Incompatible with the Covenant 3

The Covenant: just the shell of an idea to be thrown away once the chick is hatched.

The place of Scripture in the Covenant

Archdeacon Penguin has produced an extensive biblical critique of the Erastian settlement still gripping the Church of England and to which the Provincial Council of the Antarctic takes profound and principled objection. He sat on this particular egg for a year before producing it to the Council and it is much too long to reproduce here (See Note 1 below).

His report was received with acclamation. However, prompted by an African Penguin present as an ecumenical observer at the Council, the question was raised as to what weight biblical arguments would have in the context of the Covenant. Specifically:
  • What is the status of Scripture in the Covenant?
  • What relationship does Scripture have to the other basic elements of Anglicanism set out in the affirmations of Section 1.1?
  • What duties does the Covenant place on its signatories in their decision making or in their failure to take decisions? And
  • Are there any constraints on the manner of interpretation of Scripture?
  • Could any biblical argument be sufficient under the Covenant? If not, what other factors would be necessary for it to be persuasive?
In general our answers to these questions have been discouraging on the possibility of mounting a case against the Church of England solely on biblical grounds - but they do show us the way forwards.

The Province of the Antarctic would like to make clear that (as a compliant signatory) it does not dissent from any Covenant statement and also that it does not endorse, as a Province, a fundamentalist or infallibilist interpretation of Scripture.

The status of Scripture in the Covenant
While the authors are no doubt so steeped in scripture they do not need to reference texts obsessively, nonetheless the Covenant text evinces a curiously uneven pattern of direct biblical references.

There are 23 biblical references in the Covenant, except that 14 of them are in the Introduction, which is not formally part of the Covenant, including the opening sentence from 1 John on our communion with God. There are 2 references in the Preamble and one in the final Declaration, leaving 6 in the core text of which 5 are in 2 subsections of clause 2.2.2. 8 references are from Ephesians (Matthew 4, Mark 2, 2 Corinthians 2 while 1 John, 1 Corinthians, Romans, Colossians, Revelation and Hebrews have 1 each, and just 1 reference from the whole Old Testament, Jeremiah).

The sparsity and unevenness of explicit scriptural references may give Christians with a very high doctrine of Scripture, such as my venerable Archdeacon, cause for concern. It could almost seem to imply that the Bible is fine to introduce the Covenant and a good note to end on, but other things are more important when we get down to the real business.

Nevertheless statements about Scripture are strong (rightly echoing historic statements within Anglicanism). Scripture is 'God's Word' (Intro, 6) and the locus of the unique revelation of the catholic and apostolic faith (1.1.2). Covenanters affirm
(1.1.3) the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as containing all things necessary for salvation and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith
Which is sufficient reassurance for the Archdeacon that Scripture has its proper place in the Anglican conceptual universe.

The relationship Scripture has to the other basic elements of Anglicanism set out in the affirmations of Section 1.1
But it is not sufficient reassurance as to the role and place of Scripture in the working out of the Anglican conceptual universe in relation to specific issues.

Scripture is the 'rule and ultimate standard' of Christian faith and, as such, stands in judgement over Christian life and thought. Yet it is equally true that Christian life, specifically its doctrine, worship and moral teaching, forms the interpretative framework through which Scripture is read while Church order provides authoritative structures for adjudicating divergent readings of Scripture. None of this complexity is acknowledged in Section 1.1.

It would seem that the elements of Anglicanism in this section, and which each signatory affirms, is to be taken as a package without any clear statement of their interrelationship (either historically or conceptually). If the order in which these elements are laid out is significant then Scripture is highly significant (appearing in 2 subsections) but is subordinate in some sense to the first affirmation, that each church is in communion with 'the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, worshipping the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.' (1.1.1)

Duties the Covenant places on its signatories in their decision making or in their failure to take decisions
Constraints on the interpretation of Scripture
The implications of 1.1, set out in section 1.2, appear at first glance to give greater weight to Scripture.

Each Church's teaching and acting has to be 'in continuity and consonance with Scripture' - qualified by 'the catholic and apostolic faith, order and tradition, ...' and 'mindful of the common councils of the Communion and our ecumenical agreements.' (1.2.1) Pity the poor scholar who tries to use this framework to analyse Church teaching or action.

Churches must also
uphold and proclaim a pattern of Christian theological and moral reasoning and discipline that is rooted in and answerable to the teaching of Holy Scripture and the catholic tradition. (1.2.2)
There is no definition of 'catholic tradition'. (The Vincentian test of 'that which has been believed everywhere, always, by all' is patent nonsense and is contradicted even in his own Comonitoria.) Furthermore, unfortunately, almost all disputes within Churches are between people who all root their arguments in Scripture: disputes frequently focus on the divergent readings of Scripture at least as much as on the differing conclusions. Moral reasoning too has been highly varied over history and yet each generation has explicitly grounded their Christian morality in Scripture.

