Where the Covenant came from

Rev Dr Caroline Hall
I commend an article on the history of the Covenant by Caroline Hall at the Walking with Integrity site.

She sets out a number of things I had not previously known, especially that
In fact, the concept of an Anglican Covenant was first suggested in the Dallas Statement in 1997. This was the statement from a conference attended by 45 conservative bishops and 4 conservative archbishops from 16 nations to develop an anti-gay strategy for the 1998 Lambeth Conference. They outlined what they saw as “a shared and coherent orthodox Anglican framework” and called for discipline as a “necessary corollary of accountability” in keeping to the “bounds of eucharistic fellowship within the Anglican Communion”.
I also hadn't realised that To Mend the Net was 'considered by the Primates Meeting and, in 2003, the InterAnglican Theology and Doctrine Commission.'

There is, however, another strand to the history of the Covenant which she omits - and which now makes more sense to me in the context of the story Hall sets out.  

This from an article I wrote in 2004 called What has law got to offer the Church published in Modern Believing, Summer 2004.
In April 2002 the Anglican Primates stated that the ‘… unwritten law common to the Churches of the Communion and expressed as shared principles of canon law may be understood to constitute a fifth ‘instrument of unity’ …’ adding, ‘Given that law may be understood to provide a basic framework to sustain the minimal conditions which allow the Churches of the Communion to live together in harmony and unity, the observances of the ministry of Word and Sacrament call us all to live by a maximal degree of communion through grace.’1 In October 2003, as storm clouds seemed about to break, the Primates established a commission whose mandate included an examination of the canonical understandings of impaired and broken communion2. The old order, in which Anglican churches were ‘… bound together not by a central legislative and executive authority, but by mutual loyalty sustained through the common counsel of the bishops in conference.’3, having been eroded, now seems to be slipping away. A new legislative order with centralised structures appears to be growing.
1 Report of the Meeting of the Primates of the Anglican Communion, Canterbury 10-17 April 2002, ACNS 2959, 17 April 2002. The other instruments are the Archbishop of Canterbury, Lambeth Conferences, Primates Meetings, and the Anglican Consultative Council. They are supplemented by a range of informal linkages.  Canon law encompasses constitutions, statutes, canons, quasi-judicial regulation and codes of practice, as well as ecclesiastical courts, judgements and their enforcement.
2 Commission announced. Statement from Lambeth Palace, 28th October 2003, ACNS 3652. The Commission included Professor Doe.  Members of the Anglican Communion have been in varying degrees of communion with one another since their differential responses to the inauguration of the Church of South India in 1947, as well as over the ordination and consecration of women. It has not required a legal framework to date.
3 Resolutions of the Lambeth Conference 1930, London, SPCK, p. 53.  
Professor Norman Doe
It would seem as though it was that 2002 Primates' Meeting which took the fateful turn that the Communion's leaders have since followed.  It may be well worth re-visiting the reports of that meeting.

Norman Doe has continued to contribute to the Covenant since then.  He was the primary author of the Appendix in the Windsor Report and, I believe, of the Appendix to the St Andrew's Draft.  Both were widely rejected as 'over' legalistic.  He was a member of the group which produced Towards an Anglican Covenant, and thereafter an adviser to the Covenant Design Group.

Doe has, I believe, the small-c conservative instincts of a lawyer but not the radical conservatism of those who wish to reject secular values.  To some degree his programme of harmonisation of canon law through the Communion is furthered by the Covenant; the Covenant we now have, however, is so deeply political in its operation I suspect that the goal of unity through canonicity may still be a long way off.


What will we do about Uruguay?

Miguel Tamayo Zaldívar, Bishop of both
Uruguay and Chile for 6 years.
Little noticed, given the focus on the Covenant, was the announcement that the tiny Diocese of Uruguay wished to dissociate itself from the oversight of the Province of the Southern Cone and to seek alternative oversight.

After a patient wait of nine years it sought permission to decide for itself whether to ordain women. The Provincial Synod decided that this would remain a Provincial decision and no diocese could act separately on the matter.  Uruguay promptly decided to seek another jurisdiction.  ACNS Press release, Thinking Anglicans  Father Jake (in both the comments have more information about the Diocese).

This is significant because

  1. It is a reminder that the split in the Church is over sexuality. Homosexuality is (just) a concentrated focus of a wider debate.
  2. The Canons of the Southern Cone appear to make separation easier than it would be in most provinces.  However, the English Act of Synod enabled the balkanisation of the CofE and GAFCON is carving up the Communion, so this would seem to be the way the Communion is going.  A group which doesn't like present arrangements make new ones.  Centralising the Communion in the Standing Committee may be whistling in the wind, the horse having  bolted and the stable door left blowing in the wind.
  3. In an globalised world it is easy to align any one place with any other.  Modern electronic and personal communications mean effective oversight can be a reality almost anywhere.  The Bishop's personal responsibility for two different places reinforces the point.
An invitation to all
Therefore, as self-appointed Primate of the Province of the Antarctic, I hereby invite Uruguay to consider whether they would wish to be part of our jurisdiction.  Uruguay has acceding status within the Antarctica Treaty System.

Indeed, I extend this invitation to any Province, Diocese, Parish or Person who would care to join us.

I have asked Archdeacon Penguin to draw up a framework to enable this to happen and this is his first draft (subject to revision through debate).

*   *   *

Any person who, or oganization which, wishes to join the Province of the Antarctic may do so irrespective of location.
  • all weapons are to be left outside the door.
The Antarctic is sufficiently violent and dangerous in its weather without the additional help of the Christian Church.

In particular, successive Synods have held that blackmail (the threat of punitive consequences should a decision be taken or not taken) is regarded as a weapon and its use a kind of violence.  Therefore any suggestion of resignations or departures or other action in the face of Synodical decision making will be taken at face value and accepted.

