June 7, 2011

Barnett-Cowan, Covenant Advocate

The Rev. Dr. Alyson Barnett-Cowan, Director for Unity, Faith and Order in the Anglican Communion Office, has been a strong advocate for the adoption of the Anglican Covenant. For those of us opposed to the Covenant, she has also been a very annoying one. Last year, shortly before the Church of England’s General Synod was to take up the matter of the Covenant, Anglican Communion News Service published an essay by her titled “‘For a fair and accurate debate on the Covenant, read it first,’ says Unity, Faith and Order director.”

The director’s insinuation in her November 16, 2010, tract that Covenant opponents have not read the Covenant is, in itself, deeply offensive. It is because people have read the “final text” of the Covenant that they are so upset with it. Certainly, the fact that there is a whole Web site devoted to derailing the Covenant-adoption process suggests that a substantial number of Anglicans around the world have taken the time to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Covenant and, having done so, have suffered serious indigestion.

While disingenuously declaring agnosticism regarding the value of the Covenant, Barnett-Cowen proceeded to dispense half-truths and rosy views of how the Covenant will work in practice.

Barnett-Cowen continues to harp on the theme of the Covenant’s being defamed by ignorant critics. She recently spoke to the Church of England’s Diocese in Europe before its synod voted on whether to send the Covenant back to the General Synod for final approval. (As far as I can tell, no corresponding address was given by a Covenant opponent. See this story about the positive vote from The Living Church.) In a brief but telling audio interview just before the Diocese in Europe vote, Barnett-Cowen said this:
People are taken unaware by it [i.e., the Covenant], for one thing, so I have been trying to encourage people to see what it actually says instead of reacting to what they think it might say.
She then disclosed her real view of the Covenant, and it is not at all ambivalent:
If not this, what? It’s become quite clear that if we’re to be a global church, we need something that expresses how we live together as a family. It’s possible the Covenant could be improved, and we want to hear about that. But, at the moment, it’s the best thing we’ve got going for us.
The best thing we’ve got going for us if we’re to be a global church. Well, as an Episcopalian, I am quite content not be be a member of a global church, thank you very much! The beauty of the Anglican Communion as it has been in the past—something we could have “going for us” again if we chose—is that we acted like a global church when doing so was efficient and effective—providing disaster relief in faraway places, for example—and acted like a local church when dealing with liturgy and ethical norms in our individual and diverse societies.

In our fast-moving age, we should not be creating a global church with arcane procedures for deciding what is best for everyone by means of bodies that meet infrequently. Such a church will always be behind the times and the subject of ridicule, at least in some places. The need for uniformity across the Communion is doubtful; uniformity and irrelevance is deadly.

No doubt, Barnett-Cowan will continue to insult our intelligence by asserting that, if we will only read the Covenant, we will come round to seeing how wonderful it is. Likely not. If the good canon is so desirous of being a member of a global church, however, perhaps she should resign her current position and become a Roman Catholic. The Roman Catholic Church already is a global church.

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  1. If only we'd read the Covenant, we'd all fall in love with it.


    If not this, what?

    The TINA argument - there is no alternative.

    Baloney again.

    Barnett-Cowan uses the putting facts on the ground strategy. Say it is so often enough, and it will be so. Sadly, the strategy sometimes works.

  2. ditto Mimi. I have read it many times - it gives me heart pain everytime -- it is a recipe for fighting not a vehicle for relationships.

  3. Thank you, Lionel. I find the notion that the Anglican Covenant is the "best way forward" or even really a "way forward" at all to be manifestly absurd. I"m reminded of Hooker's quip about those who claim too much for Scripture bring it into discredit.

    The Anglican Communion as we knew it is dead. The Covenant will not revive it. I do, however, think that the continued careful discussion of the issues it raises may be good for what is left of the communion. I've tried to put these thoughts into form over at my place...

  4. Blimey - that is very very annoying

  5. If readers here have not read Tobias’s post “The Latest Anglican Fudge,” I recommend their doing so. The post and the resulting discussion in the comments are very interesting indeed.

    The bottom line for me—a bottom line, at any rate—is that Sections 1–3 of the Covenant are written in the ambiguous theological style characteristic of Anglicanism. Section 4, however, describes how the earlier sections are to be “enforced.” Sections 1–3 are not really Anglican “laws” so much as principles from which laws might be inferred. Like the Rorschach test, however, different churches will make different inferences from them.

    No one can know in advance what the “laws” of the Communion will be under the Covenant. Enforcement of ambiguous law is virtually the definition of tyranny, which is what the fruit of the Covenant will be.

  6. She has fallen into the trap of referring to the Anglican Communion as a church. Therein lies a major problem. We are a communion, not a church.

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