Well hello ladies and gentlemen
Today I am going to offer you a view of the proposed Anglican Covenant (AC) and I have included a selective description of how the Archbishops, who are championing the proposal, have been approaching the issue along with other pertinent matters. I also include a rather more involved description of some aspects of the November 2010 Synod debate of the AC as it will serve to indicate the atmosphere in which this debate is being conducted in England compared to the more open and balanced debates going on in other provinces. There are links provided to the Videos and stuff I have done through the year which will give you a flavour of the events that have occurred. But for those who simply want to dive into the videos, then here they are.
For those of you who want an overview with links; then please read on.
The Proposed Anglican Covenant: a review, November 2011
The Anglican covenant proposal is a response by the Archbishop of Canterbury to the problems that face our church today, particularly the many divisions within the church internationally.
The upsurge of division has come about because of the natural changes in many of our attitudes to issues of equality and fairness. These have affected our society a great deal and much good has come of it. These changes have also influenced thinking in our churches. Some parts of the Anglican Communion have acted quite boldly in the face of modern thinking and modern discovery.
In the Anglican Communion however there are many who would want our churches to cling on to some traditions that cannot be reconciled to what we have learnt of God’s creation, and there is a real desire to hold on to outmoded thinking that has no justification in scripture or in tradition. There is also a strong desire by those in authority to control the actions and indeed the thoughts of the ordinary people, and the authorities in the ‘provinces’. We are in a transitional world and it has resulted in a kind of ‘pick n mix’ attitude to issues, with some new ideas receiving a good deal of support whilst others are resisted strenuously. The acknowledgement, by the church, of God’s calling of women to be Bishops is generally accepted. The same acknowledgement of God’s calling to gay people is not always welcome and has been vigorously resisted.
One should not underestimate the strength of feeling that is prevalent in the thinking of those in authority. There is real fear of change and a desire by the college of senior clergy not to spoil their chances of promotion by appearing to be too liberal or too ready to engage with anything appearing to be ‘risky’. It is a sad fact that Bishops, and those hoping to become Bishops, are unable to be honest about their sexuality if they are gay. A great deal of personal sorrow lies in the hearts of men and women who might hope for preferment because they cannot reveal that they are gay. They are condemned to live lives of dishonesty because of the atmosphere of inquisition and exposure that prevails. Fortunately there are a few who will stand up and speak out.
Sadly, truly sadly, our two prime leaders (Canterbury and York) are not amongst the brave and they have chosen a path, collectively agreed with by the majority of Bishops, that demands obedience from everyone with the threat of punishment for those not adhering to the norm. It is a very sad fact that Rowan has been seduced by fear and has been a prime mover in heading up an attempt to introduce discriminatory rules, which require the church to treat gay people differently to the rest of the people, particularly with regard to any past sexual conduct. This is the context in which we have to consider the proposal of a New Anglican Covenant.
What the Archbishops and Bishops want to do is tighten up the rules of the Anglican Communion World Wide. They have made a joint proposal called the Anglican Covenant (AC) which is intended to make it more difficult for divisions to appear in the future, consequently stifling any opportunity for future change and degrading the traditional independence that Provinces have been able to flourish in. They are proposing to achieve this goal by threatening punishment to those who wish to act upon future changes in attitude, reason and modern discovery.
The AC is a proposed new contract we must all agree to. It binds us and demands that we adhere to those things that the establishment within the church approves of and prohibits us from doing things that they disapprove of. This is a new concept for the modern Anglican Communion, a concept of centralisation, rather like the Roman Church; a style of government we have not had to suffer since the rejection of Colonialism and British Supremacy in the last century.
In practice this means that the churches that support equal rights for women are likely to find themselves safe but those who go further and support equal rights for gay people are likely to suffer ‘relational consequences’. This is an unveiled promise and it is a bullying phrase that essentially means that the established church will fall-out with those who step out of line. It is bullying because it doesn’t state explicitly what the falling out will be like but is clearly intended to frighten, worry and intimidate those who do not agree with them.