Rev Tony, Provincial Missioner to Giant Petrels
We recognise the strength of passionately held views and, where appropriate, we set a high threshold for voting on contentious issues.  However, once a decision is made, all members are enjoined to conform to it: it is true and certain, until a subsequent decision be made.

Note: we do not currently own any property although we are hoping to build a Cathedral one day on Deception Island.  Any real and movable property we may one day acquire will be legally held by the Province and entrusted to the relevant local people or body for proper use and safekeeping.

  • the Province of the Antarctic is a Synodical church.
That is, we are governed by councils of members at each level of the Church. The words of Bishops, clergy, teachers and prophets weigh heavily with the synods and no synod is complete unless they have contributed.

However every member of the Church is an equal member.  Chicks are not the future of the Church and elders do not represent the Church as it used to be. They are the Church in the present.  All members, Emperors and chinstraps, albatross and petrel, elephant and human are equal merely by virtue of membership.

We recognise that those who hold certain views of the nature of the priesthood and episcopacy may find this unacceptable.  They are welcome to argue the point in any forum.  The current position reflects the foundation of the Anglican Church in Antartica by the Protestant Mission Society (PMS).

  • the Province is a Church without walls.
Assembled for worship during the recent summer Synod
46 nations have some claim in the Antarctic, there are 17 species of penguin (depending how you count) 4 of which breed in the Antarctic, and many more birds and seals. All are welcome.

We acknowledge the reality of human evil but we do not put walls or bounds around members.  As the current prayer book says: there is skua in all of us, within and without.   We know that, while some may be tempted by barren paths or stand on false ice, all will come to the true feeding grounds and those who feed well will benefit most.  God has given us such an abundance of riches that there is enough for all and more, though not enough for greed.

Antarctic spirituality is marked by (amongst other things) the fundamental conviction that we thrive together and we die alone.  Therefore the gifts of the Spirit of hospitality and care, of generous sharing, respect and mutual building up are particularly valued.

Note: The theoretical possibility of skua joining the Church has been debated over the years and the birdist notions implicit in this prayer book phrase have been recognised.  No decision has yet been reached.
  • financial and formal arrangements for new members
There is no membership fee.  However members are expected to contribute from their wealth whether financial, spiritual, artistic, technical or other.  Donations made be made in international red herring or other convertible currency.

Membership is non-exclusive.  You may simultaneously be a member of any other ecclesial body as you choose (respecting, of course, the rules of that body).

Please send your application through the membership page on the Provincial website.

Archdeacon Penguin
Advent, 2010


'effective and forceful'

From the Church Times: caption competition anyone?
Given that GAFCON have turned their backs on the Covenantwhy pursue it further?  

It seems, according to the Church Times, that at least 10 Primates - a quarter of invitees - won't be at the next Primates' Meeting in Dublin in January.

Drexel Gomez' repeated assertion was that, if we didn't agree the Covenant asap, it would be too late and the Communion would break up.  Only the Covenant could save the day.

But as it is evident that the Communion is already breaking up - why do we still need to sign a Covenant?

I suggest there are four mutually-reinforcing reasons: 

  • I've started, so I'll continue:
The Covenant has been coming since the Windsor Report (2004). It wasn't inevitable. In fact the draft in an appendix to the report was pretty extensively panned. 

But when the Archbishop of Canterbury took it up as the way forwards for the Communion it moved centre stage and a lot of political capital was invested in it.  It has developed a momentum of its own and referral to the Provinces mean that there is no way of stopping the process without so much egg-on-faces that at least some of those faces would not have wanted to appear in public again.

Never underestimate the imperative power of institutional inertia.

  • lor'n'order demand it
I think that the Archbishop of Canterbury believes deeply in an ordered church. Or, more precisely, that if a church is to be ordered it must have the means of enforcing that order.  

That is, what sort of church is not ordered and what sort of order can't be ordered?  If you see what I mean.

Therefore, if the Anglican Communion has no means of enforcing the ordering it purports to have, it follows that (a) it is disordered and (b) it's not a Church.  If it's disordered so too is its faith, its witness, its criteria to judge what constitutes a faithful development in the expression of the Gospel.  

The key phrase of the Windsor Report turned out to be nearly at the report's end:
This Commission recommends, therefore, and urges the primates to consider, the adoption by the churches of the Communion of a common Anglican Covenant which would make explicit and forceful the loyalty and bonds of affection which govern the relationships between the churches of the Communion. The Covenant could deal with: the acknowledgement of common identity; the relationships of communion; the commitments of communion; the exercise of autonomy in communion; and the management of communion affairs (including disputes). ... (Para. 118)
In effect  the Eames Commission asserted that, when loyalty and affection could no longer be presupposed, force remained.

  • To make a Church
The Communion is not a Church but a federation or flotilla of Churches.   

But although that is a statement of legal fact it was also perceived to be a statement of the problem.  A 'real' church, not least in the eyes of the Archbishop of Canterbury, is Vatican-shaped: centralised and definitive, clear in the key areas of doctrine, worship, the discipline of clergy and ecumenical relationships.

And the Communion had been moving in the direction of greater centralised decision making for a long time.

The Covenant is only one tine of a two-pronged strategy.  The other, locating power within the ACO / Standing Committee, is already in place and beginning to work.

The Covenant is still necessary even if only a proportion of the present membership of the ACC sign up because it gives powers to the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion (and thence to the officers in the Anglican Communion Office) which they don't currently possess.

The resultant Church may be Vatican-lite. But it will be much more ordered than it is now.  Instead of a bunch of untidy and ill-dressed strangers who just happened to be on the same pilgrimage at the same time it will be a bit more of a guided tour wearing company branded jackets.

