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Anglican Covenant meaningless

I have argued that the “Anglican Covenant” is not fit for the purpose and won’t do what its proponents intend it to do. I have argued that the actual issue is homosexuality and the Anglican-Covenant-as-solution does not address the issue. Now, as provinces begin to sign the Covenant, my points are being underscored.

The Province of Southeast Asia has adopted acceded to the Anglican Covenant, adding a Preamble to the Letter of Accession. Others may know what process was used by that province to make the decision and if the preamble was voted on by something like a General Synod/Convention or if that Province is still very much in the control of the men in purple in the photo provided. Certainly they are not reticent about criticising the process by which the CofE men in purple are appointed: “The Anglican Communion should adopt more uniform processes in the election and appointment of bishops, to ensure that such processes are not held hostage to local politics and to parochial understandings of the episcopal office.”

Now the Province of Southeast Asia explains what it means by signing the Covenant:

our accession to the Anglican Communion Covenant is based on the following understanding:

(a) that those who accede to the Anglican Communion Covenant will unequivocally abide by Lambeth 1998 Resolution 1.10 in its spirit and intent;

(b) that those Provinces and Dioceses whose actions violate Lambeth Resolution 1.10 as well as subsequent Primates Communiqué statements that have placed a moratorium on the consecration of gay bishops and the authorization and implementation of public rites for the blessing of same sex unions, are expected to rescind their actions, and bring their public doctrine and practice in line with Lambeth 1.10, before acceding to the Anglican Communion Covenant; and

(c) that Churches that accede to the Anglican Communion Covenant should bear authentic witness to the orthodox faith by an unequivocal commitment to the standards of moral and ethical holiness as set by Biblical norms in all aspects of their communal life. (Mt 19:4-6; Rom 1:21-32; 1 Cor 6:9-11; Gal 5:16-26; Eph 5:3-14; Col 3:5-14; 1 Thess 4:3-12; 2 Tim 3:1-5; Heb 13:1-5; 1 Pet 4:1-11; 2 Pet 2:13-22; Jude v18-21; Rev 18:1-8).

(d) that the Primates Meeting, being responsible for Faith and Order, should be the body to oversee the Anglican Communion Covenant in its implementation (Anglican Communion Covenant Section 3.1.4.IV and South-to-South Encounter, Fourth Trumpet, 21).

The issue is homosexuals. The Covenant is not about homosexuals but is the touted solution. So we will sign the Covenant, which says absolutely nothing about homosexuals, on the now-public understanding that in signing it we are actually signing not what the Covenant says but our own “solution” to the homosexual issue. And for good measure: part (d) in contradiction to what the Covenant actually does say.

The question is which is to be master that’s all


The Anglican Covenant is clearly declared meaningless.
Or, quoting from that highly insightful Anglican cleric Lewis Carroll (Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson):

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master that’s all.”

A final example: The Church of Ireland in subscribing to the Covenant has explained in its official press release:

The Covenant sits under the Preamble and Declaration of the Church and does not affect the sovereignty of the Church of Ireland or mean any change in doctrine.

As has been made clear by an anonymous Church of Ireland blogger, the Church of Ireland interpretation of its subscription to the Covenant is effectively the same as the Diocese of Quincy’s rejection of it.

“When I vote for the Covenant it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

This reinforces the point of the Maori vote against the Anglican Covenant. They have experience of signing a covenant which appears to say “A” and finding others who signed it interpreting it not as the “A” it appears to say, but as “B”.

Where would the Anglican Covenant lead here? A retraction of our NZ divorce and remarriage stance as part of the “unequivocal commitment to the standards of moral and ethical holiness as set by Biblical norms”? A retraction of the validity of the ordination of women? That’s when the fabric of the communion began to tear. That’s when impaired communion really began (not, as Southeast Asia fantasises in points 1 & 6, with the ordination of Gene Robinson to the episcopate). Women being ordained wasn’t part of the “the faith that was once delivered to the saints across the Communion”… Then there’s our three-Tikanga structure – the first issue to have ever given rise to a motion from the Primates’ Meeting (negative)… “No. It won’t lead to any of those sorts of things. That may be what the Covenant says. But what it really means is…”

Postscript: The Church of Ireland has been very clear it has not adopted the Anglican Covenant, it has subscribed to it. The Province of Southeast Asia has “acceded” to the Anglican Covenant. Let’s be… ummmm… clear…
People so far have only been able to visualise a two-tiered communion resulting from the Anglican Covenant proposal. Are we looking at a… ummmm… 38 tier communion? What we used to call provinces…

pps. Rev. Mark Harris has written a helpful expansion of some of these points.

