Monday, 3 August 2009
I am one of those unsure of the worth of the proposed Anglican Covenant. In practical terms I have thought it would not make much difference because those who don't want to be part of it won't be. So we would have those Anglicans who are part of it (who think certain things about sex), and those who don't. Big deal. But a recent letter from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has made a (as usual) sensible contribution toward seeing its theological basis and practical utility. The covenant, if it comes into existence, will not necessarily be a new structure of separating the impure from the pure (I have my doubts on this though), but separate the Communion into two ways of being Anglican. The first way will be the 'covenanters', those who think that certain local level initiatives must be authorised on a Communion-wide level (or even wider). And there will be those who believe that local practice and pastoral need, and perhaps prophetic insight, overrides the absolute need for Communion-wide agreement. So two ways of being Anglican. I would contend that the second way of being Anglican is absolutely critical for our life together, for without this kind of prophetic voice churches descend into ordinary religion. So I would prefer not to separate the two ways of being Anglican.
My first intuition regarding the covenant was that it would have no practical effect. But the Archbishop has suggested a direction it might lead. Those parts of the existing Communion that choose not to join the covenant would not/should not represent the wider Communion in ecumenical gatherings because they are not representative of the whole. I can see the argument, although I wonder if we are making it all up as we go along given the existing variety within Anglicanism around the globe now. Moreover, representativeness requires a certain sensitivity to the whole, a whole that transcends any single person's particular beliefs or stance. So it seems a bit arbitrary to exclude those who don't sign up to the covenant. After all, those who don't sign the covenant will not be rejecting everything Anglican or Christian, but will remain Anglican according to the Archbishop, and with a suitable sensitivity to the whole, could represent all of us.