Monday 29 November 2010

Anglican Covenant – dangerous progress in Synod? Or GAFCON statement – dangerous threat withdraws?

Archbishop Rowan began his presidential address to Synod in Church House last week by referring to a sermon preached by John Wesley on 'The Catholic Spirit' which opened with a text from II Kings 10.15: 'He greeted him and said, "Is your heart true to mine, as my heart is to yours?" Jehonadab replied, "Yes." "If so," Jehu said, "Give me your hand."'

Rowan urged Synod to surprise those who are looking on by demonstrating their loyalty to each other: 'Is your heart true to mine?' Loyalty grows and flourishes when we spend time together exploring God who has brought us together - if our hearts are true to each other, different things become possible, Rowan said.

Being true to each other, in our hearts, is to me obvious and fundamental to our Christian life and witness. Heart truth is important to the life of General Synod, the Church of England, the Anglican Communion, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Anglicans. Is the Anglican Covenant going to lead us into more heart truth?

GAFCON/FCA statement
As Rowan was delivering his address a statement was released by a group of Anglican leaders under the GAFCON/FCA banner, a statement which had been written at least two weeks earlier. The statement is almost, but not quite, a declaration of independence from Canterbury.

Those issuing the statement declare that they will no longer maintain an illusion of normalcy and will join other Primates from the Global South in absenting themselves from the next Primates’ meeting to be held in Ireland.

They further declare that the current text of the Anglican Covenant is fatally flawed and so support for it is no longer appropriate.

They plan to expand their ministry through other Anglican Provinces taking the ‘theological clarity’ of the Jerusalem Declaration as a solid foundation on which to engage with other Anglicans - those who affirm Biblical theological foundations of what Anglicans have always believed and practiced. They invite people in England ‘to re-affirm what they have always believed in Anglicanism by adopting the Jerusalem Declaration as a statement of their own faith and join with us in partnership in working to win the world to Christ’.

The statement rejects the Anglican Covenant, the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primates’ meeting, the Anglican Communion as at present constituted and swathes of Anglican history, experience and tradition. I might describe it as both audacious and abusive – audacious in its rejection of truth and abusive to issue it deliberately at the same moment as the Archbishop of Canterbury is asking in an adult way for Christian hearts to be true to one another and loyal to God.

The Anglican Covenant
In his address, the Archbishop of Canterbury said:

“it is an illusion to think that without some changes the Communion will carry on as usual, and a greater illusion to think that the Church of England can somehow derail the entire process. The unpalatable fact is that certain decisions in any province affect all. We may think they shouldn't, but they simply do. If we ignore this, we ignore what is already a real danger, the piece-by-piece dissolution of the Communion and the emergence of new structures in which relation to the Church of England and the See of Canterbury are likely not to figure significantly.”

The GAFCON/FCA leaders had already decided to derail the process and begun the dissolution of the Communion by setting out to create new structures which will exclude the Church of England and the See of Canterbury. Rowan, your words to Synod were taken to heart by those present, Synod members and those like me in the public gallery. Of course it is right to expect us to relate in ways that are mature, loyal, exploring God together, hearts true to each other. What then of the GAFCON leaders – are you going to ask them to behave in an equally mature way? That won’t be easy since they are already going to absent themselves from your presence.
The Archbishop continued to address the Covenant and the whole paragraph is worth quoting in full:

“The Covenant offers the possibility of a voluntary promise to consult. And it also recognises that even after consultation there may still be disagreement, that such disagreement may result in rupture of some aspects of communion, and that this needs to be managed in a careful and orderly way. Now the risk and reality of such rupture is already there, make no mistake. The question is whether we are able to make an intelligent decision about how we deal with it. To say yes to the Covenant is not to tie our hands. But it is to recognise that we have the option of tying our hands if we judge, after consultation, that the divisive effects of some steps are too costly. The question is how far we feel able to go in making our decisions in such a way as to keep the trust of our fellow-Anglicans in other contexts. If we decide that this is not the kind of relationship we want with other Anglicans, well and good. But it has consequences. Whatever happens, with or without the Covenant, the Communion will not simply stay the same. Historic allegiances cannot be taken for granted. They will survive and develop only if we can build up durable and adult bonds of fellowship.”

Managing it in a careful and orderly way has already been made impossible by the arrogant and aggressive actions of the GAFCON leaders, supported by a minority of members of General Synod. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to deal with the challenges of covenant and communion in an intelligent, relational, heart to heart way when people are acting so abusively. Changing Attitude is committed to adult behaviour, but the temptation to infantile responses is strong when Communion leaders act in infantile ways themselves.

The Synod motion moved by the Bishop of Bristol, Michael Hill, asked ‘That the draft Act of Synod adopting the Anglican Communion Covenant be considered.’ It was passed by a large majority and will now be sent to the dioceses for discussion. The Church of England did not, last week, adopt the Anglican Covenant, as some have asserted. England is continuing to discuss the Covenant and explore our differences of opinion.
In Rowan’s words, the Covenant offers the possibility of a voluntary promise to consult ... and disagreements need to be managed in a careful and orderly way.

“It does not invent a new orthodoxy or a new system of doctrinal policing or a centralised authority, quite explicitly declaring that it does not seek to override any province's canonical autonomy. After such a number of discussions and revisions, it is dispiriting to see the Covenant still being represented as a tool of exclusion and tyranny.”

