On the (Moribund) Covenant

As you may have heard, the Anglican Covenant is, if not technically sunk, at least sliding inexorably below the waterline. If the Church of England will not even enlist for this Covenant, it’s hard to imagine it as an effectual affirmation joining disparate provinces in harmonious communion.
I have mixed feelings about this development. Many of my friends count themselves staunch defenders of the covenant, and many as implacable foes. Both assessments offer intelligible reasons for their conclusions. Sentiment doth not cut any ice on this important theological topic, and even if it did, it cuts both ways.
Part of my disappointment about the Covenant’s foundering derives from the sense that we all are better servants of the Gospel to the extent that we’re more closely joined with one another. We learn from one another less readily at great distance, and especially when great distances are amplified by hostility. We less fully communicate our vision of a variegated Body of Christ joining different peoples in a faithful, joyous, willing unity if we’re busily suspecting, rejecting, and vilifying one another. We make ourselves less available to the Spirit’s prompting, the more determined we are to prevail over those others.
Yet at the same time, the Covenant as it came into being was surely oriented toward being used juridically to separate some from others. If such separation be on the horizon — and in all likelihood it is — let it be straightforward, direct, and explicit, rather than be staged by a process of triangulation that separates us by way of some new-forged fulcrum for levering-out the wrong sorts of people. The Covenant at its best stated what should not (to my mind) be controversially questionable about Anglican identity; but my mind isn’t the issue. The mind of the whole communion, the minds of the distinct provinces that make it up, and ultimately the mind of Christ stand to resolve these stresses, and what seems obvious and unquestionable to me may seem dubious and obscure to an Anglican in New Zealand (or for that matter, to another Scottish Episcopalian). As I’ve said before, if it’s universal, you don’t need to regulate it; if you need to regulate it, it obviously isn’t universal.
And I wonder how the Covenant would have looked to various constituencies if the presenting stressor were different — if, say, the Lambeth Conference were trying to define gender equality as intrinsic to Anglican identity (obviously that would be a non-starter, since England isn’t precisely on board there). A juridical unity can be a fine thing when it’s serving ends of which one approves, even as it serves as a bully’s bludgeon when applied against the conscientious determination one’s own favoured position.
A great many people have invested a great many days and months on drawing up the Covenant, and many more months and days in defending or opposing it. I pray that in days and months to come, the will of the Anglican Communion to knit more closely together (forestalling future crises such as this, and God willing, making eventual healing more nearly possible) not waver; that the Communion redouble its commitment to mutuality and bearing one another’s burdens; that the Communion structure such ruptures as become inevitable so that we may most easily be restored to unity; and that we free ourselves from shackles of mistrust to love our sisters and brothers, and above all our enemies, in the way that keeps eristic demons at bay, that invites communion of hearts and spirits as well as sacramental communion, and that opens all of our eyes to what we did not soon enough see clearly on our way to the awkward ending of a well-intentioned endeavour to help articulate the tremendous gift of the episcopal tradition.

1 thought on “On the (Moribund) Covenant

  1. “the tremendous gift….” I’ll need to think about that one… nice aesthetics, I’ll give you that! Worth remixing them with some presbyterian ecclesiology…

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