Monday, 8 November 2010

Right solution, wrong problem?

Please, Covenant people, tell us what you think your pet project will achieve and how. We know it’s fallout from the Windsor process, and I’ve seen the text endlessy, but still do not understand exactly what problem it will address and how. Therefore I cannot forbear to share, with my grateful thanks to Maggi Dawn, an attempt to mend a troubled relationship, nothing to do with Church. Sheila wrote to a South Carolina agony column with her relational problem
Dear John,
I hope you can help me. The other day I set off for work, leaving my husband in the house watching TV. My car stalled, and then it broke down about a mile down the road, and I had to walk back to get my husband’s help. When I got home, I couldn't believe my eyes. He was in our bedroom with the neighbour’s daughter!
I am 32, my husband is 34 and our neighbour’s daughter is 19. We have been married for 10 years. When I confronted him, he broke down and admitted they had been having an affair for the past six months. He won’t go to counselling, and I’m afraid I am a wreck and need advice urgently. Can you please help? Sincerely. Sheila.
John writes back with what is unquestionably a brilliant technical solution to what he thinks is the real problem, worthy of a high powered deisgn group:
A car stalling after being driven a short distance can be caused by a variety of faults with the engine. Start by checking there is no debris in the fuel line. If it clear, check the vacuum pipes and hoses on the inlet manifold and also check all grounding wires. If none of these approaches solves the problem, it could be that the fuel pump itself is faulty, causing low delivery pressure to the injectors. I hope this helps. John
Eh voilà! A perfect 10 of a solution, sincerely meant, technically flawless, but completely useless to address a relational problem! You don’t build trust by inventing a third party body to talk about people behind their backs and adjudicate. People who go to court usually end up feeling worse, sometimes even when they have won. Trust comes, in my experience as a bishop, from openness, listening skill, direct speech, compassion, accountability, stability and hope, experienced relationally in as low-key a register as possible.

It may be that the Anglican Communion needs an Anglican Covenant, but the troops are as yet unconvinced and all I seem to be hearing from its proponents, I'm very sorry to say, are rather testy responses to criticism, blaming everybody else for misunderstanding it, whilst everybody else seems to think they understand it only too well.

Meanwhile the Church Times has set its readers a question of the week about the adoption of the Covenant. Normally they get about 200 votes, split about 60/40. This week, I see it’s over 800, 86%, yes 86%, against the Covenant. That's hardly a scientific poll, but if the powers that be have any interest at all in what active Anglicans think, they ought surely want to try and work out why so many people are as yet unconvinced. Is it just a communication thing, or is it something about the proposal itself that hasn’t yet connected with everybody?

Because the Church of England has only a limited ability to listen to the Holy Spirit speaking through the non-elite faithful, it may be that habitual deference, lack of moral courage, infantilism and amateur inexperience can sail such a thing through the General Synod with less than 20% of the punters actually believing in it. The kindest thing that may end up being said was that it seemed like a good idea at the time of the Windsor report, whose child it is, but it represents a rational/legal solution to something that wasn't essentially a rational/ legal problem, and never mind because everybody has now moved on.

I very much doubt that places where they are less into deference, infantilism and amateur inexperience than England will buy the covenant wholesale on this basis. So come, on, Covenant people. Please explain to us positively how this helps build a closer and more relational communion that is not a super-denomination, and we will consider your advice very seriously. Right now, the kindest one can say is that the case appears “not proven.” yet?


Anonymous said...

Dear +Alan,

Vin Girl here.

I do so hope you're copying all this, and our discussions in Comments, outside this blog. I really can't begin to say how tired I am of beating my head against the brick wall of the Church's institutions.

God isn't a Big Fearsome Sky Daddy who enables a Big Fearsome Committee to tell us that Anglicanism doesn't include Us - whoever Us is - and can throw us out of the clubhouse if we don't submit.

I also find it shocking that Anglicans who are attached to male privilege are talking about joining the Roman Catholic communion as if that communion wasn't itself undergoing serious challenges and revisions to its own composition.

The Covenant is to Anglicanism what the hugging-to-itself conservative movement is to Roman Catholicism: it's excluding, not including, and it's based on fear.

If male privilege was threatened by eating shellfish and wearing linsey-woolsey we'd be hearing about that stuff, too.


Godspeed, +Alan!

FrJohn said...

Thanks for your observations on this issue. I may be missing something in the full intention of the Covenant, but all is see is a mechanism for demoting the Episcopal Church, the Canadian Church, and perhaps, others to second-class status. This apparent purpose is, to be sure, surrounded by a thick padding of piety.
What's wrong with the Chicago-Lambeth quadrilateral as a basis for Anglican identity and unity?
Again, thank you for your voice on this issue.
The Rev. John Borrego
Guthrie, Oklahoma, USA

Lesley said...

Hi +Alan

I am loving your posts on the Covenant, which are basically 'look guys, if it has a purpose then b****y well tell us what it is - please - we are listening, we want to understand'.

I have also been straining to hear. I suppose my question to you is this: if you hear no answer and suspect that it is a truly lousy idea, then what can be done? (Genuine question).

Pastor Kristi said...

Thank you for your thoughtful analysis! Not really sure of any practical use for the Covenant either, except to create further division.

Sadly, I read the news that Bishop Gene Robinson will be retiring in 2 years. The intense controversy has taken a deep and lasting toll on him and on his relationships.

It leaves me with the question: What are we really about?

Kristina Maulden

Peter O said...

I'll bite.

Surely the need for and purpose of the Convenant is easy to see.

i) There are issues over which different Provinces profoundly disagree. Specifically, some Provinces are enacting policies that other Provinces see as distinctly unChristian.

ii) At present there are no effective methods in place to work through these issues. The consequence of that position is that there is a deep tear in the fabric of the Communion.

iii) The Covenant presents a clear process to handle issues in (i) and to provide a structural solution to them. It encourages Communion because the Covenant holds within itself an understanding that Communion *cannot* be without limits. It recognises very clearly the work of the Spirit because it assumes a catholicity of witness and listening that cannot be exclusively claimed by one Province operating in a manner contradictory to the others.

Right, how about that for starters?

