of same sex unions."  I believe that's another false choice. And finally I hear people saying that, "If we sign the covenant we can no longer ordain gay and lesbian people to the episcopate." That also, I believe, is a false choice.  The Episcopal Church was invited to sign the Covenant as we are, and everybody knows where we've been and what we stand for.  The real question is where we will go from here, how we will work together  with the rest of the Communion to work things out in ways that are acceptable to everyone."

Kathrine Grieb is making an interesting argument here: She sets up "false choices"  - Either the Anglican Covenant OR various progressive possibilities. But that is not the argument that I understand holds. 

The argument I more often hear is that we in the Episcopal Church will continue to ordain women, work towards the blessing of same sex unions and continue to ordain gay and lesbian persons to the episcopate and because that is the reality we find it difficult to sign a Covenant that will have the immediate effect of both limiting our formal engagement with various CCAB's of the Anglican Communion structures AND the longer term effect of offering political pressure to limit such actions in the future. 

It is almost impossible to envision the Anglican Covenant being less than a restraining order or a means of exclusion.

Professor Grieb is herself now a consultant to IASCUFO rather than a full member precisely because of the "consequences" of The Episcopal Church's actions, and was done in ways similar to that provided for in Section Four.It is quite interesting, perhaps ironic, that she is in this video at all, what with her relation to a church so questionable that she is reduced to consultant status simply because she belongs to that church.

Her end point is vague to the point of almost being a double-entendre. She says, "The Episcopal Church was invited to sign the Covenant as we are, and everybody knows where we've been and what we stand for.  The real question is where we will go from here, how we will work together with the rest of the Communion to work things out in ways that are acceptable to everyone."

She is quite right. We are asked to sign, "just as we are."  The real question IS about the future.  If we sign or not, "where do we go from here?"  If we sign, we will surely be disciplined and / or politically pressured and we will fight against that and be called divisive.  If we do not, we will surely be called divisive for not signing.

Note that Professor Grieb does not propose that we ought to sign, but only that the "false choices" are false. Perhaps she is challenging us to look deeper for the real problem.

The real false choice seems to me to be between thinking that voting for the Anglican Covenant gets us one thing and voting against the Anglican Covenant gets us another. the choice appears irrelivant in terms of consequences. Either way we are in for a long struggle and likely to be condemned.

That being the case, why not sign? We sign all sorts of irrelivant things these days. Why not this?

Because to do so would be an effort to avoid the reality of the matter. It would be to worm our way forward under cover, rather than stand in the light offering what friendship is possible.

The Covenant is not about Companions on the Way, it is about authority and obedience. As one under authority and bound by an oath of obedience I am not without sympathy for such binding.  I am, however, without any sympathy at all for a Covenant that proposes in vague terms ways we can walk together and perhaps even come to new decisions and only gets concrete when it comes to ways we will be separated, suffer consequences or be politically pressured. 

These videos are no help at all.


  1. When Professor Grieb says “. . .work things out in ways that are acceptable to everyone” the only thing I hear is condemnation, swift and loud, from Southern Cone provinces.

    I have been at this “dialog” long enough to know that the only acceptable way this works out for those provinces is for TEC and ACoC to “repent” of what has they’ve already done and undo it, regarding gay and lesbian bishops, same-sex blessings, and, for some provinces, ordination of women and the elevation of women to the bishopric and even presiding bishop. That would be the only acceptable outcome for most of the Southern Cone and the only action that might entice the GAFCON provinces back into the fold.

    There is no middle ground to be found and we’ve spent many a long year learning that fact. Yet here we are, again, being asked to “stand in a crucified place” while humiliating and stultifying compromises are made for those who will never accept women in the priesthood, LGBTQ Christians as full members of the church, and interpretation of scripture outside of the “faith once-received” worldview.

    We are truly damned if we do and damned if we don’t, at least in the eyes of our critics. I see no way through this mire and I appreciate your voice Mark. How far will TEC be willing to go, how many members will we be willing to throw under the unity bus, how much ground will we give up, and how far back in time will be willing to go to “right” our “wrongs” in their eyes? Nothing less will do, you know.

  2. To sign would be to assent to a series of statements that oppose everything Anglican - the room to try things yet still work together for the reign of God now. From beginning to end the Covenant spells out a church I do not recognize as the one I have known since birth.

  3. Smells of desperation to me.

    And, tell me again why we are funding the ACC and our money is being used for this sort of shameful, desperate propaganda?

  4. I have long thought the PAC would only make de jure what is now de facto, with the divisions being made official, either through TEC's expulsion or relegation to a second tier, or, if the powers that be declined to that, the further withdrawal of the members of GAFCON. I think the recent votes in England indicate that there are many who see this particular covenant document as unhelpful or worse. Whatever the GC decides this summer, I pray no one will be thrown under the bus and that, if we must stand in a crucified place, we will do it together.

  5. It was not clear to me just what Professor Grieb would have us do, but I must assume that she supports adoption. Personally, I would like to hear from some of the “many progressives who are interested in endorsing the Anglican Communion Covenant.”

    I am coming to think that, since Episcopalians are being removed from or their status downgraded in Anglican bodies anyway, that we should (1) reject the Covenant and (2) stop supporting the Communion financially and participating in Communion-wide activities. Let the other churches work things out . We can reconsider our status in 2015.

    We have spent at least the last 15 years fighting the forces of reaction, both within and without The Episcopal Church. This is not what church is for. We clearly have more important things to do. Let’s do them.

  6. The Anglican Covenant is just bad legislation! It is too loose of a document to not be dangerous for any of the signatories including the C of E.

    And to have the Archbishop of Canterbury to have de jure authority as an Instrument of Unity over the various churches in the Communion goes against everything that the Communion has stood for.

    Just because these videos say that the AC is the 'only way' doesn't make it so.

  7. Dr Grieb speaks quite generously of the covenant from her 'crucified place' on the committee.

  8. These videos are hardly going viral, are they? 142, 100 and 218 views, respectively. Out of, what, 70-odd million Anglicans?

    It would be nice to read of some pro-Covenant argument that actually references the text.

  9. Since the canons of TEC indicate that marriage is between a man and woman;

    and since the BCP remains a constitutional document,

    If TEC seeks to change these matters, and it has adopted the covenant, it cannot simply assume that Grieb's optimism would go unchallenged.


  10. I'm afraid I don't understand Msgr's comment at all. How would the canonical situation in TEC affect things re: the covenant? My understanding is that the Covenant has no authority and claims no authority over TEC's constitutions and canons. What am I missing here?


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.