November 21, 2010

What will the ‘orthodox’ do?

It is no secret that the impetus for an Anglican covenant came from conservatives, mostly Evangelical, but some Anglo-Catholic. It is also no secret that as draft succeeded draft, the disciplinary aspects of the covenant being proposed have been downplayed, though surely not eliminated, in an attempt to make the document less alarming to everyone else. Nonetheless, liberals find little to like in the draft now on the table, and conservatives would prefer something more draconian. It would be wrong to conclude from this that the current “final text” represents a kind of via media. Actually, the Anglican Covenant is a reactionary document that would drastically redefine Anglicanism so as to make it irrelevant in the West—Anglicans can never do mindless Bible-thumping as effectively as churches unencumbered by Anglicanism’s diverse historical baggage—but not as reactionary as the most extreme right-wing zealots of the Communion would have it.

It is not clear how these facts will play out in practice. The Episcopal Church, for example, has no rational excuse for adopting the Covenant, though it might do so out of a misplaced sense of Anglican solidarity. Likewise, the Church of England has little reason to embrace the Covenant, though it might do so thinking that the Covenant cannot possible harm the Mother Church or to avoid embarrassing Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. (Rowan Williams has a plethora of reasons to be embarrassed, but that’s a story for another day.)

What the most reactionary provinces in Africa and elsewhere will do is uncertain. They may well adopt the Covenant with the hope that its mechanisms can be transmogrified into the Anglican Inquisition for which they so devoutly wish. They may try to change the “final text.” They may reject the Covenant, either as a challenge to the Communion or as a declaration of independence for a new Über-Orthodox Anglican Communion. (Alas, there is already an Orthodox Anglican Communion®.) Perhaps the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans will become the alternative to a more diverse Anglican Communion.

The Rt. Rev. John H. Rodgers Jr.Some insight into the far-right Anglican mind was provided recently by the Rt. Rev. John H. Rodgers Jr., a former Episcopal priest who is now a bishop in the Anglican Mission in the Americas, one of the squatter churches in the U.S. sponsored by “sister” Anglican churches. Rodgers’ “The present form of the Anglican Covenant is too weak for the orthodox and too strong for the revisionists” can be found on the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans blog. The author’s overall thesis is contained in his title, but the details are important, particularly for those who assume the whole Windsor Process and Anglican Covenant represent some kind of Anglican centrism.

Rodgers opens with this statement:
It seems to me that the Covenant should be seen to be precisely what the Archbishop of Canterbury has said it is not, a binding commitment to mutual mission and encouragement, to a process of adjudicating differences that threaten to be Communion-breaking, and to a confessional standard of Doctrine to which all who sign are committed and to which they can be held accountable.
Rodgers wants to see two changes to the Covenant: the primates, not the Standing Committee should decide what is and is not acceptable, and the Jerusalem Declaration should be “added to the standard of Faith to which all signers [are] committed and held accountable.” (Recall that the Jerusalem Declaration contains this provision: “We reject the authority of those churches and leaders who have denied the orthodox faith in word or deed. We pray for them and call on them to repent and return to the Lord.” Presumably, The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada are among the churches referred to here.)

In his conclusion, Rodgers asks, “[I]s it not now time to be explicit about the Faith, the nature of the Covenant and the body that is to oversee the conformity of its members to the covenant?” He then adds, “There need be no worries that we would thereby exclude some of the Communion, they are already outside fellowship with the orthodox in any serious sense and will sign no covenant worth the paper it is printed upon.” He recommends that the Global South modify the Covenant along the lines he has suggested and to send it to Communion churches for their approval. Rodgers clearly does not buy the “final text” label that has been put on the Covenant. Moreover, he only expects “orthodox” churches to sign. It is not clear what this will do to the Anglican Communion, but it is clear that it would not enhance unity!

Lest one think that Rodgers is out of the “orthodox” mainstream, I offer this item from the Trumpet (communiqué) issued by the Fourth Anglican Global South to South Encounter held last April in Singapore:
Global South leaders have been in the forefront of the development of the ‘Anglican Covenant’ that seeks to articulate the essential elements of our faith together with means by which we might exercise meaningful and loving discipline for those who depart from the ‘faith once for all delivered to the saints.’ We are currently reviewing the proposed Covenant to find ways to strengthen it in order for it to fulfill its purpose. For example, we believe that all those who adopt the Covenant must be in compliance with Lambeth 1.10. Meanwhile we recognize that the Primates Meeting, being responsible for Faith and Order, should be the body to oversee the Covenant in its implementation, not the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion.
In anticipation of the Singapore meeting, Rodgers had written an essay for VirtueOnline in February complaining that the Covenant was too weak, that the Jerusalem Declaration offers a clearer standard of doctrine, and that the primates must have a stronger role in enforcing discipline. He began his conclusion with this clear statement of how the Anglican Communion should operate:
We must not waste the present crisis and opportunity. Now is the time to move to organize the Anglican Communion as a Church governed by a Council with clear standards to which all in the Communion are bound.
In the body of his essay, Rodgers repeatedly attacked the concept of provincial autonomy, against which he offered a theological argument, though one not very credible if applied only to Anglican churches. “It is a fatal flaw in this proposed Covenant that it continues to assume and speak of the autonomy of the Provinces,” he wrote.

With attitudes such as this, there seems little hope that the Anglican Covenant will achieve (or even strengthen) unity within the Communion. The Anglican Church wars are destined to continue. The battlefield may be relocated, but the hostilities will continue. There will be casualties.


  1. We have never been a doctrinal church like the Presbyterians or the Lutherans. We have signed no covenants in the past, nor should we now. We are a Credal church, with the creed up for interpretation by every baptized member. This is what has given us such luminaries as John Spong and others who have views that some call extreme. I don't. I love our diversity and would hate to see it limited by the "Anglican Covenant.

  2. Hi Lionel -- and Rodge --

    Per Rodge's "we have never been," an interesting piece coming out in the Living Church by Mark Clavier (my old friend Tony's son), who is now a C of E priest studying at Durham.

    All best,



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