Saturday, May 28, 2011


The letter below is from Jonathan Clatworthy, General Secretary to Modern Church in England. The missive was sent to the Church Times but was not published in the newspaper. I thought the letter deserved wider readership, and, when I asked, Jonathan gave me permission to publish the letter here at Wounded Bird. My wee blog is not the Church Times, but the letter follows, unedited:
So neither Ireland nor South-East Asia decided to adopt the proposed Anglican Covenant – but neither felt able to just say no. Ireland voted to ‘subscribe’ to it, South-East Asia to ‘accede’ to it. As both provinces know, these are meaningless expressions; the Covenant will only come into force if the provinces sign on the dotted line to adopt it. Why are they pussyfooting about?

There is a good reason. Provincial leaders are under immense pressure to sign the Covenant, but few of them like it. It was originally conceived as a way of threatening the USA with expulsion over gay bishops. The present text makes two changes to that aim. Firstly, instead of directly threatening to expel, it sets up an international system which could respond to complaints by expelling but could decide not to; we wouldn’t know the result until after it had been set up. So GAFCON have decided this is not discipline enough and have gone their own way, leaving the rest of us wondering who still wants it.

The second change is that the Covenant makes no mention of same-sex partnerships. It would be possible for one province to object to any initiative by another and demand a judgement from the newly empowered central authorities. Anglicanism would become a confessional sect where we were told what to believe.

So what do provinces do? If they refuse to sign, they may find themselves effectively expelled. If they do sign, they will no longer be able to run their own affairs without constantly checking whether someone in another part of the world objects. So they opt for a third alternative. There isn’t one, but they act as though there is. Whether ‘subscribe’ and ‘accede’ end up counting as ‘adopt’ will no doubt depend on which side has the cleverer political manipulators.

Jonathan Clatworthy
General Secretary
Modern Church
Liverpool, UK

Provinces who adopt the covenant could still be expelled, so whether to adopt or not puts a province in somewhat of a double bind situation. Jonathan makes an important point about any province being able to report any initiative by another province. What a tangle of tasks the new bureaucracy could be faced with in having to judge the complaints. I can't help but imagine the future operations of the standing committee, or whatever group will judge whether the complaints are worthy of consideration or action, as similar to a teacher having to deal with a stream of tattling children and finally saying, "Enough!"

My guess is that the Anglican Communion Office, or whichever body has decision-making power, will conclude that if the term used by a province remotely suggests adoption, the province will be considered to have adopted the Anglican Covenant.