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Giles Fraser: Dispose of the messy Anglican Covenant

15 February 2012

To date, 11 dioceses of the Church of England have voted on the Anglican Covenant. Thus far, the majority have rejected it — which more than raises the prospect that the Church of England may not support what was described as the “only game in town” for holding together the Anglican Communion.

To recap: the Anglican Covenant is an international treaty, cham­pioned originally by the Bishop of Durham at that time, Dr Tom Wright, among others. It was a re­sponse to the threats by conservative Anglicans that they would walk away from the Communion if other provinces became more gay-friendly. It is rather like bankers’ saying that they would walk away from the City of London if they had to face the Tobin Tax. This sort of blackmail ought never to be pandered to.

Of course, the Covenant never was the only game in town. This is the type of emergency rhetoric that is often used to push through otherwise unpopular legis­la­tion. But the fact that the Anglican Commu­nion has not fallen apart — it is just a bit dented — shows that a great deal of the huffing and puffing about walking away was just empty threats and so much posturing.

The idea that all the different Churches of the Communion can be held together only by signatures on a page rather than years of tradition and common baptism and liturgy is an unnecessary bureaucratisation of theology and fellowship.

If you allow one province a quasi-legal mechanism for pushing out another province, then you are providing a context for acrimony, not for reconciliation. Recon­cilia­tion comes when those divided by differences learn to see Christ at work in each other. Mostly, this is achieved through patient friendship and listening.

The reason why the Covenant is such a terrible idea is that it replaces the search for common ground with a fear that the Other is out to get me. It gives the Other a means of my exclusion, and thus turns the Other into the enemy.

The Covenant contains the idea of a two-tier Communion — those who signed up being on the inner tier; those who do not being on the outer tier — which is not quite the ecclesiastical equivalent of outer darkness. The idea that the C of E itself might be in the outer tier makes a nonsense of the whole Covenant idea. Communion with the see of Canterbury has always been the defining feature of what it means to be an Anglican.

If the C of E does not sign up to the Covenant, then the outer tier becomes the real Anglicans. Either way, the whole idea is a mess, and needs to be quietly disposed of.

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