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Yes to the Anglican Communion; No to the Anglican Covenant

A new voice has joined in the debate on the Anglican Covenant, the ‘yes to the covenant‘ website. They have a page giving reasons why people should support the Covenant, among which is:

 “The Covenant is ‘the only game in town’ if the Church of England is to remain in any meaningful sense apart [sic] of the third largest world church. There is no alternative.  So the Church of England’s choices are to adopt the Covenant, or to disappear from the world’s radar as a significant voice in the world.”


Do you know the feeling when some thought or memory is bubbling away in your subconscious but  refuses to surface? It niggles away, sometimes for weeks or months.I have finally had that ‘Eureka!’ moment of remembering what all the statements by the Pro-Covenanters remind me of.

John Knox , a Hebrew Jeremiah set down on Scottish soil, sought to destroy what he felt was idolatry and to purify Scotland’s religion in a relentless campaign of fiery oratory :

“The sword of justice is God’s, and if princes and rulers fail to use it, others may.”

John Lloyd writes: There’s an old saying, which Scots still exchange with each other, usually humorously: “Aweel, ye ken noo” – well, you know now. It harks back to when Scots life was dominated by the stern Presbyterianism engrained into it by Calvin’s disciple, John Knox: when…’the Kirk’ policed the morals of society with enthusiastic rigour. “Well ye ken noo” was the generic cry of the godly to the un-godly, faced with the prospect of the fires of hell, having ignored the warnings of the faithful in a life of dissipation. On the left is a portrayal of John Knox admonishing Mary Queen of Scots, who looks suitably chastened and uncharacteristically subdued.

We have had a spate of attempts recently to crank up the guilt amongst those who would oppose the Covenant, partly at least because we do not believe it would have the beneficial effect that its proponents believe. Here is Bishop Gregory Cameron:

“The Bottom Line: Do we value the Communion?  Do we care enough to work together with our sister Churches?  Do we think that it is possible to describe what holds us together as Anglicans?  A “yes” to these questions is surely a “yes” to the Covenant.  A “No” to the Covenant says:  We can’t say what it means to be an Anglican, we want to be able to ignore our sister Churches when it suits us, and we won’t mind if up to half the Communion walks away.”


All three statements, the yes-to-the-covenant’s ‘only game in town’, John Knox’s ‘sword of justice’ and Bishop Gregory’s ‘ bottom line’ have one thing in common. They are examples of  False Dichotomy:

Definition: In false dichotomy, the arguer sets up the situation so it looks like there are only two choices. The arguer then eliminates one of the choices, so it seems that we are left with only one option: the one the arguer wanted us to pick in the first place. But often there are really many different options, not just two—and if we thought about them all, we might not be so quick to pick the one the arguer recommends.

Example: “Caldwell Hall is in bad shape. Either we tear it down and put up a new building, or we continue to risk students’ safety. Obviously we shouldn’t risk anyone’s safety, so we must tear the building down.” The argument neglects to mention the possibility that we might repair the building or find some way to protect students from the risks in question—for example, if only a few rooms are in bad shape, perhaps we shouldn’t hold classes in those rooms.


The first time I came across this alarming form of reasoning, which is difficult to answer because it is so sweeping, was in the novel of existential angst by Albert Camus, La Peste (The Plague), which was perhaps the equivalent for British teenagers of J D Salinger’s ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ in the 1960s. The priest, Father Paneloux, gives two sermons. The first is very much in John Knox Calvinist mode. The second asks the following:

“My brothers, a time of testing has come for us all. We must believe everything or deny everything. And who among you, I ask, would dare to deny everything?”

What happened to ‘Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief’?


So what does the Covenant really say, should you vote yes or should you vote no? Alan Perry (a Canadian archdeacon with a background in canon law, in case you do not already know his blog) has written tirelessly about every conceivable aspect of all four sections of the Covenant. Here he writes on ‘A Tale of Two Covenants’. And here he writes about the frequent problem that those who are in favour of the Covenant often seem to read into its text provisions which sound attractive but are not actually in the printed text.

The Revd Tobias Haller, an American priest, has also blogged at length about the Covenant, here on possible alternatives. He concludes: ‘the proposed Anglican Covenant is not the way forward for the Anglican Communion, either as a Communion, or for the sake of its members, or for our ecumenical relationships.’

Finally, in the words of Kelvin Holdsworth of the diocese of Glasgow and Galloway:

‘We don’t want the Covenant. We do want the Communion.’