Anonymous said...

Vin Girl back again.

Such a joy being a woman in the Church these days; gay men can be and often are just as misogynist as straight men, but women-and-gays are still a lump-sum issue for people who see ordaining us as un-Christian.

Peter, the place to start with reform, someone said, begins with removing the beam from one's own eye before removing the mote from the eye of the Province next door. Then there's prayer; I'm told that waiting on God's time to work these things out is the best policy, as is dialogue. We haven't had enough women, or homosexuals of either sex, in the clergy long enough to know if it's really so unChristian as all that.

However, we have Nonconformist women ministers and women rabbis and gay ministers and rabbis, and so far the spiritual lives of their flicks seem to be at least as lively and active as that of Anglicanism.

Why the hurry to withdraw the hem of "our" garment from the perceived "unChristian" members of the church?

And writing as a woman done immense damage purely through the traditional misogyny of Anglicanism, I understand the pain you feel about the unChristian behaviour of fellow Anglicans, but despite that, it's not me leaving. God alone knows why. I mean it. Really.

What's the hurry either to dominate or leave all about?

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Chris has left a new comment on your post "Right solution, wrong problem?":

Thank you very much for this, Bp A. As I read it, I'm sure I heard the sound of a nail being hit very hard on the head!

Posted by Chris to Bishop Alan’s Blog at 8 November 2010 18:20

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Peter, thank you very much for articulating something of what is intended by the covenant. Being slightly devil's advocate,

(i) I agree. This has always been the case though, for example in the 1920's when the Church in Nigeria was allowing polygamy among its converts. People worked through it and stayed in fellowship without any central institutions at all of the post 1948 kind, except the Lambeth conference, and missionary societies to intermediate.

(ii) There are four different institutions of one sort or another, all of which have some limitations but all of which also occasionally get results. This language of a deep tear in the fabric of the communion is a rhetorical flourish the meaning of which I don't know.

(iii) It presents a tool for people but not the motivation or means to use it constructively. The Church has always had a doctrine of excommunication for open ublic scandal, but been very careful about using it, and never done so wholesale to groups of people merely be cause of where they live or by taint of association with others. This is because it has understood communion to be a sacrament of the Lord, not a political weapon for the Church. So Jesus, being crucified, prays "Father forgive" and gives communion to Judas Iscariot as he goes out to betray him. But I, one sinner, choose to excommunicate another sinner because I think s/he is a bigger sinner than me. That is limited communion, founded on exclusion and having limits. The whole concept strikes me as inadequate - playing Church not being Church. Catholicity is a mark of the Church and it is part of God's gift in baptism, not an institutional fix achieved by politics. What actually happens adn has always happened since the acts of the apostles is the exact opposite of the kind of process you outline. the Spirit raises up new expressions of faith that are tested in practice and by their fruits you shall know them. You don't know in advance, not even by being a committee of fifteen of the great and the good. The church needs faith. That's why the Church had to hammer out the creeds the way it did over hundreds of years; entirely without the kinds of institution proposed.

In the meanwhile what the proposed structure does is further tie together an interational denominational structure for quality assurance - a concept which strikes me as entirely bizarre in NT Terms, where there is no such thing as a denomination, let alone any criterion for beefing up denominational walls by exclusion. It's a very different perspective and process to anything in Scripture.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Excellent post, and a good response to Peter O. Operating out of a need to find a better way to fix things, rather than employing the tools already at our disposal, surely must demonstrate that the new tool will be better, will fix things, and won't cause collateral damage. Which I take to be your point. Good show!

Lapinbizarre said...

Extremely impressed by the quality and common sense of your recent posts here and by your wonderful piece in yesterday's Guardian. Very may thanks. Roger Mortimer.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Brilliant sir. Good work answering Peter O. Well done. I've linked your post to mine.

Vin Girl - so glad you're staying. Jesus loved nonconformist women - starting with His mum.

Alan Wilson said...

As well as the ecclesiological mission creep involved, there is also a law of unintended consequences. Give the kids a football and they kick it (accidentally on purpose) at your neighbour's greenhouse.

In fairness, I'd say, there are already some ecclesiological loose ends hanging around in communion institutions, and the failure of them to deliver is part of the attraction of the covenant to those attracted by it. I wou,d caution, however, great understanding about why the current central institutions have struggled to deliver before inventing a new one. More of the same may nit be the answer.

John Waldsax said...

Bishop Alan

I believe that you have severely underestimated the desire of worshipping Christians (many doubtless Anglican) to state together explicitly their shared values and beliefs. Perhaps if clergy had spent more time learning how to build institutions instead of weakening them they would have found that those shared values are the glue which binds and strengthens organisations.

The weekly joy of saying the Creed, with fellow anglicans, with Roman Catholics, with men, with women, with lay and ordained has never failed to help me leave a service reinvigorated in the hope that many of my fellow creatures agree I am forgiven and redeemed by a great and loving God.

Contrast this if you will with the abusive media dialogue of the liberals and the angrily "orthodox" which does for church unity as much good as Prime Minister's question time does for repect for politicians.

The idea that an ever wider doctrinal boundary will help us to grow (or even survive) after two thousand years of arguing makes about as much sense as trying to play soccer and Rugby on the same pitch. We need the boundaries, we need the limits and we need the unity, even if it is like a lowest common denominator. We are weak human beings, however much libertarian individualists may assert otherwise, and we need strong relationships clearly expressed with God and each other, in that order. We need the Covenant until we meet in heaven when all our weakness and all God's glory will be revealed.

Anonymous said...

On your point (i) in item 8, Bishop. Presumably by analogy, then, the Episcopal Church will be seeking over time to disallow homosexuality among its converts.

I thought the Church in Nigeria didn't approve of polygamy and were dealing with it in a gracious manner. That is not the case, as I see it, with the Episcopal Church. They are promoting something Scripture says is wrong (according to mainstream orthodox believers).

There are those in the Episcopal Church who want to go further still - to polyamory, for example.

Can a line ever be drawn? The Hegelian approach to truth (let's all keep talking, indaba, don't tear the fabic, etc, etc) is no truth at all.