There is a little more hope for the cause of the Antarctic Province in clause 1.2.4 by which signatories commit themselves
to hear, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the Scriptures in our different contexts, informed by the attentive and communal reading of - and costly witness to - the Scriptures by all the faithful, by the teaching of bishops and synods, and by the results of rigorous study by lay and ordained scholars.
There is, I suggest, no Anglican Church on the globe for which this is not ordinary daily life. With one small exception: the Church of England has not borne 'costly witness' to the Scriptures. On the contrary it has borne comfortable and cosy witness. It has always been and still is integrated with the State and it has fought long and hard to retain its privileged position over Noncomformists and Roman Catholics and in society at large. Its greatest contemporary costly problem is coping with the legacy of its wealth. Worse still, for generations it turned a blind eye to the costly witness that was in fact being borne by the Scottish Episcopal Church just over its northern border. Is this really a commitment the Church of England can make without blushing?

However, the CofE can sign the next clause by emphasizing the word 'expectation' without actually believing in it:
to ensure that biblical texts are received, read and interpreted faithfully, respectfully, comprehensively and coherently, with the expectation that Scripture continues to illuminate and transform the Church and its members, and through them, individuals, cultures and societies. (1.2.5)
Instead of being a limitation on the interpretation of Scripture, or even a guide to preferred ways of reading Scripture, the terms 'faithfully, respectfully, comprehensively and coherently' simply provide comfort to each Church and person in their own reading. The transformation of cultures and societies may be expected but only in the sense that the Second Coming is expected.

Could any biblical argument be sufficient under the Covenant? If not, what other factors would be necessary for it to be persuasive?
And now we come to the nub of the argument. Nothing in the way Scripture has been used in the Covenant and none of the Covenant's statements about Scripture would indicate that a biblical argument could, alone, make a ha'porth of difference to the chance of mounting a case against the Church of England. Nor, for that matter, would a biblical argument alone be sufficient for anything under the Covenant.

But the detailed clauses of the Covenant were never intended to offer such a framework. The Covenant is not to be read as legislation in which each clause creates a distinct rule and the breach of any one clause is an offence answerable in law.

The Covenant is a catalyst to change the Communion, a facade for the actual changes that are being sought, a piece of organizational legerdemain. Like the shell of an egg it is necessary at first and yet can be completely discarded - or, at least, shelved - once the penguin is hatched.

The blandness and mother's milk of the Covenant statements are intended to ensure it is acceptable to the widest range of Anglican Provincial governing bodies. They are the sugar coating on a bitter pill.

The remaining clause which explicitly mentions Scripture is the heart of the whole Covenant programme. Each member Church commits itself:
to seek a shared mind with other Churches, through the Communion’s councils, about matters of common concern, in a way consistent with the Scriptures, the common standards of faith, and the canon laws of our churches. Each Church will undertake wide consultation with the other Churches of the Anglican Communion and with the Instruments and Commissions of the Communion. (3.2.4)
The slippery concept of a 'shared mind' (or, in earlier versions, a 'common mind') is key to understanding the Covenant. What, after all, is a shared or common mind in the context of internecine disputation? And if the object of consultation is a shared mind what can it mean except a majority view arrived at by some recognized constitutional process?

And 'shared mind' is the obverse of 'incompatible with the Covenant'. To find one is to define the other.

This is how the Covenant is a shell: it sets up the need for a mechanism - the determination of what constitutes a shared mind - which is not contained in its own text. Politics, not the Bible nor the Covenant text, will determine the future of the Anglican Covenant.

So: all we need to successfully pursue our case is sufficient biblical grounding and references to the other standards of faith and canon law, lots of righteous anger and one or two canny political operators. With these spiritual weapons girded round us we can undoubtedly rouse enough other Provinces to take up our cause.

Be warned: the Antarctic is coming North!

* * *

The Archdeacon's text is far too long to reproduce on a blog - see the website (under construction) for full text.

A copy has been given to each member of the Provincial Council and they are encouraged to make it their winter reading.

Otherwise see Colin Buchanan's Cut the Connection: Disestablishment and the Church of England (1994) and Is the Church of England Biblical? (1998) Amazon links.


Incompatible with the Covenant ~ One ~ Two ~ Three ~ Four


Incompatible with the Covenant 2

Anglican Covenant opens with an 'Introduction to the Covenant Text'.

However the Introduction is not part of the Covenant:
(4.4.1) The Covenant consists of the text set out in this document in the Preamble, Sections One to Four and the Declaration. The Introduction to the Covenant Text, which shall always be annexed to the Covenant text, is not part of the Covenant, but shall be accorded authority in understanding the purpose of the Covenant.
So what authority is the Introduction actually accorded?

