The Proposed Anglican Covenant


A British commentator made this observation in an online discussion about the proposed Anglican Covenant:

…it would first have to be passed by General Synod and I am not prepared to assume that it would get over that hurdle.  Unless the Covenant is fairly anodyne I would expect it to have a difficult passage in Synod.

The author then went on to point out that should the Covenant pass the Church of England Synod, it would then have to be adopted by the British Parliament as well. (The same Parliament which has required the Church of England to recognize and support same-gender unions in Great Britain.)

I think this note focuses on a key aspect that’s going to have to be true of any convenant designed by the appointed committee… the covenant is only useful if it is able to be adopted.

The comment is correct – unless the covenant is fairly mild in its language and intentionally irenic in intent – there’s little chance that a broad majority of the Provinces of the Communion will adopt it. I’m sure that the design team for the potential Covenant has already figured this out as well and is fully aware of how difficult this whole process is going to be if it’s to be successful.

According to what I’ve seen posted on blogs from both sides of the debate within the Episcopal Church, there’s roughly equal frustration on both sides with the people included on the design team. Reasserter blogs that have done a quick nose count see roughly equal numbers of reasserter, reappraiser and un-predictable votes among those named. This has apparently caused a number of the more phlegmatic voices on the reasserter side to reject the Covenant from the get-go.

For what it’s worth, I’m comfortable with letting the process play itself out.

I want to serve and worship in a Church that is truly catholic in its breadth. The design team seems as good a place as any to expect a formulary which expresses that desire to emerge. And given the political reality, any overly restrictive or burdensome language won’t be received. I’m very interested to see if God can lead us as body to a place where we can make a realistic and fair covenant with each other.

As a matter of fact I’m praying for it.

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...


  1. This is interesting reading especially as the Covenant Group begins its work next week. Another factor already stated by Canon Kearon (Sec Gen ACO, London) is that the same Covenant – once text is complete would have to adopted by all synods and conventions, England has some uniqueness in aspects of this, but we are talking of a complete process, and approval must come from the decision-making bodies, not individuals. FYI. Jim

  2. There’s one additional piece of info worth weighing here… The Nigerian House of Bishops has recently said (in effect) that if the Episcopal Church remains a constituent part of the Anglican Communion, they will not.
    If they act on that threat and pull back, and are joined in that action by other Provinces, in a few years time, the voices of those still gathered around the table of the Covenant design are going to look very different in composition and distribution.
    Who knows what such a group might come up with – and/or if they’ll even consider it worthwhile considering their work?

  3. Nick
    I don’t think it is accurate to state the the UK Parliament “has required the Church of England to recognize and support same-gender unions in Great Britain”.
    UK law has introduced the new concept of “Civil Partnerships” and everybody in the UK is require to recognize that this category now exists.
    The House of Bishops then issued a pastoral letter giving guidance on what church members should do about this. To say that the letter gave “support” to the concept would be a stretch, and to say that the law requires anybody to give support is more than a stretch.

  4. Hi Nick,
    I am afraid that the comments you cite are somewhat less encouraging to me than they are to you. I am cheered that the prospects of a truly repressive covenant face an additional hurdle, but the Anglican Communion is becoming an increasingly uncomfortable place for Episcopalians to roost even without such a document.
    The Panel of Reference recently inserted itself without invitation into our internal affairs on the side of those who oppose women’s ordination, and asked us clarify a canon that is currently “ambiguous” only in that it is capable of being willfully misunderstood by those who don’t like what it says.
    The Communion Office has solicited comments on papers before the Covenant Design Committee from the likes of Bill Atwood and Stephen Noll, who have been plotting for years to put Episcopal parishes and property under the control of foreign bishops, thus rewarding those who are working towards our dissolution.
    N. T. Wright continues to work to build an opposition party within the House of Bishops. And Rowan Williams continues to treat our Presiding Bishop as though she has a communicable disease while maintaining his silence Peter Akinola campaign against human rights (including, it is worth pointing out, freedom of religion.)
    Even if Nigeria walks away from the table, we’ve still got the Anglican Communion Office and the leadership of the Church of England hung around our necks, and they are all to clearly willing to undercut us publicly, stack the deck against us bureaucratically and nourish internal opposition to the decisions of our General Convention. It is becoming increasingly difficult for some of us to sustain the fiction that these people regard us as brothers and sisters in Christ.

  5. Thanks for doing this research, Nick. I pray you’re correct, and that this will lead the Covenant Design Group away from the more extreme positions.

  6. Thanks all for your comments.
    Simon – I will yield to your greater knowledge of the workings of the CoE. I guess my response would be that even if parliament would not ultimately have to sign off on the Covenant, there would be at least one (if not many) democratic votes within the CoE before any language would be adopted. Having had to write up resolutions at many different levels within the Episcopal Church, I know just how hard it is to say things in ways that can be passed by legislative bodies – especially if the language speaks to their self understanding.
    Jim – I was taken to task this past month in couple of instances by members of the Cathedral here in Phoenix for describing myself as an Anglican on this blog. They’ve come to thing that to be an Anglican means to be opposed to gay and lesbian people participating in the life of the Church, supporting President Bush’s Foreign Policy and being a biblical literalist. There was not much I could do to dissuade them of that belief because such beliefs are presently held by all the congregations that proudly label themselves as Anglican in this part of the country. *I* may think it’s important to keep some sort of connection with said congregations, but neither the Anglican congregations nor the folks in the Cathedral agree with me. I may be wrong in thinking the way I do. I guess I’m going to wait to see what the Communion looks like in the beginning of March. I may need to do some re-writing here.
    Lisa – you’re most welcome. I’m certainly praying that over a decade’s worth of work and relationship building, something worthwhile ultimately emerges. If it doesn’t, at least we can say we tried.

  7. Simon – now that I’m actually awake and re-read what you wrote above – thanks for the clarification.
    Your point about what actually has been adopted with respect to same-sex relationships is well taken. Parliament has acted much more broadly than anything passed on a national level here in the states. I’m dismayed to see the Mass. has even taken the first steps to back away from the granting of what legal status they have given same-sex couples.
    Given the UK’s action granting legal status to such relationships, I think that any covenant that would enshrine a categorical rejection of such a possibility (either implicitly or explicitly) would have a very difficult time of being affirmed in the Commons. Even though the government has not acted to require the CoE to explicitly recognize and bless the relationships, it does seem to have required that the CoE make space within its structures for their presence. (Which is sadly much further than many dioceses have gone here – its a rare diocese that will offer health insurance coverage to a partnered priest’s spouse.)

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