Catholicity (point(iii)) cannot embrace immorality, can it? Acceptance of homosexuality as a norm is regarded by most of the Anglican Communion as an open public scandal.

Whether the Covenant is the best way to deal with this issue, I don't know. 1 Cor 5 does offer some direction.

Peter O said...


(i) If we use the Nigerian polygamy issue as an example, we can see that the trajectory was always to conform with the orthodox majority. The issue was never a church trying to legitimise polygamy from a Scriptutal perspective, but rather how do they cope with converts in a culture (in Northern Nigeria at least) where polygamy is the norm.

(ii) Hasn't the need for the Covenant come about because those four institutions have, to a greater or lesser degree, failed to deal with the problems? The structures we presently have are not solving the problem, so we need a new structure that can.

(iii) Firstly, I'm not convinced from Scripture that Judas received Communion at the Last Supper. John 13:26-30 shows us that Judas leaves after receiving the dipped bread of the passover - he doesn't receive the cup. You might argue that this is communion in one kind, but I'm not sure that the Last Supper (unlike other Eucharists afterwards) is stricly speaking Communion in the post-resurrection sacramental sense.

There isn't anything in the Covenant about excommunicating anybody or any insitution, so this is as sensationalist as "tear in the fabric of the Communion". The Covenant works by having two tracks, those who can agree on core essentials (which incidentally are pretty much the same since the Cranmerian/Lutheran Reformation) and those whose ecclesiastical practice cannot conform to that agreed set of essentials. This provides very clearly space for the Gamaliel test to be applied.

The alternative I hear from you is to let any Province do what it wants. Clearly the four instruments of unity have not brought about unity, so what would your attitude be if one of the Provinces, say Japan, introuduced Shinto prayers into its liturgy, claiming it was listening to the Spirit? How about ancestor worship? Are those things catholic? Should we exclude/excommunicate?

Is the real issue not that some don't think things like the Covenant are any good, but rather they don't like the fact that they are, for want of a better expression , on the losing side?

Erika Baker said...

I still don't understand the fundamental reasoning behind one group of people believing that their discernment is automatically superior to that of others to the point that it must be enforced.

I suppose the real question for me is: do we believe that the Spirit still guides the church into new truths or not.
And if we do believe that, could it be possible that some discern that movement before others?

What is so intrinsically wrong with one province using its own canons and polity as well as a huge body of scholarly theology (you seem to ignore that every time you talk about legitimising other things no-one is talking about)to discern something new?

Simply to say that "we've never done this before therefore it's unorthodox" isn't really a solid argument against change.

Rather than have a Covenant that tries to preserve everthing in aspic, why don't we have a conversation about how to deal with the possibility that the others may be right, or at least that they should have to right to test whether something really is God's will or not?

Anonymous said...

hello, All,

Vinaigrette Girl here, promising this to be my last post on the subject.

For homosexual people, homosexuality is normal. Although I am not homosexual myself - I'm outwardly quite conformist, being a female in a het marriage and doing a number of traditionally female tasks for the time being - I don't accept that the voices of Peter O and Anonymous represent me or my understanding of Christ's relationship to humankind.

I don't know Peter or Anonymous, but I come from a mixed background of Army and clergy and Jews, and have associated with publicans and Pharisees, drug-using Viet Nam vets, dykes, gamers, religious devotees of many sorts, and a lot of atheists.

The variety and inter-dependency of God's humans is almost as astonishing as that of his natural world, which is staggering, so I can't believe that the gay 10th of the population and the female 50% is redudant to his plan.

Also, my version of what is an open scandal is nothing like Peter's or that of Anonymous: the open scandal I know about is the preaching about love and the clear lack of it in all Christian life. We stand in the eyes of the world as liars and hypocrites.

If we are looking at Paul's letter to the Romans as our guide we have to accept that in Paul's world, victims of rape were required to marry their rapist if the rapist offered to do so, and that slavery was also normal: do we then take the comments about same-sex fornicating as valid, but his other accepted practices as invalid?

The Covenant is an institutional set-up made to judge others but somehow implying that the consequences of so doing - spelled out very clearly in Scripture - won't apply to "Us".

Good luck with that.

Peter O and Anonymous, why have you been so comfortable with seeing so many of us slip out the back door, not merely unloved but wholly unknown to you? And why do you want a Covenant that makes sure we won't come back?

Me, I reckon God wants us, even if you don't. I think God wants you, too, and we are asked to love each other as we love ourselves, which means I have to forgive you for all the things I overlook and forgive in myself.

Let's compare lists sometime, chaps.

Anonymous said...

Hi Vinaigrette Girl!

Sorry it's your last post.

It depends what you mean by "normal". What limits do you put round that? Paedophilia? Kleptomania? Polyamory? Incest? Compulsive gambling? ...

I'd say brokenness is normal - for me, for homosexuals (2%), for heterosexuals(98%). What is needed is wholeness, sexual or otherwise. Jesus brings wholeness through repentance and the transforming power of the Spirit.

The church needs to welcome everyone, whoever they are, whatever their background. All are made in God's image, and all need to know God loves them. Churches also need to be places where we are all being made new.

I agree that lack of love is a scandal, but love has nothing to do with making sin acceptable.

The Covenant is necessary because the Episcopal Church has consistently refused to repent. They have become hard-hearted and not listened to the pleas of the vast majority of the Anglican Communion not to split the church. They have simply pressed ahead with their agenda using "dialogue" as a smoke-screen. And please remember in your prayers the orthodox in the Episcopal Church who are being persecuted, sued, and driven out.

Erika Baker said...

VinGirl, thank you for that lovely post!!

Anonymous, I want to ask you the same question that I want to ask Peter.
Is the Covenant a tool to mend relationships or do you see it as a tool to split the Anglican Communion into “those who agree with me” and the others.
Because you didn’t take on board what VinGirl said, you simply repeated the same old same old line that she is wrong and that her view cannot be tolerated.
That doesn’t sound much like mending relationships to me.

What am I missing?

June Butler said...

There isn't anything in the Covenant about excommunicating anybody or any insitution...

