Wednesday 7 March 2012

A self-defeating Covenant

One thing is for sure - among Anglicans, views on The Anglican Covenant are very divided.
For example, I live in an area of Salisbury diocese where our local Bishop, Graham Kings, is vociferously in favour of the Covenant.  He has devoted much time and effort in writing, speaking and arguing for it - yet in this same diocese our new Diocesan Bishop voted against the Covenant in Diocesan Synod, as did Graham Kings predecessor, Bishop Tim Thornton in his diocese of Truro.

Around the world, some in the Anglican Communion are saying they won't adopt it because it is too restrictive - others are rejecting it because it's too loose!  So far, 8 provinces of the Communion are in the process of ratifying the Covenant, whereas 9 appear to be moving towards rejection (not counting the CofE).
Even global neighbours see the Covenant in very different ways.  The Province of South East Asia has 'acceded' to the covenant but wants to make it stronger while the The Episcopal Church in the Philippines has rejected it 'saying the proposal to centralise authority in London was an “un-Anglican” attempt to “lord it over” the Communion’s national provinces'.

So how can the Covenant possibly succeed?  If a framework that was designed to foster unity in the Anglican Communion is itself the cause of such division, what hope can there be that its aspirations will be realised?
In the Church of England, our dioceses are divided with 10 dioceses having voted in favour and 17 voting against (updated 11th March).  All this fatally undermines the ideals which were the motivation behind this Covenant - the desire to promote unity, not division.

Some, like Bishop Graham Kings have tried to portray it as a marriage, while others have said it sounds more like a pre-nuptial agreement between partners whose relationship is already in trouble, even before the wedding.  Still others have likened it to a shot-gun wedding motivated more by the fear than loving commitment.
Canon Richard Franklin, in the General Synod debate of 2010 said,

"A troubling expression that has been used to describe the purpose of the Covenant is that it is ‘to make explicit and forceful’ the loyalty and bonds of affection which govern the relationships between the Churches of the Anglican Communion; but communion is not something that can be forced by human means."
At the end of the day, the Anglican Covenant has shot itself in the foot.  Even if somehow the Church of England and others adopted it, it would simply leave the Communion limping along nursing its wounds and looking for someone to blame.   The divisions which it has engendered make it precisely the wrong solution to the problems facing the Anglican Communion.

As the Bishop of Lincoln said in General Synod,
"I therefore leave you, Madam Chair, with the wise words of the American philosopher H.L. Mencken, with which you may be familiar.

‘For every difficult and complex problem there is a solution which is simple, straightforward and wrong.’

As an answer to a difficult and complex problem, this Covenant is simple, straightforward and, I still believe, probably wrong.

There is too much religion in the world and not enough faith, and I think this Covenant seems to be more about factory-farm religion than free-range faith."

With 17 more dioceses still to vote, it is time to gently and humanely put the Covenant down, thanking those whose intentions have been to strengthen our Communion, but recognising that it is already more dead than alive.

It is a self-defeating Covenant.


  1. It is a self-defeating Covenant.

    I fervently hope so. The supporters of the Anglican Covenant are selling a pig in a poke.

    I commend you for an excellent post and links.

  2. Lavender Buckland7 March 2012 at 22:22

    It is certainly causing divisions: Bishops voting 'against' senior Bishops does seem uncomfortable.
    CofE is essentially faith, compassion, and acceptance - to introduce rules and restrictions is so absolutely NOT what we should be about.