  • In the end trouble makers will just have to go
It follows entirely logically that the road the Communion is on means that some of the group will just have to leave. Some are simply misbehaved and won't listen to leaders or to anyone else.  Some have decided they want to go on a different pilgrimage altogether.

From the perspective of the Archbishop it was always evident that some would have to go.  An ordered Church required the visible enforcement of discipline so that all members would understand the new kind of Church they no belonged to.  Second, the Communion had simply become so widespread on any dimension you could imagine that only a narrower Communion had any future.

The Archbishop of Canterbury envisaged a two-tier Communion from the outset.  Not, I think, as second best but as inevitable, even desirable.  Therefore even if the GAFCON Church won't participate any further then TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada must still be penalised.  Authority has no substance in the abstract: it only exists when it's exercised.  The Covenant will make this possible.
Future Directions
The idea of a 'covenant' between local Churches (developing alongside the existing work being done on harmonising the church law of different local Churches) is one method that has been suggested, and it seems to me the best way forward. It is necessarily an 'opt-in' matter. Those Churches that were prepared to take this on as an expression of their responsibility to each other would limit their local freedoms for the sake of a wider witness; and some might not be willing to do this. We could arrive at a situation where there were 'constituent' Churches in covenant in the Anglican Communion and other 'churches in association', which were still bound by historic and perhaps personal links, fed from many of the same sources, but not bound in a single and unrestricted sacramental communion, and not sharing the same constitutional structures. The relation would not be unlike that between the Church of England and the Methodist Church, for example. The 'associated' Churches would have no direct part in the decision making of the 'constituent' Churches, though they might well be observers whose views were sought or whose expertise was shared from time to time, and with whom significant areas of co-operation might be possible.
The Challenge and Hope of Being an Anglican Today: A Reflection for the Bishops, Clergy and Faithful of the Anglican Communion, The Archbishop of Canterbury, Tuesday 27 June 2006

Thus the future holds a new Church, a new order and, in my view, a diminishment of the vision which sustains us as pilgrims, an impoverishment of the spiritual imagination, which is the life-blood of faith.


A kicking on the Covenant

The English General Synod, from the Daily Telegraph
General Synod's vote on the Covenant was certainly a kicking for those of us who oppose it.

I was out of radio contact all day so I haven't been able to hear or read any of the detail.  

However my instinct is not to think that the great majority of Synod members have read and considered the issues and on that basis have come to a considered judgement in its favour.  

The Covenant has always been a minority interest, this is a new Synod, and the general rule is that things, even threats, that are far away (in geography or time) seldom give people cause for concern.  The campaign to oppose it was, I think, as good as we could have managed given that we started very late.  (The No Anglican Covenant press release.)

I am afraid my initial suspicion is that General Synod will (almost) inevitably acceded to any proposal strongly led by senior bishops and the Archbishops.  And a flaccid, compliant legislature cannot be good for any aspect of the Church.  

But what about GAFCON?
However, from the other end of the theological spectrum, the news that the GAFCON leaders reject the Covenant is very interesting.  It's not a surprise, and the timing of their announcement was intended as a grenade lobbed towards the Archbishop, though it didn't explode. The emphasis on a Covenant as the way forward for unity in the Communion has generated a predictable but unintended consequence: a different Covenant (the Jerusalem Declaration) can be the basis for a different Anglicanism.

As I read the statement the GAFCON leaders are asserting that, led by God, they will no longer be part of the future of the Anglican Communion as lead by the Archbishop of Canterbury - not the Primates' Meeting and not the Covenant.  In fact,
3. We believe that we are now entering a new era for the Anglican Communion. 
4. As we have made clear in numerous communiqués and meetings those who have abandoned the historic teaching of the Church have torn the fabric of our life together at its deepest level. We have made repeated attempts to bring repentance and restoration and yet these efforts have been rejected. We grieve for those who have walked apart and earnestly pray for them and the people under their care.
5. For the sake of Christ and of His Gospel we can no longer maintain the illusion of normalcy 
From Enough About Me: An Autobiography
9. We are, however, determined to lead our churches away from unhealthy economic dependency and to teach our people the importance of becoming effective stewards of their own resources. We must reclaim a vision of financial self-sufficiency.
11. We remain convinced that the unique character of GAFCON/FCA with its diversity of cultures and its embrace of the Jerusalem Declaration as a common theological confession is a vital contribution to the future of the global Anglican Communion. [I.e. without churches which have " 'bowed the knee' to secular liberalism".]
The glacially slow schism has taken another step forward.  I believe it's now irrevocable.

Which raises a question for the rest of us: What is the point of the Covenant without 8 (or more) of 39 Provinces? Why is it still important? Who will it be important to?


A simple request

Today members of General Synod will vote on the Covenant.

If I had the opportunity, I would ask two things:

  • that those who argue for the Covenant present clear and convincing rationales, 
  • and that those who vote do so for positive, informed reasons.

but who am I to ask?


Three papers to note

Colleagues at No Anglican Covenant have posted a significant paper by Ronald Stevenson, QC.

The Honourable Ronald Stevenson, QC, is a recently retired Chancellor of the Anglican Church of Canada.  He says,
As one trained in the law (60 years a law student) and who has both written and interpreted documents that define relationships and prescribe processes for the resolution of differences my principal concerns are with the quality of the language of the Covenant and with the processes set out in Section Four for the maintenance of the covenant and dispute resolution.
He cites, as an example, the various uses of the central term 'faith' and questions how they relate to one another. He point to the ambiguities of Section 4, not least the differences between raising a question of interpretation of the Covenant and raising a question of compatibility with the Covenant, and he points out that Section 4.2 does not seem to envisage the possibility that the matter under dispute could be deemed to be 'compatible with the Covenant'.

