Monday, April 18, 2011

Why ECUSA Will Not Sign the Anglican Covenant -- and Why It Will Not Allow Any Other Covenant to Be Signed, Either

The political forces in ECUSA are gathering against the proposed Anglican Covenant. They are nevertheless content to bide their time, and see what other provinces will ratify or reject it between now and July 2012, when General Convention next meets in Indianapolis. They do not want to be seen as in the vanguard of the opposition. Rather, they wish to be part of the coup de grace, by finishing it off after it has already been rejected by a majority of the 38 churches in the Communion.

To be sure, those dioceses in ECUSA which have done the most damage to the Church's relationship with the Anglican Communion are not holding their disapprovals back -- they have no reason to, because they are already in the vanguard of the campaign to erase all memory of Resolution 1.10 adopted at the 1998 Lambeth Conference. And look for the Executive Council to take a stand against the Covenant at its meeting in June.

With regard to ECUSA's inevitable decision against the Covenant, I have long predicted such an outcome on this blog; my judgment is thus far unaltered by any subsequent events. But I wish to amplify here upon some of the details of the scurvy power play which is taking place within the previously dignified halls of the Anglican Communion. The power play is occurring because of two things: there is a vacuum of Communion leadership, and at the same time there is no lack of opportunists who are willing to exploit that vacuum to their own ends.

Both of these conditions would have been unthinkable as recently as seventy years ago. As the movie The King's Speech vividly demonstrates, even a mild-mannered stutterer could step forward to lead England when the circumstances required it of him. His example made it possible for others more capable and qualified (such as Churchill and Montgomery) to take the helm and provide England with the character and leadership it needed to pull through the Second World War.

Leadership these days, however, is a vanishing quality. In America, it has all but disappeared under the current administration, to be replaced by the vapid platitudes that will fit on a teleprompter, and which have been vetted in front of a "focus group" before they are uttered. In Britain, even the Conservatives have succumbed to the coils of political correctness, and have abandoned the Church of England, lately along with the common law itself. Once the fabled land of the Magna Carta and individual liberty, today's multicultural Britain offers no values to emulate, and no banners around which to rally.

Archbishop Rowan Williams is a special case -- but chiefly an intellectual one. His pastoral genius (which seems to have found its voice only at the Lambeth 2008 Conference) could contribute real substance to the essential dialogue, if England but had other leaders worthy of the name to uphold her traditions. Parliament, however, has all but disestablished the Church, while Prince Charles has signaled that he will no longer head it. Left alone with the responsibilities of the whole Communion, Dr. Williams has failed in his single-minded strategy of keeping all parties at the table at any cost. The Communion is now splintered into a majority of the Global South and a much smaller minority of the liberal West, with assorted smaller factions for bystanders. The minority has deliberately chosen this estrangement, by defying the consensus achieved at Lambeth in 1998 (and by refusing even to acknowledge there was a consensus), but blames it on the majority instead -- and no longer listens to what the majority has to say. The Anglican Communion, in short, has become -- in the space of just sixty years -- the Anglican Divide.

In this schismatic arena, what possible goal could a Covenant achieve? (This is not to deny that there are many earnest voices working to make its passage a reality; see, for example, here and here. And the best analysis of it to be published to date is this brochure, by the Church Times newspaper.) The Windsor Group made the proposal for a Covenant in 2004, but by then (as we now see in hindsight), events had already overtaken its report, and schism was an irrevocable fact on the ground. To propose a Covenant at that point may have been the last hope to recover what once had been, but which was to be no more. Those who had brought the Communion to the point of division were by then too far committed to consider reversing course. There was after all, a solemn "consecration" which had been performed, and having crossed that Rubicon, the liberal activists could no more retreat than could Julius Caesar, in 49 B.C.

But this same irrevocable act has (we now see) also sealed the fate of the Anglican Covenant, and of the Communion itself. To covenant now in any way which could be interpreted to repudiate what has so recently been consecrated (and re-consecrated, in Los Angeles) is too much for the consecrators. And to covenant in any way which could be interpreted to affirm what had been consecrated would undermine the whole point of a covenant, which was to acknowledge agreement on the principles which were thought to have been shared before the Communion-defying consecration took place. Thus the proposal for a covenant was a classic example of trying to shut the barn door after the horses had already escaped.