Peter O, on the basis of the Windsor Report, which somehow became a set of rules that must be obeyed, members of the Episcopal Church in the US have already been banned from participating in ecumenical councils by order of the Anglican Communion Office. And that's on the basis of a report. What sort of banning will we see once a covenant is in place?

Canon Andrew Godsall said...

The 'tear in the fabric of he communion language' has never been anything other than rhetoric from those who think they are less torn than others. I thought that the message of the Gospel was that there is a tear in the fabric of humanity and community - but that the cross and resurrection has shown us a way to repair that tear. The covenant that we already have helps that repair - the relationship together in community of those who seek communion with one Lord.
I have been really helped by these posts Bishop Alan, as I prepare for the debate in General Synod just two weeks today. Nothing I have seen so far has persuaded me to vote for the proposed covenant. The way we handle our differences as Christians has to recommend something to the world which has the tear in it. The proposed covenant simply implements a form of apartheid that we ought to resist. The kind of dialogue that you propose is the only way we ought to behave.

Anonymous said...

Vinaigrette Girl, giving in to temptation. Again. Oh dear.

Canon Andrew, thank you for writing. As a churched person who spends most of her time immersed in the secular, I think you know what the rest of us ought to understand too.

A large proportion of people don't give even so much as a tinker's damn about us Anglicans or other Christians.

We are not merely "irrelevant": we don't exist as Christians for them at all.

We have made ourselves invisible and it's our fault.

We cannot be a light to the world: who would possibly want to join a group so full of hatred and disrespect for so many people?

Secular people find the comparisons Anonymous suggested so bizarre as to be insane, and think no more of it, because [shrug] they aren't psychiatrists. Best to forget about what you can't change, and that includes mad people like christian bigots.

Or they get in touch with their legislators to try harder to ensure that "our" "Christian" prejudices don't infringe on the basic civil and legal rights of others.

Why would anyone want to be with the "Us" represented by people who think that a committed same-sex relationship is comparable to incest or pederasty? Eh? smh.

What sinner in one category feels an urge to be "made whole" by people who categorise and weigh their sin against another's and say oh, right, Homosex, right before Incest and a couple of folders away from, let's see, J, K, here it is, Kleptomania!

We have an example: Christ. We have two basic rules: to love God with all our hearts, minds, and souls, and to love our neighbours as we love ourselves. We have a quid pro quo: we are forgiven as we forgive others. We have a lot of common-sense advice: be charitable, be compassionate, be courageous, be diligent, mind our own business, live in the house we have without coveting our neighbour's, don't judge our fellow human beings, be as children, don't kill each other.

Cheeeeeesh, guys: how much simpler does God have to make it?

And does the Covenant help us to do that stuff?

Canon Andrew Godsall said...

Vinaigrette girl thank you for all your comments, and keep holding us to account will you? Perhaps my most important times of the week are spent with people who are definitely not church people, and never would be because of the way they see us behaving. You are spot on about how the world sees us and we need to hang our heads. We really could be light to the world if we wanted to be - but the proposed covenant does not enable that in any way. It simply enables people to act like the pharisee in Luke 18:9-14

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Thanks, all for staying with this conversation. Peter I take your point about the covenant trechnically not equiring excommunication, but looking at the behaviour of CAPA prinates towards Rwan, let alone TEC bishops, it's plainly part of this. When I say, as a sinner, I will not gather round the table with another sinner, I am taking a great responsibility on myself, and this should not be delegated to a committee to decide on wholesale grounds.

This discussion is far better than any I have seen anywhere else, so I'm glad, VG you stuck around, and doubly glad you have introduced the missional dimension to this.

Some people have set up the false alternative between Covenant and anarchy. I don't think anyone who has argued against the covenant here is a pure anarchist, so this I discount. It's just some of us would rather travel with the creeds, the ten commandments, the Bible in all its mystery sometimes, than a new synthesised standard of denominational purity. That could be seen as an over-simplification that impedes the process of interacting betweemn reality, Scripture, reason and tradition that is the essence of Anglicanism.

One other thought: I really warm to John W's description of what it feels like to be a worshipping anglican Christian. That's exactly how it is for me. I also find the universal or catholic principle that comes from centraising the creed and worship. I also agree entirely about the angry fringes both ways, though I don't think anyone in this discussion has been any where near either.

The question is whether having more beefy denominational profile helps this broad catholic experience (in the derestricted sense). You could say it does, because if you know who you are you are easier to get to know. However you could say that having an over formalised denominational quality assurance process actually impedes natural relational work between churches and individuals.

I observe that practical work done between different groups of Christians seems much less problematic than the formal diplomatic ecumenical quadrille. Both are actually necessary, but I know which I want to protect more urgently. So I incline to the latter view.

Finally I need to say that all the acual content of Secs 1-3 of the Covenant cause me, and I suspect everyone else in this discussion, no grief at all. It's the denominational beefing up section 4 that is problematic. So, John, I agree with you but am inclining to a a different conclusion still, based on your premises.

Anonymous said...

VG here.

Thank you, Canon Andrew. It is myself I hold to account, really. I'm churched because I can't live otherwise, but I don't see that other people have to be as I am. The best I can do is cling to my spar and hold out my hand to anyone else who is in the same sea. I have no idea if there is a landfall, really, but I have trust that there is, and in the meantime the least people who feel themselves to be in an actual boat could do is refrain from braining me with their oars.

"We'd love to save you but you need to be just a bit more like us to fit in our boat, and if you don't reform we'll push you back out again" isn't really the ticket.

Keep the heid at Synod, and keep swimming. God bless!

Rosalind said...