He concludes:
A final concern. Much emphasis has been placed on section 4.1.3 of the Covenant the second sentence of which says, “Nothing in this Covenant of itself shall be deemed to alter any provision of the Constitution and Canons of any Church of the Communion, or to limit its autonomy of governance.” If a Church adopts the Covenant without qualification or reservation it might be argued that the Act of adoption does have the effect of altering the Church’s Constitution or limiting its autonomy. In my opinion any Church planning to adopt the Covenant should consider including in its Act of adoption a statement such as “The adoption of The Anglican Communion Covenant by this Church does not, and shall not be deemed to, alter any provision of the Church’s Constitution or Canons or limit its autonomy of governance.”
Enough, I would have thought, to make even strong advocates of the Covenant think twice about how future lawyers will interpret this Covenant.

Jonathan Clatworthy
Jonathan Clatworthy, General Secretary of Modern Church has written a response to Andrew Goddard (Goddard's article is here.)  A central difference is that where Goddard focuses on the words of the Covenant as a stand-alone document, Jonathan focuses on how the Covenant could be used.

One key question is the punitive potential of the Covenant.  Jonathan says:
What counts about the Covenant text is not whether it claims to be punitive, or even whether its framers intend it to be, but whether it can be used in a punitive manner, and the answer is clearly yes. Although the text states that provinces continue to be self-governing, when one of them refuses to accept the 'recommendations' of the Standing Committee there will be 'relational consequences': withdrawal from some, many or all of the international structures of Anglicanism. If a province rejects 'recommendations', it can be excluded from the Covenant's 'enhanced' relationship with other provinces and international committees. Given that this 'enhanced' relationship turns out to look very much like the relationship most provinces thought they already had with each other, the effect would be a demotion.
Is this a punishment? For some it is not punishment enough; others including Goddard claim that it not a punishment at all. Such a claim is hardly convincing. It is like telling a child 'You are free to eat your broccoli or leave it, just as you like, but if you do not eat it you will not have any chocolate'. Whether this is called a 'punishment' or a 'relational consequence' is irrelevant: the child feels only too acutely the limitations on freedom caused by an unequal power structure. In the same way provinces would have their autonomy limited by the threat of exclusion from international structures: they will in effect be told 'Unless you toe the line we shall no longer count you as one of us'.
The article reinforces the argument that Anglicanism would be re-defined by the Covenant, reasserts that the Covenant would encourage provincial introspection and that it would create new dogmas.

Third, Mark Clavier at Living Church News Service has a world-weary and well-written article What Gentle Anglicanism.  I share his thesis that Anglicanism has been a church in conflict through its history with the loudest cries for liberty coming from those who felt (and generally were) on the losing side at the time.  I was amused to be told - and to accept without qualms - that as a liberal I am 'playing to script'.

I guess the question is what we draw from this reading of history as a moral for today.  I would point to the historical and present day failure of all sides to so dominate Anglicanism as to exclude any of its strands for ever.  The liberal Dean Stanley pointed out that nineteenth century ecclesiastical court judgements had even-handedly found for Evangelicals, Conservatives and Liberals in  different cases.  But instead of being equally pleased (and relieved) each party merely saw this as greater cause for annoyance.

Even the overwhelming preponderance of Anglo-Catholics in the 1920s did not squeeze out the rest and, as the wind changes, so liberals came to have their day after 1945 while Evangelicals have grown strong since the mid-1980s (which, I think, largely caught Liberals by surprise - but perhaps that's also part of the script).

As a Liberal I fear that the upsurge of neo-Calvinist conservatives in some parts of the world will do more than simply tip the scales in their direction.  It feels to me as though they will effectively expunge liberal tradition (not just TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada) perhaps for more than a generation.  Script or no script, it is a prospect I abominate and wish to oppose as strongly as I can.

I also fear that, in the US, the organised structures of schism, and the circling Provinces willing to offer legitimacy to their allies, will soon erupt into still greater schism and conflict, Covenant or no Covenant.  And this, I think, has hardly any historical precedent in Anglicanism and none on this scale.

*   *   *

I expect the recent flowering of posts and papers will subside soon after Wednesday's vote on the Covenant at General Synod.  But I also know that, however the vote goes, it will be a long haul before it is finally defeated.


Reasons to abstain or vote against the Covenant

Reasons to abstain

  • If you think dealing with the Covenant in the first session of a new Synod is too soon with insufficient time for new Synod members to consider the issue
  • If you are unhappy about the Covenant but don't want to vote against the Archbishop of Canterbury 
  • If you think a Covenant is a good idea - only not this one

please abstain.

Reasons to vote against
I've set out far too many reasons against and I won't repeat them.  I'll just add:

  • Innovations should come to Synod with a financial statement, yet nothing official has ever been said about the costs of implementation.  So: how much will it cost?  Is this a sensible use of church money? And why is there no financial statement?  It would be wrong to vote for the Covenant without some idea.
  • The world - and relations between churches as much as anything else - is becoming increasingly complex. Trying to centralise decision making and simplify issues is understandable, but it won't meet the needs of the future church.
  • In fact the Covenant is retrospective. It is designed to bring an end to conflict over the place of homosexuals in the Church by expelling The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada from the decision making bodies of the Communion. But it won't change anyone's opinion, nor stop other churches taking comparable stances towards homosexuals as the North Americans. And homosexuality is a short-hand for for a much bigger war against social change that is not going to go away.  There is much of value in Sections 1-3 of the Covenant; Section 4 means the Covenant will be used to break down, not to build up.
  • The Windsor Report included 'subsidiarity' (that decisions should be made at the lowest appropriate level of an organization) amongst its concerns.  There are no such safeguards in the Covenant.
  • The Windsor Report (and the authors of Towards an Anglican Covenant subsequently) were concerned that the Covenant should be 'owned' by a sufficient majority of Anglicans and that adequate time should be given to enable this to happen.  Instead debate has been muted and largely confined to the most senior levels of Provincial and Communion-wide bodies.  Except for certain Provinces taking their own initiative, no effort has been made to engage the wider membership.  This is a bosses' Covenant from which members - those who pay - have been almost wholly excluded.
  • The Covenant is a Very Bad Idea.

