Comments: GS: covenant debate

This is very good news indeed for the Church of England and for the whole Anglican Communion.

We are interdependent.

Let's keep praying for the Lambeth Conference and for the whole process of the Anglican Covenant.

Posted by Graham Kings at Sunday, 8 July 2007 at 5:44pm BST

Well it is not good news, because what can't hold and sustain later on shouldn't be processed through early on. Actually I'm not surprised. There was a sense of panic abroad - a sort of what happens if we don't do it anxiety (whereas Colin Slee's point was better - the more loyal decision would have been to drop it).

I haven't seen any details of how it was debated. We shall of course see what happens now, on September 30th, at the Lambeth Conference, and afterwards.

The issue remains the same: whether any Covenant would work, whether the one to be given will be good enough to do the job, whether others appear, whether a primates-type curia comes along later on, and whether despite all this some have alternative meetings, decisions elsewhere, pressures and the like. All this is speculation until it happens. So far there are, from some African quarters, declared intentions.

Posted by Pluralist at Sunday, 8 July 2007 at 6:01pm BST

I certainly will keep praying, thank you Graham! That the whole process be reconsidered. I am a member of the Church of England, and a part of the loose fellowship called the 'Anglican Communion' interdependnce is nothing new. But no way can I see a situation of accepting the bullying of Nigeria and the likes...and what a huge mistake to be ceding authority to unelected unaccountable Archbishops!

Posted by Neil at Sunday, 8 July 2007 at 6:39pm BST

I note with interest that the General Synod of the C of E has specifically excluded itself from the process. It wishes to take no further responsibility for the Church's action, but will 'leave it to father'.

'c) invite the Presidents, having consulted the House of Bishops and the Archbishops’ Council, to agree the terms of a considered response to the draft from the Covenant Design Group for submission to the Anglican Communion Office by the end of the year.’

This deplorable cop-out leaves me feeling glad again that I am no longer a member of the CofE or its ministry; and therefore I take no personal responsibility for its homophobic teaching and practice, of which this is a further manifestation.

Posted by L Roberts at Sunday, 8 July 2007 at 7:02pm BST

I'm amazed the General Synod passed up the chance to influence the text of the Covenant. Now they will only be able to vote to accept or reject a text fashioned entirely elsewhere. It is now inevitable that they will accept whatever they are presented with.

I think the members of General Synod have done the Church of England and the Anglican Communion a grave disservice. The responsibility is theirs; by this vote they have deprived themselves of the power to exercise it effectively.

Posted by badman at Sunday, 8 July 2007 at 7:24pm BST

So ++Gomez presented the party-line, and then the GS "drank the Kool-Aid"? WTF????

Lord have mercy!

[And God bless TEC!]

Posted by JCF at Sunday, 8 July 2007 at 9:15pm BST

Tim Cox is right of course (and so the rejoicing over at StandFirm is completely wrong

Read Akinola's interview in the Times last week: he makes absolutely no references whatsoever to the covenant; is completely clear that he will not attend if anyone who does not meet Tim Cox's conditions is at Lambeth; and also claims
that the Global South is united behind his approach.

too little, too late.

Posted by SInner at Sunday, 8 July 2007 at 9:37pm BST

It was a last minute decision to attend. Plan B, as I drove through the torrential rain on the approach to York - it was a lovely sunny day further south - was to make a diversion to the city centre for Evensong in the Minster, if I couldn't find the place or get in to hear the debate. For a fleeting moment I thought the deluge would impede my progress.

Luckily, I found Heslington easily enough. The first thing that struck me as I walked through the concrete jungle of the campus, was how bleak and desolate it felt out of term with no students around, not helped by the gloomy weather conditions. It added to the sense of remoteness of the proceedings of Synod from the youth of today.

As I entered the public gallery of Central Hall, Drexel Gomez was already in full flow. There was a distinctly sombre mood in the place. Thunder interrupted the Archbishop's address at one point - would a lightning strike be God's judgement on covenanters or non-covenanters I mused (!). Tom Wright made the obvious joke later on about Bishops of Durham in York during lightning. During the Bishop of Chichester's speech, members had to ask the bishop to speak up as he couldn't be heard over the sound of rain!

It was apparent early on which way this thing was going by the level of applause given to speakers for and against the motion and amendments.

One conservative bishop after another promoted the need to impose house rules to keep unruly children under control, to remove a cancerous element from the Communion, and to prevent it sinking to the lowest common denominator. Dr Elaine Storkey made a passionate case for the Covenant and the need to support the primates.

The most depressing thing was how quickly this all happened. A motion to relegate the status of General Synod to that of glorified deanery synod and give the Instruments carte blanche to initiate their Reformation-busting theocracy took less time than it took me to get there and back in the car.

