Saturday, 2 January 2010

Anglican Covenant and a theology of unity

A number of early responses to the Anglican Covenant have been published, some positive, others less so. The Fulcrum website has two perspectives, one by Graham Kings, the other by Dr Josiah Idowu Fearon (Nigeria), Kings feels the working party has achieved its aim “admirably” and is “ to be commended” but has also commented that,
“In the light of recent developments, it may be that not all Provinces will enter the Covenant. Tragically, that may be appropriate.”

Dr Josiah Idowu Fearon
claims that section 4.2.8 is already “operational” in the Church of Nigeria, he explains that,
“polygamists and the divorced are not officially accepted as leaders at any level and not even allowed Holy Communion. In addition, all women who are not willing to accept the discipline of this Church in holy matrimony cannot be members of the Mothers’ Union.” I don’t know how Idowu Fearon makes the cognitive leap from the wording of (4.2.8) to the exclusion of divorcees and errant women and it does worryingly suggest that the very general wording of the Covenant might well be used to justify all sorts of practices within particular regions and that it may be used to support condemnation and rejection.

Another conservative commentator, Peter Carrell, of the Living Church, rather movingly writes,
One challenge of the Covenant, then, is whether we are committed to a theology of unity in our Communion. Such a theology, drawn from Ephesians and the Gospel of John, calls us to speak the truth in love and to love one another in truth. It offers no easy recourse either to dismiss unity in the name of “truth” or to suppress commitment to truth in the name of “unity.” But a theology of unity, faithful to Christ and the Spirit, provokes us with searching questions. If we claim to know the truth, are we willing to submit that claim to the whole body of Christ for judgment? If we claim to live in unity, is it on the basis of truth we believe together? Are we making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace? Should that effort include commitment to signing the Covenant?”

Ephesians undoubtedly does speak of unity within the body of Christ, but 1 Corinthians also speaks of unity in diversity, where the body is made up of many different parts, the weaker parts are to be given particular honour and no part can say to another that it is indispensible or dishonourable. Perhaps there is a lesson in this for our communion, if it is truly to live in unity?

Along with various publications, the blogosphere has, of course, spoken. Tobias Haller also draws on New Testament parallels,
“With the capacity for intramural carping and critique a highlight of its discipline, [the Covenant] could become a modern version of the perverse "communion" Paul condemned in Galatians 5:15 — "If you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another."

The response of some members of the ACNA has been to bite and devour. The Rev. Matt Kennedy describes the Covenant as a “sub-Christian” document and does not shrink from denouncing TEC in language which he presumably feels would make for a Christian document. He describes TEC as, “a gangrenous infection”, using a metaphor that suggests that this part of the body is not to be treated with honour but to be seen as worse than worthless. He says TEC is “grossly heretical “, sick and twisted”, “a beast” and an “out of the closet, full speed ahead, no holds barred advocate for sexual perversion.” This may be the Reverend Kennedy’s “truth” but it is not mine and nor would I feel confident about “submitting” my truth to Kennedy, or those who hold similar views, for “judgement”, or to Henry Orombi, Archbishop of Uganda, who has described gay people as drug addicts, people who could “kill anyone” , akin to “cockroaches” and paedophiles.

I have said before that I do not believe that the rift in Anglicanism is in any way akin to the reformation which split the Church in the 16th century, nevertheless Kennedy’s language did bring to mind the invective found in the exchanges between Luther and Sir Thomas More. I kept expecting at any moment to find phrases such as More’s, “the shit pool of all shit” to describe TEC.

Thinking of the reformation and the establishment of the Church of England made me breathe a prayer that we will not lose, over these issues, the tolerance, breadth and generosity that marked the birth of Anglicanism - this is the theology of unity that I long for.

Fred Hiltz in his New Year’s address has touched upon the Covenant and the potential this document has not to heal but to deepen wounds. He says that,
“the language of relational consequences is deeply disturbing, given that our relationships with the Anglican Communion are and never should be fixed on one issue only.”
It is the rest of what he says that is so very interesting,

I maintain that in the midst of our differences over sexuality we are called to with difference and do so with grace. It is precisely a lack of graciousness that has fired tempers and sparked words of condemnation and dismissal that have been so destructive to relationships within the Communion. I pray that our attitudes and conversations with one another be more and more centered in Him in whom, beyond our understanding, we are forever one.
Hiltz also offers here a "theology of unity". If the Communion is prepared to exclude over a "single issue" , then it is the rest of the Anglican Communion who show a lack of grace, who cannot live in unity but must bite and devour. There is also a suggestion (one I agree with) that if Christians were more focused on Christ we would be more able to live with one another in grace.

The ACoC may well sign the Covenant – even if this leads to their exclusion – signing would put the onus on the rest of the Communion to either live with difference or to act in ways which may well seem to the world at large to be unloving, even unchristian.

Graham Kings feels the working party has achieved its aims – and that may well be. I would advise anyone to hold their peace a little longer before they claim that the Covenant itself will achieve anything, given our capacity to create discord and unity with or without its aid.


  1. Praise the Lord Matt Kennedy isn't in the Church of England! He left TEC and became a 'Church of Kenya' minister, picking the bits of the Bible that suit him. Why are "conservatives" who 'uphold the faith' so horrible and intemperate? As for divorced members of the Mothers' Union: some of them make lovely chocolate cakes

    Rev Ivan Akeroff

  2. I know Matt Kennedy isn't a member of the Church of England - but isn't he a member of the ACNA ( which is what my post says?) I thought many members of the ACNA have been offered diocese in Africa, because parts of Africa "recognise" the ACNA?

    Of course the ACNA is a self styled "Anglican" church but they are hoping for recognition by Canterbury. At synod in July there was a question asking for a response to the creation of ACNA and I believe there was a motion going round to have it formally recognised in February's synod?

    I might be wrong on any of the above though, do correct me if I am.

    I was quite amused by the idea that women who "cannot accept the discipline of the Church in holy Matrimony" are excluded from THE MOTHER'S UNION. What a terrible price to pay!!!That'll deter a few hussies from living over the broom:)

    I lost your first comment by the way and had to re- enter it under anon - sorry!

  3. Mouse cannot help feeling that differences of this kind get overtaken very quickly when real practical action begins. When local churches work together across denominations on local projects (e.g. homeless shelters, youth clubs, etc) it soon becomes the case that people forget which church the various volunteers come from, and simply form views on people for who they are and how they behave. I do hope that we can get to this point before we tear ourselves apart. The division makes absolutely no sense to me.

  4. Perhaps if we could all form views on people for " who they are and how they behave" - rather than our prejudices we wouldn't be in this mess? I also hope we can get to this point before we tear ourselves apart.

    What does worry me is that so many people lay ( and some clergy) within the Church have no idea that Anglicanism may be moving in an increasingly conservative and dishonest direction. I think the Covenant will have little effect on the average member of an Anglican church but I think it will impede the progress of LGBT rights across the Communion by deterring people from exercising their ministries and that it will impact negatively on the pastoral care of LGBT people ( which is already dire.)