Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Read it and weep

There has been a plea from The Anglican Communion website to look at what the Covenant really says before judging it. Well, that seems fair enough, except that I have read the text of the Covenant several times and have come to the conclusion that there is no knowing just what the Covenant really says - or at least what it will really do - until we see the damned thing in action. I didn't think anything could actually make me more uncertain or dubious, but I was wrong, this peculiar missive actually did.
First of all the director of unity, faith and order tells us that the Standing Committee is "not new" and then helpfully explains that it would have,

"no power other than proposing to the Instruments of Communion (the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meeting) steps to be taken to encourage discussion and discernment about disputed questions among the Provinces, or, if processes of mediation have broken down, what the relational consequences might be."

Oh well, that's all right then... no power at all really -and we have still no idea what the "steps to be taken" or "relational consequences" might be...

We are then told that,
" The Covenant explicitly says in section (4.1.3): “Such mutual commitment does not represent submission to any external ecclesiastical jurisdiction."
and this, of course, should be noted. The Covenant does not alter the Canons or existing laws of any church, it might however curb their powers to pass new legislation or make changes, particularly if this legislation just happened - as a completely random example - to relate to the ordination of gay priests or the blessing of same sex relationships.

It continues ,
"The assertion is often made that the ordination of women could not have occurred if the Covenant were in place. It is not at all clear that this would have been the case."

No, it's not at all clear that this would have been the case. Neither is it at all clear that it wouldn't have been the case. In fact, let's just say its not at all clear what effect it would have had in the past and thus it is not at all clear what effect it would have in the future. Or to simplify matters, let's just say - "it is not at all clear."

It continues with its - er- faultless logic,

"The consultative processes of the Anglican Communion actually resulted in the discernment that this was an issue about which Anglicans were free to differ. That is exactly the kind of discernment that is needed when any new matter emerges:"

Well, if the consultative processes actually resulted in the correct discernment on the issue of women's ordination - why not use those same processes again? Why use something that may or may not have hindered this process?

Section 2 of the Covenant clearly speaks of the need for a "shared mind". The director of unity, faith and order speaks of the Covenant's ability to bring about "discernment of (an) issue on which we are free to differ." You know when people say "we'll have to agree to differ?" Well, now it will be -"Ah no, you can't agree to differ until I agree that you can agree to differ." Well, that sounds like a recipe for harmony to me!

Does all this reassure you? Because it sure as heck didn't reassure me!

If it had confidently said, "the Covenant would not have held back the dignities and rights of women in the Church", I might have been reassured. If it had said, "this Covenant will not hold back the dignities and rights of gay people within the Church", I might have been reassured.

Because, boys and girls, that is what it is all really about.

Gay people have been marginalised, despised, derided, condemned, driven to suicide and worse for centuries. The Church has played a part in that role, and continues to do so. Some people would like that status quo to continue.

So, read the document now, ask yourself what it really says - and weep.


  1. Thank you for explaining it so clearly. I fully don't understand it now.

  2. They don't want you to understand what it really says, Canon Sugden. So at least now you understand that you're not supposed to understand.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. You also now know that you're not meant to disagree, or agree to disagree until I agree that you can agree to disagree.This is true no matter how strongly you disagree with me not agreeing to you agreeing to disagree. Is that agreed?

  5. And if you don't agree to agree to disagree then we disagree about agreement as well as about disagreement and find ourselves frozen in the muddle... middle.

  6. The "agree to disagree only if we agree it" is insidious. If you discuss it long enough every possibly issue becomes a First Order Issue on which Christians are not allowed to have different views.

  7. Hi Suem, it's been a while since I posted here but I do read your blog every day. I too have reread the Covenant document but unlike yourself I can see its benefits. If you will permit me I'd like to use an analogy from my own experience to illustrate why.

    I work in a fire brigade that has 27 separate fire stations. They are all very different and provide fire cover for a diversity of localities, some rural, others urban. Each station is run differently by very different people, men and women with different outlooks and with different backgrounds. But they all have one common goal - to save life and protect property.

    Now to acheive that there must be some way of getting all the fire stations to work together and to co-operate with each other. If there wasn't it would be chaos, especially for those large incidents which involve many fire engines from different stations. To acheive a cohesive working relationship there has to be an overarching brigade policy, a set of procedures and policies that applies to everyone. Everyone is then singing off the same hymn sheet, if you like.

    Relational consequences? What if one station decides that it no longer wants to attend car accidents, for example. Does the brigade as a whole accept that, perhaps sending another station whenever one occurs? Of course not. Each station is accountable to the brigade as a whole, or else the brigade can't function as a brigade. There must be an agreed process of bringing the maverick station back into line with the rest of the brigade.

    So perhaps the Anglican Covenant can function like a brigade-wide (communion-wide) policy that keeps all the stations (churches) working together for the good of all.

    Does this help?


  8. Andy
    In your fire station analogy there are real consequences for the others if one refuses to attend car accidents.

    In the Anglican Communion there are absolutely no consequences for Nigeria if TEC consecrates someone like Gene Robinson.

    There is no reason at all for the Communion to start imposing its own ideas on the others simply because it doesn't like one particular part of diversity.

  9. It's so sad that Christians resort to documents and rules and laws and things. I shouldn't really comment on the Anglican Covenant, but I can accuse my own CofS for the same type of thing. And meanwhile the outside world laughs at the struggles and in-fighting. Thanks for explaining things the way that you have.

  10. Hi Andy,
    I don’t find the analogy helps.

    If I were convinced that the Covenant would involve us working together for the “good of ALL”, then I would be in favour. I think it has been set up to appease those who want Rowan Williams to discipline TEC and that it will create a climate of fear and stagnation. You can’t force the Church of Uganda and TEC to “sing from the same hymn sheet” about the way gay people should be treated within their society and within their churches because they do believe such radically different things.

    Erika is right to say that TEC's actions are not a matter of life and death in the way that the action of refusing to attend a car crash would be. However, for LGBT people in places like Nigeria and Uganda the attitude of the church can place them in life and death situations, leaving them vulnerable to verbal, emotional sexual and physical abuse, some of it of the most extreme kind.

  11. Hi Freda,
    If I remember rightly the Church of Scotland imposed an embargo on the ordination of openly gay priests, or discussion around this, for two years (am I right there?) That must be at least a year ago now, it will be interesting to see what happens.

  12. 'I don’t find the analogy helps.'



  13. Hi Andy,
    No need to apologise.
    I don't think I made an analogy, did I?

  14. For the benefit of everyone who reads this:

    1. I've been blogging on and have read most of the articles about the Covenant pretty much since it was first mooted. Click on the "Anglican Covenant" link at the bottom of the post.
    2. I've made up my mind about it and am unlikely to change it - not because I am blinkered but because I've thought through the issues already. I tend to be tenacious once having decided what I think, and I will argue my point "like a terrier" as my husband says, but I accord people the right to their opinions too.
    3. I am unsure what effect the Covenant will have. Its effects could be far reaching, they could be innocuous.
    4. I don't believe the Covenant would ever have been suggested if not for the gay issue reaching crisis point given TEC's actions.
    5. I don't think it is healthy to have a "covenant" which has arisen just out of this single issue - (and by and large it has.)
    6. My primary aim is not to "explain" or help you understand the Covenant on this blog. I wouldn't patronise you - I am sure you can all work it out for yourselves! I am more expressing an opinion. In this post it is a response about someone else comments on the Covenant.

    I value all comments as long as they are not abusive or a personal attack.