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The Anglican Covenant — and the publicity directed against it

03 November 2010


From the Bishop of St Asaph

Sir, — There was a very curious document in last week’s Church Times (full-page advertisement, page 7). In it, two organisations, Inclusive Church and Modern Church, for which I have formerly had the highest regard, turned themselves into the nearest to an ecclesiastical BNP that I have encountered.

They resort to the old tactics of misinformation and scaremongering about foreigners and outside influences to whip up a campaign against the Anglican Covenant, and replace reasoned argument with a “Man the barricades!” mentality that is little short of breathtaking.

We are to beware, the advertise­ment says, of the machinations of “another Anglican province any­where in the world” and of a move “to subordinate the Church to the judgements of the Standing Committee of the Anglican Com­munion. [The Covenant] would thereby make the Church of England subject to an outside power for the first time since Henry VIII.”

The main target of their opprobrium, worse than a European Commission or a Spanish Inquisi­tion, is “a new international body, the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion”. In fact, this body is the same Joint Standing Committee that has muddled through the business of Anglican Communion affairs now since 1969. It is scarcely new — even if it was given its new name by a two-thirds-majority vote of Anglican provinces ratified at the Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Jamaica in 2009.

And the most extreme power at the Standing Committee’s disposal under the Covenant is — wait for it — “to make recommendations” (4.2.7). It is this potential for shock “recommendations” that has Inclusive Church and MCU quaking in their boots, since they argue that any such “recommendations” will “subordinate [the General Synod] to the new centralised authorities”. In fact, the Covenant text clearly says: “Each Church or each Instrument shall determine whether or not to accept such recommendations” (4.2.7).

The Covenant also states quite clearly that “mutual commitment does not represent submission to any external ecclesiastical jurisdiction. Nothing in this Covenant of itself shall be deemed to alter any provision of the Constitution and Canons of any Church of the Communion, or to limit its autonomy of governance. The Covenant does not grant to any one Church or any agency of the Communion control or direction over any Church of the Anglican Communion” (4.1.3).

Like so much else in this advertise­ment (and I could offer an extensive list), the assertion is simply rubbish.

During the past 150 years, many of the Churches of the world have been formed into Christian world com­munions; the newest was formed this year, the World Communion of Reformed Churches. There is a general recognition that if local or national Churches are to be truly international and live in a global fellowship, they must do more than just assert their autonomy, but seek to live into an interdependence that truly honours the fellowship of the whole body. This truth was recog­nised by the Lambeth Conferences of 1920 and 1930, and the Covenant is a careful attempt to balance autonomy with responsibility.

There is no element of coercion anywhere in the text, but there is an acknowledgement that neither can everything that one Church does be foisted on the whole Communion without the recognition that relations can be damaged. What the Covenant sets out in Section 4 is a proper mechanism that allows the articulation of discomfort, even distance, but which honours autonomy.

But this is too much for our latter-day Little Englanders, who bemoan the passing of the armchair bonhomie of the Athenaeum as the measure of Anglican inclusivity. They would, it seems, rather see the disintegration of the Anglican Communion into a series of acrimonious factions than restate a common faith and witness and find grown-up and responsible mechanisms for the articulation of the life of a whole Communion.

Well, I suppose they’re entitled to their opinion, but I do wish that they wouldn’t resort to scaremongering and the misrepresentation of a text in an attempt to swing the debate.

Secretary to the Anglican
Communion Covenant Design Group 2006-09
Esgobty, Upper Denbigh Road
St Asaph LL17 0TW

From the Very Revd Rowan Q. Smith

Sir, — I am currently on a retirement sabbatical in the United States. After reading the statement by the Arch­bishop of the Indian Ocean, the Most Revd Ian Ernest (News, 8 October), I find it hard to put this alongside the sermon that Archbishop Ernest preached at the conclusion of the Lambeth Conference 2008. Then, his voice, from the Global South, was that of reconciliation and inclusion.

We look to our fathers- and mothers-in-God to be models of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. For Archbishop Ernest to state, therefore, that the presence of the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori, would cause him to absent himself from the Primates’ Meeting is indeed very sad. Each time that the bishops of the Global South meet, they make reference to upholding biblical teaching; yet I wonder where in the Gospels the Archbishop, and others, find justification for such actions.

Our Lord Jesus teaches that the one who judges is God, and that the work of separating the wheat from the tares belongs to the angels at the Last Judgement. Jesus warns in his parables against premature action on our part: “Let them grow together until the harvest.”

And why single out the Episcopal Church, which has simply been following the Lambeth Conference resolutions of the past 30 years, from 1978, and not only Resolution 1.10 of 1998?

In the Church in Southern Africa in the 1980s, there were those who argued at the Provincial Synod that anyone who supported apartheid should be excommunicated. God is greater than our understanding of both the nature of the Church and the interpretation of scripture, and for us, as Christians, the latter should always be in the light of the revelation of Jesus Christ.

The kind of action that the Archbishop is promoting is neither biblical nor serves to commend the gospel. The Primates of Africa should be leading the way in reconciliation and justice.

(Retired Dean of Cape Town)
St Clare’s House
1601 Oxford Street
Berkeley, CA 94709 USA

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