Saturday 23 October 2010

Anglican Covenant: a Tool for...?

I am slightly bemused when I am told some big signature project is perfectly safe because it won’t make any critical difference. If not, why bother? Is there anything worth doing instead that might make a difference? But a new General Synod is about to sign the C of E up to the Anglican Covenant, pretty much on auto-pilot, some say as much out of fear of giving offence as positive endorsement for its suposed virtues. Everyone else can then back-pedal, ignore it, even, depending on where they stand in the culture wars,
  • because they fear it will spank TEC


  • because they fear it won’t,
The Covenant then joins a select number of other magnificenti in the lumber room, like the Kikuyu declaration, and life carries on. But, inquiring minds will wonder, what kind of a tool is it? What for? Whose benefit? How?

There’s a scale for assessing tools, that runs from Swiss Army Knife to Turkey Turners.

The Swiss Army knife may seem ungainly and complex, but it’s an instrument of many uses, that has proved its worth during nights out on a thousand bare mountains. Whilst any one of its 39-odd functions could be better performed by a dedicated tool, the whole instrument brings together massive functionality in one place that’s accessible, effective and easily portable.
If tempted to see the Covenant as a Swiss Army Knife, ask yourself “what extra functionalities does it provide? What does evidence indicate about demand for these to be tackled? How accessible? Is it effective enough to be worth the candle and, actually, what is the candle?”

The Turkey Turner is a dual pronged instrument you stick in a Turkey’s rear end to turn it when it’s well and truly done. Not only is it ungainly, and far less effective than kitchen roll to manhandle a sixteen pound carcass, but if you make holes in a turkey’s skin out run the juices that make it tasty. Turkey Turners are admirably well-intentioned but essentially useless.
If tempted to see the Covenant as a Turkey Turner, ask yourself “How negative are its negatives, actually. Have I overestimated its impact? Would there be any argument for having one in the kitchen drawer just in case a turkey ever needs turning?”

Whichever way the various decision making processes go, it would be good to feel people had at least voted for something they believed in, not simply something they were too nice to ask searching questions about, and with which they couldn’t be bothered to object...

You Decide!


Ann said...

The Covenant is a Turkey Turner - and it will be a weapon against any (not just those bad people in the US and Canada) Any tool can be used as easily against the wielders.

June Butler said...

What Ann said.

Another image comes to mind - the Covenant as a turkey (a bad play). With proper foresight, the producers would realize that the play should never get as far as rehearsals, much less ever be staged.

Archbishop Cranmer said...

It's neat that that a Swiss Army Knife and the CofE both have XXXIX dedicated tools for specific purposes.


His Grace has decided to establish the Society of Cardinal Cranmer to put an end to all this division nonsense once and for all. It will have exactly the right balance between infallible papal authority and perpetual synodical compromise and obfuscation.

Muthah+ said...

My experience with Swiss Army knives is that none of the tools work any better than applying a bit of ingenuity to a plain ole pocket knife (save the corkscrew which all Anglicans MUST have.)

The Turkey turner never works. Well baked turkeys don't need to be turned. Only people who deep fry their turkey (some poor souls who haven't put their fish-fry equipment away for the winter)would need a turkey turner.

The Anglican Covenant is similar--who needs it? If passed it will be an implement of contention and eventual destruction of the Anglican Communion. We do have a device that works: Sitting down and talking with one another. Those who absent themselves from such discussion must walk outside the communion until they can sit down and talk and listen.

UKViewer said...

I have to say that I am not a great fan of a Covenant which will not bind wound, but will rather cause them.

As we seek to discern where the Spirit might be taking us on those second order issues which appear to divide us, I would much prefer that we did it in a communication of equals, not of superior and inferior, which I believe that the Covenant will create.

The TEC are our friends and brothers and sisters in Christ - I cannot see that breaking up the family over this is God's will.

The old saying was 'Jaw, Jaw not War, War'.

Lesley said...

Turkey Turner gets my vote. It has no positive benefit, it has great destructive possibility and it is an utter waste of our time. I can't make any sense of it

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I fear the worst "tool" is "Niceness". If the AC passes, it will be because no one wants to further embarrass the ABC who was mightily embarrassed by his proposed "compromised" on women in the episcopacy.

"Terminal Niceness" the soft underbelly of Anglican Accommodation. It's killing us.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Thanks to all for incisive thoughts, in which I detect a definite leaning! It was a open question, and I have no special objection to the content of the documents I've seen. I would prefer it to fit on one side of A4 or even A5.

Niceness is better, surely, than the aternatves. How we do theology is as important as our content. Is it the best basis for driving positive change? I don't know, but I've seen enough nastiness in the communion over the last ten years to sink a battleship.

If this is to accomplish anything lasting, however, it has to be intelligently entered into as a working document. So I stick with my recommendation that people should test and discern what it's really about for them, and not enter into it uncritically.

It figured almost not at all in recent GS elections here — it's just not on the popular radar. But, if adopted, some say it might provide a yardstick by which to measure, e.g. the new claims of some dissident US groups to be "real Anglicans." I don't personally see how this would work, but that's an argument to consider, perhaps.

I also cannot forbear to share a very helpful comment off list that I received in a personal email from a wise religious,who writes:

"I suspect the Covenant is more like fancy, painted dishes or something of that sort. Fine for saying "We're this sort of people", but you'd never want to use them as plates.

If the Covenant works well, it will probably be by getting folks to say "See we agree on the basics". If we try to use it to eliminate or avoid controversies, on the other hand, it will probably work as well as the monastic anti-meat eating statutes of the 1300's (ie., not at all)."

Words of Wisdom!