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29 Responses to Anglican Covenant meaningless

  1. You say that homosexuals are THE ISSUE. Is it homosexuals that are the issue? Is their very presence in the world the issue? Is it their role in society, the church, and their role in the aforementioned? Is it that the church is ordaining homosexuals? It’s been doing that for a long time. Is it then that homosexuals are open about their orientation? Is it that homosexuals are seeking a sacramental celebration of their vows to each other?

    I personally think that this crisis has as much to do with the death of sola scriptura and the utilization of scripture for authoritarian exclusion of people as anything else. Some have called the 6 or 7 passages in all of scripture that deal with same sexuality “clobber passages” because they’ve been used to clobber homosexuals.

    The covenant deals with none of this. Anglican tradition does. We’ve relied on scripture, tradition, and reason instead of scripture alone. Thank God for Hooker’s tripod of faith and a willingness to engage difficult questions. I find those who wish to preempt the conversation before it begins to be turning a blind eye to wrestling with the great issue of the 21st century.

    • I am not exactly clear what your point is, Fr Sean, and hope you might clarify. “Reason” is not even mentioned in the Anglican Covenant. I am not convinced by those who say the Covenant is about something “bigger” than homosexuality and is to deal with such things as who presides at the Eucharist (Sydney). I am not sure what you are suggesting is “the great issue of the 21st century” – whatever it is, I think the energy we are putting into the Covenant is distracting us from it. Nor am I convinced that the Bible even has a concept of “sexuality” in the sense that we understand it today. As to sola scriptura – it has long ago patently failed. Those who hold to it cannot agree amongst themselves what the Bible actually says. Easter Season Blessings.

  2. Well, the equivocations and qualifications around this from different provinces demonstrate the covenant, if one takes it seriously, simply amplifying the problems it was designed to address.

  3. Hi Bosco,
    The point of the Covenant is not to have a Covenant per se but to build greater commonality and coherency into the Communion so it is what it says on the tin: a union of Anglicans with much in common.

    Whether Anglican churches reject the Covenant or sign up to the Covenant as ‘subscribers’ and not adopters or append caveats, conditions and interpretations, all are doing much the same thing – as +Alan points out – fostering the cause of Anglican diversity and difference.

    Notwithstanding your criticisms which are valid as far as they go, I do not know of another means in the life of the Communion other than the Covenant which challenges us to move away from fostering the cause of Anglican diversity and difference towards building coherency.

    So far it would appear that we are failing to meet the challenge and thus we are doomed to live with the contents of the tin being different to the label, if not to find that there are two or more tins of different sizes and shapes with the same labels!

  4. Hi Bosco,

    Although I am still not convinced about the need for the Covenant – as currently freighted with the problems of Section 4 – I have become interested in the thoughts of our TEC brother, Stanislaus Haller, who has recently written about this on the ‘Thinking Anglicans’ website.

    He intimates that – now that GAFCON has decided to challenge the rest of us in the Communion by opening up its own offices around the Anglican world – we might think again about the possibility of affirming a sort of covenantal relationship; that recognises GAFON’s inability to live with our more liberal attitude to the LGBT community; and agrees to live together in spite of this!

    A Covenant without GAFCON could actually move ahead with a more Gospel-oriented mission – to the world of today’s needs, instead of being held back by a sola-scriptura agenda of conservatism, which denies the reality of scientific observation and the justice issues that stem from this. Mind you, we would have to get rid of Section 4!

  5. I’m a member of the Synod of the Diocese of Gippsland (http://www.gippsanglican.org.au), which is a part of the Anglican Church of Australia. Our diocesan synod finished yesterday.

    One of the motions at the Synod was the following:
    “That this Synod receives the final draft of the Anglican Communion Covenant and encourages the General Synod to adopt the Covenant by resolution at its next session.”
    The motion was passed.