Traditionally the Anglican community has remained together because it has, over time, learnt to promote tolerance amongst its members and has grown ever closer to the foundation on which it is built; Christ as revealed through the Holy Spirit through Scripture, tradition and reason. The Anglican founding documents have been the Bible, the Catholic Creeds and the Book of Common Prayer. The Anglican Communion has enjoyed a measure of equality within its Communion because it did not put any part of the community above another, nor any one person above us all.
In truth we are already faced with a totally new kind of Church and one that puts personality before duty. The Bishops have taken the worst traits of modern thinking and placed it in the heart of the Anglicanism. They have changed the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Until recently the Archbishop of Canterbury was the first Bishop amongst many Bishops; all equal and all able to disagree on matters. However he has now been made ‘the focus for unity’ by the Windsor Report and the cult of personality and celebrity, much loved by TV shows has been adopted by the Bishops and planted into the heart of our Church. ‘The focus for unity’ is a seemingly simple and innocuous phrase that we could readily agree with. However it is one that makes the Archbishop of Canterbury responsible for unity on his own, alone and makes him supremely significant.
Unity was, before the Windsor report, a shared responsibility amongst all Bishops of the Anglican Communion, indeed a responsibility shared by all Anglicans, but now it is located with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the proposed Anglican Covenant is the Archbishop of Canterbury’s first move to secure his new authority and power, a power we are accustomed to criticising the Pope for having. MrC believes this to be an illegitimate power, one that the authors of the Windsor Report have no authority to confer!
The November 2010 New Synod Meeting in London:-
The AC was not an inevitable response to the challenges that modern understanding has offered to the church but it is the response Rowan Williams and Sentamu in particular have decided upon, are eagerly promoting and are enthusiastically trying to force upon the Church of England. To this end they decided to break with the tradition of not putting difficult issues before a newly elected General Synod, a decision hotly argued against but arrogantly applied
This is a very significant point, for business in November 2010 should have been centred on the ceremonies and joy of the opening of a new five year Synod by Her Majesty the Queen. In the past the business, taken over the few days, has never been controversial nor too daunting for new members; of which there were a very large proportion, in this instance. Williams and Sentamu broke with this tradition, ignoring the outcry amongst seasoned Synod members and ensured the draft Act of Synod adopting the Anglican Communion Covenant was tabled for consideration by Synod, a task Synod were not prepared for, but more of that later.
Tolerance is essential to the Anglican Communion and it is a quality that has been difficult for the Church of England to master. Historically the Church of England has a terrible record of pomposity and a love affair with an overbearing attitude to the ‘colonial’ churches. Indeed the Church of England has struggled to acknowledge the legitimacy of many of the Anglican Provinces, adopting a punitive and discriminatory attitude towards them. Whilst the same overbearing attitude can readily be witnessed at church House by Bishops dealing with working class waiters in general we like to think that we have put that attitude behind us. We like to believe that the Church of England has learnt that humility are the characteristics of Christ and that it stands with other provinces as an equal and no longer wishes to tower above them like a master over his servant. The Windsor report was perhaps a resurgence of the reactionary Tory policies beloved of 18th century Bishops, even hoping for a reworking of the Divine Rights principle, this time for Archbishops.
Leaving that aside and returning to the reality of the modern Anglican communion. Here we have long since abandoned such elitist thinking and are working with the notion of equality and seeking to understand what that means in Christ. (Clericalism apart).
We have learnt, indeed are learning, to live with our differences and the churches of the Anglican Communion are in a perpetual debate about how we are church, how we are joined together, without anyone needing to be the focus for unity or invoke punishment or relational consequences.
The days of Archbishops threatening overseas churches with punishment are over and we should not wish to bring them back! Overseas churches realise this and they are rejecting this return to the bad old days. How wonderful it would be if the Diocese of England, the Synod of the Church of England, could stand shoulder to shoulder with them and also reject this backward looking and centrist proposal. What a terrible message of intolerance we would be sending to them if we accept its un-Anglican demands.