Please vote against the Covenant

Links: Reasons to vote for/against the Covenant - Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday.

How much will the Covenant Cost ~ The legal fiction at the heart of the Covenant ~ The coup has already occurred ~ The architect's manifesto ~ A response to the briefing paper for General Synod (GS 966) pdf.

No Anglican Covenant: Anglicans for Comprehensive Unity


Reasons to vote for/against the Covenant - Sunday

Vote for the Covenant - Sunday
The Covenant will make Provinces properly accountable to one another and to the 'shared mind' of the Communion.
Vote against the Covenant - any day.

Accountability and agreement is at the heart of why a Covenant was proposed and what it is supposed to achieve.

Yet, once again, it all depends what you mean by 'accountability' (proposed Anglican Covenant clauses 2.2.1, 3.1.2, and 4.2.1) and by a 'shared mind' (3.2.4 and 4.2.4 which seems to use 'agreement' as a synonym).

The Covenant does not define either term.

'Accountability' generally entails having to report to another body or group which has some power to act against you if it disapproves of your actions. Thus politicians are nominally accountable to voters as, more pertinently, trustees are accountable to a charity's membership.

The Anglican church is an episcopal church - that is, its bishops govern unaccountably. It may be desirable to change this - but not as a side-effect of the Covenant.

The Covenant sets up duties, commitments and processes by which Provinces may give an account of their actions and decisions - and proposed actions - to other Provinces. (Going through the central switching station of the Anglican Communion Office.) Disapproval cannot be expressed positively - because that would breach each Provinces' jurisdictional autonomy. But it may be expressed negatively by asking - or telling - an offending Province to withdraw from aspects of the Communion's work or, ultimately, from the Communion itself.

A Communion presupposes voluntary mutual accountability. The Covenant wants to convert this into a contract with clauses that say that if a Province acts, or fails to act, in certain ways punitive action may follow.  

But, to harp on an old theme, accountability between autonomous bodies is a matter of choice - it will not be achieved by contract and threat.

A 'shared mind' is a critical idea which has run through all the drafts of the Covenant. Yet it has never been defined.

No draft has set out exactly how a 'shared mind' would be determined. Would a 50% plus 1 of the Standing Committee be sufficient (or fewer if it was just those at a particular meeting)? Or unanimity amongst the Primates? Or the Archbishop of Canterbury and the General Secretary of the Anglican Communion acting together? Would all parties be advised by lawyers?

And, more to the point, would any mechanism be accepted as sufficient by those who disagreed with whatever decision these bodies came to? Historical examples suggest they would not.

In fact a 'shared mind' is a will o' the wisp - it vanishes as soon as you try to grasp it. It does not depend on what people think, it depends on how exact you need the agreement to be. General words get general agreement; the more precise the words the fewer the people who will agree.

The whole rationale of the Covenant is that Anglicans have failed to find a 'shared mind', whatever it is. We share one faith and that faith divides us. So it is at best playing with words, and at worst a church politician's playground, to make the notion of a 'shared mind' the test of what shall be referred to the Standing Committee for further action (4.2.4).
  1. Accountability between autonomous bodies is a matter of voluntary mutual submission. To add sanctions, even the threat of possible negative sanctions, compromises the voluntary nature of the compact and will inevitably encroach on Provincial autonomy.
  2. To vote for the Covenant with key terms undefined is to grant a blank cheque to ecclesiastical bureaucrats and lawyers to write the rules as they see fit. You would not sign any other contract or agreement on this basis - please don't vote for this one.

Vote against the Covenant.


Reasons to vote for/against the Covenant - Saturday

Vote for the Covenant - Saturday
Vote for the Covenant to support the Archbishop of Canterbury
Oddly, this is the most frequently stated reason that I've heard for voting for the Covenant.  It seems to be said most often by people who aren't very happy with the Covenant themselves but think they ought to vote for it.

It's a very difficult stance to argue against.  I am all in favour of loyalty, respect, affection, regard.  It is also true that the sustained judgement of leaders in any organization should weigh heavily in any corporate decision making.  (Certainly more heavily than a bloggers'.)

But at the same time members of any governing body are there to exercise their own judgement, to weigh all the factors - evidence, judgement, loyalties, consequences - and to make a decision accordingly.

Vote against the Covenant - any day.
So - no arguments, just a request - please vote for the Covenant if you are convinced that, on the balance of probabilities, the Covenant will be good for the Communion.
Please vote against the Covenant if you are unhappy with it, worried about its implications or feel that there needs to be more time to consider it properly before it's brought to the Synod.
And, if you don't know, or if you are unhappy about the Covenant but do not wish to cast a vote against the Archbishop, please abstain

Vote against the Covenant.


Reasons to vote for/against the Covenant - Friday

Vote for the Covenant - Friday

There is no alternative to the Covenant. Or, the only alternative to the Covenant is further division and decay.
Vote against the Covenant - any day.
Well, No.
  1. There are always alternatives. The Jerusalem Declaration, for example, is making strong claims on conservatives as an alternative Covenant.
  2. Those who assert there is no alternative are, in effect, asking other people not to think any further.  In particular they are asking voters not to judge responsibly but to defer to those who know best.
  3. No evidence is ever offered to say how the present divisions would be worsened if there were no Covenant. Nor is any Province identified which would stay in Communion if there was to be a Covenant but would not stay if there was no Covenant.
The fact is that unity and disunity is a matter of will, not documents or structures.  There is a high probability that some Provinces will not sign the Covenant. Asking them to sign will in fact make explicit that they no longer wish to be full members of the Communion: schism triggered in the name of unity.

