Bishop Whalon reflects on the proposed Anglican Covenant

Centrists / General Convention

There’s a wonderful essay posted by Bishop Whalon on his reflections regarding the proposed Anglican Covenant.

It’s motivated in part by wanting to have something for the Anglican Consultative Council which is meeting this month, but it’s driven (it seems to me) by his recent close reading of a book by Prof. Norman Doe on the Covenant process.

Bishop Whalon’s essay really deserves to be read in full. Here’s just a taste:

“The large majority of comments and responses collected by Doe and later, Lambeth Indaba, as well as very recent comments on the Ridley Draft, show that few people wanted a Covenant that could be used to decide that a particular church is no longer part of the Anglican Communion. Overwhelmingly, people were far more content with a document that presents a theological, biblically-grounded notion of covenant. The rich and varied experience of the Reformed churches, for whom ‘covenanting’ is of first importance in their understanding of what is a church, also points to the desirability of continuing to define relationships among Christians in the terms by which we became Christians. The Ridley Draft delivers a panoply of theological statements, supported by a lot of texts that have received unanimous acceptance by the constituent churches of the Communion. There is a final section that sets forth a consultative process for determining whether a church has violated the Covenant. It is then up to the Instruments of Communion—the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council, and the Primates Meeting—to decide what to do next. It unequivocally states that each church remains independent in terms of its own internal life. Signing on to the Covenant does not confer any power on outside jurisdictions to interfere in any church’s affairs.

[…]But, ‘Within any important issue, there are always aspects no one wishes to discuss’, as George Orwell purportedly remarked. One such aspect has to do with churchmanship. Now, whether one is Low, High, or Broad is not supposed to matter anymore—everything boils down to ‘Liberal’ or ‘Conservative,’ cutting across confessional lines. But clearly, in the comments and responses, including the most recent, the church parties re-appear in what people say is lacking in the Covenant. The Low-church folks want doctrine, clearly stated, accepted Or Else, about Scripture and how it is to be interpreted, and could we have the 39 Articles, too? The High-church folks want as much prelacy as possible, some citations of the Church Fathers thrown in, and why not a little Aquinas, and many more references to sacramental liturgies and quotes from them. The Broad-church folks, the ‘hazy ones’ (‘High and crazy, Low and lazy, Broad and hazy’), would rather have no document at all. But if we must, then let it be a brief reminder to us that the poor we will always have with us, never mind all this palaver about doctrine and liturgy and (ecch!) Bishops! —and that we should go out and get on with doing justice, making peace and feeding the hungry. Since none of the parties get what they want in this Ridley Draft, which would be in effect to bend other Anglicans to their party agenda, this is certainly a strength.”

Read the full article here.

I find that his identification of the reemergence of the classic church parties in Anglicanism is spot on. I come out of the High Church wing of the Episcopal Church and as such am much more comfortable with the traditions of prelature and discipline based on patristic thought. It’s interesting to see how in some places that leads folks to make common cause with the Low Church (reformed) voices from whom the whole idea of Covenant first comes. But it’s Bishop Whalon’s recognition of the role of the Broad Church, especially within the Episcopal Church, that is rejecting the Covenant pretty much out of hand that is both surprising and accurate to me. I hadn’t recognized what he points out, but now that he has, it makes good sense to me. I want to spend some time thinking that through – it’s a simultaneously exciting and somewhat disappointing development.

Bishop Whalon ends on a very irenic tone, with a call to the American church to fully participate in the Covenant process, even recognizing that it is likely that the ACNA proto-province will sign on as well.

I have to say that I agree with him. I’m grateful for any connection, any relationship, no matter how tenuous with other Christians and other Anglicans. Because if I refuse to pray with them, how can they convince me that I’m wrong on an issue – or I them?

The Author

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


  1. Christopher says

    I think this is an incredibly over-simplistic analysis. There are folks, like myself, who have serious concerns about the Covenant both in its driving intent (the narrowness of who is represented in its composition, for example) and in its tone. These folks, who do not despise all episcopal authority (but rather authority that seems to baloon outside of our Anglican care to recognize limits and insist on itself in such a way that lay persons in particular are almost completely discounted. The Third Draft isn’t much better on this, for example), our liturgies, or theology. Many of of us are actually High Church Anglicans who want our comprehension retained.

  2. Thanks for pointing us to your project on your site Christopher. I’ve been reading along and thinking through what you’re posting. For those of you who haven’t seen it, please do go take a look.

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