An Improved Anglican Covenant

With the release of the final draft of the proposed Anglican Covenant, we hear many criticisms being leveled already. While not perfect, this is as good as we’re going to get and I’d like to point out two positive improvements in this draft text.

First, it makes clear that the potential signators of this Covenant are the Provinces of the Anglican Communion. This Covenant is not intended for breakway, so-called Anglicans who wish to sneak in through the back door by signing on to this document. If they are prepared to go through the normal procedures and apply for membership through the Anglican Consultative Council, they are free to do so. But, simply signing on to the Covenant will not regularize their status as members of the Anglican Communion.

Secondly, individual dioceses, synods, parishes or individuals will not be permitted to sign on to the Covenant in any official way. Certainly, anyone may endorse it and pledge to live by its principles (which I myself am happy to do). However, this is but a symbolic gesture. The purpose of the Covenant is to give shape and cogency to the 38 Provinces of the world-wide Anglican Communion — not to create some new “confessional document.”

I believe some kind of Covenant is necessary in our time. True, it is a development in our life, just as the four “instruments of communion” have undergone a process of development over the years. Some think it is a positive development and support it; others that it is a negative development and oppose it.

Now, that we have the final text, let the conversation and the debate begin anew!

12 Responses to “An Improved Anglican Covenant”

  1. Jim Hammond Says:

    Yes, Chris, as always you have written a wise and thoughtful piece. I agree that the Covenant is a development in our lifetime, as are the four “instruments of Communion”. Students of history, especially of the English church during the Renaissance, know that developments are nothing new in the life of the church. I make reference particularly to the development of what today we call the Articles of Religion in the historical documents section of the current BCP — there were quite a few variations on that theme, some quite Catholic, some quite Reformed, before the final version was settled as we know the thirty nine today. Whether the Covenant is a confessional document or not, I think it will be received that way in many quarters, and perhaps used as a tool (weapon) to invite (coerce) submission to others’ points of view. From where I sit, permission to be in Communion with other Christians is not ours to grant or withhold, but is rather a part (God-given right) of being a follower of Jesus. We are at our best when we are working across the globe with persons who share our belief and goals to end poverty, disease, homelessness and despair, not when we question the validity of the faith of others. In this sense, I see this Covenant or any other as a huge mistake — the logical outcome of a growing bureaucracy, to be sure, but a mistake nonetheless. We need to be creative in our use of ambiguity rather than running pell-mell from it. As Elizabeth seemed know in the 16th century, this church can live with ambiguity as long as hearts and minds are open and kind.

  2. Bishop Chris Epting Says:

    In an ideal world (or church!), I couldn’t agree more, Jim. I much preferred the way the Communion “used” to function (really more like a federation). Guess I’ve just had to live through the ecumenical as well as communion-wide fall out over these last years “up close and personal.” I just don’t see any other way for us to remain a credible ecumenical or communion partner at this point. And, I didn’t really sign on only to be part of an American/US “denomination,” but a member of a catholic church.

  3. Jadvar JOhnson Says:

    Andrew Brown succinctly pointed out how sinful and wrong the spirit of this document is (it is not a covenant … those are between God and his people, not me and +Rowan Williams, or even TEC and the Church of England).

    To paraphrase Mr. Brown, this document creates a process that will throw out one province (TEC) that may marry two women committed to faithful, lifelong love for each other. Another province (Uganda) that at the very least implicitly (and in many cases explicitly) supports proposed legislation that in some circumstances would execute those same women, jail them both for life in others, and jail their friends, family, and confidants for 5 to 7 years. The same provincial church continues to openly revile and persecute all homosexuals. Unlike TEC, this province would stay snugly in the bosom of the Anglican Communion.

    Not even the archbishop’s gift for obfuscation can conceal these facts.

    How anyone can support this document is beyond my comprehension. It is the epitome of evil, a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

  4. Bishop Chris Epting Says:

    The “epitome of evil?” Oh, come now. There is enough of that in the real world without trivializing it!

    The Covenant seeks to clarify and give shape to what otherwise it is a rather incoherent world-wide Communion. It does nothing to restrict or prohibit actions any Province can take. We are autonomous!

    We are also interdependent. I cannot understand why Episcopalians (like myself) who favor greater inclusion of gay and lesbian people in the life of the church are afraid to take the consequences of their/our actions.

    If we choose to be prophetic, let us suffer a prophet’s fortune. And let us be bold enough to stay connected while we follow where we believe God is leadingus.

