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Anglican Covenant

I have tended to be wary about devoting much energy to the Anglican “Covenant” here. I do not see much value in debates that generate more heat than light. We can so easily get distracted – making majors out of minors…

The Church of England is debating the “Covenant” in 44 diocesan synods. To help, The Church Times newspaper has recently produced a good resource with the pros and cons of the “Covenant”. (PDF Here)

I have tended towards the approach that if you have a problem because you lost something in the garden, to get a solution that’s where you should be looking – even if the light in the house is better! I do not think that the “Covenant” is the appropriate tool as a solution for the “problem”, just as I do not think that a sledgehammer is the appropriate tool as a solution for screwing two planks together.

The “problem” is the ethics of committed same sex relationships. Discussing that is IMO what should be happening. Of course, for some, there is nothing to discuss.

The recent article from an evangelical perspective in the Church of England Newspaper (this newspaper “normally adopts a conservative evangelical stance“) may offer a way forward for some. The article highlights the way that Jesus underscores the end, the purpose, of things – over the means (cue food laws and the sabbath). It, then, is careful about not mixing the creation accounts, and goes on to see marriage as the means for fulfilling our yearning for completion (rather than the end).

Is it not possible that the yearning to find the one who ‘completes’ us is the same for everyone — gay straight, bi, or transgendered? Is it not possible that God’s response to that yearning is also the same for everyone irrespective of their sexuality — the opportunity of marriage for all, with the person who ‘completes’ them, no matter what sex they are?
Until we are prepared to look deeper, and frame our theology of marriage around God’s purposes, rather than just the ‘end product’ we continue to run the risk of following the Pharisees, and completely miss the point.

Certainly those who follow sola scriptura and declare that the Bible teaches that marriage is between one man and one woman for life seem to be reading a rather expurgated version of the Bible.

The “Covenant” will not solve Sydney’s obsession with completing its anti-catholic stance by having lay eucharistic presidency, it will not prevent NZ from being a three Tikanga church, it will not even compel a diocese with diarchic episcopate (two equal bishops, two equal cathedrals) to divide into two. Conservative Anglicans have already woken up to the realisation that the “Covenant” won’t do what they want it to do. It is not the solution for the problem. They won’t sign it. They want to see that “those who adopt the Covenant must be in compliance with Lambeth 1.10“.

Even NZ’s strongest online advocate for the “Covenant” (is there any other NZ online advocate?) regularly declares that unless more than 90% of Anglicans sign up, the “Covenant” won’t work. And as more than 10% will not sign, we both are in agreement.

[A liturgical aside (possibly this should be the main text on a liturgical blog and the rest be the aside – you can read it that way): those who tend to be in favour of the “Covenant” in NZ, tend towards being against committed same sex relationships and play fast and loose with our liturgical heritage. The “Covenant”, of course, says absolutely nothing about homosexuality but is very clear about the centrality of our liturgical life as Anglicans. Am I expecting too much to wonder why I don’t see a bit more consistency between those who claim to be in favour of the “Covenant” and their worship life?]

How to get a province to sign up to the “Covenant”
Lessons from/for the Church of England

1) Make sure that the lowest voting percentage possible be required (2/3 or 3/4 in all houses would be just hopeless to get the “Covenant” through. And involving parliament in the state church’s significant signing away of its autonomy would just be a step too far.) How embarrassing if others signed up to the “Covenant” and the Church of England didn’t!
[Would the crown-appointed Archbishop of Canterbury still be able to invite bishops to Lambeth etc. if his province hasn’t signed up the “Covenant” and others have? NB. The Nigerian Anglican Church has already written the Archbishop of Canterbury out of its constitution. In the case of NZ, the Archbishop of Canterbury is the only so called “instrument of communion” mentioned in our Constitution and legislation – in fact “instrument of communion” is not mentioned there. Don’t tell our legislators, or our parliamentarians in relation to the Act of Parliament which binds property to the “true” Anglicans, that we may need to go through a lot of hoops to include the “instruments of communion” mentioned in the “Covenant” before we can even contemplate whether we sign up or not…]

2) At General Synod don’t embarrass the Archbishop of Canterbury who is present and is such a nice man by voting against the “Covenant” – have a motion to send it to the diocesan synods. He can’t be at all of them, so if you are against the Covenant you can express some polite English-style reservations at General Synod but vote for it to go to the diocesan synods knowing that the majority of members of the Church of England don’t really want a bar of the “Covenant”. A good majority can vote it off to the dioceses (phew) with a good, clean, English conscience.