Perhaps the unruly children felt a tinge of guilt at the absence of their father - who might be swotting up on The Brothers Karamazov as we speak.

Posted by Hugh of Lincoln at Sunday, 8 July 2007 at 10:06pm BST

Does the Queen have any say in this covenant's approval? Parliament? Just curious.

Posted by Bob in SW PA at Sunday, 8 July 2007 at 10:09pm BST

Common sense has prevailed, and by a large majority.

Posted by Simon Cawdell at Sunday, 8 July 2007 at 10:28pm BST

I'll carry some water here:


B) The Synod is wrong - there was no "unanimous recommendation of the Primates in February 2007 for a process designed to produce a covenant for the Anglican Communion." All the primates did was agree to take it back to their national churches.

Methinks many around here are looking like Al Gore's polar bear as the sun melts away the "facts" of their point of view.

Posted by Chris at Sunday, 8 July 2007 at 10:56pm BST

If it is two to one, the vote, then even under these "must go along with it" conditions a third were against. That is rather a large minority even at this stage to have to contend with in a vote.

Hugh of Lincoln here gives first hand a flavour of it (when blogs come into their own), but I've looked about to read the presentation and Rochester's speech via Anglican Mainstream. A note in the Church Times update tells of strong speeches against; it then says Tom Wright dared the synod to vote against, I suppose a bit like the big kid in the playground plus something about undermining the Archbishop of Canterbury if they did, and poor Anglicans elsewhere (?) and against the principle of inclusivity.

So a combination of lots of reassurances (with a draft text to be revisited to tackle the danger of a curia) and big guns, and on it goes.

Well there are many other events going on: those invitations and non-invitations, the talk of a Not the Lambeth Conference, the incursions into TEC space carrying on, and indeed the Covenant being designed to produce a "process".

The key situation is this: are we going to get to a point via the Covenant where both TEC and the African dissenters stay in, or shall TEC walk causing decisions to have to be made by other progressive provinces or parts of them, or shall with TEC being included these Africans walk with other regressive provinces or parts of them deciding to ally with them? I still think liberals have (very strained now) an ethos of putting up with what they do not like, whereas sectarians tend to bully and walk - and the Covenant (restricting or no) just may be overun by events.

Posted by Pluralist at Sunday, 8 July 2007 at 11:41pm BST

As a priest I have never been comfortable with the way (even senior well educated people with influential jobs) many people infantalise themselves in church, and cede responsibility for decision making to the minister/priest. I refuse to collude. I am mystified how General Synod, in ALL its houses has perpetuated this modus vivendi/operandi. God bless people like JCF and may God provide some mechanism for opting into her way of thinking viz the CofE rather than this tosh.

Posted by Neil at Monday, 9 July 2007 at 12:01am BST

The Church Society report is biased, of course (aren't we all) but I think this is an important insight:

The Synod voted in favour of the motion but with wildly differing views as to what the purpose of the Covenant was going to be.

Quite. When its purpose is revealed by its text, then we will see dissent based on those wanting a different text - either more or less restrictive.

Posted by Pluralist at Monday, 9 July 2007 at 12:05am BST

"The Synod voted in favour of the motion but with wildly differing views as to what the purpose of the Covenant was going to be."

All the more astonishing that it handed over all its authority to the Archibishops.
Does anyone have a rational explanation for this?

Posted by Erika Baker at Monday, 9 July 2007 at 11:04am BST

Part of the problem, of course, is that it is difficult to marshall an unanswerable argument against "being part of a process leading to covenant." After all, it is just a process, right? This draft is just a draft. The final version may be entirely different. Lot's of time to deal with the unbalanced issue of the Primates.

However, having failed to state a clear expectation that the final matter will be referred back to General Synod, the majority have shown themselves to have missed the point of having Synods at all.

Posted by Malcolm+ at Monday, 9 July 2007 at 5:39pm BST

"is difficult to marshall an unanswerable argument against "being part of a process leading to covenant." "

How about: "Why is the New Covenant given by God Himself not enough?" I have yet to hear an answer to that one.

Posted by Ford Elms at Monday, 9 July 2007 at 6:15pm BST

From the other side of the water, this resolution looks remarkably bland. In fact General Synod has committed itself to nothing but study and "a considered response" to the Draft Covenant - no commitment to accept the Draft as it is, certainly. That first clause is really much like what the General Convention of the Episcopal Church committed to in Resolution 2006-A166.

The resolution also affirms that it is not the "Instruments of Communion" that will establish any covenant, but "the synodical processes of the provinces." One would assume that would include acceptance of the "considered response" to be prepared by the Archbishops. In any case, it certainly counters the assertion in the Draft Covenant itself of the presumptive actions of the Primates.

Posted by Marshall Scott at Monday, 9 July 2007 at 6:34pm BST

Ford asks:
"Why is the New Covenant given by God Himself not enough?"