Thank you to Bishop Alan for raising this issue in a way that has allowed real discussion and debate - and to all who have contributed to this and recent posts.
I join with those who can see nothing that the covenant will achieve other than window dressing for those who feel they need to "do something". The first 3 sections seem to be saying what any Anglican could say (or most Anglicans, allowing that many of us quite like an argument!). But the 4th section is a recipe for more arguments, more confusion and more division by trying to define who is a "real" Anglican and who is a "different tier" Anglican - ie second class. If that a not the intention of those who drafted it, then perhaps they should be going back to the draft rather than telling those who say that this is how it makes them feel, that they have got it wrong. Therein is the failing of the convenant - it provides a framework for those who feel uncomfortable living with disagreement to avoid those who make them feel uncomfortable and not having to face up to differences together. This sounds like a framework for divorce, not unity - because in the end the question is a relational one, not a matter of tidy rules. People and their feelings are not tidy - nor is the Holy Spirit. Of course, those who end up as bureaucrats, church or other, are the sort of peole who like tidy lines and so would be unlikely to produce a relational document....But those who are tidied up will always feel rejected and it doesn't matter how often anyone says they are not - the actions have spoken. What I cannot understand is, if the Indaba process was so productive at Lambeth, why was it not used as a basis for working in the communion as whole - or could that be dangerous if not contained in the House of Bishops (sorry - cynical comment).

In many ways the problem that we are facing is how to be a communion in a world of the internet and easy long-distance travel. BEFore this, what one province did, did not affect others very directly, or not rapidly, until we had mobile phones and the internet - and noisy bloggers! But for exactly those reasons, a response that tries to stifle and contain discussion will not work because we can all have the sort of discussion we are having here. So we return to the need to live with differences, not try to act as though differences are an aberration.

But where does this sort of "tidying up" stop? If a province wants to have a process of discernment about an issue that makes other provinces uncomfortable, will the convenant stop this? As I read it - it might well try to. But one of our differences is that we also discern differently, following our culture and history.And the Church of England is definitely not of one mind on almost anything that might be controversial - that is our history and that is our nature. So, to take the queston of homosexuality: if the convenant is agreed to , will this prevent us from having the debate officially and openly? Will some parish churches become "second tier" churches and parishes? Will their members be banned from synods and committees? Will they still be asked to pay the parish share......and what will the House of Bishops do with churches and parishes and dioceses that continue to value the ministry of gay clergy and the ministry of other gay members of their congregations? How many other PEVs and societies will we begin to create? Congregationalism in the mame of the catholic unity of the church...? My mind boggles and my soul weeps.
Every eucharist we hear the words:
"this is my blood of the new (sic) covenant which is shed for you and for many for the forgiiveness of sins." This is the only covenant I think it worth holding to - and we certainly do need forgiveness of sins. Our only hope for reconciliation is as we gather round the table and share the bread and wine and if there is a rent in the fabric of the community, then this is the way and the covenant that we have been given to try to repair a little of the rent.

June Butler said...

VG, thank you for your comments. You bring us to the heart of the matter.

Bishop Alan, thank you for this forum, and thank you for listening. I don't know of many bishops who engage so freely and honestly as you.

UKViewer said...

I am being educated about the Covenant through this medium, but as I am not in Synod, how am I as an individual in the Church to say that I disagree with it.

So far, the only measure of disagreement has been via the Church Times poll.

I am sure that the Covenant was devised for the best of motives, but as Bishop Alan has amply demonstrated, the law of unintended consequences has not been taken into account.

When the government proposes legislation, they are required by law to carry out an impact assessment on the risks of the proposed legislation, including not just costs, but equality issues.

It seems to me, that until the church puts its own house in order to remove discrimination in terms of sexuality and gender, then it needs to carry out a similar risk assessment on the covenant - I think that it would find it to be unworkable and to have lots of unintended consequences.

I note the opposition in the media, on blogs, twitter and the official NO campaign, now it deserves a wider audience and discussion, before it gets to Synod, but particularly by those on Synod, who can tell us what they think, perhaps without resting on their tradition, but as a view from the pews.

In my parish, the covenant is not the subject of discussion, we have to many other, urgent issues to deal with, such as finance, mission, and the day to day living out our faith and lives in community.

The covenant is a big stick to be used against those who do not conform, many Saints did not conform, but are Saints all the same.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Grandmere Mimi and also Erika, too. Didn't mean to leave you out.

My husband can't bear the Church as an institution and is agnostic about Christ; mainly because he finds the institutionalised bigotry and daily ignorance more than he can stomach. If Christ were really the son of God, and if God really is powerful, he asks, why don't Christians actually act like Christians? I won't even go into the difficulty of raising our son, who is perspicacious and direct.

I have no, zero, nul "sense of mission" in the abstract about this. Peter O and Anonymous and their allies make my actual daily life harder in a very immediate way. Their abstractions about people who harden their hearts are not abstractions to me. They make me tired. More tired. Which is where I started, back up the comments column...

liturgy said...

Thanks, Bishop Alan,
I wrote about it here
with a link back to your post.



Erika Baker said...

I take it that last anonymous comment was from you?

I'm civil partnered and I've lost the battle of keeping my teenage girls to go to church with me. That's partly because they're teenagers, partly because they really do question the whole God concept in a very mature way at the moment, but also because they just cannot comprehend why I still bother with a church that would be happier if I wasn't there and they certainly want nothing to do with it until it has grown up.

A church that ignores science and recent-ish developments in psychology and that remains purely self-referential just isn't credible.

I go further than my children do, I believe a church with such anti-gay and anti-women views is positively immoral and I find it very hard to live and let live, although it is the approach I advocate. It's the only one that works, you cannot convert people and you cannot force them, you can only hope they change. I accept that keeping them in the fold means people like me will continue to be outcasts and I can bear that for myself. I can’t accept it on behalf of others and so I will continue to fight against it until I have no energy left and also leave the church. It makes me particularly sick when people side with African countries that have draconian punishments in place for being gay, when there is no conservative outcry about gay persecution, about gay teen suicides in America. And I genuinely don’t understand the moral compass of people who will spit and splutter against people like me but who remain absolutely silent when incidents of real physical harm and real psychological damage become known.
The thought that they will be the ones imposing “relational consequences” on others would be laughable if it wasn’t so scary.

But there is no alternative. Christ would not have pushed them out and neither can I. Live and let live has real implications for my own life, yet I don’t see what else anyone following Christ can do. Division never heals relationships, entrenched people continue to battle and never grow out of their adversarial mode. Divisions within a church where people still meet across the divide has a greater chance of healing than forced splits and smaller self-focused and self-satisfied groups who simply cast the other as the enemy they don’t have to engage with.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Bp Alan, I've also linked. It came to mind this morning that the Introduction to the Covenant itself sounds more like, and might be better as, a Covenant than all the rest of it. Don't know if that idea has floated, or can be floated, to the Synod...

