The Anglican Covenant is a proposal for governing how the member churches of the Anglican Communion should relate to one another. Paul Avis writes (Ecclesiology 7.3, 2011):

The Anglican Communion is under stress because of disagreements about Christian morals and about what kind of mutual obligation is involved in membership of the Communion. The Windsor Report (2004) tackled the problems raised by the consecration of a bishop in a same-gender partnership in The Episcopal Church in the USA, the liturgical blessing of same-gender partnerships in a diocese of the Anglican Church of Canada, and the cross-jurisdiction interventions by Anglican churches from the Global South in response to this situation.

The single most significant proposal made by The Windsor Report (2004) was for a Covenant between the churches of the Anglican Communion. It proposed that they would covenant together to commit themselves to exercise restraint in contentious areas, to consult carefully about potential developments and to strengthen processes of mutual accountability. The Covenant has since gone through various drafts and the final "Ridley" draft is now being considered by the member churches of the Anglican Communion.

What arguments do Anglicans use, for and against adoption of the Covenant?

  • This is sad. I'm an Episcopalian, and all I can do is hope someone has a really good answer here :) I do my best to avoid church politics, but this is not something I can really avoid any longer... Mar 27, 2012 at 17:14
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    I will say that section 1.2.5 at least illustrates my beef with my own church. It says that biblical texts are to be "received, read, and interpreted faithfully, respectfully, comprehensively, and coherently," but says nothing about whether they should be taken authoritatively. Sadly, I know too many priests who just think they are "historical texts." Mar 27, 2012 at 17:16
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    @AffableGeek: right. Take away the Bible and what are you left with? Your own beliefs, not God's. It's like God created man in His image, and now man is trying to return the favour. Mar 28, 2012 at 6:27

2 Answers 2


After discussing this with our rector, I discovered that the key bone of contention is Section 4, the enforcement mechanism (or lack thereof) that holds the Anglican Communion together.

The subtext of disagreement, of course, is the subject of the authority of the Scripture in Anglican life. Probably the most visible manifestation of this debate is the question over same-sex blessings and the elevation of homosexuals to the priesthood, and in 1 1/2 cases, the office of bishop. (One = Gene Robinson in New Hampshire, 1/2 = the process for replacing the Bishop of Los Angeles in which three of the six candidates were publically acknowledging and celebrating their own homosexuality.) Support for this is strongest in the West, particularly in Canada and the United States. In contrast, most of the growth in the 80 million member Anglican Communion is in Africa, where attitudes are quite different.

The question on the table for the Anglican Communion is how such a wide diversity of opinion can co-exist. If a bishop is elevated who, at least in the minds of one wing, is living in open and unrepented sin, the Biblical mandate is fairly clear - that person should be excommunicated. By contrast, the Anglican Covenant requires the following procedure:

(4.2.4) Where a shared mind has not been reached the matter shall be referred to the Standing Committee. The Standing Committee shall make every effort to facilitate agreement, and may take advice from such bodies as it deems appropriate to determine a view on the nature of the matter at question and those relational consequences which may result. Where appropriate, the Standing Committee shall refer the question to both the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meeting for advice.

(4.2.5) The Standing Committee may request a Church to defer a controversial action. If a Church declines to defer such action, the Standing Committee may recommend to any Instrument of Communion relational consequences which may specify a provisional limitation of participation in, or suspension from, that Instrument until the completion of the process set out below

This is bascially the status quo - The ABC asks everybody not to provoke anybody in either direction. The problem for conservatives is that acquiesence is tacit to complicity. "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil," would be their response.

The Economist (3/24/12) describes the situation this way:

In the 80m-strong worldwide Anglican Communion, things are even messier. American liberals hate a covenant which Anglican churches are being asked to sign, pledging to avoid provocative actions like consecrating openly gay bishops. If the future Archbishop of Canterbury insists on the covenant, bits of the communion may reject the arrangement whereby an English prelate chairs the global fraternity, says Frank Kirkpatrick, an American Episcopalian priest. An emerging block of African and American conservatives also questions Canterbury’s historic role. For some hardliners, the covenant does not go far enough in penalising liberals.

The next Archbishop of Canterbury will also have to answer a more basic question: is the institution he heads part of the establishment, with an accepted role as its moral guide, or is it called on to be a provocateur, speaking its own version of truth to power? Defeat over gay marriage will make it tougher to play the first role, but a church that strives to be idiosyncratically prophetic will be harder to keep together. And the church’s role at home has implications for the communion: can an English church that is steadily disestablishing itself retain any natural place as a pacesetter for much bigger churches abroad?

In short, Canterbury is in a no-win situation, and it is not clear if anyone (let alone the likely nominee John Sentamu) could hold it together. The covenant appears to be a weak attempt at reconciliation without any teeth.


I can't speak directly for any Anglican, but reading through the material quickly I can identify a very good reason why they might not adopt it: namely that in asking restraint it asks people to affirm through their silence (or at least muted opposition) practices which they believe are heinous in God's sight.

  • Thank you for your insight; this seems plausible but I am sure there is more to be said.
    – James T
    Mar 29, 2012 at 16:02
  • I'm not an Anglican or Episcopalian, but this is the first thing I thought when I read the text. Mar 29, 2012 at 19:45

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