Of course, the leaders of the Communion have invested a lot of time and hope and political capital in the Covenant.  But that cannot be enough of a reason to agree to it.  If the deal is wrong, no matter how much it's cost, walk away.  It won't get any better.

Vote against the Covenant.


Reasons to vote for/against the Covenant - Thursday

Vote for the Covenant - Thursday
The Covenant will give the Standing Committee the powers it needs to govern the Communion.
OK, this is a cheat.  I've never heard anyone argue this.  It's just an excuse to set out some significant aspects of the implementation of the Covenant which I believe have not been part of the general discussion and which ought to be aired.

If the Covenant is agreed it will give the Standing Committee significant additional powers:


  • The power to 'monitor' events in the Communion (4.2.2).  This is not trivial - information is power.  It will have significant consequences:
  • Each province will appoint a link person (4.2.9 - I abbreviate somewhat).  They will have two key roles: (1) to warn the Standing Committee of issues in their own Province which might possible cause offence to others and (2) to communicate from the Standing Committee to each Province.  Incidentally, this is likely to sideline elected representatives on the Anglican Consultative Council.
  • Thus information will flow to and from the centre. No equivalent structure is proposed to ensure that information flows equally around the Communion from one Province to another. It will be quicker, easier, normal for a Province to communicate with all other Provinces through the centre.  
  • The link person (or office) in each Province will be very powerful, especially in smaller Provinces. They will either reinforce one location of power within a Province or become a significant new factor in its politics. Either way it will change the dynamics within the senior leadership of each Province.
  • Long before any public conflict arises, and no matter how punctilious the officers are, the link person will quickly be the route for informal influence from the centre on the internal affairs of a Province.

  • The power to instigate a further attempt to achieve agreement between disputing churches, seeking advice as appropriate (4.2.4).   This can only be to the good.
But, third, if a resolution has not been achieved it will have:

  • The power to 'request' a province to defer an action (4.2.5) 
  • The power to declare a Province's action or decision was 'incompatible with the Covenant' (4.2.6) and then
  • The power to 'recommend' to the Instruments of Communion or [not 'and'] the Churches of the Communion 'relational consequences' to follow a breakdown of communications and relationships (4.2.7).  
The Covenant would give all these powers directly to the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion. It will exercise them in its own right and not with authority given it by the Primates' Meeting or the ACC.  As Trustees of the Communion it must exercise its discretion in decision making and cannot be instructed by any other body.

With powers in its own right the Standing Committee will be a new Instrument of Communion in its own right.

And consider how this will work in practice: The Anglican Communion Office will sit at the centre of the web and deal with daily matters.  The General Secretary and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Therefore, as a consequence of the Covenant:

  • power will rapidly concentrate at the centre.
  • the budget of the ACO will have to rise significantly.
And consider what would happen if a new General Secretary and/or a new Archbishop of Canterbury were appointed and didn't work well together.  They could paralyse the Communion. 

Vote against the Covenant - any day.
These are fundamental changes to the structure and work of the Communion.  I judge they are changes for the worse.
I do not believe the Communion should be governed from a single international centre: I fear and suspect that the attempt to do so will store up ever bigger problems for the future.
Those who want the Covenant should set out clearly how it will be implemented and the changes it will entail.  Then it can be properly debated by an informed audience. To fail to do so is a significant failure of leadership.

 Vote against the Covenant.


Reasons to vote for/against the Covenant - Wednesday

Vote for the Covenant - Wednesday
The Covenant will engender unity in the Communion and enable a workable balance between provincial autonomy and mutual dependence.
Vote against the Covenant - any day.
 Well, it all depends what you mean by ...
It won't engender unity:
  1. It seems as though there will probably be a balkanisation of the Church.  
  2. Provinces which prefer the Jerusalem Declaration as a basis for co-operation are unlikely to sign the Covenant as well.
  3. Provinces which sponsored intrusion into the jurisdiction of The Episcopal Church in the US are unlikely to sign because (a) they could not sign a Covenant which TEC could also sign and (b) they have already seen action taken against the Southern Cone and recognise it could happen to them.
  4. Some Provinces (the United Churches of North and South India, probably Hong Kong and possibly others) cannot sign because of national laws which govern them. 
Thus some Churches will be members of the Anglican Consultative Council but not within the Covenant. Other bodies will sign the Covenant although not being members of the ACC (such as the Anglican Church in North America as part of its campaign to displace TEC as the Anglican Church in North America). A third group will be both in the ACC and have signed the Covenant.  And individual Churches in the first and second groups will remain in communion with individual Churches in the third group.

Relationships between member Churches, and between tiers or zones of membership, would always have been complex. The Covenant is a further and unnecessary layer of complication.

Instead of unity there is likely to be, at best, even greater unevenness of membership and participation. At worst, and at most probable, the push to sign the Covenant will be a trigger for some Provinces to declare formally that they are disuniting from the rest.

The balance of autonomy and interdependence
This is the heart of the matter and no-one knows the impact of the Covenant.
  1. The Covenant makes unequivocal affirmations of the jurisdictional autonomy of each signatory.
  2. But the Covenant also creates mechanisms which could lead to sanctions being applied to a Province on the recommendation of the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion.  
  3. The exercise of interdependence relies on goodwill, trust and mutual recognition. Where these are absent no document or organizational mechanism can ever be an adequate substitute.
In the end the balance between unity and disunity, autonomy and interdependence will be down to people - mostly the leaders of Provinces.  A Covenant might follow agreement, it cannot create it. Nor can a Covenant make agreement work where there is insufficient will for it.

Vote against the Covenant.


