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?