3) This is the really clever bit. At diocesan synods, tell everyone that they need to vote in favour of the “Covenant” because the General Synod has voted so overwhelmingly in favour of the “Covenant” (don’t let on that the motion was about sending it to the diocesan synods for their deliberation…)

4) When you’ve got through (3) successfully, the vote at General Synod is straight forward. Even though someone was against the “Covenant” at (2), now that it’s been passed by so many diocesan synods, how can you be so undemocratic as to vote against it now?

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23 Responses to Anglican Covenant

  1. Yes, Grandmere Mimi is right, this is a very good and succinct summary of the present position. It also has the most chilling prediction of the future of the Church of England:

    (“3. This is the really clever bit. At diocesan synods, tell everyone that they need to vote in favour of the “Covenant” because the General Synod has voted so overwhelmingly in favour of the “Covenant” (don’t let on that the motion was about sending it to the diocesan synods for their deliberation…”)

    You send a shiver down my spine as I can foresee only too easily exactly this happening. Please pray that it doesn’t.

  2. This post is a piece of classic Bosco. I couldn’t and haven’t put it better myself. Well done sir!

  3. Hi Bosco,
    I think you should put up some names or withdraw your claim about the connection between conservatives in our church supporting the Covenant AND playing fast and loose with the liturgy.

    As a conservative slightly unfairly tarred by your sweeping claim (I support the Covenant as you indicate, but I do not play fast and loose with the liturgy as you do not indicate 🙂 ) I actually struggle to know which of my conservative colleagues both support the Covenant AND play fast and loose with the liturgy. For all I know, and for all you know, these liturgically fast and loose conservatives might be among those conservatives you acknowledge do NOT support the Covenant!

    • Peter, firstly I do not think they are directly equivalent, hence my use of the word “tend”. You are not the only one that springs to mind as being both supportive of the Covenant and not playing fast and loose with liturgy. Nor did I use the word “conservative” in the sentence – it would not be unfair to describe me as conservative in liturgy in the sense of seeking to conserve the best. Nor do I really think you are challenging me to publicly name those who are in breach of their ordination vows and signing in their leadership of liturgy. But, let’s just take the example of those who reverse the order of the Ministry of the Sacrament and have it preceding the Ministry of Word and Prayer. This happens in our diocese, and has been a topic for debate on an officially-sponsored NZ Anglican website. I now think you might put up some names of clergy who both follow this reversal of liturgy (which even our most flexible canons cannot support) and advocate against signing up to the Covenant. Just one example. In fact, I think if I dig around your site I would find the same as I was saying in slightly different words.

      John, do clarify your point which is lost on me: are you saying that the area of “gracious restraint” you refer to had “nothing to do with views of gender and sexuality”?

      Thanks to those also who do present a different approach. One of the treasures of Anglicanism IMO is being able to disagree respectfully, and remain in fellowship.

  4. I disagree with your view of the “problem.” The problem is that certain provinces in the AC refuse to abide by the very agreements they themselves have made at multiple times in communion and community with the other provinces and have consistently acted in such a way as to thumb their noses at the worldwide Anglican Communion. Remember “gracious restraint.” Where is there restraint in ECUSA?

    The problem has almost nothing to do with views of gender and sexuality and everything to do with what it means, fundamentally, to be in real communion with one another.

  5. John, it has everything to do with gender and sexuality and everything to do with understanding communion. And TEC and the ACCanada both take their communion with the GLBT brothers and sisters with whom they live on daily basis seriously. The majority of the members of those two provinces take their baptismal covenants ahead of the threats from provinces that obviously do not take their baptismal covenants seriously.

  6. Hi Bosco,
    I do not know who reverses liturgical macro-order (i.e. LofS before LofW) and thus have no idea whether such reversers are arguing for or against signing the Covenant.

    Of course I do not want you to name names but I would commend dropping the association between liturgical fast-and-loosers and signing to the Covenant.