The process might still have been salvaged if the Communion had been favored with a strong Church of England, under a strong leadership. But the divide in the Communion was mirrored by a divide in the Mother Church, which its recent Archbishops were unable to prevent or heal. Even though the Church of England now seems willing to approve the Covenant, it is a case of too little arriving too late. The barn door was left open; the horses are out.

Nevertheless, there is an unassailable irony here, which this Curmudgeon would fain point out. The Covenant in its current form is unacceptable to those who have rushed to violate the norms of Lambeth -- and please note: I am not arguing that Lambeth norms are mandatory on the entire Communion as such, but only that they are norms, i.e., standards by which one's fidelity to the Communion's shared experience may be objectively measured.

Those who have been in the forefront of departing from the norms, I say, are the ones leading the campaign against the Covenant, for the reasons I have given above. But now please note this supreme irony: those same factions are the ones who control the Covenant amendment and adoption process!

Think about that for a minute. Even were the Global South to make a proposal, as they have recently suggested, to amend the Covenant to provide that only churches which subscribe to Resolution 1.10 may sign the Covenant, such a proposal could go nowhere in the current polity of the Anglican Communion. The Standing Committee is the body assigned to control the Covenant process, and the Standing Committee is overwhelmingly dominated by Western liberals and their factotums.

We thus have a minority frustrating the will of the majority -- which has remained the will of the Communion all along, and has not gone anywhere. But just as they did in New Hampshire in November 2003, and again in Los Angeles in 2010, the minority is telling the majority to go pound sand, while the minority gets on with their important agendas for the Communion. And as they do so, the Archbishop of Canterbury stands by and claims to be powerless to prevent the minority from running things.

Well, maybe Rowan Williams is powerless -- but by now it no longer matters. The old saw about the Communion used to go something like this: "The Africans pray, the Americans pay, and the British make the rules." For a while, perhaps, that compromise may have worked. But now the ones who pay are changing the prayers, while the ones who write the rules have ensured that the structure cannot change from within. And thus I agree with Terry Mattingly's perceptive analysis, written back in September 2007:
… (Like) Orthodoxy, Anglicanism does not have a pope. There is no one person who can settle this issue. Yet they also need to understand that it is the Church of England. This whole crisis is ultimately going to come down to the fact that England — and by that I mean the archbishop of Canterbury and the whole structure of the English church — is going to have to decide whether it will accept the liberal American establishment or the Third World traditionalists.

I don’t think the Third World traditionalists are going to compromise. And I don’t think the American left is going to compromise now on issues of the sexual revolution. They are not going to be willing to offend the New York Times editorial board and other sources of doctrinal power and authority.

So at some point, England is going to have to figure out which way it wants to go. And the Church of England is just as divided as the American church on these issues.
The dithering between opposite poles has now gone on too long; soon there will not even be any choice left to be made. The Anglican Communion, no longer able to dialog meaningfully with the Roman Catholics or the Orthodox, is descending into irrelevance, and is finding smaller and smaller denominations with which it may still celebrate what little remains of its common ground with the world's great faiths. We are coming up on the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation; perhaps it is fitting that such an occasion mark the demise of the Great Experiment with which it began.


  1. "We are coming up on the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation; perhaps it is fitting that such an occasion mark the demise of the Great Experiment with which it began."


  2. In theology and practice, Rome is not really in much better shape than Anglicanism. Rome is not paradise, utopia, shangri-la, etc. There are serpents there too. The enemy of Christ is always looking for any way to enter and influence any and every Christian person and organization.

  3. The grass is not greener on the other side of the Tiber:

  4. ALLtoJesus wrote:

    "In theology and practice, Rome is not really in much better shape than Anglicanism."

    Even given my agreement with your assessment of the work of the Enemy, I must humbly disagree with your assessment of equivalence, at least in the U.S., between ECUSA and the Catholic Church. If you want to make your case, I would ask you where in ECUSA'a HoB are all of their Dolans, Niederauers, O'Connors, Sartains, Olmsteds and (last, but most assuredly not least) Ratzingers?

    I can answer that for you the small handful of them who have not yet attained the status of emeritus, are no longer in ECUSA. Clearly, the majority who remain in ECUSA are that ecclesial body's Hunthausens, Weaklands and Trautmans.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  5. TEC and its affiliates will not submit to anything (including Scripture) that would curtail its pansexual agenda.