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Is this the end of the Anglican Covenant?

01 December 2010


From the Revd Jonathan Clatworthy

Sir, — The General Synod’s vote on the Anglican Covenant (Synod, 26 November) had been well prepared. The organisers made it clear that voting in favour was The Right Answer. Contrary to normal prac­tice, nobody was given the task of summarising the case against, either in the prior paperwork (the leaflet we sent out was at our own cost) or in the debate itself.

The result: many speakers drew attention to serious flaws in the text, but voted for it anyway. That was absurdity enough. The GAFCON Primates then turned it into farce by announcing, while the debate was being held (they must have enjoyed that), that ten Primates — repres­ent­ing the very people the Covenant was originally intended to appease — will neither sign it nor attend the Primates’ Meeting.

We are now in the situation op­ponents of church unity used to complain of: you start off with two Churches and end up with three. We have two well-established positions, both going back at least to the Re­formation. According to the traditional Church of England view, we learn best by listening to each other in a spirit of tolerance and open­ness; so diversity of opinion is normal. According to uniform­itarians, on the other hand, the Bible provides a single true answer to every relevant question; so schism would be better than tolerat­ing dis­agreement.

We therefore have two opposing cases against the Covenant. Many Synod speakers said it was too puni­tive; the ten Primates say it is not punitive enough. The Covenant itself, lacking any theoretical basis, has been worded to allow either interpretation.

The underlying issue is whether the Church should still allow diver­sity of opinion or whether it should become more uniformitarian. These options are mutually incompatible: if we try to do both, the uniform­itar­ians will always see it as their Christian duty to suppress the in­clusivists, and will always prefer schism to diversity.

What to do now? At one point, Archbishop Williams described the issue well: “the Catholic Spirit is neither a climate of imposed uni­versal agreement nor a free-for-all held together by mutual tolerance.” Sometimes governments have to resist democratically elected politicians who oppose democracy. In the same way, in order to defend diversity of opinion within the Church, we must now positively defend it against its opponents.

Church leaders should set limits to the uniformitarians. The latter should be told, firmly, that because we be­lieve in diversity of opinion and open debate, they are welcome to belong and share in the debate, but not to undermine it.

General Secretary
Modern Church
9 Westward View
Liverpool L17 7EE

From the Revd David J. Goss

Sir, — While debating the Anglican Communion Covenant, the General Synod was urged, by Elizabeth Paver of the Anglican Consultative Coun­cil, that the Church of England and the Arch­bishop of Canterbury “need this vote to go through overwhelm­ingly so that we can be seen to give some leadership”.

It also appears that a number of bishops and other Synod members may have been influenced in their voting by a sense of loyalty to the Archbishop. But does this really constitute a valid reason for assent to a piece of legislation that is intended to modify the life of the worldwide Anglican Communion in a significant and ongoing way, and that will remain in place beyond the incumbencies of the present office-holders?

Unlike MPs, our Synod members are not subject to party whips; but each should surely think carefully and critically before casting his or her vote, especially on matters of such significance. I hope and pray that members of diocesan synods will have the wisdom and take the time to think through the possible outcomes of the implementation of the proposed Covenant, and cast their votes accordingly.

18 Central Boulevard
Doncaster DN2 5PE

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