Showing posts with label Bp. John Saxbee. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bp. John Saxbee. Show all posts

Saturday, January 14, 2012


From the Church Times:
From the Rt Revd Dr John Saxbee and the Rt Revd Dr Peter Selby

Sir, — Whichever side of the argument you are on there are grounds for real concern about the way the debate about it is progressing. It cannot be good to learn, as we do, that many bishops who are against the Anglican Covenant don’t want to say for fear of seeming disloyal, that diocesan synods are “debating” the issue without hearing both sides of the argument equally presented, and that there is so much boredom and weariness about the whole issue.

This is a major proposal with potentially serious consequences for this and future generations of Anglican Christians, and for those ecumenical partners with whom we are in conversation. Nothing will be worse than for the Covenant to be yawned through at a July Synod preoccupied with debating the ordination of women as bishops, passed and then put in a drawer — only for us to discover that those who now brand it “toothless” then use it and propel the Communion into a litigious and factious future.

The Archbishop of Canterbury made it clear in his Advent letter that such is not his purpose. But the proposed Covenant cannot now escape the identity it has acquired as an instrument of exclusion. He also asks what is the alternative; we respond that the alternative to having a Covenant is not having one, and this is a time to hold fast to Anglicanism’s inherited culture of inclusion and respectful debate which is our way of dealing with difference rather than require assent to procedures and words that have already shown themselves to be divisive.

In short, if we can agree it we don’t need it and if we need it we won’t agree it. We believe that the Covenant is to be resisted. But, above all, our plea is for a debate that is candid, even-handed, and open. If it comes to the General Synod, it should do so as its seriousness deserves, as the principal business.

The Archbishop of Canterbury is trying to railroad the Anglican Covenant through the Church of England General Synod quickly, before too many people in the church have a chance to study the document closely and note what harm may result for the Anglican Communion and for the Church of England if the covenant is adopted. The Anglican Communion Office sends out only pro-covenant materials, which is not right and not fair, because the members of Synod need to hear from both proponents and opponents of the document in order to vote wisely.

Thank you, Bishops Saxbee and Selby for speaking out. Isn't it time for the other bishops who doubt the wisdom of adopting the covenant to lend their voices to the debate? I like very much the answer the bishops give to Archbishop Rowan's statement that there is no alternative to the covenant:
...we respond that the alternative to having a covenant is not having one and this is the time to hold fast to Anglicanism's inherited culture of inclusion and respectful debate....
Amen and amen!

Thanks to my English friend, Neal Terry (aka themethatisme), who sent me the letter which can now be viewed on the website of the Church Times.

Friday, March 4, 2011


Many thanks to the Rev Lesley Fellows for the video and the transcript of Bishop John Saxbee's speech at the November 2010 Church of England General Synod. Bishop Saxbee retired as Bishop of the Diocese of Lincoln in January of this year.

The speech is splendid. I'm somewhat disappointed that the bishop decided to vote for the covenant to move on to the next step in the process, that of presenting the covenant to the dioceses for study and a decision at to whether or not to approve the document, and I regret that Bishop Saxbee's voice will no longer be heard in future gatherings of GS.

In relation to the Anglican Covenant, I’m on record as saying in this synod that I entirely support the process, as long as it never ends. Let me explain what I mean. The Anglican Communion doesn’t need a Covenant because Anglicanism is a covenant. It is a way of Provinces listening, living distinctively apart from each other whilst remaining part of one another. That is a way of doing difference differently from the ways in which groups and individuals usually do difference. It is predicated on grace and goodwill, and if there is grace and goodwill then a covenant will be unnecessary and if there is no grace and goodwill then a covenant will be unavailing.

Listen to this quote from Hilary Mantel’s book ‘Wolf Hall’, putting words into the mouth of my distinguished predecessor, Cardinal Wolsey, “Wolsey always said that the making of a treaty is the treaty, it doesn’t matter what the terms are, just that there are terms. It’s the goodwill that matters, when that runs out the treaty is broken, whatever the terms may say’.

Members of Synod, the Church of England has a bit of a history of putting in place measures in response to a particular presented issue and then discovering that the proposed cure does not only have unintended consequences (and The Good Intentions Paving Company is still very much in business, I assure you), not only will there be unintended consequences, but the cure can actually make matters worse.

We all know that the process towards the drawing up of this Covenant was triggered by events in The Episcopal Church of a few years ago, notwithstanding the long preamble which was helpfully presented to us by the Bishop of Bath and Wells. Those events were by no means trivial, but to elevate them to the status of game changers when it comes to how we deal with each other over time is… well… stepping over a very significant mark in the sand. And I truly doubt whether it will be conducive to long term stability.

The Covenant may of itself not be tyrannical, but there are those in the Communion whose treatment of our lesbian and gay sisters and brothers has had at least a touch of the tyrannical about it. And if I ever come to the conclusion that a covenant of this kind would give them comfort then I would be bound to resist it.

Anglicanism has been described as a fellowship of civilised disagreement. Well I leave you to judge whether a two-tier Communion with first and second division members answers to that description of civilised disagreement. It frankly feels like we will be sending sincere and faithful Anglicans to stand in the corner until they have seen the error of their ways and can return to the ranks of the pure and spotless.

I am grateful to Mr Roy for referring to the story of the woman taken in adultery. Jesus, if you recall, first of all draw an extended circle of sinfulness to include those who considered themselves to be more righteous than she was, and then drew an extended circle of acceptance to count her in. You know the little rhyme,
“They drew a circle that shut me out —
Heretic, rebel, something to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took them in.”

We can draw ever tighter circles of sinfulness or we can draw ever wider circles of acceptance, so that all Provinces, and not just some, hear our Lord’s injunction, ‘Go and sin no more’, but also echo his reassurance, ‘Neither do I condemn you’. I love the Anglican Communion. I value our inter-diocesan links and I have learnt so much from visits to many dioceses. But I don’t love it so much that I would want it to be still a communion but no longer Anglican. That prize is not worth the price.

And so, Madam Chair, I simply leave you with the wise words of the American philosopher H. L. Mencken which you may well be familiar, ‘For every difficult and complex problem there is a solution which is simple, straight-forward and wrong’. As an answer to a difficult and complex problem, this Covenant is simple, straight-forward and I still believe probably wrong. There is too much religion in the world and not enough faith, and I think this Covenant seems to be more about factory farmed religion than free range faith.

As I want the conversation to continue, I cannot vote against the motion to go on considering it and its implications. But I do think the implications are very significant. And as I ride off into the wonderful sunsets of West Wales, I wish you all well and hope and pray that as this process continues you will enjoy discussing the idea of a covenant and hesitate long and hard before signing up to one.