The coming Covenant III

Rev Dr Ephraim Radner

The first harbinger bird of the next draft of the Covenant has been sighted.

Ephraim Radner has published an open letter to his colleagues on the Covenant Design Group. This is somewhat intriguing. It's hearing one statement, from one speaker, with no idea of the rest of the conversation, nor the speakers, that give it context.

Radner is an honourable man whose comments are always carefully considered and are worth taking seriously.

So, of course, we speculate.

Radner is one of the most prominent conservatives who remains committed to TEC. He cites the ordination of Mary Volland by Bishop Robert O'Neill in Colorado (here). Till now O'Neill had refused to conduct such ordinations. What's changed, Radner asks, giving the answer: nothing, except the departure of the most vocal conservatives in the Diocese. That being so, the balance of opinion amongst those who remain tipped towards accepting gay people as priests without requiring celibacy of them. Thus, he deduces, politics, not principles determine ecclesial action.

He reiterates Lambeth 1.10, 1998 and its subsequent repeated endorsement by the leaders of the Communion, concluding

None of this represents “law”. But the “moral authority” of these consistent claims is undeniable, not least because it has continued to elicit response and adjustments by TEC. Furthermore, not all of us on the CDG share the same views about the Christian imperatives with regard to sexual behavior; I am aware of that. But we have nonetheless come to a common understanding of the needs of the Communion with respect to the imperatives of common life in Christ.

'Imperatives' is an interesting term in this context. It conveys the imperious tone of the Covenant which I find wholly unacceptable. It looks to the containment and control of the church and is antipathetic to the diversity of spiritual experience, interpretation of scripture and ecclesial expression.

He addresses one paragraph directly to the members of the Covenant Design Group:

And who should offer a different testimony, if not you and us together, at least
serving groups ostensibly committed to and charged with forging a better way for
our Communion? We cannot control events and the decisions of others. But we can
certainly engage honestly and squarely what is at stake and avoid equivocating
(yes, we do too much of that); we can speak clearly and not secretly or in code;
we can offer concrete and effective proposals, and not diplomatic blurs; and we
can prosecute them with all the energy God has granted us rather than being
sidelined by the doubtless real but nonetheless surmountable bureaucratic
obstacles with which common life across the globe presents us.

From this I guess that the Covenant holds precisely what Radner would deny: equivocation, obscure and coded speech, diplomatic ambiguity. I guess it lacks the capacity to 'prosecute' effectively and that 'bureaucratic obstacles' (or, maybe, legal obstacles) mean that whatever sanctions it now contains are so watery as to be wholly toothless.

We shall find out soon. I expect the next draft of the Covenant to be published just before or just after the Primates' Meeting (at which, it is said, almost every Primate worthy of the mitre will be present) February 1 - 5.

Indeed, the timing of Radnor's open letter suggests his primary audience is the Primates, or their advisors, perhaps in the optimistic hope that they will not accept the Covenant.

I shall continue to oppose the Covenant. I think it's unnecessary and unAnglican and more liable to be marked by the language of 'imperatives' and 'prosecution' than by the language of mutual respect and celebration. I think there are alternatives and the focus on the Covenant (for and against) has blocked different, more creative possibilities. I think the Communion has huge problems hanging together but I am convinced such a treaty is not the way to go.

But I continue to predict some sort of Covenat will be agreed.



  1. I think his argument is rather along the lines put to me (see my blog and reactions), that the group Radner represents is setting itself up as a kind of self-defined faithful nugget or witness for God to do what they want in his own time (or something like that). It may well indicate that the Covenant is a busted flush, still to be played for reasons of saving face, but may be unrelated until we see what is in the next draft.

  2. And on second thoughts, you might be right given who it is for.

    I think Anglican politics is reaching a level of sophistication where I'm losing my ability to keep up.

  3. The Covenant is in the long grass where it has been kicked. Now that the North American schism is more or less complete it (the Covenant) is less and less necessary.