A dishonest Covenant

In July 2007 I wrote a paper called Bouncing the Covenant through the Anglican Communion (here) which looked at the way the Covenant was to be pushed through.

In retrospect I was wrong about one thing - I had calculated that the majority of Provinces would have endorsed the Covenant by this year, 2010, so that the Church of England would be faced with a fait accompli. In fact the majority of Provinces still have to decide whether or not to accept the Covenant.

In addition, the timetable outlined by the Covenant Design Group in February 2007 has been followed, albeit with a delay of 6 months when the ACC referred the critical Section 4 to a different committee in May 2009.

But I think the rest remains accurate. The initial judgement was that a Covenant would be a hard sell. Therefore the decision was taken to avoid as much public debate as possible but to contain debate within the smallest possible inner circles of each Province.  The rest has followed: public debate has deliberately been muted and it's hard to see how much, if any, difference it made to the shaping of the Covenant.

(There is some, indirect, evidence of an impact in that those defending the Covenant were occasionally forced, or chose, to address public criticism.  One instance, of which I'm quite proud, is Norman Doe's book An Anglican Covenant in which Modern Church's arguments and papers were frequently quoted in order to be countered.  But I don't think we made any difference.)

The only thing that made any difference was private opposition from Primates and their representatives.  And then only in relation to the terms of the Covenant. Public and official statements that stated opposition to the Covenant were apparently ignored.

In England the 2007 debate was half hearted.  The presence of Archbishop Drexel Gomez as guest speaker was intended to bolster support.  The main structural element which led to a favourable result was the decision to focus on the principle of a covenant - and to sideline comment on the wording of the actual draft. The business managers had served their masters well.

The same will be true on November 23rd with the next Covenant debate in the English General Synod.  A new Synod, having had limited time to work together, with a background of sparse discussion and even less knowledge, will be asked to endorse the Covenant. They will then send it to the Dioceses - who will pass it on the nod.  After all, the Covenant will be mixed up with discussion on women bishops - and more people will be more agitated about the gender of bishops than about a document which, they will be told, won't make any difference.

Another victory for the business managers.

I think this is fundamentally dishonest.  I think it is deeply undermining of the idea that the church is comprised of all its members.  I think it is autocratic, arrogant and disdainful of the great majority of Anglican people. I think the message that all church leaders can rightly take from this exercise is that they can ignore the membership with impunity.

The medium - or, in this case, the strategy - is message.


  1. Paul, I have the sense, and correct me if I'm wrong, that the bishops in the Church of England who do not like the Covenant will not speak against it, for they are too polite to - what? - hurt the ABC's feelings? The Welsh bishops won't cross him either.

    And the priests and the laity in England were, for the most part, not paying attention, because, as you say, of the effort to control discussion of the Covenant and keep it to a minimum. The Covenant will, very likely, easily pass through GS.

    Thank you for being one of the early voices urging caution.

  2. Hear, hear!

    There will be some opposition, but I fear your analysis is correct - both in its prediction and in its suggestion that this is an entirely cynical ploy to get the Covenant through with a minimum of fuss.