Those of us who are anxious about the effects of the Covenant on progress towards the full inclusion in the Body of Christ of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are yet to be convinced that it is not possible to use it in a tyrannical and exclusionary way. If the GAFCON Primates (with others) have already decided to leave the Anglican Communion then there is not only less anxiety about the Covenant being used in a punitive way, there is no longer any real need for a Covenant at all.

Same-sex unions
Earlier in his address, the Archbishop had talked about the Communion’s approach to the ‘still bitterly divisive issue’ of same-sex unions.

He said:

“The need for some thoughtful engagement that will help us understand how people who read the same Bible and share the same baptism can come to strongly diverse conclusions is getting more urgent, because I sense that in the last few years the debate on sexuality has not really moved much.”

“And if we are not to be purely tribal about this, we need the chance for some sort of discussion that is not dominated by the need to make an instant decision or to react to developments and pressures elsewhere.”

Leaders and supporters of Changing Attitude are among those who have engaged in patient and thoughtful theological discussion in many different contexts and with a wide variety of opinions. We are committed to continuing conversation and exploration but the patience of many LGBT Anglicans is being tested to the extreme. We are living with an understanding of our own integrity in Christ which means that we deliberately ignore the guidelines adopted by the Church – Issues in Human Sexuality, Lambeth 1.10 and the House of Bishops’ pastoral statement on Civil Partnerships. The conversation and exploration can continue within the Church but we have already moved beyond.

Rowan asked for the help of Synod in working with him to create an ambience where better understanding may happen, taking the debate forward without the pressure of feeling we have some single and all-important decision to make. He pointed to the success of the 'Continuing Indaba' project in creating many such spaces for face-to- face discussion across cultures, considering a wide range of actually and potentially divisive matters. It has, he said, been pursued with heroic energy and imagination by many people of profoundly diverse convictions in the Communion and needs prayer and support.

We LGBT people in the UK and North America have personal security and legal protections which enable us to pursue our goals in the Communion with confidence, engaging openly with the Church. In other, socially conservative parts of the Communion, homophobia and prejudice in Church and society mean that open conversation is impossible and LGBT people remain invisible.

I am increasingly concerned about their safety and security and their inability to live spiritually, with integrity, in relationship with other Christians, when Anglican leadership in Nigerian, Uganda, Kenya and elsewhere equivocates about or actively supports punitive legislation. They need an active campaign for freedom and justice now, not at a time to suit the patient theological discussions within the Communion.

Susan Russell on her blog An Inch at a Time displays a Get out of the covenant free card and has her own take on what happened last week. Now that the folks the Anglican covenant was designed to keep at the table have turned their noses up at it, she says, it seems that sacrificing the vocations and relationships of the LGBT baptized on the altar of Anglican Unity becomes redundant at best and throwing out historic Anglican comprehensivness in response to hysteric Anglican politics becomes ridiculous at least.

The Episcopal Church instead of studying the Anglican Covenant that's already failed to hold the Communion together needs instead to be studying how to create something that will bring us together. “Like maybe focusing on the values that unite us rather than the issues that divide us. Like building a church for the 21st century that worries about who will COME if we proclaim the Good News of God available to all rather than who might LEAVE if we include everybody.”

Will sending the Anglican Covenant to be discussed in the dioceses have a negative effect regarding progress for LGBT people or does the statement from the GAFCON leaders have a beneficial effect which far outweighs any potential negative from the Covenant?

Colin Coward

To enable us to maintain a relational, principled, heart-true campaign for LGBT people in the Anglican Communion, please become a supporter of Changing Attitude or donate to our work.


  1. I didn't realise you were in the public gallery - I was too - gutted I missed the opportunity to have a coffee with you

  2. Colin,
    I struggle to follow you here.
    Rowan said clearly that actions in one place have consequences for the Communion, whether we like it or not.
    Regardless of the nice tone of his speech and his suggestion that we should try to talk about homosexuality again, his Pentecost letter and the consequent removal of TEC from the Anglican-Orthodox dialogue show quite clearly what these consequences will be, and that's before we have a Covenant which, as Jim Naughton ( points out, needs nothing more than a group of only 15 (!) people stating loudly that they feel offended before the offender has relational consequences imposed on him by the offended. No actual evidence required, no independent judge. Father Jake ( has a very good post on just what those relational consequences are and he comments: “I would suggest to those who are stridently claiming that this document is not "punitive" to carefully consider the above list of "consequences." Specifically, note that twelfth one: "removal from the ACC Schedule of Membership." That’s not getting grounded or sent to your room. That's getting kicked out of the house.”

    It's all very well pointing out to Rowan that we lgbt people really have been playing ball all this time, please please, can you not see it and honour it, and can you not see that the others are the baddies who are not following the rules.... but we've been playing this game for years now, ever since THAT Lambeth and the Windsor Report - which was also just a report, not punitive at all, and yet suddenly gained legal status, well, the bits you could clobber TEC with did.

    And the CoE is either not seeing it or they are not bothered or think it will never be used against them. Whatever reason the Bishops may have had for voting against the motion to send the Covenant proposal to Diocesan Synods, some speaking against it and then all but one voting in favour of it – it’s now going to Diocesan Synods who know that their Bishops have already supported it. How likely is it that it will not get a 51% majority?
    And once it’s through, how likely is it that the Covenant will be applied wisely, when nothing that happened in the Anglican Communion in the last 10 years has been wise, measured and politically middle of the road?

    Everything you say in your post is true, has been true for decades.
    But it’s not changed anything, not then, and I’d be extremely surprised if anyone started to listen now.
    At what point are we becoming co-dependent and colluding with our own abuse?