The Introduction is perhaps an essay on the nature of communion, unity and division, sin and aspiration, under and with God. It is necessarily compact, begging more questions than it gives answers, and in some areas it is difficult to see just what it is trying to say. But, so far as I read it initially, it does not introduce the Covenant and it does not provide any interpretative lens through which to read the Covenant.

My summary:
1) Our communion with Christ is part of God's revelation. In communion we share in the life of God the Trinity. God's life 'shapes and displays itself' in the life of the church.
Comment: there's a conundrum from the very beginning. Does 'church' here mean the actual and historical church (which below (4) is described as divided by sin) or some abstract notion of an ideal church?

Sin appears in 4 of the 8 clauses of the Introduction, twice in clause 2, but not in the Covenant. Repentance occurs twice in section 2 of the Covenant but not in the Introduction. I'm not sure what to make of that.
2) The call to communion is part of the reconciliation of all creation with God. The OT covenants have been part of this process towards unity with God and humanity, echoed in our baptismal covenant.
Comment: to what extent are the covenants between God and humanity comparable with the present agreement? One key difference would seem to be that God sets the terms and calls on people to conform: they were never negotiated settlements.
3) Communion, as 'calling and gift', enables Christians to be unified despite 'human sin and estrangement'. 'The forms of this life in the Church' are an alternative to a 'hostile and divisive power of the world'.
Comment: this must refer to an idealised or aspirational image of the Church, not to its historical reality. Of course Christianity has been a force for good in the world and has contributed to the coming together of very diverse peoples - but it has also been a force for evil and division. The Introduction recognises this and struggles with it - but the implicit solution is to privilege the ideal over the real.
4) 'In the providence of God, which holds sway even over our divisions caused by sin, various families of churches have grown up within the universal Church in the course of history.'
Comment: the first sentence of paragraph 4 encapsulates the conceptual self-deception which characterises the whole introduction (and maybe more). Is the present divided state of Christianity an expression of divine providence - or of human sin? If the former it should be embraced and celebrated, if the latter it is to be repented of.

The bland phrase 'various families of churches' disguises the physical violence Christians have inflicted on one another in the name of Christian truth both within and between churches. It glosses over the fact that, to this day, some families of churches and some churches within those families, refuse to acknowledge other as validly part of Christianity at all. in what actual sense is the church 'universal'?

I strongly prefer the historical reality of the church as showing us how Christians are - for good and ill - in daily reality. Part of that reality is that Christianity is inherently an idealistic faith, in both senses. The vision of an attainable divine reality greater and better than this messy quotidian one has kept a candle burning through the darkest times. Yet it has also legitimated war, immoral violence and unChristian behaviour.

Thus slippery concepts can be used to justify the proposed exclusion of TEC from the Anglican Communion in the name of unity. The unChristian world, untutored in the true nature of the church (historical and ideal), might call this duplicity, bad faith, institutional hypocrisy, or worse.
4) continued, Maintaining unity in the Anglican Communion is a challenge requiring 'mutual commitment and discipline' as the world fragments around us. 'Therefore' we agree to covenant together 'to be faithful to God's promises through the historic faith we confess, our common worship, our participation in God's mission, and the way we live together.'
Comment: the self-serving ambiguities continue: which parts of the Communion need to be reminded of their duties of commitment and discipline? Not those seeking to split the Communion in the name of unity, of course, but those regarded as having taken steps unacceptable to the rest. Sorry, I'm putting words into the mouths of the authors. They would, of course, say these phrases apply to all members equally, which would have more weight if it wasn't for the historical context and conflict which has led to the Covenant.

'Therefore' only works if the principle of the covenant is already agreed. And who could disagree with the bland summary of shared Anglicanism - except that's there's a civil war going on which is simultaneously the cause of the Covenant and ignored within it.
5) But the Covenant 'is not intended to change the character of' Anglicanism, merey to re-affirm and intensify the current 'bonds of affection'.
Comment: change to the character of Anglicanism is, therefore, merely an unintended consequence. But if change was not intended why has so much energy been poured into the enterprise? Though similar statements have been made from the beginning of the process they have all been for propaganda purposes only: the Covenant will inevitably and deliberately change the character of the Anglican Communion from the beginning though changes will take generations to work their way through. 'Affection', my foot!
6) Fine.

7) Anglicans embody a 'coherent testimony' of faith. Anglican life is blessed by God though it also reveals our failings. Our mission serves God and entailed shared responsibility, stewardship and interdependence within ourselves and with the wider church.
Comment: does 'coherent' here mean internally logically consistent? or comprehensible? or monolithic? It is an elastic word which could suggest a rigid and narrow statement of faith or merely that it all makes logical (or theological) sense. However, there is a category shift between coherent testimony and the lives people lead such that embodiment seldom results in behaviour as consistent as the ideas they seek to express.
8) Yes.
Comment: We all need to pray for God's redemption given the mess we make of things.