    Before the vote on the Covenant we had a presentation from the Primate, Archbishop Phillip Aspinall. The Archbishop, not surprisingly, presented the Covenant as a Good Thing, for a few reasons. Bishop John McIntyre, the Bishop of Gippsland, also presented the Covenant as a Good Thing, as did the mover of the motion, the Hon Robert Fordham (until recently a member of the Anglican Consultative Council). All three really suggested that the Covenant is a way of ‘solidifying’ Anglican identity, and maintaining relationships.

    There were not many who voted against the motion (which was passed on the voices), but I was one. I’m a homosexual Anglican, and all I can see in the Covenant is a means of clobbering those who disagree with the majority, whatever that might be on the issue that presents (that there is no clear mechanism for that to happen, is beside the point, in my view).

    Looking at the Province of South East Asia’s document (http://www.anglican.org.sg/index.php/blog/comments/preamble_to_the_letter_of_accession_province_of_southeast_asia) leaves me in no doubt as to their understanding of the Covenant. That our Diocese’s understanding is quite different is interesting, and speaks to the vagueness of the process.

    In short, I see little hope in this process, but I wanted to note that the process of reception has started in the church in Australia.

    • Thanks, Colin. What you write, especially how your diocese’s affirmation of the Covenant understands that “quite differently” to the Province of Southeast Asia’s, again underscores the central point of my post – amplified so well by the comments. Easter Season Blessings.

  6. Peter, I rather thought that the Anglican Communion had God the Father, God the Son, and God, the Holy Ghost in common, along with baptismal membership and that always seemed big enough.

    You speak as if conformity, standardization, and unity (apart from the Holy Trinity and the Priesthood of all believers through baptism)are most important and good things in and of themselves. That you, apparently, and many others as well, think so doesn’t make it so.

    I find your analogy troublesome. We are not a tin of goods. God saw fit to create remarkable and amazing diversity in creation and that the Anglican Communion struggles with this is most unseemly. The hand can’t tell the foot it is not wanted or needed nor can the Anglican Covenant create a single, homogenized entity that comforts thosemwho wish to conserve a past that never was or that shouldn’t have been. Those halcyon das in which many were left outside the pasture and those inside held the gate against them even while the Shepherd called them in are over here in TEC and good riddance to them.

    We can be John the Baptist preparing the way of the Lord even though many want us to become the Prodigal who returns on vended knee begging for absolution. The Anglican Covenat doesn’t rate.

  7. I am a member of the Episcopal Church in the United States. I was reared in the church, but I made a conscious and meaningful decision to continue as a member as an adult for the simple reason that if I participate (receive communion, contribute, and believe the creeds) I belong: nothing to sign!

  8. Whether the AC is about homosexuality or not is not the issue. The real issue is about WHO gets to decide who says what Anglicanism is and isn’t. As a Communion of churches, each church has the autonomy to make decisions that are necessary for the ministry in their own area. It is at the heart of WHO we are. The AC would be an impediment to that autonomy to serve and live out the call of Christ in our locales.

    But the AC does not provide for a structure which CAN moniter the whole of the Communion. So if the AC were to be passed, we would have to set in motion a type of magisterium to facilitate it. If not, the AC IS meaningless. Then why pass it? Is the Archbishop of Canturbury so needed that he needs this as a vote of confidence?

    Like any member of a former British colony, I am uncomfortable about a naive or incomplete plan for order being passed when we have no hand in electing those who will put this plan into practice.

  9. Hi Brian,
    The point of my analogy is about the label and whether it is accurate or not. Is “Anglican Communion” an accurate label for the diverse state of affairs which exists across the world of those who identify themselves as Anglican? There seems to be less and less that we hold in common, so why not call ourselves the Anglican Diversity?

    As for defining ourselves via the Trinity and baptism. I am sorry but that is wrong. As loose a definition as that and we would include most Christians. But even in TEC I do not think you would permit an unepiscopally ordained person to preside over Communion. So the episcopate figures in what it means to be Anglican, as do notions of licensing and what may be required of a candidate in order to receive the licence. Therein lie questions of constitution and canons – all Anglican churches have those and all have marks within them that distinguish us from Presbyterians, Romans, Quakers, etc. Many of these things are bound up in the wording of our authorised prayer books and most Anglican churches are not very free about whether those services have to be followed or not. In the end, quite a few things define churches with the label “Anglican” and a number of things hold us together globally – even in our Anglican Diversity – so it is quite reasonable to ask whether a few more things might hold us together, whether any things need to be underlined that we may have been ignoring recently, and whether we might have too much diversity.