It's a good question. Even in the 1st C the church struggled with identifying authentic Christianity from false teaching. There were also issues of organization and strategy seen in many parts of Acts. Both of these needs compelled the church to create structures beyond the New Covenant.

Jesus, Paul and John provide many ear marks for what a Christian would look like and what a false teacher might sound like. They were answering a question like "how can I spot the fraud when I don't know the real thing?"

The creeds are part of this and we're at a point now where some clergy - even bishops - have to qualify their saying the creeds. I don't see how reaffirming the Creeds is a bad thing.

As for the issues of organization, the church has been organizing itself from the time the seven were called to feed the widows and orphans. Cannon law and constitutions are part of this organization that goes beyond the New Covenant. As the Communion matures and become more global in nature, new forms of organization might be needed.

The church long ago decided statements of faith and organization were required to carry out its mission. As we are now in a position where there are competing views of the mission of the church, some clarity seems needed otherwise the Communion will suffer the fate of any rudderless organization - slow death.

Posted by Chris at Monday, 9 July 2007 at 10:42pm BST

Theological study has blown all that apart, Chris. He was born of a virgin - er, no, the Hebrew Bible said young woman. Her virginity is unlikely, it remains biologically impossible, and it is irrelevant. The belief in the Trinity - it isn't a doctrine in the Bible, so what's the big deal. Jesus - there is this historical Jesus, about whom we have so little actual information, who through the fog is more likely to be a last days healer, believing that sin and demons are connected and being prepared for an end of time kingdom. We know that the early Church theologised the New Testament so that it is in the form of a biography but is not history. It is full of pseudo-science. We know the creeds are hefty doses of Greek philosophy and Roman power. Yes they define a moment of time and a continuance of a community, but they don't tell us much.

Theology - I know there are those who start with dogma and doctrine - taken openly has blown a huge hole through all these boundaries. The issue is not believing a hundred minute things before breakfast, but how this tradition or that supplies a means to a reflective path, even the possibility of transcendence, for individuals and communities.

If this Church now excludes the theological explorer, out of some need to keep some protesting supernaturalists and literalists on board, many abroad, then it will become an irrelevant sect here. It already talks to itself in a way no one else could care about: and now the government is saying it can stay established but in effect wants no further say in how it is run. Your theological explorers keep it in touch, but if you want a sect then carry on and erect the fences.

Posted by Pluralist at Tuesday, 10 July 2007 at 1:27am BST

The New Covenant came at a cost, and that cost was borne freely out of love. When we celebrate the Eucharist we remind ourselves of the cost of our freedom.

I think we diminish the idea of a Covenant if we use the name for a set of house rules, or for a negotiated agreement. Such things collude with power, and do not subvert it.

Amongst signs of hope are that our Archbishops do seem to understand this - though the current draft 'Covenant' text betrays no awareness of it. Amongst the danger signs are the people and pressure groups who seem to be lined up to get as much out of them (the Archbishops, especially Rowan Williams - the cost is personal) as possible, and to give as little as possible themselves.

Perhaps this is the time to note that God's grace is subversive of such self-serving power-plays, and to recover some sense of a Church constituted by grace and gift.

Whatever comes out of this process - will it reveal God's grace, will the church be able to receive it as a gift? Or will we all be marking it out of ten as to whether it does what we want it to?

Posted by Mark Bennet at Tuesday, 10 July 2007 at 8:37am BST

I John 2:20-23

But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist—he denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.

Posted by Chris at Tuesday, 10 July 2007 at 12:47pm BST

"Jesus, Paul and John provide many ear marks for ...what a false teacher might sound like."

Which is my point. I've said many times I see bad behaviour on both sides, but the lion's share is on the Right. I just don't see the earmarks of truth in their behaviour.

"I don't see how reaffirming the Creeds is a bad thing. "

Nor do I. To be worldly about it, if you can't sign on to an organization's mission statement, then you don't claim membership in the organization. Losing one's faith is not a crime, so why retain a claim to a faith one doesn't really have? And I think it is on a different level from that of SSBs, but then I'm Canadian, so the latter isn't "doctrine in the sense of being Credal" for me:-)

As to the rest of your post, Chris, sorry, but it sounds like an attempt to justify our failure as Christians. Just because the Apostles failed in this at times doesn't mean we can ignore it.

Posted by Ford Elms at Tuesday, 10 July 2007 at 12:57pm BST

"her virginity is unlikely, it remains biologically impossible"
What does biological impossibility have to do with God?

"what's the big deal" about the Trinity?

Lots. Even our God is a community, and our actions have to be taken in community. The Trinity is an indictment of the individualism of Western society. In the Trinity the Persons are equal, despite those who would redefine the Trinity to justify keeping a collar off women's necks. We, made in the likeness of the Trinity, are also equal.