* * *

So I was wrong in my first reading of the Introduction. It does effectively introduce the slippery conceptual basis on which the Covenant is built, the blurring of the ideal and the real in ways which can be made to suit whoever wishes to interpret it to their own advantage.

But I can't suppose that its authors intended this reading. I can't see what they meant by according the Introduction 'authority in understanding the purpose of the Covenant'. It reads like the kind of phrase you might use for political purposes: to keep sweet the originators of the Introduction but not to give them or it any actual importance.

And there is another general comment which bears repetition: no document is its own interpreter. Every document requires people to interpret it and, if appropriate, apply it. Their writing too will need further explication. And so on.

The Covenant is not so much a basis of unity as a catalyst for further discordant interpretations and conflict over its application.

* * *

None of which helps my Penguin Archdeacon determine exactly how to interpret the Covenant in such a way as to lay a charge of incompatibility under it.

On the contrary, interpreting the Covenant through the lens of the Introduction would seem to make any charge possible, or none, depending on which way you look.


Incompatible with the Covenant ~ One ~ Two ~ Three ~ Four

Incompatible with the Covenant


Incompatible with the Covenant ~ One ~ Two ~ Three ~ Four

Deception Island in the South Shetlands

What, precisely, would it take for a Province to be adjudged to have acted in a manner which was "incompatible with the Covenant"? (Anglican Covenant 4.2.6).

It would seem by the recent actions of the Archbishop of Canterbury that sanctions may be applied to a Province of the Communion even in the absence of a Covenant, so the question of incompatibility with the Covenant would seem to be irrelevant.

Nonetheless, in order to test the question of compatibility, I hereby appoint myself the Primate of the new Province of the Antarctic, with my cathedral and Primatial see on Deception Island, and duly recognised by the ACC in a secret ceremony conducted in accordance with its secret constitution.

The Antarctic Provincial Council has determined that it is deeply grieved by the actions of the Church of England in regard to the acceptance of same-sex civil partnerships. Clearly General Synod has not made formal provision to allow the blessing of same-sex partnerships in church and equally clear that such things happen and the authorities do not stop it. So our charge against the CofE is (a) complicity in church blessings of same-sex marriage and (b) dishonesty in that the highest levels of the Church deliberately fail to acknowledge and/or regulate the reality on the ground.

The house of clergy at the recent Provincial Council

However (a) same-sex partnerships are nor mentioned in the Covenant and (b) it appears that only actions by Provinces are capable of being 'incompatible with the Covenant' - inaction and actions by units below the level of a Province are not.

So our public position is: we complain that the CofE is not autonomous as it must be if it is to sign the Covenant with integrity. Specifically it fails the test set out in 3.1.2:
Each Church, with its bishops in synod, orders and regulates its own affairs and its local responsibility for mission through its own system of government and law and is therefore described as living “in communion with autonomy and accountability”.
and that autonomy as defined above is a foundational concept to the Covenant (See: 3.2.1, 3.2.2, 4.1.3). The CofE only governs and regulates its affairs subject to the oversight and ultimate control of the government, its bishops are appointed by the Prime Minister, and its regulation of doctrine by canon law is ultimately subject to the secular courts. Therefore the CofE cannot be said to be autonomous.

The Archdeacon, our legal advisor, and family

Constitutional mayhem

One route through the constitutional hurdles

1) The actions of the Archbishop
If the Archbishop of Canterbury, merely by virtue of his office, has the effective power to instruct the Anglican Communion Office to sanction the US Episcopal Church (TEC) and threaten the Churches of Canada and the Southern Cone - then what's the point or power of the Standing Committee of the Anglican Covenant (SCAC)?

If the SCAC can be instructed, even by their Chair, are they not failing in their duty as trustees of the Communion?

What is the constitutional position of the Anglican Communion Office (ACO)? Is it entirely the arm of the SCAC or does it have powers in its own right or does the Archbishop of Canterbury command it, or parts of it?

2) TEC, ACC and the Covenant

The Covenant will create a new basis of Anglican fellowship - i.e. the community of those who sign. How will this group relate formally to the legally constituted ACC?
If TEC fail to sign the Covenant they cannot thereby, so far as I can see, be expelled from the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) - unless the new (still secret) constitution makes it possible, which I doubt because of the time it's taken to create and agree the new constitution.
The supposition is that the Covenant group will call the shots of inclusion / exclusion. But by what mechanism? The SCAC is allocated certain roles in relation to the Covenant but the Covenanters (apologies, Scotland) are not given a voice or forum merely by virtue of their signatures. The ACC, which may contain non-signatories, remains the only formal assembly.

