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Smoke-filled rooms at Lambeth Palace

Smoke-filled rooms at Lambeth Palace

The Rev. Malcolm French wonders if the leaders of the Church of England are trying to sneak the Covenant in by the back door of Church of England Synod. French writes at Simple Massing Priest. In an unseemly power grab they are trying to subvert the defeat of the Covenant in the Diocesan Synods:

Yesterday, the Church of England issued a news release outlining the agenda for the upcoming session of General Synod at York from July 6 to July 10. (Coincidentally the Episcopal Church General Convention and the General Synod of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia will both be running over that time period as well.) Oddly, for a news release about what was on the agenda, there was a long and detailed paragraph about a certain item which is not on the agenda.

One item not on the Agenda for July is the Anglican Communion Covenant. The Business Committee publishes today its report on the voting in the diocesan synods on the draft Act of Synod adopting the Covenant. 18 diocesan synods voted in favour and 26 against, so this draft Act of Synod cannot be presented to the General Synod for final approval. As the report shows, the voting was quite close. The majority of Houses of Clergy (26) voted against, but the majority of Houses of Laity (23) voted in favour. Overall, of the 1516 members of houses of clergy who voted, 732 (48%) voted in favour and 784 (52%) voted against, whereas, of the 1813 members of houses of laity who voted, 960 (53%) voted in favour and 853 (47%) voted against. The Business Committee believes that it would be helpful for members of the Synod to have time to reflect on the position before the Synod debates the report and the Diocesan Synod Motions about the Covenant that have been passed by nine diocesan synods. These will therefore be debated not in July but at the next group of sessions after July.

This is, of course, another excellent example of the aphorism, “statistics are for losers.” The aggregate voting figures are profoundly irrelevant to the issue. The Covenant was submitted to diocesan synods, and the majority of diocesan synods said “no.”

So why are Church House apparatchiks going into such detail about this?

Well, I’m just a poor colonial and I don’t necessarily grasp all the subtleties of establishment sensibilities. I have, however, been involved in the cut and thrust of partisan politics for more than 30 years. I’ve organized floor fights at political conventions and I’ve been involved at senior levels in a few very competitive leadership and nomination races. I know a bit about hardball politics.

What we have here, ladies and gentlemen, is the early stages of an unseemly attempt at political hardball from the smoke-filled backrooms of Church House, Lambeth Palace and the Anglican Communion Office. This data is going to be used to justify some sort of General Synod resolution to affirm the Anglican Covenant despite the defeat in the diocesan synods.


We’ve already seen their capacity to make up the rules on the fly. Within hours of the defeat of the Covenant in England, the Anglican Communion Office put out a news release asserting that the Archbishop of Canterbury’s role as an Instrument of Unity was independent of his membership in the Church of England and therefore, even if England were to defeat the Covenant, he’d still be in charge of meting out “relational consequences.”


It’s the sort of behaviour one expects from the worst sort of political operatives. It’s a pity one can’t expect any better in the Church.

Hardball politics has marked the Covenant process from the start.

…[yet] despite every institutional advantage, despite a propaganda onslaught, despite an international campaign of slander, despite the manipulative use of the bully pulpit, the proposed Covenant could not overcome its internal contradictions and the combined might of Church House, Lambeth and the Anglican Communion Office were unable to defeat a wee band of bloggers. The remarkable thing about these voting results is not that the Covenanters “almost won,” but rather that they blew a commanding lead and managed to lose.

So they will try to make a silk purse from this particular sow’s ear with a motion to “affirm” the Anglican Covenant and expressly denying that the failure of the Covenant in the diocesan synods means anything at all.

Stand by for Round II.


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Rod Gillis

The intervention of English bishops in both the Covenant debacle and the Women Bishops issue seems likes like a small scale version of something right out of Barbara Tuchman’s

“March of Folly”.

It is also indicative of something widespread in the The Communion, and that is the disconnect between the Episcopacy and clergy/laity who are the other partners in synodical government.

The Provincial Bishops vs. Uruguay, the English Bishops currently , the Canadian bishops in relation to our GS, all are examples of a similar politic.

Canadian “no covenant” partisans must be willing to tackle the Canadian bishops with the same vigor they are currently tackling the English bishops if we are to avoid a Canadian covenant cop-out at our GS in 2013. I haven’t seen much evidence of engagement on that front to date.

Malcolm French+

True it would be divisive and pyrrhic. However, there seems to be a significant disconnect and arrogance in the CofE leadership – witness just in the past couple of weeks, the decision to insert wrecking amendments into the women bishops measure (amendments that had been specifically rejected in following motions in most dioceses) and the rather extreme document in response to the government’s consultation on equal marriage.

This lot make Stephen Harper appear the very model of humility and moderation.

Rod Gillis

Thanks Malcolm. The Covenant appears to have been a huge divisive issue among the C o E dioceses. One would think the English GS would want to eject the Covenant like a hot potato. Wouldn’t a vote like the one you describe make things worse rather than better?

Besides, a procedural coup like that would be a completely pyrrhic victory for Covenant forces at this point.

Malcolm French+

If I had to bet, I’d bet there will be a private member’s motion which may express “regret” at the defeat of the Covenant in the diocesan synods but will “affirm” the Covenant in some way, expressly stating that, in the opinion of the General Synod, the Church of England is still “in the process” of adopting the Covenant.

Rod Gillis

Malcolm, I find the whole synodical process over at mother corp. rather enigmatic. I’m sure I’m not alone. So, what would be the procedure in order to get a vote on the Covenant on the GS order paper, the majority of dioceses having voted not to do so at this point?

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