Giles Fraser: Covenant is dead. Long live unity

28 March 2012

by Giles Fraser

I WILL not disguise my joy at the death of the Anglican Covenant. And death it is — despite the fact that some people will inevitably try to give its corpse the kiss of life. The idea that the Church of England has given it so emphatic a thumbs-down, especially in the face of huge episcopal and archiepiscopal lobby­ing, is evidence of how un­popular the idea is in the pews.

Here, the majority of bishops have shown themselves to be completely out of touch with the centre of gravity of the Church of England. It is not that we do not care about our brothers and sisters in other parts of the Communion. It is simply that we want our Christian solidarity to be expressed through our Anglican heritage, our common baptism, and the development of friendships — and not through a treaty that can be haggled over by church politicians, the purpose of which was always to isolate those Churches that had a different view of sexual ethics.

There is a parallel here with the post-war project of European in­tegra­tion. The idea that the European Union and its powerful bureaucracy was a way of making friends of former enemies was a noble aim. And those who resisted it were often derided as insular Little Englanders.

But, as European integration continues to falter, generating huge resentments, and even, potentially, the rise again of the far Right, we can see that there was a great deal of wisdom in those who warned that a noble aim does not necessarily mean a noble consequence. The idea of common theological currency — a church euro, so to speak — sounds fine in theory. But who will end up being the Germans, and who the Greeks?

So, what next? The first thing to do is to give the whole foolish idea a dignified burial. If we continue to build upon so unstable a foundation, there will be nothing but trouble for years to come. So much energy will get poured into supporting the Covenant edifice, so much time will get wasted in pointless meetings and synodical wrangling — even our leadership must now realise that it can never be made right. As they say in the City of London: “The first cut is the cheapest.” This means that when a stock is going down, you sell it as soon as you can.

Perhaps the departure of Dr Williams will allow those bishops who have supported this adventure because they wanted to support the Archbishop personally to find their voice. Matters as important as this ought not to be seen as a loyalty test to a popular and godly man. None of this means that unity is dead in the water. It simply means that we need a different expression of it — a unity that respects difference.

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