3) Accountability

The ACC elect most of the members of the SCAC either directly or by election of officers of the ACC who are thereby ex officio members of the SCAC. Can they also call the SCAC to account by virtue of the threat to vote them out? Is (as I suspect) the SCAC already effectively independent of the ACC, a position reinforced by the adoption of the Covenant?
The Archbishop of Canterbury is inherently unaccountable. Is it right that one unaccountable individual should be able to command some or all of the other Instruments of Communion?

4) The Primates’ Meeting

The Primates' Meeting has, I suspect, been effectively neutered in the allocation of the Communion's power, except insofar as it elects one third of the SCAC. It has been the focal point for a great deal of conservative rhetoric and frustration. A kettle with a tiny spout is liable to explode when it boils.

Anyway, anyone might be led to draw the conclusion that constitutional niceties are irrelevant and only actual power counts.

Covenanters praying in the countryside, watched by the Archbishop's horsemen?


Jeffrey John for Bishop?

This image appeared in the Daily Mail under th caption scroll down for more. Makes you wonder.

Jeffrey John for Bishop? Consider the relational consequences if the Church of England appoints a partnered homosexual to the episcopacy.

He and his partner will be under a lot of strain and they will need the prayers of all.

* * *

After the recent flurry of posts I'm now off on holiday for a week away from the internet.

Questions on the critical clause

The critical clause (4.2.7) in the Covenant in relation to the new powers it creates reads (my numbering):
1) On the basis of the advice received, the Standing Committee shall make recommendations as to relational consequences which flow from an action incompatible with the Covenant.
2) These recommendations may be addressed to the Churches of the Anglican Communion or to the Instruments of the Communion and address the extent to which the decision of any covenanting Church impairs or limits the communion between that Church and the other Churches of the Communion, and the practical consequences of such impairment or limitation.
3) Each Church or each Instrument shall determine whether or not to accept such recommendations.
(1) Advice is received from the Primates' Meeting and the ACC. It can only be a advice: the autonomy of the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion (SCAC) means that it cannot be instructed. If it were instructed, and acted in accordance with those instructions without debate, it would be liable to legal challenge on Trust and Company law.

The Commentary on Revisions to Section 4, issued with the final version of the Covenant, was at pains to stress the autonomy of member Churches and also that:
What is made explicit in the current draft is that the Standing Committee derives its authority from its responsibility to the two Instruments of Communion which elect its membership, and on whose behalf it acts. It provides a co-ordinating function for matters to do with Covenant maintenance, supported by relevant expertise (cf 4.2.2) and in close communication with both the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meeting, on whose advice it acts. (cf 4.2.6 and 4.2.7)
This is accurate historically and structurally but not legally. The SCAC acts on behalf of the Primates' Meeting and ACC but only in the sense that the SCAC must determine for itself what is in the best interests of the Communion in accordance with the charity's stated objects (see below, The centralised state of Anglicanism).

No amount of gloss will hide the fact that it is the trustees of the Communion (the SCAC) in whom full legal powers are vested and who may not legally delegate their decision making to others, not even to those who elected them. The politics may make it difficult for the SCAC to avoid the advice of its electorate but the law says it must be wholly responsible for its decisions.

We are punching in the dark to some extent here given that the revised constitution and the new Memorandum and Articles of the SCAC have not been made public (see below). We do not know how the formal relationship between SCAC and the ACC is described, nor whether or to what extent the Primates' Meeting is formally recognised within the new constitution. None of this ignorance changes the position of the trustees.

(2) Why 'or' in the phrase: "... recommendations may be addressed to the Churches of the Anglican Communion or to the Instruments of the Communion ..."? This would seem to preclude recommendations made to both. So, presumably, if the recommendation to the Churches is to turn their back of the malefactory member the SCAC cannot at the same time ask the Instruments of Communion to withdraw their co-operation. And vice-versa.

And, while we're at tiny detail, why 'the' in: 'Instruments of the Communion'? This would seem to imply that the ACC and the Primates' Meeting are the tools of the SCAC as the legal entity of the Communion. (It could just be a typo, of course, as elsewhere in the Covenant the phrase is 'Instruments of Communion'. But you can't afford typos in a foundation document, nor in a document liable to close legal scrutiny.)

The model of conflict on which the Covenant is based is here at its sharpest. The origin is surely a simplified narrative of the present dispute in which TEC is the baddie and everyone else is appalled.

The focus is on:
the decision of any covenanting Church [which] impairs or limits the communion between that Church and the other Churches of the Communion
But we are talking about relationships here - and relationships are not one-sided. The extent of impairment or limitation of a relationship lies as much with the offended church as with the offender. Furthermore the presence of the Covenant mechanisms would seem to preclude the chance of continued amity in disagreement and encourage churches to take offence.