    In the end we may not have a Covenant binding us together. My hunch is that the non-Covenanted Communion will wither on the vine. So be it.

  10. “In the end we may not have a Covenant binding us together. My hunch is that the non-Covenanted Communion will wither on the vine. So be it.” – Dr.Peter Carrell –

    Well, Peter! There’s an admission for an Anglican Educator to make! Sounds just a wee bit defeatist. But then again, I accept that is just your own opinion. However, if you apply your pardigm to the GAFCON enterprise, which also will not sign up to The Covenant, one supposes they must also ‘wither on the vine’. If that happens – the latter situation, that is; then perhaps we ordinary Anglicans who have been Baptised into Christ, nurtured by the Eucharist, and existing in a Communion for much longer than the phenomenon of GAFCON or ACNA, may just enjoy a Resurrection that is ours in Christ – thus defying your pessimistic predilection. Christ is Risen, Alleluia!

    • Hi Ron,

      Please note carefully that I am pessimistic about a ‘non-Covenanted Communion’s’ future. Individual Anglican churches, whether signing to the Covenant or not, may or may not have a great future in the 21st century: much would depend on local circumstances. With respect to our own church, ACANZP I am not sure what to think about our future – their are signs of hope and things which make me despair!

      Is GAFCON developing into a form of a covenanted Communion? Supporters say “Yes”, believing that the Jerusalem Declaration will perform the “covenant” role well. I am pessimistic about that because I think the JD is flawed.

      Would an uncovenanted Anglican Communion minus GAFCON have a great future? I predict not. With less and less to bind us I wonder why we would bother to meet (apart from increasingly irrelevant ACC meetings and occasional “talking shop” Lambeth Conferences).

      But there may yet be a covenanted Anglican Communion (with or without GAFCON) and that would be a good thing.

  11. Peter,

    The Elizabethan Settlement pointed the way for Anglicanism to be defined by behavior, rather than by the minutiae of belief. The Covenant is fundamentally wrongheaded because it reverses the importance of belief and behavior. (Of course, the belief part is vague enough that we are already arguing about what it means.)

    Heretofore, being in communion has meant recognition of boundaries (non-overlapping jurisdictions), interchangeability of clergy (with local approval, of course), and willingness to meet. Churches had the own (perhaps different) reasons for being in communion with other Anglican churches. I suggested four years ago ago (see “The Covenant We Do Need”) that what was needed was a covenant about how we behave toward one another. Under such a discipline, communion would be a matter of mutual agreement for whatever reasons seemed relevant.

    Since all of the marks of communion suggested above have been violated in recent years, it is fair to say that the Anglican Communion is indeed broken. Some people think that is a tragedy. For me, it is a matter of indifference. I feel more affinity for the Lutheran church across the road than I ever will for the “Anglican” churches in Uganda or Nigeria. Moreover, that Lutheran church will be more instrumental in spreading the Gospel, as I understand it, than will those African churches whose understanding is, to my thinking, antithetical to my understanding.

  12. Good thoughts, Bosco. To my mind it makes signing on to the Covenant more, not less, important.

    The issue is hermeneutics. Any text will be given meanings by those who read it. There is no reason for TEC and other progressives to abdicate and bow to the Southeast Asian eisegetical interpretation of the Covenant any more than we need accept their interpretation of the Scriptures.

    The real point is that only signatories will have any role in how the interpretations are played out. As many of us have said, the Covenant does not solve the problems of the Communion; rather it moves the discussion of those problems into a different forum — and in the present draft it is not the forum the Gafcon desired at the outset or since. It is the Standing Committee, not the Primates.

    • Thanks, Tobias, I think you make a very important point. It is possible that the Archbishop of Canterbury is, in fact, playing a very long game out of his own positive conviction about committed same-sex relationships, and seeking to have a systematic process to get to that. It seems a very risky play and one that I am clearly not convinced was a wise move to start. I think an interesting part of the play would be if the CofE were to reject the Covenant and leave the ABC out of the game. They seem to have set the threshold for signing on very low, including, surprisingly, leaving out parliament. I think we, in NZ, are unsure at what level signing onto the Covenant is required. My opinion sits with those who see this as at the level of a constitutional change.

