The following letter, written by two retired bishops in the Church of England appeared in last week’s issue of The Church Times, retirement being the moment at which bishops in the English church are given back the anatomical features necessary to speak. Calm down, I am talking about their tongues. Or perhaps their spleens. At any rate:
Sir, — Whichever side of the argument you are on there are grounds for real concern about the way the debate about it is progressing. It cannot be good to learn, as we do, that many bishops who are against the Anglican Covenant don’t want to say for fear of seeming disloyal, that diocesan synods are “debating” the issue without hearing both sides of the argument equally presented, and that there is so much boredom and weariness about the whole issue.
This is a major proposal with potentially serious consequences for this and future generations of Anglican Christians, and for those ecumenical partners with whom we are in conversation. Nothing will be worse than for the Covenant to be yawned through at a July Synod preoccupied with debating the ordination of women as bishops, passed and then put in a drawer — only for us to discover that those who now brand it “toothless” then use it and propel the Communion into a litigious and factious future.
The Archbishop of Canterbury made it clear in his Advent letter that such is not his purpose. But the proposed Covenant cannot now escape the identity it has acquired as an instrument of exclusion. He also asks what is the alternative; we respond that the alternative to having a Covenant is not having one, and this is a time to hold fast to Anglicanism’s inherited culture of inclusion and respectful debate which is our way of dealing with difference rather than require assent to procedures and words that have already shown themselves to be divisive.
In short, if we can agree it we don’t need it and if we need it we won’t agree it. We believe that the Covenant is to be resisted. But, above all, our plea is for a debate that is candid, even-handed, and open. If it comes to the General Synod, it should do so as its seriousness deserves, as the principal business.