A much more serious weakness is that the whole mechanism appears to presume a model of one-way offence. One Church takes a decision that one or more others don't like. One Church is the offender and bears the moral obloquy; the innocent are hurt. But the much greater probability is of a number Churches taking differing stances over a particular issue, of some Churches being divided within themselves, and of highly complex conflicts without obvious angels and demons. Similarly steps are likely to be small and cumulative away from one another and any trigger-points artificially constructed.

In sum, the Covenant arrangements will magnify smaller disputes which participants could probably sort out for themselves, and be wholly inadequate to a complex, multi-directional conflict which divides the Communion. Power politics will not confine itself to rules that don't enable the powerful to achieve their objectives.

(3) And after all that it's apparently entirely up to each member Church or each Instrument of the Communion to make up their own minds what to do. (Except that it does not appear to have the option of remaining neutral or making no formal response: it 'shall determine whether or not to accept such recommendations.')

Either this makes the whole process vacuous or (more likely) each body will have decided what it will do long before the final determination; it might merely wait for organisational or pseudo-legal cover.


And what shall we do about Canterbury?

Like Father like successor?
(Photo: Church Times)

Lapinbizarre asks (Comment, below) whether Richard Chartres could become Archbishop of Canterbury given his track record (or lack of it) in relation to the ordination of women.

I wonder whether a bigger question is whether, in the new Anglican polity, the next (or any future) Archbishop will be English or British? Is the Pope Italian?

And, bigger still, but not new: what powers should the Archbishop wield?

When the Communion is bound together by a confessional document it will no longer be held together by being in communion with the See of Canterbury nor, as a matter of fact, by having roots in historical association with the Church of England.

On the other hand the Archbishop of Canterbury will become a powerful presidential, papal, leader of the whole Communion. His (or her?) word will be increasing directive rather than advisory.

The present incumbent has created powers for himself by making assumptions and acting in accordance with those assumptions, even when they had no rationale in the pre-existing understanding of Anglican polity and relationships.

The lesson has been learnt: act with authority and people will follow. Never mind if the Archbishop has no clothes, clothes will come to him. No future leader of the Communion is ever likely to give up the powers Rowan has accrued, they are much more likely to want to extend them.

Now why, under these circumstances, would anyone who is not British automatically accept the historical anomaly of a State-appointee as head of the Communion? Why would any organisation want to limit its pool of candidates to a tiny fraction of the potential leaders available? And what about the politics of knowing yourself or your favoured leader permanently excluded from the top job on irrelevant criteria?

I see three options:

  • take the power of appointment away from the British State and the English Church and grant it to the Communion as a whole. This would necessitate disconnecting the post from the remaining legal and effectual roles within the Church of England. Or
  • take the title away from England and grant it to whoever is appointed leader of the Anglican Communion. Then the English roles remain as they are now but the post is called something else: Bishop of ________ [fill in the blank]. Or
  • keep the present arrangements but take the Communion powers away from the Archbishop of Canterbury and make the role ceremonial. This could be done without disturbing the arrangements in England. The Communion powers would be given to some new post, perhaps time-limited or subject to recall. This would be my preference. The Archbishop of Canterbury could then be chosen for their spiritual qualities and wisdom; someone else for their capacity to use power faithfully.
Each option raises the question of who the electorate would be for the effective leader of the Communion. The options are: the Primates, the ACC, or the Bishops whether assembled in Conference or otherwise. I don't suggest a wider franchise (lay people voting! who's church is this?) not because of the practical difficulties (which would be immense) but because I can't see Anglicanism becoming democratic.

I once spent some time studying Anglican ecclesiology. One, cynical, conclusion I came to was that we make organizational changes for a whole range of reasons - and afterwards we construct a theological rationale for it. I''ll take bets: within 2 years of the Covenant being adopted (if it is, and however many do so) I predict several serious publications to show it was God's will all along.

Autonomy in a confessional church

The Covenant creates a new basis of relationship between member Churches. It sets out (in sections 1-3) a statement of Anglican faith and order to which every signatory must consent. By whatever route Anglican Churches arrived at this point, from here onwards:

In adopting the Covenant for itself, each Church recognises in the preceding sections a statement of faith, mission and interdependence of life which is consistent with its own life and with the doctrine and practice of the Christian faith as it has received them. It recognises these elements as foundational for the life of the Anglican Communion and therefore for the relationships among the covenanting Churches. (Covenant §4.1.2)

Thus a new foundation stone is to be inserted beneath the existing historical arrangements. Anglicanism will become a Confessional Church grounded on a new fundamental document.

The Covenant sets out mechanisms for 'conflict resolution' which give the corporate organs of the Church - The Primates' Meeting, the Anglican Consultative Council, and especially the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion - powers to adjudicate the decisions of member churches.

Yet Provincial autonomy remains - a remarkable feat of political/legal legerdemain.