      Certainly I can live/survive in a “Covenanted” Communion. I’m not convinced that others can with integrity. The Covenant says a lot about liturgy. NZ suffers from absolute liturgical chaos. I am preparing a post about that, and in preparation looked at six local Anglican parish websites who publish what they are reading/preaching on on Sundays. Not one of them was following the lectionary. I would be surprised if any of the six felt differently to the Southeast Asian eisegesis – but I suspect they would balk at the thought that they themselves are explicitly contrary to the yet-unsigned Covenant (and certainly contrary to all that they themselves have vowed and signed). Possibly this is part of they difference: you and I might vow and sign and adhere to this – there are other Anglicans who sign one thing and mean quite another. So we are back to my primary point – nothing changes in essence.

  13. Hi Lionel,
    I suggest you are simply reinforcing my point that how we define “Anglican” matters in the definition of “Anglican Communion.” Where behaviour matters more than belief then greater communion may be experienced with (your example) Lutherans, than other Anglicans. At that point the “Anglican Communion” is not only broken, it ceases to exist.

    I do understand and agree with your general point that behaviour matters and should matter to Anglicans. In recent years that behaviour in various ways has been unhelpful to the health of our Communion relationships. Actions have consequences and various actions since 1998 have resulted in a series of unfortunate consequences.

    Its an academic point, I guess, but I would need convincing before I agree with you re what the Elizabethan Settlement points to. Belief seemed pretty important to Hooker when he wrote his great apologia for the Settlement!

  14. Peter,

    I didn’t mean to suggest that belief is unimportant, but we should be tolerant of competing views (biblical interpretations, for example), none of which can be shown unambiguously to be “correct.”

  15. It seems to me that there is still a great deal of ambiguity about The Covenant: what it might achieve and what it might mean – in terms of real relationship between the consenting Provinces.

    I, like Bosco, think that the ABC might be playing ‘the long game’, waiting, first, to see who will join; who will join given certain amendments to Section 4; and who will not join (GAFCON Provinces).

    If GAFCON Provinces, after the new consolidation at GAFCON II, still want nothing to do with the rest of us in the Communion; then it could be a good move for the rest of us to re-group – with whatever we need to do to indicate our loyalty to one another as THE Anglican Communion – without surrendering our independence as provincial Churches, but with a common mission. Our Mission would be to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to ALL who hear the message of God’s Love for God’s World.

  16. After reading all the posts I found myself terribly confused until I read Fr Ron Smith’s post.
    Being part of the Anglican Community is important as it provides a core of basic beliefs while we engage in the Mission of presenting Christ’s teaching to a diverse world. If acceding to the Covenant enables us to do that better then we should accede, if it doesn’t then why bother?
    I think that really is the test.

  17. On the eve of Pentecost I am again pondering, and indeed struggling with, the concept of the Covenant, and have again re-read these pages for inspiration. I am aware of being in one of the most conservative dioceses in the ACANZP: last time the Covenant was debated in Synod only two of us spoke against it(me and the eloquent but no-longer-in-the-Diocese Sande). As we prepare for this year’s Synod, I can only take Jesus’ model, of asking questions rather than giving answers. My deepest and most passionate question has to be “How can we possibly support something that means gay-bashing?” But I need to find a more profound way of saying that! Often mindful of Hooker, especially “The Church hath authority to establish that for an order at one time, which at another time it may abolish, and in both do well”, and knowing how creative our Church has been in many ways, I do not want to adopt/subscribe/accede to something that ties us down in a place where many of us do not want to be even now. Keep those questions coming! May the Spirit’s bright intoxicating energy fall on us to turn the world again, Jenny

    • synchronicity! Will you believe, Jenny, the last thing I was doing directly prior to checking for comments to moderate was concluding counting the number of questions Jesus asks. In the NRSV version I counted Jesus asking 278 questions (I would be very happy to be corrected!) Yes, we can get so caught up in the model of Jesus the answer, we can loose sight of Jesus the question/questioner.

  18. As a non-Anglican believer I’m struggling to understand all the issues relating to the covenant. Am I correct in understanding that Homosexuality is only a surface issue, and the deeper issue is about governance and autonomy of the provinces?

    • Alducia, even well-informed Anglicans “struggling to understand all the issues relating to the covenant” :-) There would be many different interpretations of what is really going on. Suffice to say that I am still looking for an episcopal communion (Eastern Orthodox, Old Catholic,…) that has anything like this covenant.

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Rev. Bosco Peters 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.