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Thanks very uch for links, and Tobias for an interesting idea. I think the intro is fine — indeed I can't see how any of us ould really object to the actual theological content. It's the use of this as a policing mechanism that causses disquiet, especially if applied to developments that aen't credal. Ther'd still be the question of what this gives us that we haven't already got in the instruments of communion, but I'm sure more people would buy it.

The prophet Amos asks "can two walk together except they be agreed." Any covenant that secure confidence and belief around the world can only ever be a dead letter in the end.

But I agree the introduction is a very useful compendium of our core understanding of our story's meaning.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Amen, Bp Alan. "If it works we don't need it!" and "That's all very well for people who enjoy that sort of thing..." I'm not sure it even rises to the level of self-fulfilling prophecy, rather more the self-selecting coterie.

Jonathan Jennings said...

'The prophet Amos asks "can two walk together except they be agreed."

Yes they can. I have always held that pilgrims bound for different destinations may still, for a time, share the same road.

Some 25 years ago I found myself on a mountain with a young man with, to my ears, completely unformed political views. We argued for about three hours whilst journeying half way towards the summit. When we got to our lunch stop, my rucksack was found to contain no lunch. Although our views were becoming more divergent he instantly broke his sandwiches in half and we shared them and then his soup and chocolate, before starting our descent, arguing the whole time.

We parted that evening, still unreconciled but having shared a day, a lunch and an incredible mountain.

I have long treasured the memory of that day, made more poignant as he, sadly, was killed on that mountain about three weeks later on an expedition that I had at one stage been due to join.

I have no difficulty with the idea that we might journey and break bread with those whose views we find repellent.

June Butler said...

Jonathan Jennings, what a lovely story and so right for this moment in the discussion of the covenant. I'd like to post your comment on my blog, if you don't mind.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...


Many thaks for a brilliant take on this. What it says to me is that with love and openness to the other person as a person walking together whilst in disagreement actually creates a bond that can transcends our ideas and natural affinities (or disaffinities).

That means, practically speaking, that anything that increases the chances of such encounters is good news, and anything that diinishes them isn't. That would be a strong argument in my mind for not defining or closing down on people at an instiutional level unless it is absolutely necessary. And that doesn't argue for having stronger more beefy intermediate institutions, but more chance encounters that straddle divides.

(all non anoraks now switch off). I have also been reading Amos and checking the original. I notice the last erb (agree) is a Niphal and in the perfect tense. It could be translated "unless they have met together first," though that would be overtranslating it. The Niphal stresses the voluntary and reflexive nature of the encounter.

So what the prophet seems to be saying is emphatically not "you can only go for a walk with people with whom you agree." He IS saying "You can only go walking with someone with whom you have already met."(and, perhaps agree to carry on walking alongside) It's a sort of "it takes two to tango" as you did with your friend, but it isn't a counsel adivising division as a virtue.

Anoraks off! Thank you so much for a great point!

Erika Baker said...

I want to endorse what Jonathan said. My own view has been shaped very much by a man in my parish who opposes everything I stand for and believe in. You could not find two people more different. And both of us can be rather opinionated and very sure of ourselves.

And yet, he has never shunned me, he talks to me every time we meet, I was welcome to prayer breakfast in his house and we kneel side by side at the altar. When my daughter was ill he prayed for her every day for 3 years and never forgot to ask how she was.

I admire that man hugely.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Thanks, Erika. Your experience parallels one or two amazing people I've met in church down the years, and implies that we do Christianity better interpersonally than institutionally...

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Bp Alan, for digging out the Niphal! (I have dusted off my anorak!) As I wrote in 2008:

The ministry of prophet often consists primarily in being a round peg in a square hole — whether the pigeonhole of irrelevancy in which dissenting voices are often placed, or the literal cistern into which the unwanted Jeremiah is often deposited. Nazir-Ali of Rochester is taking the role of Amaziah of Bethel, who told Amos to keep away from the temple and the court, to take his unwanted prophecies and shove them. Amos, of course, humbly deferred the title, though he believed in the work and the words, and did his duty.

On that more prosaic level, banning the opposition from the assembly may buy peace, or the appearance of peace. But Jesus did not promise such peace, the peace which comes from attrition rather than the hard work of engagement with those with whom we most ardently disagree.

At the same time, I recognize that Rochester himself has stated he will not go to Lambeth, even though he represents what his colleagues continue to assert is the majority opinion. As his confrere of Abuja is fond of saying, “Can two walk together unless they agree?” This is, of course, more from Amos (3:3) — though unfortunately in the flawed KJV. For the real significance of the text isn’t about “agreement” over the content of belief, but as to the meeting itself, that is, “Can two walk together unless they meet first?” So the issue is, once again, the importance of meeting, not of withholding one’s presence from a meeting — and certainly not demanding that all agree before they can assemble to come to some agreement — and then walk together.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Tobias, how wonderfully prophetic in every way! I'm so relieved your study of the Hebrew from years ago corroborates the concusion to which I had arrived! Many thanks indeed.

Penelopepiscopal said...

I have come late to this discussion but... It seems to me that those who simply equate "homosexuality" with "sin" and "immorality" are operating under an assumption that "homosexuality" is a monolithic category. Commenters Peter and Anonymous here on this discussion appear to make this equation.

Is "heterosexuality" a monolith, though? Is all homosexual behavior immoral and sinful and by contrast is no heterosexual behavior immoral or sinful? Can there not be heterosexual acts that are "outside the line" that Anonymous wishes to draw?

(And who on earth in the Episcopal Church is talking about polyamory? I feel a fear-mongering "slippery slope" argument coming on. But I digress.)

I certainly believe that there can be sinful/immoral heterosexual behavior. While I don't advocate drawing up new guidelines about looking into anyone's bedrooms, I do look forward to the day when we care about discerning and fostering healthy partnerships and families instead of assuming that all heterosexual relationships are fine and all homosexual relationships are sinful.

