Synod approves Anglican Covenant, but will it work?

The Church of England's parliament has overwhelmingly approved the "Covenant" which the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, hopes will prevent the worldwide 70m-strong Anglican Communion from falling apart (see my earlier post). The three houses which make up the General Synod --  bishops, clergy and laity -- voted with clear majorities to send the Covenant to the Church of England's 44 dioceses for debate before final approval in 2012.

But as soon as the vote was passed, both liberals and evangelicals among the Anglican Communion's 38 provinces -- which are virtually autonomous Churches -- made clear they would reject it.


In a statement apparently written early in October, but only released yesterday, the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) Primates' Council, made up conservative evangelicals mostly in the developing world, said the text of the Covenant was "fatally flawed". They believe that it would be too weak to impose traditional Christian teaching on homosexuality on the north American Episcopalians, who sparked the crisis in the Communion in 2003 when they consecrated an openly gay bishop in defiance of the Anglican Primates worlwide.  

Meanwhile, liberals in the No Anglican Covenant described the Covenant as "ill-conceived" for precisely the opposite reason --that it erodes the traditional autonomies which they believe Anglican provinces should have. It criticises the "centralised dispute-resolution mechanisms" in the Covenant and its attempt to impose doctrinal orthodoxy.

Many of the reports of the vote therefore conclude that the Covenant is dead in the water -- even before it is sent to the rest of the Communion.

That is a misreading. Although +Rowan Williams wants as many Anglican provinces as possible to sign up to it, he always knew that introducing a more Catholic ecclesiology -- defining boundaries of doctrinal orthodoxy -- would alienate both the conservative evangelicals and the liberal Anglicans. The loss of GAFCON and the Episcopal Church of North America are foreseen, if not intended, consequences of the Covenant process.

But the gain lies in a stronger, more unified, and more coherent Anglican Church, even if it will be considerably smaller than now. For Catholics that is good news, because Rome can again have a dialogue partner it can do business with. 

The good news for Anglicans will be that they can put an end to the endless eviscerating rows over homosexuality. The disagreements won't end, but the hope is that the Covenant will enable them to be contained -- rather than, as now, resulting in provinces declaring themselves out of communion with each other.

The vote today enables the process to begin, a process which over the next few years will see the Anglican Church at the same time both come together and move apart.

In Light of the World, Pope Benedict describes "national Churches" as "anachronisms" in an age of globalisation. A Church does not grow, he says, "by withdrawing into some national shell". The Church, he says, "needs unity, she needs something like a primacy".

Did he have the Anglicans in mind?

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8 years 1 month ago
The continued Anglican resistance to the canonical and conciliar norms, is epitimozed in the Anglican Covenant which poses the same  myopic ecclesiastical view that has plagued 21st Century Anglicanism as it cannot resolve the ecclesial deficit and crisis of that plagues Anglcanism in the 21st Century.

In addressing the deficit, one must inquire are there resources available to close the
deficit gap and so Anglicans must authentically ask: Can there be an authentic
catholic evangelical Communion Ecclesiology for Anglicans? This question cannot be
ignored as the historic Bonds of Affection are frayed. Anglicanism has prided itself
on diversity and yet we now know with clarity that he ecclesiology of being
Communion is held together by a larger expression of unity. This has been the
difficult point for Anglicans whether revisionist or orthodox because like the postmodern
world we minister in, Anglicans prefer our expression of diversity and autonomy over
unity. This Covenant is a case in point.

 Anglicanism must address that if it does not embrace a conciliar and canonical
model to reconstruct its ecclesiology it will mirror the post-modernism contentment
with pluralism-the acceptance of diverse views alongside each other, irrespective of ecclessiology is the special vocation of the church, namely to call forth that integration and reconciliation for the church and to the world.

Anglicanism claims that heritage but all too often finds the easier course is to leave the idea of communio anglicanae to the respective Provinces or even more so the local diocese and congregations. This has resulted in a false model of ”spiritual unity'' that has no real provision for mutual accountability or common decision-making-much less serious ecclesial structural implications.

The time has come for Anglicanism to do the challenging work of identifying the systematic ecclesiology it lays claim to because systematic ecclesiologies investigate the church methodically, critically, and constructively, in contrast to catechetical and pastoral exercises in theological communication.

Anglicanism if its to be an expression of the catholic faith must seek to embrace being an expression of communion that reflects the apostolic tradition both of Scripture and of conciliar teachings that the has been called for and we have yet to see realized but instead are offred a covenant which promises little and delivers even less!
PJ Johnston
8 years 2 months ago
I don't see why the loss of the Episcopal Church should be considered a tolerable outcome, much less an intended one.
PJ Johnston
8 years 2 months ago
The individual Anglican provinces are and have always been fully autonomous, with the larger pan-communion entities (Anglican Consultative Council, Archbishop of Canterbury, Lambeth Conference, etc.) having only advisory powers.  I thought individual dioceses might be autonomous as well (it is at least a murky point of Anglican ecclesiology), but the US province asserts a right to reposses dioceses and their properties when an individual diocese votes to sever ties with the national body and the courts have generally gone along with this interpretation when determining property ownership.  So it's an Orthodox-style "national church" ecclesiology with a communion-wide metropolitan as a figurehead - distinct from, say, Independent Catholic ecclesiology (no authority beyond the diocesan) and that of the Roman Catholic Church (dioceses and bishops conferences subordinate to a monarchical rather than metropolitan Bishop of Rome).