"how this tradition or that supplies a means to a reflective path"

For me, it is the very things you dismiss that provide that reflective path. Without the Incarnate God, what is there to distinguish Christianity? As an online, very left wing, friend is wont to say: "Until it can be demonstrated convincingly that Jesus was nothing more than a mere man preaching some nice things, I am disinclined to sell my Incarnational heritage for a pot of message."

Posted by Ford Elms at Tuesday, 10 July 2007 at 1:11pm BST


Let's agree both sides can improve and leave it at that. Let's also agree that human sexuality does not rise to the level of dogma (a.k.a doctrine that is Creedal).

As for the Apostle's "failure" - we're human too and the production model hasn't improved much in 2000 years. If they had issues, we have the same issues. It seems like the wise thing to do would be to follow their lead, assuming they had special revelation we do not.

Posted by Chris at Wednesday, 11 July 2007 at 12:33am BST

_What does biological impossibility have to do with God?_ Nothing - but it has plenty to do with being human.

The Trinity is not designed to be some anti-Western anti-individualist something or other, it was a conclusion about divinity that is only one of the options to derive out of the New Testament.

OK, you've said this before, you want this realist "nature of the world" assurance (insurance, certainty?): for me the discovery is in the religious path, the walk with, and does not need such scaffolding. Scaffolded systems are essentially authoritarian at some point, they don't allow the left turns and the right turns that walking with sometimes bring - the new situations not thought of in days of old.

If someone locks me out, I just keep walking.

Posted by Pluralist at Wednesday, 11 July 2007 at 1:30am BST

"you want this realist "nature of the world" assurance (insurance, certainty?)"

No, far from it, I am uncomfortable with certainty, I much prefer healthy doubt. In fact, my return to faith was fuelled in no small part by a growing awareness of a huge intangible side of the human experience, one that is much better accessed by religion and poetry than by science and analysis. It is abstract and filled with uncertainty. I'm not sure about your comment about "scaffolding". I identify with your reference to the "walk", but do you mean that we do not need guidance and clarification on that walk? Would not any religion have some sort of structure, some system for understanding the world?

Posted by Ford Elms at Wednesday, 11 July 2007 at 12:11pm BST

I'm just going by the statement that you want incarnation as a construction that exists, and that it is not just a message. For me incarnation is like a set of guideposts of a message, a message of a community.

To try and make this point in another way, it (incarnation) isn't a thingy that is accessible from any other intellectual discipline. For contrast, if there is a scientific entity, then it can be accessed, say, as having sociological impact, and it is a thingy. But in the end, incarnation has no other output anywhere other than some people engaged in a form of conversation or people engaged in action as a result (of belief). It is why someone like Polkinghorne can discuss scientific concepts, and experimental work, and then theologise, but he cannot do any science off theology. The incarnation does not exist except as a form of speech: that is my point.

Posted by Pluralist at Thursday, 12 July 2007 at 1:26pm BST

Interesting, and I'd love to explore this further, though that would require derailing this thread utterly. I don't think we're actually all that far apart, and that where we do differ is in our understanding of words like "real". I often speak of the "Christian mythology", by which I do not mean fables and fairy tales, but deep truth. Genesis is myth, but still encapsulates what I think are basic truths about our human existence, the story of David as we read it in the OT is myth/propaganda meant to make a specific set of points, but contains truth nonetheless. I think where we part company, ?possibly?, is in our understanding of how "myth" and "historical reality" relate to each other, and perhaps we don't even part company there. I am, after 22 years as a physician dealing daily with what is analyzable, reacting against the definition of reality as that which is scientifically provable. I would argue that something is no less a "thingy" because science cannot analyze it. I don't get how Incarnation is somehow a message, and here's a whole lot more I don't get, but here is perhaps not a good place to go further, sadly.

Posted by Ford Elms at Thursday, 12 July 2007 at 3:03pm BST


The moral-philosopher Obi-Wan Kenobi posed the question, "Who's the more foolish: The fool, or the fool who follows him?"

Claiming to be God while actually being just a carpenter in a repressed backwater, under the rule of the most powerful nation on earth and holding to that claim to the point of death is certainly foolish, is it not? Why worship someone like that?

Sure, Jesus said some nice stuff about being a nice person, but so did John Lennon. Celebrating the death (I assume you're not into the whole resurrection thing) of a fool every week makes a fool of a great many people.

With out the incarnation and resurrection, Christianity makes no sense. It would be a better use of one's time to spend Sunday morning listening to "Breakfast with the Beatles" while reading the latest IPCC report - and save on the GHG emissions of driving to church.

Posted by Chris at Thursday, 12 July 2007 at 3:35pm BST
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