Brief Anglican Covenant Thought

Much ink, real and virtual, has been spilt over the Anglican Covenant. I’ve largely stopped commenting on the on-going inter-Anglican feuds but can’t resist just one little comment here…

The Archbishop of Canterbury is right: the Covenant has no ability to change what any one church does. It cannot make anybody do or not do anything. If we want to have either girl bishops or gay bishops, a Covenant will and can do absolutely nothing about it.

All the Covenant can do is more completely describe what other parties do about how one particular church acts.

A Covenant cannot and will not limit the actions of the Episcopal Church.

Take a look at the vote numbers from England’s General Synod for a second:

Bishops 39 for 0 against 1 abstention
Clergy 145 for 32 against 11 abstentions
Laity 147 for 25 against 8 abstentions

The passage of the motion for the Covenant to be sent to the dioceses for discussion and ratification was not half-hearted or narrow.

There are two ways to look at the Covenant: 1) a relatively province-neutral organizational scheme or 2) a referendum on North American actions. It seems that most of the rhetoric from the major players see it as the second. If this is true, then the English vote should be seen as a wake-up call to the Episcopal Church. Whether we’re doing the right things or not, our sister church has sent us a message—our actions will have consequences. Our response should be appropriate. That is, continued argument against the Covenant is, to my mind, pointless because it reads as a continuing argument for American exceptionalism, a statement that we don’t want to live up to the consequences of our actions.

16 thoughts on “Brief Anglican Covenant Thought

  1. Annie

    Wow. I’ve been wondering what you thought about this but I know you don’t comment much any more about these things. This is quite a powerful statement.

  2. bls

    Yeah, I’m with you. I don’t see what the problem is, anyway, with TEC taking a back seat for awhile. To my mind, in fact, it’s a better place to be; we’ll still have relationships with many in the AC and could continue to form other ones. And we can at that point be irritating grit to the institution – always a fine thing, to my way of thinking.

    As you say, there are consequences to one’s actions; that’s just the way it is. If we really think we’re being “prophetic” – well, prophets often get slammed. In fact, I hate the idea of just pretending that things are as they always were; they’re not – and that’s a good thing. But change doesn’t come cheap – as Christians of all people should know…..

  3. Tony Hunt

    My only problem with the Covenant is the focus on Provinces, these I take to be abstract and untheological restrictors on the episcopacy. They are to a degree unavoidable considering the global nature of nation-states, but they ought be given as little authority as possible.

    *and, off the soap box.*

  4. Matthew

    I think that my concern regarding your use of the voting numbers is that it’s difficult to discern intent on the part of the members of GS, beyond a desire for further study. Their decision is one that respects subsidiarity and the desire for greater consideration, rather than a ringing endorsement of the covenant.

  5. MadPriest

    You are being arrogant. The second of the two options should read “a referendum on everybody in the Anglican Communion who wants provincial autonomy.” The fact that it seems like it is TEC that is always getting shot at is due to TEC being the biggest target at this moment in time. Once they have got rid of TEC they will aim at the next biggest target and so on, until they have their “perfect” church. For TEC to remove themselves from the debate now would be isolationism and an abrogation of its responsibility, as the biggest target, towards those of us in the Communion, who support TEC, but who do not have the power that TEC has, to go it alone.

  6. Death Bredon

    Won’t the whole issue be completely moot when England soon elevates its first Bishopette?

  7. Derek Olsen

    In order…

    Which issue is it that will be moot? If you mean the Anglo-Catholic movement defined as Victorian Scholasticism, that’s been moot for quite a while now. The future reality of a female Archbishop of Canterbury became inevitable with the ordination of the first woman priest in England. And by this point it’s already completely moot due to the generous provision of B16 which will allow COE dissenters to be both Roman Catholics and retain (some aspects of) the patrimony.

    If the issue is the continued existence of the Anglican Communion and the nature and composition of that body then, no, it is still quite open.

    Guilty as charged, of course.

    Perhaps it’s because of my American perspective (and no, I didn’t say TEC because our northern cousins are involved as well…) but I fail to see how the Covenant places any external controls on provinces. The Covenant doesn’t tell us what we can or can’t do. Instead, it enables the other provinces to enact consequences based on provincial actions. All it can do is, when we gather together, our people will have to sit in the naughty corner.

