The future of an Anglican Covenant now seems centered in the forthcoming debate in the English General Synod. The preliminary vote precedes the issue going to diocesan synods for debate and discussion before it returns to General Synod at some time in the future. A concentrated barrage of criticism from “progressives” is now aimed at scuttling the Church of England’s consideration of the Covenant now.

Behind all this lies the perception of Anglicanism embraced by liberals, one which much in the recent past has helped to create and build. Perceptions are not always factual.

“Progressives” like to think of themselves as “thinking Anglicans”, people who find Anglicanism a useful and comfortable vehicle to advance their ideas and convictions about modernity. Now there is nothing unusual or necessarily wrong in a “party” within Anglicanism regarding itself as the proverbial answer to a maiden’s prayer. Such coalitions are part and parcel of the Anglican reality. When first advanced their perceptions may well be healthy contributions to the whole Church at moments when it seems to have neglected a vital aspect of the Christian Faith.

However a process sets in during which a positive offering becomes a reactive constituency more intent on preserving its integrity than engaging in respectful and prayerful conversation with others who may not embrace in part or perhaps substantially the programme offered by an activist group. In short a group slides into fantasy, regarding itself as the genuine face of Anglicanism assailed by all others.

The “progressive” reaction to the Covenant, with its fears that “fundamentalists” will conquer and obliterate their positions is linked to fear of all forms of Christianity which don’t meet with their approval. We see this in their revival of anti-Roman Catholicism as well as their worries about parts one through three of the Covenant, which merely re-tell the historic doctrinal, liturgical and ecclesiological (shape of the church) story of the Anglican position in its diversity and part four which introduces a minimal standard of discipline in inter-Anglican relationships.

I find the revival of anti Roman Catholic rhetoric to be informative. Foxe and Titus Oates must be standing in their graves. The contributions Rome offers in terms of spirituality, heroic sacrifice and an insistence on the reality of the unity of the Church are swept away by fears that the “scarlet woman” will subvert an Anglicanism described totally in progressive and liberal terms. Every time the Archbishop of Canterbury travels to Rome, or a Pope “invades” England, cries of popery fill the air. It is passing strange to see liberals echoing in their own discreet terms the rhetoric of Mr Paisley.

In Covenant terms fears are raised that theological liberalism will be brought to its knees by the Nigerian and Ugandan churches and their followers. The real point here is that vocal progressives wouldn’t be seen dead in the company of Global South Anglicans and want no truck with them, certainly not in the form of a covenant relationship.

Now I am not suggesting that “traditionalists” don’t react in the same manner. They too anchor their fantasy in a movement or moment in Anglican tradition, fearing that they will have to sit next to the American Presiding Bishop. So they too tear their garments in horror ad refuse to journey to Dublin even if their influence would be considerable if they sat at the table.

The first three sections of the Covenant draw us back from fantasy into reality. For this reason if no other they fill an important role in Anglicanism’s contemporary debate. They remind us of our Reformed Catholic integrity and of our positive offerings to ecumenism, yes even to Rome and unsettle our conviction that we alone possess the essence of Anglican Reality. If as has been suggested the Covenant is a waste of time and money, it won’t be any more so than many other things Anglicans busy themselves with, and as such surely will do no harm. If the Covenant is not enough, is it not enough because it is in error or not enough because I or we don’t agree with it when we meet and blog and issue solemn statements. Or is it not enough but nearly enough, enough to gain my or our assent without disturbing my fantasy of what Anglicanism has been or is as my friends and I do church?

Beneath all this is a tendency to pattern our version of Anglicanism not on biblical and catholic ecclesiology but on modern political parties, a “denomination” dominated by a platform, or a party in which various constituencies battle for control of the leadership and the agenda. Modern denominationalism fosters such a view. It permits us to identify our enemy, to attack, to defend and to indulge our visions of just how wonderful the church would be if we ran the show. If the Covenant reminds us that Anglicanism is more than sanctified politics it will serve its purpose.

One Response

  1. Fr. Tony,

    Hey. Just came across your blog. Thanks for this post. I’d been wondering what was happening with the Anglican Covenant in the UK, but couldn’t find any good info. I appreciate it.

    I’m an aspiring clergy-writer who’s new to the Anglican tradition, and am trying to find Anglican readers. The title of my blog is “Musings of a Hard-Lining Moderate: The assorted thoughts of an evangelical Anglican.” Right now I’m doing a series on the doctrine of Scripture, which was prompted by the crisis in the global communion. Also recently wrote a post on the value of the christian calendar. Don’t know if you’d be interested, but here’s the link:

    Have a great day.

    Grace & Peace,


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