    The clergy I talk most agreeably with in favour of signing to the Covenant are not liturgical fast-and loosers.

    • I am surprised, Peter, that you do not know who reverses “liturgical macro-order” in our diocese. As the discussion on the website I mentioned is public, you can find it here. This, as I noted, is a site with episcopal “guidance and oversight”. We could then go on to examining those who do not use a eucharistic prayer for communion – having little more than a retelling of the Last Supper story. As I said, I cannot quickly find a reference on your own website, but I recall at the diocesan evening on liturgy led by you at Theology House your saying that you wished that those who strongly advocated for adherence to canons etc in relation to marriage/homosexuality and hence pro-Covenant would be more consistent in their adherence to liturgical agreements. I do not have your exact wording, but it may still be in your notes. I struggle to think of anyone who thinks signing the “Covenant” is not the way forward who is also not orthodox in their liturgical practice. Should our province ultimately sign up to the “Covenant” I and these others I know will not need to change our liturgical practice one iota in order to live with the Covenant with integrity. That, I continue to hold, will not be the case for these others I mention – but they already hold subjective decisions to be above their ordination vows and signing, so possibly have a quite different understanding of what “signing” up to the “Covenant” entails – do they see it as a new stick to beat “them” with, or as an agreement which they themselves will have to change to comply with?

  7. Hi Bosco,
    The question on the OMG site could have been designed to ‘flush out’ adherents and advocates of macro-liturgical reversal, or to refresh and reexamine arguments for why we do what we have always done and should always do. (A quick glance at the names there, yours excepted, discloses to me no one participating in that discussion whose position on the Covenant is known to me).

    A general wish for greater consistency re canons and liturgical practice among colleagues is not the same thing as asserting that a group of fast-and-loose liturgical practitioners are pro-Covenant. There are canonically consistent orthodox liturgical practitioners who are pro-Covenant, who are anti-Covenant, and (I suspect) a third group who are Covenant-neutral; ditto canonically inconsistent litugically loose practitioners who are pro-, anti-, neutral.

    Where I agree with you entirely is in this point, perhaps not made by either of us in this thread in this way: Covenant supporters in a church such as ours should be aware that its effect over time on our church could be that we tighten up regulations re liturgy (e.g. dispensing with the Template altogether) and consistency re the Covenant would mean observance of these regulations, not lack of observance of them). Further, any present macro-liturgical reverser should be aware right now that support for the Covenant is inconsistent with that practice as even the most liberal interpretation of the flexibility within our current regulations cannot be squared with such reversal.

    • We mostly agree with each other on what you say, Peter. As I said in my last comment, I am not as aware as you are of “canonically inconsistent liturgically loose practitioners who are anti-”

      The Template was always contrary to our Constitution/Act of Parliament. It is unaffected by the Covenant. The Judicial Committee’s later added rider neutered it completely. GS just should have had the humility to remove it from the books completely as it just continues to confuse. When we have a formulary, we are required to follow that. When we do not I still cannot work out why anyone would need to have all the province’s energy expended to know that you would gather, do something, and leave.

      If you wanted to pursue your first paragraph further for yourself it would take little time to send a message to the names you mention on the OMG site asking their position on the Covenant.

      Blessings

  8. Fr, of course the gracious restraint has to do with gender and sexuality, but the Anglican Covenant does not. It is addressing the fact that bishops who signed their names to a statement saying that they would do one thing, did the exact opposite. It could just as easily been any other issue. The point of the covenant is to actually become a real communion with a covenantal relationship. And really, if TEC can’t agree to be in a covenant with the rest of Anglicanism, why does it want to call itself Anglican anyway?

    Hermano, you should not slander people who you don’t know. I have lived in Africa, and I know many priests and Christians in the Anglican church there who take their baptismal covenants completely and utterly seriously. In fact, they literally die for their beliefs–which is not something I have seen often back stateside. My point is that to be in communion with someone requires that we not do whatever we want whenever we want it, which is exactly what ECUSA did. It unilaterally made decisions and furthermore went against agreements _it_ promised to itself.

    I know priests who believe homosexuality is fine with God, but are still for the covenant. Why? Because they recognize that the appropriate way to make a change in the communion is to act with integrity, to let your yes be yes and your no be no, and to be humble to the fact that we live in a worldwide communion and do not have license to follow our particular provincial whims whenever the feeling strikes us.