Nobody would suggest it's fine to make Britney Spears a bishop because she has the proper sexual orientation; a formal process of discernment is requisite for each candidate for the priesthood. But it's not ok to make +Gene Robinson a bishop because he has the wrong sexual orientation, even though his diocese discerned that he, individually and particularly, knowing that he was partnered, was called to that ministry?

I look forward to the time when we stop treating people as if they were categories. I also look forward to the day that people stop accusing TEC of trying to "make sin acceptable" based on such broad brush categorizing.

Penny Nash

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

P, thank you very much. I think one of the prime distinctives of Jesus' teaching is his radical refusal to reduce people to categories bounded by others' condemnation, even where the letter of the law justifies it. And it may not win friends or influence people in church, sadly, but I think we need to be following Jesus not the Pharisees on this one for the sake fo the Church's well being as much as the people who are being condemned...

Malcolm+ said...

It really is quite sad.

Over the past few weeks, we have seen the case against the Anglican Covenant articulated in the Inclusive Church / Modern Church advertisement, in the establishment of an international "No Anglican Covenant Coalition" and in innumberable blog posts like this.

And what has been the response of those who support the Anglican Covenant?

Well, it mostly seems to be viscious ad hominem (comparisons to the BNP and "Little Englanders") with a large topping of falsehoods (members of the Episcopal Church supposedly advocating polyamory, bestiality and paedophilia - how handy there's no reference).

In this thread, Anonymous has chosen to resurrect the slander of the "persecuted orthodox." Of course, it is a complete fabrication. There is not a single case of the Episcopal Church acting against any individual or group for holding conservative views on this or any other issue. The only pROSecutions have been for acts which directly and deliberately violated canons.

I'll ask Anonymous (though I am confident s/he will not answer), what will happen in the Church of England when some self-styled "orthodox" priests persuades his parishioners that they should take their parish, property and all, out of the Church of England?

I grow tired of this persecution fantady of the Anglican extreme right.

Jeremy Bonner said...

I come somewhat late to this discussion.

I wonder if perhaps the Covenant needs to be cast in different terms than those stated here (by both sides). Reading some of the comments makes me think of the Catholic bishops at Trent embracing ecclesiastical reform as if the Reformation had not already occurred.

Surely none of us discussing the Covenant today really believe that it's going fundamentally to alter the situation on the ground, in North America, the Church of England or the Global South? We're going to get a "two-tier" Communion whether the provinces act or don't act, since in the latter case the conservative and progressive "networks of affinity" that Miranda Hassett so effectively documented in ANGLICAN COMMUNION IN CRISIS will continue to develop informally.

Perhaps the Covenant needs to be understood as helping restructure the Communion into parallel synods whose relationship is similar to that existing between the various American Lutheran denominations during the nineteenth century. Opportunities for continued relationship could be pursued where local authorities do not feel that there are insuperable barriers and - perhaps most relevant from a progressive point of view - a quid pro quo could be a willingness of more conservative provinces to allow dissenting dioceses and parishes to seek oversight from those with whom they feel greater affinity. Assuming that certain Nigerians or Ugandans are suffering persecution within their province, wouldn't you want to find a way to extend pastoral oversight in the same way that Nigeria offered it to CANA?

Thus, what has been represented as a two-tier system with progressives relegated to observer status could actually help clarify the essence of Anglican identity on both sides of the divide and open the way for the "two streams" to set about demonstrating (or not) Gamaliel's paradigm.

If divorce is inevitable and the partners irreconcilable, isn't it pastorally necessary to start putting our energies into caring for the child's future?

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Jeremy, thank you so much for a creative take on th discussion we're having. There's a really significant and worthwhile possibility in what you're suggesting, IMHO, but I'm not quite convinced.

2 tier? Multi-tier, surely! I fear this sets things in institutional concrete, but I think your analysis has merit. I would still feel the need to engage with the question of what is a communion breaker and what isn't, and I'm still conflicted about whether this draws us closer, or simply validates a lot of euphemisms like "walking apart" and "relational consequences" that were Pelagian and foolish in the first place.

I don't know. What do others think?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Since you ask... ;-)
I prefer to let family tiffs remain informal. The Covenant seems a very ham-handed way of dealing with them. To return to my favorite analogy -- couples counselling -- although clarity of expectation is good, it needs to be approached in a neutral way, and the Covenant was tainted from the start by not actually emerging ex nihilo but out of reactivity to particular "wrongs." So there was a good bit of backwards-looking from the first.

I'd say let's give laissez-faire and the bonds of affection / tensions of irritation another generation before we consider putting things in writing.

wv = rewled -- something appropriate for anchorites to be, not so much the church as a whole?

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Thanks, Tobias. I think it is very difficult to extricate this particular document, however anodyne and concise its main sections, from its origin in the Windsor process.

Many US friends felt its foundations one-sided and partial, and tht compromises thier chances of being able to sign up to it from there on in. I am sorry it seems based on a rather cynical and binary interpretation of what happens next, where the creative space may indeed lie somewhere in the middle. As someone who first voted under Mrs Thatcher, I am very suspicious of There Is No Alternative. I am tonight in a Nordic country that pursued a very different polical course to Brtain in the 20th century. There is an alternative, and the idea there isn't can never be a reason to embrace something you don't believe in, surely.

So, I get your point. If people are fighting in the kitchen better get out a minimum of offensive kit than leave knives lying around...?-)

Erika Baker said...

The two-tier structure might deal with the current situation and relax the tension a little.
But my real issue is that it will also preserve the status quo and make any future organic change towards liberalism on any topic impossible for the 1st tier provinces.

At present it is possible for the CoE to be pro women's ordination and to remain undecided about lgbt inclusion. Gradual organic change over time on lgbt issues is a real option, just as a firming up of anti gay views is, theoretically, a genuine option for the CoE.

Once it has signed the Covenant and becomes a 1st tier member it loses its freedom to change and will be bound by the majority decision in an increasingly conservative Communion - increasingly conservative because the more liberal provinces will either be 2nd tier from the outset or will eventually want to/be forced to become 2nd tier in another round of bruising battles.

I believe that all the Covenant does is remove the current crop of liberal provinces and then shift the battle ground to the remainder.

