Giles Fraser: Covenant fatalism (almost)

29 December 2009

I THINK I have partly resigned my­self to the fact that this Anglican Covenant thing is going to happen. Published in its final form last week, it reminds me of that awful state­ment of belief that Christian Unions force their speakers to sign before they are allowed to say a word to their stu­dents.

In both cases, it is not so much the content that I object to. I object to the Covenant’s very exis­tence. I’d object to it even if I agreed with every word.

Let me be clear. There is nothing wrong with the expression of mutual commitment, and for this mutuality to have a formal aspect. The marriage service, for instance, is precisely that. But the Anglican Covenant isn’t at all like the commitments of a marriage service. It is more like the anxious and untrust­ing legalism of that thoroughly distasteful feature of modern life, the pre-nuptial agreement.

And no amount of Lambeth Palace spin is going to persuade me that, like the pre-nuptial agree­ment, this Covenant isn’t a way of arranging, in advance, the terms of some future divorce. The only people who are going to love this document are the lawyers.

So what is to be done? Maybe nothing. I can’t quite believe I think this, and it may be an expression of my utter despair at the seeming inevitability of the whole thing.

But if you shout “crisis” and “col­lapse” long enough, people will panic and welcome the imposition of martial law as if it were salvation itself.

Of course, whether it will hold or not is another matter. Pre-nuptial agreements don’t make people stay together, and it is just as likely that this document won’t make any differ­ence to whether the Com­munion stays together, either.

So I do suffer from a serious temp­tation to give in to fatalism about these new rules redefining what it is to be an Anglican. And it would be terribly easy to dress up this fatalism as piety by persuading myself that what is most important at the moment is the birth of our Lord and Saviour, for instance.

The trouble with this sort of piety is not that it isn’t true, but that it isn’t fully honest. It just uses a proper reminder of where our prayers ought to be located right now as a way of squashing down a deep-seated resentment generated by the thought that we are being stitched up. This causes debate to stagnate, which creates a very poisonous brew.

So I have talked myself back from the edge. There must be no down­hearted fatalism about the inevit­ability of the Covenant. We must fight it on the beaches. . .

The Revd Dr Giles Fraser is Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral.

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