A much better understanding of the nature of what it is to be Anglican was offered by one brave Bishop. John Saxbee, the now retired Bishop of Lincoln, a much respected Bishop admired for his common sense and love of Anglican tolerance and a man who would stand up against the more arrogant Bishops, spoke in the debate at Synod in November 2010. He very wisely shocked the House of Bishops and Mr Williams and Mr Sentamu by declaring that; (in relation to the concept of an Anglican covenant)… “I entirely support the process, as long as it never ends”.
More fully Mr Saxbee gives a good account of the strength of Anglicanism in the world and the consequent destruction of this quality the proposed AC would mean.
“In relation to the Anglican Covenant I am on record as saying in this Synod that I entirely support the process, as long as it never ends. (Laughter) Let me explain what I mean. The Anglican Communion does not need a covenant, because Anglicanism is a covenant. It is a way of provinces living distinctly apart from each other while remaining a part of one another. That is a way of doing difference differently from the ways in which groups and individuals usually do difference. It is predicated on grace and good will. If there is grace and good will then a covenant will be unnecessary, and if there is no grace and good will then a covenant will be unavailing.”
(Report of Proceedings 2010 General Synod November Group of Sessions Volume 41 No. 3 page 97)
Despite these good words, Sentamu shocked many members in London in using openly bullying language and remonstrating against the AC opponents (a little of which is reported above but lacks the hysterical style, witnessed by MrC, in which it was delivered and may go a long way to explain why the recorder could not give a proper account of what Sentamu said because Sentamu was so worked up he often became incoherent, a fact much remarked on by members after the debate.)
It was a sad day for the reputation of the General Synod that it allowed itself to be bullied. As mentioned above, there were passionate and heartfelt pleas not to deal with this issue so soon in a new synod but to include it in a later debate as would have been usual. MrC is very aware that several members he spoke to who were new to synod that day admitted that they did not understand the issues involved at all and that they had far too much to take in to begin to understand what was going on. They said that they would prefer not to have to try to contend with such an issue in such a short sitting of Synod. Nevertheless they tried to understand the issues and they did vote, and voted in support of the Archbishops rather than abstain. There was a sense of brow beating in the debate and MrC felt that collective hysteria took hold of very many.
In his argument to justify the decision to rid Synod of the sensible courtesy offered to new Synod members, Sentamu read out and detailed a long list of events that had lead up to the debate, and he included a few that were not directly related to the AC debate. None of the new members would have understood most of what he referred to and they were forced to take his words on trust, an outcome MrC believes Sentamu was relying on. Having exhausted his list Sentamu then made a plea to the pride of the members by adding…
“We have been at it, we have moved it forward, and now you want to say, ‘Wait until February.’ If I were a new member of Synod, being told that I was not capable of sorting out the wood from the trees (?) would be an insult.
(Report of Proceedings 2010 General Synod November Group of Sessions Volume 41 No. 3 page 105: the typed recording of Mr Sentamu is unfortunately irregular because it has clear omissions. The grammatical inconsistency is theirs not mine; my italics.)
There are other examples of Sentamu’s manipulation of the synod members much of which was in his style, facial expression and the tone of voice he took but I will offer one small example of a recorded manipulation. As we now know there are many provinces that have soundly rejected the AC, but Mr Sentamu was rather clever at hiding this possibility at the time. He cleverly planted in the mind of the new members, and some not so new perhaps, that the AC was a done deal…
“…already some provinces are on the way to adopting the Covenant,…”
(Report of Proceedings 2010 General Synod November Group of Sessions Volume 41 No. 3 page 120)
Another important nugget of revelation came again from Sentamu who made it abundantly clear that the power to punish, in the AC, was very real and will be used when he said…
“If anyone thinks that discipline cannot be a part of it (the covenant), they should read Paul saying that some people are unworthily receiving the Lord’s body; they were even dying. I am afraid that Covenant must always have within it the possibility of discipline. Yes, grace is wonderful and always tends to make sure that the law is not hushed, but this is not cheap grace. At the heart of grace is the cross of Jesus Christ. He is the one who died and rose again and asked us to participate in his body and his blood. I want to believe that the law is not always bad. Law is good, but it is bad when we do not realize that Christ by his grace makes it good law.