    • John, thank you for your contributions here. As I keep stressing – difference of opinion is affirmed. I would also note that your comment is where, as I also noted in my second sentence in this post, discussions quickly degenerate from light to heat. I cannot see where the “Covenant” is “addressing the fact that bishops who signed their names to a statement saying that they would do one thing, did the exact opposite”. I can only guess you are referring to a motion at TEC’s General Convention which was superseded by another motion at a later General Convention.

      There is nothing to say that TEC will not sign up to this particular Covenant.

      IMO, there is nothing against having a written “constitution” for our Communion. I would be interested in seeing other such constitutions – from the Orthodox and the Old Catholic communions, for example. I think the use of the word “covenant” is a particularly loaded word – and I think that the leap from suggesting Anglican provinces “covenant” together to “this precise “Covenant” is the only option” particularly specious. Those who think that a constitution is a good idea, but this particular “Covenant” doesn’t fit the bill, need to be given a fair hearing.

      To all commenting on this thread, I welcome very much the ongoing discussion, and I urge you to continue to please take care that what is written adds more light and does not turn up the heat. Thank you.

  9. As one of those on the OMG conversation (and still absolutely opposed to reversing the order of Word and Sacrament for canonical, liturgical, ritual, practical and logical reasons) I’m happy for Peter (and all) to know that I am completely opposed to the Covenant. It doesn’t address the real issues, it won’t heal any wounds (only cause others). It will totally change the basis of the Anglican Communion. It will shift us to being a confessional Church (the Presbyterians would welcome anyone who wants that). It will create division and dissent. It is just a plain and simple bad idea in the form of a fatally flawed document. I think that probably flies my flag quite clearly:)

    • Thanks, Brian. Now all we need is similar candid clarity from those in that particular conversation who are in favour of/practise reversing the order of Word and Sacrament. 🙂

  10. This so well put, especially the bit about “the ethics of committed same sex relationships.” and confusing the means with the end. The Episcopal church’s approach to this is symptomatic of the greater problem with the church that drove me to seek a new church family a dozen years ago. I still don’t understand why the church chooses to be distracted by issues like this. It sucks way too many resources away from the church’s core work… the one by one delivering of the Gospel. We could just as well debate our stand and divide ourselves into right and wrong sides of the issues of eating animals with cloven hooves. Meanwhile, the world looks on longingly wondering what the heck is wrong with us and why we don’t get on with the true business of following Jesus.

    Thanks for speaking up, it was a courageous post.

  11. It is addressing the fact that bishops who signed their names to a statement saying that they would do one thing, did the exact opposite.
    John, what bishops did this? What was the statement they signed?

    You make assumptions not apparent in anything that I wrote. I named no one and I slandered no one. You seem to assume who fit the general statement on your own.

    My point is that to be in communion with someone requires that we not do whatever we want whenever we want it, which is exactly what ECUSA did.
    And my point is that I believe that TEC is in communion with the members of its own province before it is in communion with folks half way or all the way around the world and that is where its obligations lie first.

    to be humble to the fact that we live in a worldwide communion and do not have license to follow our particular provincial whims whenever the feeling strikes us
    I disagree. And the majority of Christians in TEC and ACCanada, as well as Christians in a number of other provinces appear to disagree. We value our rights and obligations of self determination.

    • David, TEC is, furthermore, in full, unimpaired communion with many provinces and dioceses. The Anglican Communion has had lines of impaired communion ever since women were ordained. Being in full communion with one another does not mean, for example, that TEC agrees with every decision that ACANZP makes or vice versa. Even being a full member of a diocese or province does not mean that one agrees with all decisions made – one might disagree very, very strongly. Is there confusion between communion and agreement? I also wonder about describing decisions as whims and feelings. I might disagree very strongly with someone’s reasoning and their conclusion but accept that they reasoned to their position, and even acknowledge that we cannot ultimately be sure which of us is correct. I might be wrong.

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About This Site Welcome to this ecumenical website of resources and reflections on liturgy, spirituality, and worship for individuals and communities. It is run by Rev. Bosco Peters.

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