I'm a disaffected Anglican priest who became Roman Catholic over its advanced theology on inculturation and interfaith relations rather than the usual hot-button issues such as gender, homosexuality, etc.  (Bishop Broadhurst, one of the bishops involved in the ordinariate, actually preached a sermon against me when I was in seminary!)  The longer I stay the more it seems that the Anglican Communion pre-"Covenant" had the superior ecclesiology.  If you have a worldwide communion (like Rome or Canterbury), the bureaucracy needs to be extraordinarilyy baggy, inefficient, and incapable of providing real discipline, or else the first controversial issue that comes down the pike will provoke an authoritarian solution from the central hierarchy that requires one or the other sides to go packing.  If the system of governance is so diffuse and inefficient that no centralized response to any problem can ever get off the ground, then it is possible for people with widely divergent views on divisive issues to co-exist in the same communion.
PJ Johnston
8 years 2 months ago
I suppose the foregoing could be reduced to a slogan:  incoherence is better than excommunication.
Jim McCrea
8 years 1 month ago

In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas.

Notice everything.  Overlook much.  Improve a little.  John XXIII
8 years 1 month ago
''It looks as though the root problem for traditional churches may be a dwindling capacity of people in the West to believe in any ultimate truths that transcend the material world.  Somehow, living with the fruits of science and technology seems to cause that.''
This is an off topic comment but one that is vital to any discussion of religion.  Some believe it is the most important factor underlying the lost of faith in our world, namely that there is nothing more than us and we are the result of natural processes playing out over time.  Science has done wonders in explaining parts of the world but the truth is that science is limited.  
It cannot begin to explain much of a very important part of the history of the universe, namely origins.   When the tools of science are applied to these questions, it inevitably points to something beyond science or natural processes.  But the atheists who control the curriculum do not let this conclusion rise in any of our schools including often Catholic schools.  The truth is that science points to something beyond our material world but this is off limits for science.
8 years 1 month ago
re: the discussion on science, Wendell Berry has a good idea of what is happening (from Life is a Miracle):

“The problem, as it appears to me, is that we are using the wrong language. The language we use to speak of the world and its creatures, including ourselves, has gained a certain analytical power (along with a lot of expertish pomp) but has lost much of its power to designate what is being analyzed or to convey any respect or care or affection or devotion toward it. As a result we have a lot of genuinely concerned people calling upon us to ‘save’ a world which their language simultaneously reduces to an assemblage of perfectly featureless and dispirited ‘ecosystems,’ ‘organisms,’ ‘environments,’ ‘mechanisms,’ and the like. It is impossible to prefigure the salvation of the world in the same language by which the world has been dismembered and defaced.”
PJ Johnston
8 years 1 month ago
If you don't have time to read Putnam and Campbell's "American Grace" (a massive, first-rate sociological study of religion in America), I recommend this short review which summarizes one of its more important findings.  The fundamental problem for religion in Western society right now seems to be religion itself, or at least its most public spokesmen.

Putnam and Campbell observed a seismic level of religious disaffiliation in Gen X and Gen Y (now around 30% in the latter age group), particularly amongst liberals.  They teased out the causes.  The disaffiliated believe in God, absolute standards of right and wrong, etc. at approximately the same rates as those who have remained within Christianity.  The best predictor of whether someone stays or leaves is whether they are socially liberal or socially conservative, with views on homosexualiy being the absolute best predictor and views on marijuana legalization being the second-best predictor.  They tested several hypotheses and interviewed extensively, and the strongest hypothesis to account for the phenomenon and its timing (the shift centers on young adults who have come of age since approx. 1990) is the evangelicalization of American Protestantism and growing conservativism within American Catholicism.  The latter groups have trained more-or-less everyone - liberal, conservative, Christian, non-Christian - to think that Christianity is simply co-extensive with social conservativism, particularly about homosexuality.  Over the same period of time, secular social conservatives have converted to Christianity in droves, with religious liberals (particularly youth) disaffiliating at massive rates.  In the recent historical past, political affiliation and religious identification bore almost no relationship to one another, but now there are almost no secular conservatives or liberal Christians.

In other words, the reality of the matter is pretty much the opposite of the picture presented by religious conservatives.  The survival of Christianity is not threatened by relativism or liberalization or "watering down" standards of discipline and belief.  It's most threatened by Christianity having become identified with conservative positions on controversial social issues, and everyone who doesn't share those positions leaving on their own or being hounded out of the religion.

