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No Anglican Covenant

CofE momentum against Covenant grows

No Anglican CovenantEach weekend I am surprised, in a delighted sort of way, to find more and more Church of England diocesan synods voting against the “Anglican Covenant”. After this weekend the vote stands 20-12 against the “Anglican Covenant”. There are 12 more dioceses to meet and vote. If two more vote against the “Covenant” then it cannot be presented again at General Synod.

Whatever now happens, there is no way that anyone can say that the “Anglican Covenant” is regarded in the CofE as some sort of consensus document. Even if the necessary majority is now found, and the CofE General Synod passes the “Anglican Covenant” as a leaving present for Archbishop Rowan, the document clearly does not have the clout that its backers must realise that it needs.

Although the “Anglican Covenant” has never been clear – its drafters obviously never foresaw or even considered what would happen if the CofE did not sign up. What could it possibly mean to have a “Covenanted Anglican Communion” of which the Archbishop of Canterbury is not a member?!!!

One should not have been surprised. Arguments against the “Anglican Covenant” often follow a careful, step-by step analysis through the actual text. Recent critique has highlighted that even the assumptions within sections 1-3 do not reflect the reality that these assert to objectively portray. When we get to section 4, it has been said well that

In essence, the Standing Committee receives a question, receives assistance from unspecified “committees or commissions” mandated by unspecified authority, takes advice from any body or anybody it deems appropriate and decides whether to refer the question to the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meeting. The Standing Committee then decides whether to request a Church to “defer” a decision or action and what relational consequences should result if it does not. It 
then moves on to a determination of whether or not a Church’s action or decision is or would be “incompatible with the Covenant.” The Standing Committee does this “on the basis of advice received from the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meeting,” not on the basis of a process or procedure in which the Church whose action is in question participates in any way, other than to the extent it has representatives on the ACC (from which it could already be barred) and a primate at the Primates’ Meeting (from which its primate could have been excluded). …

Agreeing to an undefined, unspecified process in which the decision-making bodies have full discretion to act in any manner they deem best–not only as to the process but as to the standard and burden of proof, information considered, and all other aspects of the dispute resolution system–is what the covenant contemplates. In the words of the rule of law, there is no procedural due process and no substantive due process guaranteed by the covenant. The outcome is to be trusted and respected based on the persons/bodies making the decisions rather than a system based on how the decision is made.

In contrast, arguments in favour of the “Covenant” have tended to not quote from the actual text, and at best have been of the form:

  • Something like a Communion-wide constitution and canons will help grow/restore unity
  • The “Anglican Covenant” is something like a Communion-wide constitution and canons
  • Therefore the “Anglican Covenant” will help grow/restore unity

At worst the arguments in favour of the “Covenant” have painted those critiquing it with approaches verging on the ad hominem, denouncing their scholarly ability, or being unbiblical, and being allied with Satan.


The motion about the “Anglican Covenant” to be debated in my own diocesan synod (Christchurch, New Zealand, April 21) is:

That this Synod,
1. Affirms the Covenant in principle;
2. Supports Parts 1 to 3;
3. Supports in principle the adoption of Part 4.

The motion was forwarded to us without the name of its mover or seconder.

Obviously it was drafted by a high-level group of pro-“Covenant” people in our diocese. It’s wording is as clear and meaningful as the “Covenant” it supports and which provinces are affirming, adopting, acceding to, preambling, and adapting. The debate about the meaning of the wording of this motion is consistent with adding another layer to debating the meaning of the “Covenant” which further adds a layer to debating the actual issues that caused the “Covenant” to be created in the first place.

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11 thoughts on “CofE momentum against Covenant grows”

  1. In fairness, as a Covenantsceptic, I would think the motion for debate practically needs to be to affirm the Covenant. I’m not sure if the details of this motion (ie, setting apart section 4) are an attempt to reflect the mind of ACANZAP or to weasle out a quasi-yes on the Covenant without actually having to defend the most problematic piece.

  2. ***Rant warning***
    I was one of the clergy members who voted against the Covenant yesterday at St Albans Diocesan Synod. We then voted in favour of a following motion that affirmed the Anglican Communion. So the decision of the meeting was ‘Communion – yes, Covenant – no’
    I felt sad to have to turn down something that was the wish of ++Rowan and was supported by so many Bishops and senior church members, but my head said it was necessary.
    An apocryphal story tells that the dinosaurs died in tar-pits because they could only ever move one leg at a time, and meanwhile the rest of the body sank. The propsed Covenant document ensures progress at the pace of the slowest, provides no room for different practices based on different contexts or interpretations of God’s word, allows for the kind of justice you have described above, and smacks of desperation. If prayerful Christians could/would not meet and listen/talk respectfully before the Covenant, how does a document make that happen – especially when the ‘relational consequences’ seem to involve creating a form of ‘sending to Coventry’ or second-tier Communion where the offenders are not included in the meeting or conversations anyway?
    Tar-pits for our time anyone?

  3. I’m totally with Helen here: Communion – YES, but Covenant – NO.

    I don’t know whether that in some way could be incorporated into our diocesan Synod proceedings, Bosco, but it might more clearly reflect what we NOES might also affirm.

    I have no vote, so I’m counting on you employed clergy in the diocese.

    Incidentally, does the Covenant have a show of being voted in by the Province, or not?

    1. Fr Ron, the obvious way to have that thought incorporated into our diocesan synod proceedings is for you to incorporate it 🙂 Even if you do not have a vote (and that is worth checking – it is not “employed” clergy that have a vote, since generally there is no such thing, but “licensed” clergy) I’m sure you have speaking rights. You are one of the most informed and articulate in relation to the Covenant in our province. As to what will happen at General Synod – we can guess, but there it stops. Blessings.

  4. If one of the three streams which make up your church has nixed the Covenant, is it not nixed? Are folks of an opinion that if they can get the other two streams to approve the Covenant that then there is room for arm twisting at General Synod?

    1. You have it correct, Brother David. At General Synod all three houses and all three Tikanga must agree. That, of course, means someone calls for a division. Tikanga Maori has clearly indicated it is against the Covenant. Those at General Synod, of course, are not required to vote as their diocese or tikanga suggests (eg. if our diocese votes in favour of the Covenant, a General Synod rep from our diocese can still vote whatever they like at General Synod, including against the Covenant); it does seem unlikely to me that in voting by Tikanga that Tikanga Maori would vote in favour of the Covenant at General Synod. I hope that all makes some sort of sense? Blessings.

      1. It makes perfect sense!

        I think.

        Can anyone seated at Synod call for a vote by a division?

        So there would actually be 9 separate voting groups? The Synod divided into the three Tikanga and the three Tikanga further divided into three houses of bishops, clergy and laity? Are the votes of each house in a Tikanga equal? If so, then the votes of any two houses either Yea or Nay would carry the Tikanga?

        It is a complicated polity, but I think we could all get the hang of it!

        1. Yes, Br David, anyone can call for a division. Normally, if all appear to pretty much agree (either for or against something), there would be no such call.

          Generally there could be a call for voting by houses or by Tikanga. You are sort of suggesting that both might happen at the same time. I sort-of experienced that when I was on General Synod and we were appointing an Archbishop. That person is nominated by the House of Bishops, and we then caucused by Tikanga (clergy and laity together ie. without bishops) to discuss whether we would accept this nomination. A “nay” anywhere along the way, and the decision cannot proceed. Blessings.

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