    As you could say, that’s one thing for America but quite another for smaller Provinces for whom Communion relationships mean more—and I’m not sure I agree. I think your fears of isolationism and an abrogation of responsibility are unwarranted. Even if TEC is reduced to second-class citizenship in the Communion it won’t mean that we’ll disappear and that we won’t continue talking to and assisting Anglicans around the globe.

    If we believe that the consecration of women and the liturgical solemnization of same-sex marriages are Gospel issues—which TEC as a whole seems to do (and which I agree though prefer to argue it a bit differently than the national church…)—then upholding our relationships while accepting a second-class status is not an abrogation of our responsibilities.

    In this I think bls and I are in perfect agreement.

    True—there are different ways to interpret the numbers. You suggest that the overwhelming vote for the measure may not be a ringing endorsement of the Covenant. But it’s quite clearly not a ringing rejection of it either. Time, clearly, will tell as the dioceses consider it and Synod votes again.

    I’m still confused as to the whole Diocese of Sydney lay-presidency situation. How does the Covenant or other remedies do anything to address this situation which is diocesan as opposed to provincial (as New Westminster was before Canada’s further decisions)?

  8. MadPriest

    Even if TEC is reduced to second-class citizenship in the Communion it won’t mean that we’ll disappear and that we won’t continue talking to and assisting Anglicans around the globe.

    Well, that’s all right , then. But you said that you should stop talking. That’s what I was pulling you up on.

  9. Derek Olsen

    I said that the incessant discussion of the Covenant for the purpose of ducking the international response to our actions should stop.

    We do need to keep talking and making our points in a cogent, coherent, and theological fashion. But if consequences are due us for it, so be it.

    Seriously, can you imagine Americans not talking, period?

  10. C. Wingate

    ECUSA is a big target precisely because it chooses to act out in a big and in my opinion flagrantly hypocritical way. It’s perfectly clear that the prevailing direction on the presenting issues in ECUSA is that their view is doctrine, and they would have the rest of the communion adopt and enforce their position. But they can’t make that happen, so at the communion level it is politically necessary to claim theological independence in order to preserve at least the appearance of influence. I do not think it is unreasonable for the rest of the communion to object to being treated this way. Calling this a demand for “perfection” is exaggerated in the same way that my insistence on my children not waking up their brother once he has gone to bed is not an insistence on perfection.

    I was really surprised by the vote at synod, because of all the rumblings over the summer from an ECUSA-like faction. I have some theories about this which I don’t think ought to be stated in public. But in any case it is really about time the American church took the “here we stand” position their domestic policies imply rather than this constant lawyering (which I’d also love to see them abandon at home, but that’s for another time).

  11. John Robison

    My. Main problem with the Covenant is that it seems to institutionalize Donatism as a legitimate theological position. I mean, Barth always quipped that a form of pelagianism seemed to creep around in Anglican thought, but we have never institutionalized the nasty old Welsh hyper-moralist. Now we seem to want to do so for his North African counterpart. I don’t object to a Covenant in theory, I do to this particular document in question for that reason.

  12. Tony Hunt

    Well if I had all the answers I’d be a teacher instead of a student! I suppose I mean mostly, and I’ve yet to tease this all out in my mind, that historically it seems to me that the bishop is of far more importance for authority than the province as understood post-nation-state.

  13. C. Wingate

    John, I can understand your concern and to a degree I share it. But Donatism is really only an issue for homosexuality, and not for ordination of women or CWOB or the persistent urges in down in Sydney towards lay presidency.

  14. John Robison

    I suppose you are correct Brother Wingate, but I am deeply suspicious of anything that has such a flaw in it’s makeup being able to address any theological controversy properly.

  15. Carson T. Clark

    Interesting post…

    Just came across your blog. I’m an aspiring clergy-writer who’s new to the Anglican tradition, and am trying to find Anglican readers. The title of my blog is “Musings of a Hard-Lining Moderate: The assorted thoughts of an evangelical Anglican.” Right now I’m doing a series on the doctrine of Scripture, which was prompted by the crisis in the global communion. Also recently wrote a post on the value of the christian calendar. Don’t know if you’d be interested, but here’s the link:

    Have a great day.

    Grace & Peace,


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