09 August 2011

Withdrawing from the Covenant

Section 4.3 of the proposed Anglican Covenant allows for a Church that has adopted the Covenant to withdraw from it. As autonomous entities, it is obviously the right of any Church to reverse a decision to adopt the Covenant. One can imagine a number of reasons why a Church might decide to do so.

For example, it might be that a given Church decides reluctantly to adopt the Covenant for political reasons rather than because of the merits of the document itself. Certainly this course of action has been suggested. No-one relishes the optics of rejecting the Covenant, given that any Church doing so is likely to be depicted as self-centred, not a team player, and not really committed to the Anglican Communion. So a Church that is of a mind to reject the Covenant on principle might decide to avoid that reaction, hold its collective nose, and adopt it anyway. Perhaps in doing so such a Church might hope to introduce some subsequent amendments to make the Covenant less unpalatable. But if attempts to amend the Covenant prove fruitless, the Church might decide that it would have been better not to adopt it in the first place and withdraw. Of course, there would be some optics to deal with in that event.

Section 4.3 reads:
Any covenanting Church may decide to withdraw from the Covenant. Although such withdrawal does not imply an automatic withdrawal from the Instruments of Communion or a repudiation of its Anglican character, it may raise a question relating to the meaning of the Covenant, and of compatibility with the principles incorporated within it, and trigger the provisions set out in section 4.2 above.
So, withdrawal from the Covenant is explicitly stated to mean nothing more than that. It doesn't mean a desire not to remain in the Anglican Communion, just a desire to stop being part of the Covenant's processes. As an aside, this raises the question as to why possible rejection of the Covenant is depicted as carrying the meaning I have outlined above: that a Church isn't committed to the Anglican Communion. But that's another issue.

What strikes me as very strange in section 4.3 is the suggestion that withdrawing from the Covenant “may raise a question relating to the meaning of the Covenant” and even “of compatibility with the principles incorporated within it.” I don't see how this follows. The Covenant allows a Church to withdraw. If a Church avails itself of that provision, the meaning is pretty clear. What question could there be about the meaning of the Covenant? Oh, I suppose that the withdrawing Church could state as its reasons the sorts of things that I have been arguing should have prevented it from adopting the Covenant in the first place: it lacks clarity of definition, is overly ambiguous, and the process for settling disputes is unclear, arbitrary and intrinsically unfair. I suppose that the remaining covenanting Churches might decide to take a look at the document and start working on some improvements, such as introducing respect for Natural Justice for starters. But that sort of question about the meaning of the Covenant exists already. It would be sad if it were to require a Church to pull out of the Covenant for the Standing Committee finally to notice the document's myriad deficiencies.

And as to compatibility with the Covenant, the action of withdrawing is provided for and thus compatible.

But even more troubling is the final phrase in section 4.3, that withdrawing from the Covenant could “trigger the provisions set out in section 4.2....” Beyond some deep soul searching by the Standing Committee and the remaining covenanting Churches, it's hard to imagine anything in section 4.2 that would be remotely appropriate as a response to the withdrawal of a Church. Given the familiar lack of clarity in the proposed Covenant, we are left to speculate as to what might be implied here, and frankly the only possibility seems to be the imposition of some “relational consequences” on a Church that withdraws. There are two problems with that prospect. First, the provisions in section 4.2 apply only to covenanting Churches. (See section 4.2.3) How could it be otherwise? And once a Church withdraws from the Covenant, it would cease to be a covenanting Church, to state the obvious. The second problem is worse: applying relational consequences to a Church that avails itself of the provisions to withdraw from the Covenant would be petty and vindictive, and threatening to do so to prevent Churches from withdrawing would be blackmail. Who would want to be party to a process that is not only arbitrary and unfair, but also petty and vindictive?

Withdraw from the Covenant? Better not to adopt it in the first place.


  1. The entire Covenant process is petty and vindictive.

  2. Maybe I should have said gratuitously petty and vindictive. :-)

  3. Of course, the Covenant means whatever the perpetrators want it to mean. Southern Cone and USA are already the victims of "relational consequences" and neither is a covenanting church nor likely to become one.

    That gets us back to gratuitously petty and vindictive I guess.


  4. I think the proponents of the Covenant want us to belive it means what they say, Jim, but they won't have exclusive rights to interpret it when the time comes to engage in the process of section 4.2. Then it will be up to the Standing Committee and whomever they choose to consult to provide an intepretation. And once that starts, all bets are off.

    As I suggested last week, we have two covenants on the table.

  5. Alan, I am glad you have continued to raise up the "myriad of deficiencies" of the Covenant. On so many levels, the AC is such a bad document. I am so surprised that the CofE could even entertain such a document that is so poorly reasoned and poorly written.

  6. Thanks, Muthah. Everyone needs a hobby. :-)

    Given the absence of anything like an argument for the proposed Covenant, let alone a convincing argument, it seems to me that the only way anyone can support this document is if they honestly believe that it is meaningless, and will have no discernable effects, positive or negative.

    But then, I've addressed that argument before.


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