THE BISHOP of Durham, Dr Tom Wright, has dismissed the “covenant” presented by a group of conservative Evangelical leaders to the Archbishop of Canterbury last week (News, 15 December) as “a slipshod piece of work”.
Writing on the Fulcrum website, Dr Wright described it as a “covenant with chaos”. He accused its authors of saying: “We want to run the Church of England in our own way, and we’re going to throw the crockery around the room until we’re allowed to do so.”
He criticised the “Covenant for the Church of England” as weak in thinking and ecclesiology. Speaking as an Evangelical, he called it “a cynical stab in the side from people I thought were friends and allies — and who, when it suits them, have tried to invoke me as such in return”.
The document was drafted by the Revd David Banting, chairman of Reform; the Revd John Coles, director of New Wine Networks; the Revd Paul Perkin, Vicar of St Mark’s Battersea Rise; the Revd David Phillips, director of Church Society; the Revd Vaughan Roberts, Rector of St Ebbe’s, Oxford; the Revd William Taylor, Rector of St Helen’s, Bishopsgate; the Revd Dr Richard Turnbull, chairman of the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC), and the Revd Dr Simon Vibert, chairman of the fellowship of Word and Spirit. Canon Chris Sugden of Anglican Mainstream and Mr Perkin have acted as spokesmen for the group.
A large swath of Evangelical opinion had clearly not been consulted, said Dr Wright (see below). “It has been put to me that what the document is doing is to signal support and affirmation to those parishes that feel themselves under attack by unsympathetic bishops. But if that was the aim, it’s odd that the document makes no reference to it.” The covenant was aggressive, not defensive.
In a detailed analysis of the document, he criticised the timing in the light of the ongoing Windsor and associated Covenant process and the next Primates’ Meeting and Lambeth Conference. “It is time for standing firm on the high theological and ecclesial ground of the Windsor report, and not for posturing and throwing toys out of the cot,” he said.
Dr Wright described as “bizarre” and “muddled ecclesiology” the description of the proposals as “a covenant”, since, he said, it neither mentioned nor bore any relation to the likely form or content of the Covenant envisaged by Windsor. There was little “covenantal” about it, he said. Rather, the document was “a political position-statement, a sabre-rattling call to arms, a half promise and a not-quite-veiled threat”.
With regard to threatened actions over mission, appointments, fellowship, money, and oversight, Dr Wright charged the group with having nothing creative to say about mission at all. A claim to be “working within the framework of Mission-shaped Church” was, in this context, a way of saying: “We intend to plant churches wherever we like and claim that they are Anglican.”
The “real shocker”, however, was what the covenant said about appointments: “a breathtaking statement of congregationalism”. Authorisation of new leaders was not part of any recognisable Anglican polity.
Dr Wright dismissed the document’s section on fellowship as “a further clear statement of secessionist intent”. Its declaration that “We can no longer associate with teaching . . . contrary to . . . scripture . . . or church leadership which advocates such teaching” could be translated, he said, as, “neighbouring Anglicans who believe that it’s OK for a woman to lead a Bible study with men in the group”.
On the matter of oversight, he charges the authors with having no understanding of what being “in communion” with a bishop meant, let alone “impaired communion”.
“I don’t recall anyone in the classical Evangelicalism of even 20 years ago ever using such phrases, though goodness knows there were dodgy bishops around here and there, more so in fact than now.”
The document, he concluded, “will polarise opinion in deeply unhelpful ways, leaving many in the Church to suppose that ‘all Evangelicals’ think like this”.