The Covenant has apparently squared the circle of autonomy and interdependence. By its terms, to be a member of the Anglican Communion is to sign the Covenant voluntarily. Thereafter each member of the Anglican Communion may continue to act in whatever way it pleases – so long as no other member suspects or believes its actions to be outwith the provisions of the Covenant. The punishment for transgressing the Covenant is ‘relational consequences’: withdrawal from some, many or all of the international structures of Anglicanism (§§4.2.4 – 4.2.7).

Yet there is no difference in reality between being expelled and everyone else turning their backs on you. So a Province may still act in whatever way it pleases, just as before, only now it does so conscious that the other members of the Communion may act against it, forcefully, if it offends. Autonomy becomes a legal fiction. Power has slipped to the centre.

Autonomy is essential for the Covenant - and not merely because of the politics of getting turkeys to vote for Christmas. (Sorry, a cliché, how about: getting Anglicans to vote for a Roman Catholic-lite ecclesiastical structure?) Autonomy is essential because The Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui, The United Churches of North and South India, the Church of England, and maybe more, cannot enter into any treaty or arrangement which grants some other body jurisdiction over them. They are prevented by the national laws of their own countries.

It is a moot point whether the Covenant, even now, will be acceptable to legislators in all these countries - and a judgement will be made on the reality not on the words. Expect law suits to follow as soon as it looks as though push may come to shove and (in India's case) perhaps before.

If I was evaluating the question I would look very closely at the powers of the SCAC, a body which is legally autonomous as Trustees and Directors of a Charitable Company, and at exactly how their powers (so far not made public) interact with the relevant national legislation. I don't think the answer is legally self-evident despite my belief that the terms of the Covenant do effectively curtail Provincial autonomy.


An organization in freefall

The SCAC has announced two new members:
  • Bp Paul Sarker (Moderator of the Church of Bangladesh and Bishop of Dhaka)
  • Revd Canon Janet Trisk of South Africa (Rector of the Parish of St David, Prestbury in Pietermaritzburg, in the Diocese of Natal)
It also happened to mention in passing "the resignations of Archbishops Justice Akrofi and Henry Orombi".

So, in the course of a year (so far) they have lost 4 of 15 members. And another member, Katharine Jefferts Schori, has been encouraged to resign. This is not good for any organization.

All 4 have been amongst the more conservative (though conservatives remain).

2 of the 4 resigned were elected by the Primates' Meeting. The 3 who remain are at the liberal end of the spectrum (Aspinall prefers 'moderate').

From so far down the mountain it is hard to see what is happening at the top - but the implication would seem to be that the conservatives have decided they will no longer participate at the highest level of the Anglican Communion. Can formal schism be far behind?

The current membership is:

  • Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams (chair)
  • Archbishop Philip Aspinall of Australia
  • Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori of the U.S.-based Episcopal Church
  • Archbishop Barry Morgan of Wales
  • Bishop Paul Sarker of Bangladesh
  • Bishop James Tengatenga of Central Africa (ACC chair)
  • Canon Elizabeth Paver of England (ACC vice chair)
  • Bishop Ian Douglas of the U.S.-based Episcopal Church
  • Anthony Fitchett of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia
  • Dato Stanley Isaacs of the Province of South East Asia
  • Philippa Amable of West Africa
  • Bishop Kumara Illangasinghe of Ceylon
  • The Rev. Canon Janet Trisk of South Africa

Why the Covenant won’t work.

The Covenant will work in all sorts of ways, of course, some intended some predictable if unintended.

What it won’t do and can’t do, is what it says on the tin. It cannot ‘prevent and manage’ disputes:

This Commission believes that the case for adoption of an Anglican Covenant is overwhelming:

  • The Anglican Communion cannot again afford, in every sense, the crippling prospect of repeated worldwide inter-Anglican conflict such as that engendered by the current crisis. Given the imperfections of our communion and human nature, doubtless there will be more disagreements. It is our shared responsibility to have in place an agreed mechanism to enable and maintain life in communion, and to prevent and manage communion disputes. (Windsor Report §119)

The reason it cannot ‘prevent and manage’ disputes is simple. If the Covenant mechanisms can be applied retrospectively (which is effectively what is being attempted) then these mechanisms are applied as it were from the outside of the dispute. They step in like courts and police to adjudicate and enforce an outcome – in this case the expulsion (in whole or part) of the offending members of the Communion.

But once the Covenant is in place it can never act as if from the outside of the dispute. The next disputes, large and small, will be conducted by people who will be acutely conscious of the Covenant and its conflict resolution provisions. The Covenant will be inside the next dispute and party to it.

The Windsor Report sought to address a situation in which the storm blew across the whole Communion and no-one could catch it or control it. Logically, therefore, they proposed a mechanism which would catch and control the next one.

But, in creating the Covenant, they changed the weather-pattern of next dispute. The next storm will be funnelled very quickly into the narrower and narrower space of: mediation – Primates’ Meeting and ACC – Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion. There will be no point in disputants doing anything else. If the SCAC is the point where things are determined then there is every incentive to get the SCAC to decide the issue as soon as possible.