Savi H said...

A sharp knife in a kitchen can be dangerous, if carelessly used. The Covenant is designed to be wielded against the Episcopal Church, but could easily be turned against the Church of England, e.g. if the C of E wished to consider whether a priest married to a divorcee could be a bishop, or even over civil partnerships. In effect, this would make the C of E subject to a sort of College of Cardinals, many of whom know little of the realities of parish life here and care less. It is time perhaps to get the first aid kit ready!

June Butler said...

Savi is absolutely right. I don't think a sufficient number of people, especially those who vote in GS, are considering the possible consequences down the road for the C 0f E, if the decision is made to sign on to the Covenant.

To be subject to the equivalent of the RC College of Cardinals is not the solution to the problems and divisions in the Anglican Communion.

Tony Fitchett said...

On balance'Turkey Turner' - but parts of it could have some use. Parts 1 to 3 inclusive do provide a descriptive framework of 'what it is to be Anglican', though various Anglicans might take issue with various parts of them. But the killer is Part 4, with its disciplinary provisions across the Communion. That is the utterly un-Anglican part, with its Curia-like tendency [following on from the Virginia and Gift of Authority Reports]. I would suggest that Provinces adopt the first 3 parts and reject part 4, whatever various 'authorities' might say about having to accept of reject the whole.

Jonathan Jennings said...

By the time we need to define 'what it is to be Anglican' because we fear that some folks have stopped being Anglican, we've all stopped being Anglican ...

Erika Baker said...

Isn't part of the problem of the Covenant not that it can be used for the wrong purpose but that it legitimises the assumed power of bodies that have as yet no real power?
It's like turkeys voting for Christmas.

Anonymous said...

Vinaigrette Girl here.

Declarations are usually spars thrown off a ship feared to be sinking just before people who were hell-bent on protecting themselves against their fears leapt into the sea anyway. I am not impressed, remotely, by the document or the tendencies which birthed it.

But I have, and use, the "turkey turners" in the piccy, because lifting out a roast bird from its roasting dish fresh out of a hot oven burns my fingers. Moreover, my roast bird is legendarily tasty, the gravy is delicious, and as with all tools, the issue is the skill and mindfulness of the user.

The kitchen drawer of Anglicanism has a number of tools used once and never again; possibly better than some who use old tools and cut themselves and their parishoners, but more useful than drawers only full of the latest gadgets. The declaration declares that Real Anglicans are only allowed to use knives to slice eggs and that egg-slicing machines are un-Anglican, to which I say, oh, quit it, and just slice the eggs, please.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Many thanks for a very much more intelligent debate than I have heard elsewhere on this. It's not that I'm against for the sake of being against, but if this is to bless us it has to be something people embrace intelligently, and use constructively. I have to say the overwhelming reaction here has fuelled my questioning about whether this is just something that seemed like a good idea to a particular group of people in 2003, but things have moved on all round. I wonder what it will do, positively, and whether the final section doesn't lock us into an aproach we have always resisted before, working our ecclesiology deductively not inductively. Very grateful to all for unpacking this for me.

June Butler said...

Bishop Alan, while many of us question the need for an Anglican Covenant, I believe that at least some of us could live with the first three sections of the draft Covenant, but Section 4 seems punitive and very much contrary to the spirit of the mission of the Anglican Communion. Apparently, the draft Covenant as written is not subject to amendment, so the choice seems to be yes or no to the entire package.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Thanks, GM. I'm sure GS will be told it's all one job lot and you can't discuss section 4 apart from the rest. But why not? Section 4 is certainly the one I think of as most contravening Jonathan's principle above. Any body with any self-respect will surely want a more robust answer to why it can't be considered separately than simply because it suits the business managers who are trying to push through something few have positive feelings for on a sympathy vote. But has a new GS got any self-respect... Yet? Nous verrons.

Lesley said...

I'm confused..

- Why is the vote only going to require a simple majority when normally something this major would require a 2/3rds majority?

- Why is it unamendable when everything else is?

- Why has virtually no one heard of this when it will change the way we do Anglicanism?

I know that in the church in general, when faced with thinking it is either Cock-Up or Conspiracy one should always choose Cock-Up, but I am struggling with this one.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...


I simply don't know the answers to the questions (1 and 2) you're asking. As to (3) I suppose those who are proposing this will say it won't, but that's a claim for synod to test.

Let's hope questions are asked that will enable people to adopt it with confidence or not, but not simply stagger into it by default

Lesley said...

How about the Bishops - will they stagger into it due to of the outbreak of Extreme Niceness you mentioned before, not because the believe in it but because they don't want to see Rowan with egg on his face?

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Good question, Lesley to which, as the most junior of the most junior of bishops, I just don't know the answer. I have not been involved in any of the formulation of this, would have urged caution on historical grounds if I had been, and have no voice in how it unfolds. Therefore all I can do is ask questions. I am still uncertain whether this is as damaging as some say it will be, or something that will soon become a complete irrelevance. But what I decide, formally speaking, counts for nothing anyway. So I might as well raise the questions... :-)

June Butler said...

Lesley, the answer to No. 2 is that the Covenant Draft Committee voted that the document not be subject to amendment.

How did the Windsor Report come to be viewed as akin to canons or laws that the members of the AC must follow or suffer consequences? Those of us in the US were blindsided that a report came to be seen as binding us to certain rules, so we were wary of the draft Covenant from the beginning. We've been discussing the document for years now.

Of course, not every pew-warmer in the US knows of or cares about the Covenant, but those who pay attention and those who will have a vote have talked about the document at length.

Check out this link from the AC website. It sheds light on the development of the present document.

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