(Report of Proceedings 2010 General Synod November Group of Sessions Volume 41 No. 3 page 110-111)
Sentamu is telling us, in this extract, that the supporters of the AC wish to authorise punishment to those churches the Archbishop thinks are not towing the line and he appeals to Saint Paul as his authority for demanding this punishment.
A particular tactic used by those supporting the AC and its un-Anglican proposals was that the diocese should be allowed a say. The tactic was, as perceived by many delegates, to ‘guilt trip’ the General Synod by demanding that the diocese be ‘allowed their say’. This was unfair but typical, as General synod would not have disregarded Diocesan Synods; after all they come from the Diocesan Synod, the Deanery’s, in fact the parish, unlike the House of Bishops! This was a fundamental insult to the lay members present.
Subsequent and related Issues:-
The appalling behaviour of the Archbishops was to become more and more public as the year went by and illuminates the true attitudes behind the AC and should act as a warning to us all to avoid the AC and the power it would invest in such people. As MrC said at the time, ‘to trust Mr Rowan to misuse the power the AC gives to him is one thing, but can we be sure we can trust a future Archbishop of Canterbury’?
It turns out that Rowan himself was not above bullying women to tears and using legal tightropes to bar good and popular men from high office. As for Mr Sentamu, he used a visit to the toilet with other men as an opportunity to persuade them to vote a particular way, avoiding the required open and democratic discussion he had a responsibility to ensure and thereby successfully manipulating a group into rejecting a man Sentamu did not want to become a Bishop. Silvio Berlusconi could not have done better and the Church lost a good man.
So these are the men who want the AC to be passed and assure us that they would be responsible and not use the powers it confers in a bad way. Given that they are already stand accused of misbehaving in seriously bad ways and certainly in high handed, undemocratic and pastorally inept ways, we would do well to reject their assurances and reject the Anglican covenant.
The truth is that we have managed to cope with change for centuries without becoming a centralised church and we have used our founding principles and documents well, so far. We have one covenant and that is the New covenant with God, won for us through the passion of Christ and Anglicans do not need to misappropriate the language of the Bible in order to attempt to legitimise a blatant attempt to rewrite the Anglican church’s principle of communion, from principles of mutuality and equality to ones of punishment, procedure and primacy. Out centrality is in Christ and our relationship with Him is what is supremely consequential.
The machinations of the Archbishops have not, so far, been a resounding success internationally as many provinces that have debated the AC have rejected it. Here in the UK the debate has gone out to the Diocesan Synods, and the response has been patchy so far. There are concerns that the pull of loyalty to the Archbishops (Mr Sentamu’s argument) is influencing intellectual debate; a worry for any thinking Anglican. Some Bishops, loyal to the Archbishops, have tried to suppress any debate on this pivotal legislation, attempting to hoodwink their local synods in deference to the Archbishops. The Synod members are better informed now and MrC hopes that a proper debate will take place at Diocesan level. Signs are that there is a realisation of what is going on and Synods have resisted the knee jerk reaction to support the Archbishops by rejecting the proposal.
What to do?
The best advice we have so far is to read the Covenant, consider it carefully, and reject it.
It has been requested that MrC make a clear plea to those of you who are members of Diocesan Synods to vote against this un-Anglican proposal. The General Synod has given the wider membership of the Church of England an opportunity to say how it feels about this proposed covenant.
Vote against adoption. Stand up for a broad church. Stand up for a church of moderation. Stand up for the maintenance of good Anglican tradition.
Bye Bye for now MrC