Support the Café

Search our Site

The other troubling parts of the Covenant

The other troubling parts of the Covenant

In opposing the proposed Anglican Covenant, many are saying the only troubling part is Section 4. Many of us find the whole document built on a very shaky theology and not Anglican at all. Rather it reflects many conservative, evangelical stances and use of scripture, quoting from here and there in the Bible with no consistency or systematic thinking. Jonathon Clatworthy, of the Modern Church takes on the Introduction as an example:

When I debated the Covenant with Gregory Cameron in March he said nobody had disputed Sections 1-3, so they were acceptable. My take is that nobody debated them because they are not the sharp edge.

On my reading, the wording is poorly put together, and full of conservative evangelical stances which fly in the face of mainstream theological scholarship.

The Introduction centres round a string of biblical texts interpreted in a ‘conservative evangelical’ manner which no reputable biblical scholar would approve of. Just to take the first example, ‘God has called us into communion in Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1.9).’ If you read the biblical text, it doesn’t mention you, me, the Archbishop of Canterbury or any Anglican. It was the Christian congregation at Corinth about 50 AD who were being called. The subsequent biblical references get no better: the only biblical scholars who would approve of the way these texts are used are the ones who repudiate mainstream scholarship in the interests of what some people call ‘literalist’ readings (i.e. readings interpreted according to a tradition that fantasises about taking the words literally).

Intro 3. ‘We humbly recognize that this calling and gift of communion entails responsibilities for our common life’…

Well, is it a gift or is it a calling? If it is a gift we’ve got it. If it is a calling we haven’t. Perhaps it was a gift, subsequently messed up? Yet church historians are quite clear that Christianity was a diverse movement from the start. In the New Testament ‘communion’ is about gathering together for the Eucharist, not international institutions to which local churches belong.

Intro 4. ‘In the providence of God, which holds sway even over our divisions caused by sin’. Are all divisions caused by sin? For example, are differences of opinion about gays and lesbians necessarily sinful? Isn’t this presupposing that all Christians ought to hold exactly the same opinions?

Intro 4. ‘We recognise the wonder, beauty and challenge of maintaining communion in this family of churches, and the need for mutual commitment and discipline as a witness to God’s promise in a world and time of instability, conflict, and fragmentation.’

Maintaining communion is not the same as maintaining unity, unless you define communion as unity; and if so, this is a very unbiblical account of communion. I haven’t come across anyone who thinks maintaining communion is wonderful or beautiful. The language of God’s promises, here and elsewhere, needs to be challenged: on what grounds can we claim that God has promised what, and to whom? Once again we are being invited to accept an anti-intellectual conservative evangelical interpretation of the Bible.

Intro 5. ‘To covenant together is not intended to change the character of this Anglican expression of Christian faith. Rather, we recognise the importance of renewing in a solemn way our commitment to one another, and to the common understanding of faith and order we have received, so that the bonds of affection which hold us together may be re-affirmed and intensified.’

… Pompous cant. this text contradicts itself. The covenant is ‘not intended to change the character’ of Anglicanism, but it is intended to reaffirm and intensify the bonds of affection. Reaffirm okay, but intensify means change.

Intro 6. ‘We are a people who live, learn, and pray by and with the Scriptures as God’s Word.’ Another bit of conservative evangelical pompous cant. Sounds as though you can’t be an Anglican unless you spend a good chunk of your time reading the Bible and praying about it. I guess most Anglicans don’t. Want to exclude them? More importantly, what about ‘The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us?’

Jonathan Clatworthy

General Secretary

Modern Church

9 Westward View

Liverpool L17 7EE, UK

0151 727 6291


Café Comments?

Our comment policy requires that you use your real first and last names and provide an email address (your email will not be published). Comments that use non-PG rated language, include personal attacks, that are not provable as fact or that we deem in any way to be counter to our mission of fostering respectful dialogue will not be posted.

Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Ann Fontaine

There is no citation as it came via email to the Café. You can write to Jonathan at his email if you have more questions.

David Cornell

I too would appreciate the citation, ideally with a link. I looked on the Modern Church site but can’t locate what this is taken from.

Juan Oliver

Very good points raised about a very poor document, –theologically speaking. I have often said that the “$”%/%$” covenant is NOT about the ordination of Gene Robinson, nor even about sexuality, but about turning the Communion of (autonomous) churches born of the Anglican tradition into a monolithic, univocal ecclessial structure in the name of “unity.” It stinks of a low brow British “ecumenism” sold out to Cardinal Kasper´s idea that ecumenical relations woud be much easier if the Anglican churches were “more like us” (Rome).

And yet every Sunday we say, “We believe in one ….church.” We do not say “we pray that the church may one day be one,” but that we put our trust in the church, which is ALREADY one.

The reason for this GIVEN unity of the church is right there in 1 Cor., where Paul´s argument is NOT “stop fighting, reconcile please, so you can be one,” but “You have (already) been made one by the cross of Christ, where he tore down the dividing wall…”

The Church of Jesus Christ IS ONE, for we are ONE with Christ, and Christ is ONE with GOD. Differences in hierarchical chains of command, do not necessarily break this fundamental unity of the Church today, just as these did not break its unity when in the first three centuries, there existed a variety of “orthodoxies.”

Calls to shut up, cease and desist in the name of “unity” usually come from people more interested in power and control than in mission.

Pepper Marts

I’d appreciate a citation for the document from which this piece was apparently extracted.

Support the Café
Past Posts

The Episcopal Café seeks to be an independent voice, reporting and reflecting on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican tradition.  The Café is not a platform of advocacy, but it does aim to tell the story of the church from the perspective of Progressive Christianity.  Our collective sympathy, as the Café, lies with the project of widening the circle of inclusion within the church and empowering all the baptized for the role to which they have been called as followers of Christ.

The opinions expressed at the Café are those of individual contributors, and, unless otherwise noted, should not be interpreted as official statements of a parish, diocese or other organization. The art and articles that appear here remain the property of their creators.

All Content  © 2017 Episcopal Café