The very presence of the SCAC will be an invitation to belligerents not to accept local resolution but to magnify their case, to internationalise it, and to deliberately engage the SCAC as a means of self-promotion, win or lose. The very existence of a single, international, focal point will attract small storms and will encourage them to expand.

For example;

In 1913 in Kikuyu, a village in what is now Kenya, a conference took place between Anglican and Presbyterian missionaries to address the issue of how migrant Christians were to be welcomed in one another’s churches. They outlined the terms of co-operative work in the mission field and, buoyed up with shared enthusiasm, they concluded with a shared Holy Communion celebrated by the Bishop of Mombassa, W.G. Peel.

The neighbouring, High Church, unsubtle, passionate Bishop of Zanzibar, Frank Weston took deep exception. He had not been present and he did not realise that there had been no formal agreement at Kikuyu. Weston started a dispute over inter-communion, the recognition of non-episcopally ordained clergy, and the validity of their sacraments. Bigger things were at stake. Weston feared the spread of liberalism in the Church, the prospect of a pan-protestant alliance which would marginalise Catholics, and the impact on his missionary work where he competed with Islam and Roman Catholicism both of which evangelised with single, clear voices.

The disagreement rapidly expanded. The Archbishop of Canterbury set up a ‘conflict resolution mechanism’ (an international committee of bishops). The committee broadly supported Weston’s views though they did accept that, in some narrow circumstances, nonconformists could receive communion in Anglican churches. The dispute was conducted by post and pamphlet during the first world war: consider how it would be with today’s communications.

If the SCAC is successful in resolving a few minor ecclesiastical skirmishes its mechanisms will be hailed as proven and greater expectations will be laid on its shoulders. Small successes will set up bigger failures.

Disputes of the scale of the current dispute over sexuality are thankfully infrequent. But they are analogous to civil war, not to cases of marital disharmony. In a civil war, by definition, the mechanisms of law and order break down and ‘ordinary’ conflict resolution is replaced by force of arms.

The predictable result will be that, sooner or later, a storm will destroy the Covenant arrangements. When the storm is still at its most destructive it will be concentrated into a committee of 15 people, many of whom will be partisan and none of whom will be neutral. Sooner or later the depth and intractability of such disputes will destroy the SCAC and the Anglican Communion will have to start again looking for a new structure.

Instead of doing what it says on the tin the Covenant will have achieved its opposite.

* * * *

The leaders of the Anglican Communion are intelligent, reflective, careful people. It maybe that hope has clouded their vision as to this outcome of the Covenant arrangements or that, having once run their colours up this particular flagpole it would be too embarrassing to haul them down again. But I doubt it.

I suspect a more cynical consciousness. I suspect the purpose of the Covenant and its conflict resolution mechanisms was never to ‘prevent and manage’ future disputes.

I suspect the Covenant was intended merely to give effect to the terms on which the most vociferous conservatives were willing to remain within the Anglican Communion: the exclusion of TEC. It is a one-shot weapon. Any longer-term consequences are left to be dealt with when the time arises.


SCAC in trouble already?

One symptom of an organisation in distress (red flag) is unstable leadership made visible by too many resignations.

After Bishop Anis now Bishop Marshall of Iran has resigned from the SCAC - and, of course, Bishop Orombi stays on but says he's boycotting it.
"I can confirm that Bishop Azad Marshall has resigned from the Standing Committee, though I'm not in a position to cite his reasons," Jan Butter, director of communications for the Anglican Communion,
Meanwhile Kenneth Kearon says the last meeting was the worst he's ever attended and, as well as excluding TEC from some Ecumenical Committees (Official letter, Katharine Jefferts Schori, Kenneth Kearon) the Archbishop of Canterbury is reported to have asked the Presiding Bishop of TEC to resign - utterly unconstitutionally.
The Archbishop’s Pentecost letter is the public half of a campaign to rein in the Episcopal Church, The Church of England Newspaper has learned, and follows a private letter delivered to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori asking her to consider withdrawing from active participation on the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion. (CEN, June 4)
Does this sound like teething troubles - or an organisation incapable of leading the Anglican Communion anywhere?

More probably it's a result of developments predicted since this Covenant process began: if you draw so much power into one committee you also draw into that committee the strongest partisans of the divisions in the Communion. How can anyone expect it to function as a coherent team?

Right on the money

Savitri Hensman

The Anglican power play

Savitri Hensman's article in the Guardian yesterday, Wednesday 30 June, is absolutely spot on - as succinct a summary of the history as I've seen and her conclusion is both accurate and already visible:
In power-play of the type the Covenant encourages, global church politics will trump love, justice and even logic. This is a poor substitute for freedom in Christ.