04 August 2011

A Tale of Two Covenants

It was the best of Covenants, it was the worst of Covenants.

The proposed Anglican Covenant, we are told by those who support it, is a straightforward statement of what Anglicans believe, along with a straightforward commitment both to be cautious in introducing new ideas or practices, and to participating in mediation when a question arises about the propriety of a Church's new development. Nothing much new, certainly nothing scary.

No, say the proposed Covenant's opponents. For them the document is neither a straightforward statement of Anglican belief nor a straightforward commitment to adhere to that belief. For opponents, the proposed Covenant is vague, and includes a dispute-settling mechanism that is arbitrary, without clear definitions or procedures, and which violates the standards of natural justice. Very scary.

These two views of the proposed Covenant are obviously quite incompatible. It is as though there were not one proposed Covenant, but two. The Covenant that the supporters are supporting is not the Covenant that the opponents are opposing. And both sides seem to shake their heads and say, “if only the other side understood the Covenant properly, they would agree with us.”

As an opponent of the Covenant, it should go without saying which Covenant it is that I oppose. In fact, if I truly believed that the proposal before us were more or less the Covenant depicted by its supporters, I am not certain I could muster either much enthusiasm for it nor much energy to oppose it. But my careful study of the proposed Covenant text convinces me that it is not as depicted by its supporters.

I wonder how many Covenant supporters would support the Covenant that I oppose?

I suppose a fundamental question confronts those who will be responsible for voting on whether to adopt or reject the proposed Covenant, which is to say, members of the various General Synods in the Anglican Communion. The question is, which Covenant is really the one on offer? Is it the Covenant that the supporters support, or the Covenant that the opponents oppose? Much will turn on that question.

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