Every single change in society and in the church starts in a small, radical corner of the organisation. At first it is considered to be outrageous by all but the extremists. Gradually, it becomes more and more mainstream and genuine conversations begin to happen, minds are changed. Eventually, if the reformers are on the winning side, most of the organisation accepts the change and only extremists still oppose it.
This says nothing about the validity of the change, but it is the one process by which all change, good and bad, happens.

If we make sure that any change can only happen if the majority of 15 individuals (!) from largely conservative provinces agree, we have established a system that is guaranteed to ensure a stand still on every single future topic that arises, with the possible exception to a sudden lurch towards the even more conservative.

So my real objection to the Covenant is that it does not address how we engage with each other. And unless we learn to conduct ourselves differently we will continue to fight the same battles in the new constellation.

Erika Baker said...

My computer threw a wobbly so I don't know if my last comment got through:

The two-tier structure might deal with the current situation and relax the tension a little.
But my real issue is that it will also preserve the status quo and make any future organic change towards liberalism on any topic impossible for the 1st tier provinces.

At present it is possible for the CoE to be pro women's ordination and to remain undecided about lgbt inclusion. Gradual organic change over time on lgbt issues is a real option, just as a firming up of anti gay views is, theoretically, a genuine option for the CoE.

Once it has signed the Covenant and becomes a 1st tier member it loses its freedom to change and will be bound by the majority decision in an increasingly conservative Communion - increasingly conservative because the more liberal provinces will either be 2nd tier from the outset or will eventually want to/be forced to become 2nd tier in another round of bruising battles.

I believe that all the Covenant does is remove the current crop of liberal provinces and then shift the battle ground to the remainder.

Every single change in society and in the church starts in a small, radical corner of the organisation. At first it is considered to be outrageous by all but the extremists. Gradually, it becomes more and more mainstream and genuine conversations begin to happen, minds are changed. Eventually, if the reformers are on the winning side, most of the organisation accepts the change and only extremists still oppose it.
This says nothing about the validity of the change, but it is the one process by which all change, good and bad, happens.

If we make sure that any change can only happen if the majority of 15 individuals (!) from largely conservative provinces agree, we have established a system that is guaranteed to ensure a stand still on every single future topic that arises, with the possible exception to a sudden lurch towards the even more conservative.

So my real objection to the Covenant is that it does not address how we engage with each other. And unless we learn to conduct ourselves differently we will continue to fight the same battles in the new constellation.

Jeremy Bonner said...


Isn't it rather Whiggish to assume that "progress" is always in a liberal direction?

After all, solidly conservative Global South provinces in notoriously patriarchal societies have accepted women's ordination (I'm actually rather surprised at how under-the-radar that process has been).

Moreover, the Evangelical revival of the 1960s and 1970s in both Britain and North America was certainly conservative in relation to the culture wars, but otherwise hardly a case of desperate clinging to the status quo. (Michael Saward's tongue-in-cheek A FAINT STREAK OF HUMILITY does a good job of demonstrating that process of change.)

Finally, the case of the Anglican Church in North America reveals that, whatever problems one may have with it (and even I - as a conservative expat Anglican nominally associated with ACNA - do have some) its structural focus is going to be towards decentralization. Parishes in ACNA have the freedom to choose to join with the Diocese of Pittsburgh if they wish to call a woman priest, for example. And, ultimately, they all have the freedom to walk away.

If GAFCON's center ultimately holds, it will not because of the power of coercion. The case of the Diocese of Sydney and its attitude towards lay presidency will be a key test of whether the Jerusalem Declaration will impose mutual accountability or not.

As far as dialogue is concerned, is there honestly much more to be said that hasn't already been said? Conflicting Theologies of the Body exist, which lead logically to absolute inclusion or not. I would submit that while there are similarities, the issue is not the same as women's ordination and - in any case - the global context has changed. Liberals and conservatives can argue about whether it should have changed, who is "responsible" and so on, but that doesn't alter the dynamic.

I would respectfully dissent from Tobias that we're at the point in "couples' therapy" where continued dialogue will - at least for now - do any good. A period of "separation" with "access rights" for those unlucky enough to be in the minority in a particular province is probably the best for which we can hope.

Erika Baker said...

I must have expressed myself badly, I had thought that I said that any change, for good or for bad, follows the same process. If you stop the process you stop all change.

The Catholic church is a fairly good example of an organisation being determined by a small group of people at the top.
You can agree with its position or not, you can't deny that it is fairly rigid and that any change happens at snail’s pace.

I think it is unrealistic to expect the provinces of the Anglican Communion to change to the extent that they will accept that kind of governance and that process. Some, like the CoE, might sign the document now, but when it comes to it, they will ignore it and we’ll be back where we are now.
It astonishes me that a nation that continuously complains about interference from “Brussels” should be willing to sign away its right to govern its own church affairs, and I don’t for a minute believe that this dam will hold once people have truly understood the implications – right bang in the middle of the next contested topic.

You say that parishes in ACNA have the freedom to join with the Diocese of Pittsburgh and that they, ultimately, have the freedom to walk away. That’s commendable.
But it is not what the Covenant proposes. The Covenant proposes giving a very small group of people the power to decide, unilaterally, whether to impose “relational consequences” on another supposedly equal member of the Communion.

I share your frustration with continuing as we have done. Clearly, the current process isn't working (and maybe one reason it isn’t working is that a group of provinces believes itself to be more equal than the others).
But that is no reason to substitute it with another one that won't work.

You're right that a period of "separation" is what we need. I don't think you're right in wanting to formalise that separation and to do that by means of a system that leaves the decision to "admit" the "wrong ones" back into the fold to the 1st tier party. That is not how reconciliation works. For a couple to resume a marriage it is imperative that both partners see the other as equal with equal rights, whose views carry equal weight and have to be accommodated to an extent. Compromise is what makes relationships work, not submission.

As for the "unlucky minority", it is my fervent hope and prayer that my church will find itself among it.

Erika Baker said...

Incidentally, “access rights” (or "shared custody", as it is now called) is what two equal parents have to their joint children. It is not how they define their own relationship. If they did, it would truly be beyond repair.

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