Covenant would not be Anglican, says Selby

09 October 2009

By Simon Sarmiento

Drafters: Dr Williams with the Covenant Design Group at their meeting in January 2008 ACNS/ROSENTHAL

Drafters: Dr Williams with the Covenant Design Group at their meeting in January 2008 ACNS/ROSENTHAL


BASING full membership of the Anglican Communion on compliance with the text of a covenant may send unintended messages about exclusion, Dr Peter Selby, the former Bishop of Worcester, said this week.

Speaking at the Inclusive Church conference, Dr Selby offered a detailed critique of Communion, Covenant, and our Anglican Future, the statement issued by Dr Rowan Williams after the recent General Convention of the Episcopal Church in the United States. (News, 31 July,)

Dr Selby said that both of the main arguments made in the Archbishop’s paper had a two-edged character. The requirement that, in order to be recognisable, Anglicans needed patterns and convictions such as those proposed in the Anglican Covenant, raised the fundamental biblical question “recognisable to whom?” Being recognisable to “the least of the brothers and sisters” (Matthew 25) mattered at least as much as being recognisable to other provinces, Dr Selby contended.

“The bullying, the threats, the withdrawal of communion, the unilateral invasions of others’ territories, have made Anglicanism quite unrecognisable to a significant number of people,” he said. Moreover, the history of Anglicanism did not support the way of sanctioning developments proposed in the Covenant draft.

“When the C of E changed its practice [on divorce and remarriage], we did not wait to decide the principle until we had consulted with other provinces; we did not await ecumenical consensus.”

The same two-edged character applies, he went on, to the making of appointments. “If the Church must avoid incongruity, what is to be said about representative rejections? There is no doubt that the decision not to allow the appointment of a gay person as a bishop is seen also as a representative action, giving a message far wider than one about the admissibility of a particular individual.”

Dr Selby said that Dr Williams had abandoned “any attempt to help us think freshly about sexuality, in the way that he assists us remarkably to think freshly about . . . an incredibly wide range of other issues. When it comes to sexuality, he has taken on an exclusive concern with finding ecclesio-political solutions to the current panic.”


Speaking about what actions ought to be taken by those who opposed the idea of a two-track communion, Dr Selby said: “We shall also need to undermine the certainty with which some speak of a settled position within Anglicanism by making it clear that, whatever resolutions are passed or Covenants signed, the CofE is in fact divided on sexuality, and those who do not accept the ‘official’ position are determined to be included within it.

“Otherwise we shall be accepting what we all know is an illusion: the picture of a House of Bishops that speaks honestly of these things . . . and is united on the question.”

Ecumenical partners would have to be notified that “an Anglican representation that excludes those who have come to different conclusions about sexuality is not fully Anglican,” he said.

Dr Selby concluded: “Our reason for so insisting is not primarily that, for all its struggles, we still see the Episcopal Church [in the US] as a vital part of our Communion, though we do; it is not even primarily that we care deeply about the indignities to which our LGBT brothers and sisters are subjected in the name of “traditional teaching”, though we do.

“Our main concern has to be that what is being proposed is no way to discern the truth about the matters in dispute, and we must be sure to make that point clear at every opportunity.

“Above all, what we need is not to take our eye off the issue, that of the treatment to be accorded to LGBT people. . . To leave that issue behind in favour of . . . how to keep the Anglican Communion together will stunt our discernment — and not keep the Anglican Communion together either.”


An extract from Dr Selby’s lecture will appear in next week’s Church Times.

Forthcoming Events

5 June 2019
Green Health Live 2 | Lambeth Palace
A day conference for chaplains, health care professionals and all those interested in the healing environment.  More details.

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read five articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)