This is no real news if you come from the cohort in question (liberal Gen X or Gen Y Christian who fully accepts homosexuality) - your entire experience of Christianity will have been one of alienation and disaffection and social pressure to become conservative or leave and watching all your friends getting driven out of the religion one by one.  But it's nice when someone with the right methodological creds in sociology notices the phenomenon and goes out and proves what you already knew firsthand.

This isn't good news for the Catholic church in the US.  Except for immigration, Catholic affiliation is in freefall, and it's for precisely the same reasons - we've cannibalizd all the liberals (esp. the young ones) to score points in the culture wars.

I'll probably leave myself soon if nothing changes.
8 years 1 month ago
I usually do not comment on religious issues here but I just finished Philip Lawler's ''The Faithful Departed'' and he has a take on the problems in the US Church and it also relates substantially to homsexuality and the church but also to abortion and other issues such as contraceptive policies.  I do not get anything from his book, which I highly recommend, that there is any mass dichotomy among American Catholics based on conservatives forcing their social positions on liberals.  If a liberal perceives this, then it seems that they want a Church that changes with the tide and that is not the Catholic Church.  Though Lawler points out how the liberals are trying to influence Church positions by acting as gatekeepers to those who are admitted or recruited to seminaries.

The Church's position on abortion, divorce and homosexuality hasn't changed. What has changed is the general public's attitude on these topics while the official Church has not changed.  Lawler points out that it the American hierarchy which has taken a less than clear position over the years on these areas that has led to their particular problems.  It seems that there is a lost of the young more so from lack of belief and changing social mores than the imposition of traditional beliefs.  Here is the link to Amazon for Lawler's book and some of the reviews are very good and can say it much better than I can: 
PJ Johnston
8 years 1 month ago
I'll give it a look.  I'm interested in Lawler's background and method - is he a sociologist by training, or simply a Catholic journalist offering an amateur sociological analysis?

Putnam and Campbell actually explored the thesis that the people who left are less religious than people who stay and that's why they left, and were able to rule it out definitively - the statistical predictor that appeares most determinative is one's position on homosexuality irrespective of one's other religious beliefs.  One's other religious beliefs and practices (or lack thereof) just don't make that much of a difference in predicting religious belonging in the relevant cohort.

Since this topic was originally about the Anglican Communion and the actions of the Church of England's Synod, I'm curious if anyone has ever done similar studies on patterns of religious affiliation and disaffiliation in the UK and whether or not the same patterns would hold.  I do know that evangelicals have made significant inroads in the Church of England in recent years, but it's less clear (to me, anyway) whether or not that has translated into the same degree of polarization and alienation from Christianity among pro-gay rights Britons.  It would be fantastic if someone had a study on hand they could recommend.
8 years 1 month ago
Here is the best comment I have seen on Lawler's book from the Amazon reviewers that sums up what Lawler found.

''With the demise of Catholic moral leadership within the hierarchy and the clergy, the sex-abuse scandal is really no surprise. Lawler segments the scandal into three scandals. The first scandal is the sexual abuse of young people by Catholic clergy which has been acknowledged and addressed. The second scandal is the prevalence of homosexuality among Catholic priests which has been acknowledged but not been addressed. And the ''third scandal is the abdication of authority - or worse, the complicity - of American Bishops when they were confronted with the evidence of clerical abuse.'' In short form, the re-emergence of a Catholic Culture will be hindered until the hierarchy deals within itself and begins to provide true moral leadership. '' 

Mr. Lawler is a journalist and writer and once was editor of the Boston Catholic newspaper, The Pilot, under Cardinal Law.  Maybe someone could look at Catholicism in other countries and see if the hierarchy behaved in a similar manner.
8 years 1 month ago
''Stay tuned and believe.''

One prominent atheist scientist and an ex Catholic is a proselytizer of atheism. Not in a hard way but in a gentle way indicative of his Catholic upbringing at being civil.  People like Richard Dawkins are anything but civil.  This scientist believes that science will eventually get to everything and sees no obstacles for that.  He is a prominent cosmologist.

However, he refuses to face the reality that some aspects of the natural world belie any explanation by natural processes.  These all have to do with origins.  Origins are a tricky thing with atheists and they avoid them like the plague saying that probabilities and luck lead to what we see.  The only problem is that there are too many instances of luck to be accounted for by any probabilities.  So in a sense, even this very smart, logical and agreeable scientist is in deep denial about the logic of his beliefs.  It is an interesting phenomenon but this blind faith in all these coincidences just happening by chance means he relies on faith and his beliefs are based on this blind faith.  More so than one who believes in the Resurrection which is based on witnesses.

To show you the absurdity that Catholicism has gone in trying to accommodate itself with atheism, his university, Villanova, awarded him a medal as an outstanding alumni who advances the goals of the university. 

Relevant to what PJ Johnston said, I believe what he says is prevalent and that for young people the issue of the Church's attitude on homosexuality is a deal breaker for them even if they are not homosexual.  Which means that they do not see the Church as divinely inspired by God and if it is not divinely inspired by God it should disappear because all it is now is a out of date social organization.  The Mass, the Eucharist, Apostolic succession are all a sham then.  In other words there is no faith.


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