The main illustration is of course the logo of the Anglican Communion. The stained glass portrayal of John Knox comes from the Covenant Presbyterian Church of Long Beach, California. And the photograph of Albert Camus was taken in 1957 and made available through a CCL.

8 comments on this post:

UKViewer said...

“It is true that you may fool all of the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all of the time; but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.” Abraham Lincoln.

There is no other quote which so fits the rubbish from the Pro-Covenant campaign.

Off course, I’ve taken it out of the context it was used in. President Lincoln used it at the Gettysburg Address.

Another quote springs to mind:

“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”

If we apply this latter one to the Anglican Communion, it’s pretty much what the divisive effect of the covenant will have on the Anglican Communion.

A little bit of Church History is the Great Schism of 1054. Pope excommunicated the Patriarch of Constantinople and several others. As a result we have the RC Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches. While the Anglican Communion isn’t on that scale, it has a wider reach than the church in 1054, which was only to the known world.

If we go down the covenant route, I see another great schism, which will benefit no one but those whose agenda is to centralise and to rule. We don’t need an Anglican Pope or even Patriarch, which is what will be the outcome of the machinations of the centralists.


Lay Anglicana said...

It’s interesting that you use the word schism, E, which sounds dramatic but I am beginning to see it used more and more frequently in this context.
I am hopeful that, by the grace of God, we may yet be able to save Archbishop Rowan and his merry men from themselves – and hence the rest of us.

09 March 2012 21:55
09 March 2012 21:23

I’ve really tried to see this Rowan’s way; after I published questions about it in the Church Times, I thought arguments in favour would come my way. Frankly all I’ve had from people in favour of it is waffle of the sort you describe above — vote for it, or you don’t believe in the Communion, in some unspecified way. Meanwhile it simply isn’t, as a matter of fact, shaping up as a convincing statement of where we all are – a goodly proportion if not majority just can’t see the pont of it. The trouble is climbing down from the positions that have been taken in its favour won’t be easy. So all in all it’s a right old mess, divisive, and a very inferior product. Providing people with a bureaucratic mechanism for accountability only works if they genuinely regard themselves as accountable in the first place. And sometimes it’s been the duty of dissident groups to lead the way. The alternative is simply for churches to talk to each other — indaba — rather than about each other.

09 March 2012 23:19
Alan T Perry said...

Well said, Laura!

In my maiden blog post on 23 November 2010, I said:

“I am deeply committed to the Anglican Communion, and it is this commitment that leads me to oppose the Covenant. I believe (and I am not alone in that belief) that the Covenant as proposed will not only not help to strengthen the Anglican Communion, but risks furthering the rifts in the Communion by weaponizing the relations among members that disagree on a variety of issues.”

I still feel the same way.

I love that the verification word is “pyrotechnics” 🙂

10 March 2012 01:32
Revsimmy said...

Well said (again), Laura. I for one am getting rather tired of people implying (if not downright saying) that if I don’t (or rather didn’t, since our diocese voted a couple of weeks ago) vote for the Covenant than I can’t be really concerned for the Communion and/or our sister churches. I am concerned a nd that is why I am against it. While I could happily endorse Sections 1 – 3, the truth is that even most of its supporters in the CofE can’t really tell us what the actual effect of the pernicious (to my mind) Section 4 will be.

10 March 2012 11:59
UKViewer said...

By Peter Mullin
The blocks of ironstone
bound by rigid mortar
flake away

like some dry mud cracking
in a shallow hollow
once a pool

or honey coloured cells
in a comb of pointing

A mix far too strong to
take the stone’s expansion
and fall out

slapped in to free a man
from the tedium of

the whole point of pointing
to take the punishment

Inside, with the same care,
the man places people in a vice

insisting that the words
should be stronger than the
lives they frame

while the words’ own Word waits
to take the strain of our

Poem from:

10 March 2012 20:00
Funeral Sermons said...

Great post, very glad you brought up the concept of a false dichotomy. The fact that so many people are commenting on this means that this topic is near to people’s hearts. Keep the discussion going.

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you very much for commenting. And thank-you also for the encouragement to keep the topic alive. I fear that the (temporary?) defeat of the Covenant has left everyone feeling rather battered, no matter what their beliefs are. A period of healing would be welcome, and I am praying that the next Archbishop of Canterbury will be able to find a way of cutting the Gordian knot and offering this.

17 May 2012 08:45
17 May 2012 04:31

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