  5. rwk Says:

    I can’t see TEC being thrown out or even ever being relegated to less than full status. The first “loophole” is that nothing can happen while the Province is “in the process of adopting the Covenant”. This can go on for years and probably will. The fact remains that many of us who left have far more in common than with the vast majority of the communion than TEC, but we will remain the ones in the wilderness, paying the prophet’s price.

  6. Bishop Chris Epting Says:

    I think you’re probably right about this process going on for years. Maybe it will give us all some time for healing and for the restoration of missional relationships. Might this admittedly awkward process eventually be a means of reconciliation?

  7. rwk Says:

    There are many strange paths to reconciliation. Avoiding terms like “so-called Anglicans” and “sneak in through the back door” might be a start. Personally, I was surprised by such language from you since you’ve usually been more respectful to dissenters and departers. I waited several days before responding because I wanted to be more thoughtful.

    I understand the leadership of TEC is convinced they are right and Spirit-led in the path they have chosen. Many of us are convinced they are wrong in that conviction and the actions of the leadership led us to believe there would be no place for us. I also know that they hold this conviction defiantly against the vast majority of the world’s Anglicans.

    I am at peace with the decision I made. It was painful to leave the church I was nurtured in – although it felt more like I was driven from it – but being free of the constant political shenanigans was emotionally draining and spiritually poisonous. I am welcomed and in contact with Anglicans across the globe, even if my bishop may not get invitation to Lambeth. I can live with that.

  8. Bishop Chris Epting Says:

    I take your point about my use of such phrases. I could have phrased my thoughts much more pastorally. I am offended by the use of the term Anglican by those who are no longer in communion with Canterbury. And, if such churches wish such an affiliation, the ACC provides a clear path for application.

    I am glad you are at peace with your decision. I believe we all should think carefully about these matters, say our prayers, and follow where we are led. Since I believe that all who are baptized by water and the Holy Spirit are members of Christ’s one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, I believe we are called to a common mission and can work together ecumenically. I just think we should be honest about who we are.

  9. Marshall Scott Says:

    Bishop, as a corollary: Lionel Deimel has been writing about the recent changes in the Anglican Consultative Council, between the renaming of the Joint Standing Committee to the process of incorporating the Anglican Consultative Council as the British equivalent of a private, not-for-profit corporation. He notes, and I would agree, that there doesn’t seem to have been as much transparency in those changes as one might wish, and that those changes have consequences, not least for adoption of and living within a Covenant. As one who has been in the forefront of our international relations, you might meaningfully comment, whether here or there.

  10. Bishop Chris Epting Says:

    Yes, I’ve seen some of that. I must say that I do not share much of the present paranoia here. Of course, institutions never have the transparency we might all desire and I know of no perfect ‘system.’ The point is, we will still be free to function as autonomous Provinces and nothing in the Covenant proposes to change that. But we cannot continue claiming to be part of a a worldwide Christian communion and pay no attention to how our actions are being received by that wider fellowship. There are consequences to decisions we make, and I believe that a system which tries to make that clear is absolutely necessary and long overdue. There is plenty of “roomy language” in this Covenant and the processess will take time to play out. Will we eventually find ourselves in some kind of “two tiered” Communion? Perhaps and, as much as I would lament that, it is preferable to a Communion in chaos which is fast becoming the laughingstock of worldwide Christianity.

  11. Leonardo Ricardo Says:

    We are at our best when we are working across the globe with persons who share our belief and goals to end poverty, disease, homelessness and despair, not when we question the validity of the faith of others. In this sense, I see this Covenant or any other as a huge mistake — the logical outcome of a growing bureaucracy, to be sure, but a mistake nonetheless. Jim Hammond

    I see this Covenant as completely unnecessary, a waste of lots of time and money and another political manipulation at Church.

    ¨How anyone can support this document is beyond my comprehension. It is the epitome of evil, a wolf in sheep’s clothing.¨ Jadvar

    Not the LEAST exaggerated. I suggest the good Bishop(s) ponder the anti-LGBT vileness that directly harms Christians at various Gafcon Provinces at the Anglican Communion….Uganda, would be a good start and I´m not the least interested if you think that Bishop Orombi (a member of the Primates Standing Committee who prefers not to attend) hasn´t already shown himself to be someone who is PLAIN deceitful and dangerous and filled with Communion ¨refusing¨ conceit.

    Sign what with whom? No dice.

  12. press release submission Says:

    press release submission…

    An Improved Anglican Covenant « That We All May Be One…

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