Friday, 18 December 2009

Our common bonds

I had resolved, in the spirit of Christmas, not to blog on anything controversial, upsetting or demoralising, at least until the end of December, then I saw that the proposed draft of the Anglican Covenant had been published. Couldn’t they have kept it for January when we’re all depressed anyway, was the first thought that came to mind!

I’ve had a quick read through and, no, it isn’t auspicious. Rowan Williams has written an accompanying commendation (now above) in which he tells us that this document is “not going to solve all our problems” ( don’t say...) but hopes that it may provide a practical, sensible and Christian way of dealing with our conflicts ( I very much doubt it.)

I am not an expert on this matter, and it will be interesting to see the reactions and commentaries from those in the know ; for what it is worth, I personally suspect that this document will please nobody. Liberals will find it too confining and conservatives may feel it lacks disciplinary force – although those with enough wit may recognise that it goes as far down this road as is possible.

The first two sections are couched in very general terms, unfortunately within those generalisations there is plenty of scope for disagreement. Section 2.2.2, for example, commits each church to,
“ bring all to repentance and faith ”while not addressing the fact that some will call for repentance from liberal beliefs and “lifestyles” and some for repentance from homophobia and injustice.

Section three really begins the squeeze upon liberals and TEC in particular, committing all to “ seek a shared mind with other churches” and by (3.2.5)
“ to act with caution in respect of any action which may provoke controversy..or threaten the unity of the Communion”and ( 3.2.6) “in situations of conflict, to participate in mediated conversations...agreed parameters and a willingness to see such processes through.”This emphasis on not acting until there is a “shared mind” will not be acceptable to TEC, they are simply are not prepared to wait until places such as Uganda and Nigeria have reached the same understanding of human rights and dignity of LGBT people.
It is in Section four, of course, that the pressure to conform and the consequences of not acting in the light of shared discernment are outlined.There will be a Standing Committee and if anyone doesn’t do as it says they will be kicked out of the Covenant, or as the document more gracefully puts it,
(4.2.5) The Standing Committee may request a church to defer a controversial action. If a church declines ... the Standing Committee may recommend to any Instrument of Communion relational consequences which may specify... a suspension from that Instrument until the completion of the process set out below.”
There have been calls from conservatives for Section four to offer “discipline” and sanctions. It does not “discipline” as such but it is a charter to exclude and ostracise - is that really what a covenant should ultimately be about?

I do not think TEC will sign and as such Rowan’s two track Communion will be established. There will be first and second class members, the approved and “righteous” at the centre and the “sinful” , the transgressors, pushed to the margins. So much for the role of the Church in bringing about the Kingdom of God on Earth!


  1. “ seek a shared mind with other churches” - I'm not sure this is actually biblical. Jesus tells us we will be known by our love for one another, and prays for our unity. Love between people who think the same about everything isn't remarkable and certainly won't make the world sit up and take notice. Unity is about a common focus - on the love of Christ - rather than agreement on other issues. It's unity despite disagreements and differences which will make people say, 'See how these Christians love one another!'

    “ to act with caution in respect of any action which may provoke controversy...or threaten the unity of the Communion”. This sounds remarkably unlike Jesus (cleansing the Temple, telling people to eat his body...) or like Paul (this man who turned the whole world upside down is coming here). Let alone like Jeremiah, Isaiah, Amos, Daniel, Hosea, Jonah...). Is there any room for the prophetic in this Communion?

    Very Iffy Vicar

  2. Well quite! What would have happened if Jesus had signed a contract ( it annoys me to hear it called a covenant) promising to "act with caution in respect of any action which may provoke controversy." Of course, we know that he sought the approval of the religious authorities before he said or did anything!

    You are right that any agreement should be that we agree to differ and still work to talk and listen respectfully to each other and to genuinely love and value each other. It is not about that though, it is about one part of the Communion being penalised and condemned and the rest facing stagnation and the inability to progress over these issues as well.

    I can see us going the way of the RC Church, where there is deep hypocrisy and the "official line" bears no resemblance to what actually happens on the ground (well, we are there already.)

  3. Not only is this Covenant not biblicaL, it also goes against the traditions cherished in Anglicansim of breath and the toleration of different perspectives.

    One reason we are not allied corporately like the Roman Catholic Church, is that Provinces of the Anglican Communion cherish their respective understandings of their different social and cultural contexts, which enable each to pursue their vision of the Gospel imperatives in situ. Africa has different cultural and social needs from those in the Western world.

    We can never attain this "shared mind" and whatever this Covenant is, it is not Anglican!

  4. We've been there for years. Since I was a curate in the 80's the usual advice has been 'tell, don't ask'. If you ask a bishop he'll have to give the official line, if you let him know (preferably indirectly) you can say you've fulfilled your vow of obedience to the bishop and he can say he's given no advice contrary to canon law. I implemented this policy for years when taking experimental services by mentioning them in my annual report to the bishop, and assuming his lack of a prohibition meant consent. Therefore my vow of obedience to the bishop cancelled out my vow to take 'only those services authorised by canon', and I could go ahead for another year.
    I'm really unhappy with this kind of casuistry which explains why I've never been promoted!

    Iffy Vicar

  5. I understand that we've been there for years, many people have told me and I've seen it in action.
    I would like to see a more honest and open Church but I see moves in the opposite direction towards greater deceit and hypocrisy, if that is possible. I think it is wrong, dishonest and even rather immature, I think those with integrity ( as you've pointed out) are often the ones who pay a price.

  6. Of course there may be other factors in my lack of advancement, like my knack for saying things like, 'I like my tea strong like my men and my beer'.....

    Iffy Vicar

  7. I think not, I have heard many express similar sentiments and most of them are now bishops, it must be something else.

  8. Thanks for your thoughts - which are not dissimilar to my own:

  9. Thanks! I've read your blog and posted there. Nice to see a New Zealand perspective on things. I thought your comments on the revisions to Section four were interesting. I've also read Peter Carrel on the subject and can't decide whether to do a blog on it myself ( so near to Christmas now for such serious stuff!)