Reasons to vote for/against the Covenant - Tuesday

Vote for the Covenant - Tuesday
The Covenant will “make explicit and forceful the loyalty and bonds of affection” (Windsor Report) between Provinces. Order and discipline will be embraced throughout the Communion.
Vote against the Covenant - any day.
No. It won't: 
  1. Section 3 of the Covenant sets out commendable affirmations and commitments which summarise some of the ideals of co-operative work. 
  2. But 'force' and 'discipline' are terms directed at other people (people deemed not to be fully adult moral actors).  They don't apply to us.  So why would an autonomous Province (the CofE as much as any other) choose to subordinate itself to the will of an obdurate minority and the decisions of a 15-person Committee?
  3. In essence Section 4 puts a new frame around inter-Provincial politics: those with the biggest clout will continue to dominate international Anglicanism. If anything, the Covenant will only make them stronger.  Bonds of affection will be replaced by bonds of realpolitik.
  4. The Covenant is one step towards the Communion becoming a single body with a central government concerned with the vital areas of doctrine, worship, ethics and church order - a new order of ecclesiastical politics. 
And anyway, ought the Communion step in this direction?
  1. The Covenant will, in practice, replace bonds of affection by contractual bonds.
  2. Making these bonds 'forceful' denies the voluntary nature of the Communion and of each Church.  Voluntary membership should not imply signing a blank cheque on future decision making.
  3. Is control, order, discipline, centralisation the best - or even the only - thing we can do as faithful Christians?
And where will it stop? Already questions are being asked which show that those at the centre of the Communion know they cannot just deal with Provinces. To enforce their judgements they must also deal with what happens within Provinces, at least at Diocesan level.

At the very least there should time to discuss the principles and purposes behind the shape of the future church.  The Covenant will pre-empt that debate.

 Vote against the Covenant.


Reasons to vote for/against the Covenant - Monday

Vote for the Covenant - Monday
The Covenant will help reduce the chance of future conflicts, manage them when they do arise, and limit the damage they can do.
Vote against the Covenant - any day.
No. It won't: 
  1. The Covenant is meant to end the present conflict.  It was designed to do so by creating the formal capacity to expel The Episcopal Church in the US and the Anglican Church in Canada from the Communion altogether.  It was meant to end the war by building a bigger weapon.
  2. Therefore, if implemented, the Covenant can be used in the same way again against some other Church. It won't resolving a crisis or limit the damage. It will increase the chances of further splits.
  3. The Covenant mechanisms are actually likely to magnify disputes.  Because the ultimate decision will be made by the Standing Committee of the Communion (with advice from the ACC and the Primates' Meeting) the temptation for those convinced of someone else's error will be to take an issue to an international level as soon as possible.  If you make a weapon someone will use it.
  4. And, finally, fundamental disputes of the scale and depth of the one we are still going through will always overwhelm any structure that could be put in place.  
 Vote against the Covenant.

New blog and Facebook page

The No Anglican Covenant Campaign now has its own blog: Comprehensive Unity: No Anglican Covenant.

The new-born has very little to say this minute - but as it's a blog of bloggers it will be up, running and talking nineteen-to-the-dozen before you can say "Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion".

So set your RSS feeds and see ....

And Facebook, which already has a couple of No Covenant pages now has another - No Covenant in New Zealand.


Covenant comments

VOTERS on last week’s Question of the Week in the Church Times have overwhelmingly called for the Church of England to reject the Anglican Covenant. A total of 83 per cent of the 947 people who voted said that the Covenant should be rejected, while just 17 per cent voted in favour of it. The poll is not necessarily a representative sample of the Church of England.
Church Times 12 Nov 2010.  That's a lot more voters than usual: heartening, but not cake.

Check out the cartoon at an inch at a time; spot on.

Fr Jake has a important reminder and summary of the actions of the Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD).  From a British perspective they sound barmy - but their money and fanaticism mean they need to be taken seriously and seriously opposed.  Let us hope the General Convention take the resolution of the New York Diocese to heart.

Fred Swartz at Off-Topic Allowed comments from the experience of a parish discussing the covenant as encouraged by TEC.  They don't seem to be coming to blows but,
This covenant thingy is NOT of the Episcopal Church in the United States.  It comes from those outside who have already carved up some of the diocese here in the United States and would like nothing more than to carve up ALL the diocese of the Episcopal Church of the Untied States.  ....
So, the real issue for the covenant, or the reason for studying the covenant is to once again drive a wedge between those who know and understand the Anglican Communion and those who do not.  See, the folks out there know we still have not improved our education system and are gambling on our need to be obedient and study the Anglican Covenant.  The folks that do not understand are now given a chance to once again reconsider moving to the southern cone, or at a minimum the discussion is re-opening all those old wounds once again, not directly, not with intent to teach and study but rather as an oblique attempt to foment revolution.  So the folks in ACNA, AMiA, GAFCON/FCA and all the alphabet soup win one way or the other.
You may enjoy Giles Fraser' observations on 'creative disharmony' in the Church Times.  And it's well worth resurrecting his comments from the beginning of the year:
Giles Fraser
And no amount of Lambeth Palace spin is going to persuade me that, like the pre-nuptial agree­ment, this Covenant isn’t a way of arranging, in advance, the terms of some future divorce. The only people who are going to love this document are the lawyers.
So what is to be done? Maybe nothing. I can’t quite believe I think this, and it may be an expression of my utter despair at the seeming inevitability of the whole thing.
But if you shout “crisis” and “collapse” long enough, people will panic and welcome the imposition of martial law as if it were salvation itself. ....
So I have talked myself back from the edge. There must be no down hearted fatalism about the inevit ability of the Covenant. We must fight it on the beaches. . . 
It's NOT inevitable - TAAA.


What is the Covenant supposed to solve?

