Evangelicals object to ‘hijacking’

19 December 2006

by Pat Ashworth

THERE WAS mounting anger this week over claims by the authors of the covenant document to be speaking for the whole of their networks. This was especially true of the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC), which embraces all shades of Evangelicalism, and describes itself as the “authentic Evangelical voice for the Church and nation”.

This week Anglican Mainstream published a list of those who had signed the covenant. It numbered just 32 — 30 men and two women.

An announcement by the CEEC that its president, the Bishop of Lewes, the Rt Revd Wallace Benn, and its chairman, the Revd Dr Richard Turnbull, had given the document their support after a recent residential meeting has provoked strong criticism from members, not least from the Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent. The Bishop said last week that he had not been consulted, and is reported to have written to all CEEC members and Evangelical bishops to express his anger.

A statement from Dr Turnbull, principal of Wycliffe Hall, in Oxford, said consultation with “all parties concerned” had been thorough and transparent.

But Bishop Broadbent dismissed the group’s action last week as premature. “As I understand it, we’re not at a stage where Evangelical Anglicans in this country need to be worrying about the sorts of things that are happening in America. There’s a genuine problem in America. We know that. It’s being addressed.”

The Bishop of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, would give only what he described as a holding statement, mindful of the Windsor process. The covenant indicated “the strength of feeling about issues of faith from the wider perspective of biblical faithfulness”, he said.

A statement from Fulcrum, an open Evangelical forum, said that the provenance, process, and representative authority of the covenant were contested issues. The group objected to the “hijacking and denuding” of the word covenant to “decorate a restrictive declaration”; believed it bypassed rather than contributed to the real Anglican Covenant; pointed out that it was not on the agenda nor among the papers of recent CEEC meetings; and described its underlying ecclesiology as “theologically flawed and strategically weak”.

This is not the first time that open and Charismatic Evangelicals have objected to being roped into something without their assent. Their protests at a conservative agenda for the National Evangelical Anglican Congress in 2003 (NEAC4) prompted last-minute changes.

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