It will hardly come as a surprise to anyone reading this that I really don't like the Covenant.  More than that, I think it is profoundly misguided, a denial of so much that is precious in the Anglican tradition that we have inherited, and a pitiful response to the deep divisions of the Church.

There are always alternatives.
The most prominent alternative, the Jerusalem Declaration, will serve to bind together most conservative Evangelicals - at least while the enemy that threatens them (the values they see corrupting the western church and leading it out of the fold of Christians) is bigger than they are.

The great weakness of any confessional statement is that it must be either vague, so that large numbers can endorse it, or so exact that it convey the views of its authors' precisely, thus guaranteeing that relatively few people will sign up.  Hence the critique by Bishop John Rodgers in SPREAD that the Covenant is 'too weak for the orthodox and too strong for the revisionists'.

The normal way - these days, anyway, following western states' use of government by fear - is to sound the alarm.  The enemy is massing at the gates - defend the citadel!  Of course the enemy within is more dangerous than the enemy without so any confessional statement is simultaneously intended to unite and divide - a shibboleth by which to discriminate between people who would otherwise look just the same. (See: the fourth point of how to mount a coup).  Such statements last only as long as the threat is real.  Afterwards the statement is consigned to history and people get on as though it wasn't there apart, perhaps, from an occasional, formal, acknowledgement.  Or the statement is taken seriously, in which case people fight over the exact interpretation and take sides within its framework.  (The historical option - get sufficient agreement and use force to impose it on everyone else - is not really available to the Communion.)

Rodgers' choice of the Primates' Meeting, rather than the Standing Committee, as the implementing body has already been defeated.  And it now looks so divided as to be unable to take on this role if the task were thrust upon it.

But what problems is the Covenant supposed to solve (now, as opposed to when it was first conceived)?

First, the unity of the Communion.  Sadly, I think it's too late - and perhaps was always too late.  In fact it increasingly seems that pushing people to sign will be the last step in the de facto schism.  By going for a Covenant that was acceptable to a sufficient majority of the players in Global Anglicanism the Covenant Design Group has failed to bring enough of the Communion on board.

This is described as a civil war cannon and
 a toy that really works and is safe.
 The perfect illustration
Second, to provide the framework for future disputes.  Sadly the Covenant procedures will almost certainly only work for little disputes or issues exclusively between two parties. And they could probably be resolved in any framework.

Or they will work to exclude TEC and Canada - and then everyone will take fright because they could be next. They will move quickly to dismantle the Covenant - it will prove to have been a disastrous one-shell cannon.

The Covenant framework will not be adequate to any significant dispute.  It's back-to-front: what happens is that administrative structures & agreements work because people agree to make them work.  In normal times conflicts flow through, and are contained by, the channels of the pre-existing system: people and systems are in continual dialogue.  In abnormal (though not uncommon) times disputes overflow the system and leave it in pieces.  Then people coming together, pick up the pieces and rebuild. The cycle starts over again: systems cannot be imposed without assent.

Third: as one more step in a long-term programme to reform the Communion by centralising and reducing the differences between provinces.  This goal might well be met, in part at least, by the process to arrive at a Covenant as much as by the document itself.  In the course of debate, it seems to me, the previously normative idea that the Communion was a federal structure with central consultative bodies seems to have been replaced by the normative idea that the Communion is a single entity whose centre needs to be strengthened because its component parts are too fissiparous.

Some possible alternatives
First, the diverging Communion.  Reality-defying projects have their place and can create wonderful things.  But often they just crash.  I would now go for recognising the reality of division and seek to keep as many people as linked together as possible by multiple informal networks - of liturgists, historians, mothers' union, mission societies, even train-spotters - to keep communication channels open despite formal division.  I would try to keep as many parish-parish, diocese-diocese, mission society links as strong as possible for as long as possible. I would offer small no-strings grants to foster them.  I would encourage them to publicise their work.  But I would not try to control them. When the dust settles we will need those continuing friendships and conversations to build the new Anglicanism.

Second: conflict resolution.  Perhaps the task is to rebuild the communion from the base up - and on the presuppositions that it is a voluntary association, that all are faithful followers of Christ, that each member will offer hospitality to any other - no matter how alien the expression of faith may seem.

I would also offer skilled, experienced people who can lead non-binding arbitration to help resolve small disputes and those between two-parties.  In other words, to encourage Christians not to go to court, but to come to a resolution between themselves: a resolution they are responsible for (i.e. not determined by some other body).  Non-binding arbitration gives people choices without sanctions.

Third: I would strengthen the links between provinces and the central bodies of the Communion and also the direct links between provinces (the formal expression of the informal networks in my first point).  I would stress that the role of the central bodies is to facilitate and broker relationships, to provide financial, technical and educative aid.  There is no lack of energy and initiative in the provinces, dioceses and parishes: let the centre support the exchange of information and wisdom such that the whole Communion benefits.

Location-specific networks?
But, to be fair, this is a western, IT-informed vision.  I'm not sure that it'll sell in Nigeria or Burma or Japan.  I'm not sure it will work well in areas of Africa with minimal and expensive internet access.

I can see too that it rests on a presumption of people's inherent goodness.  It will certainly have to be tough enough to cope with human evil but the primary safeguard is that networks and arbitration are voluntary: anyone can walk away without ceasing to be part of the wider church.

If it is to work it will have to be fundamentally people-focused. Technology should be secondary and appropriate to the people involved: mobile phones in central Africa, super-fast broadband in New York and Tokyo and old-fashioned pen and paper anywhere.

To be people-focused is also to take into account the disparity of wealth and poverty. Networks should be fostered in ways that will enable people to live out their faith in shared ways, not burden them with costs and duties that distract from the primary tasks of discipleship.

I dare say my vision will be nonsense to many but, on the other hand, I can see how very, very few are enthused by the Covenant.