The Anglican Covenant: A Matter of Trust

One of my favourite people to visit is Claire (not her real name). Claire is originally from Northern Ireland and moved with her husband to Canada to escape “the troubles”. She has a quick wit, and always leaves me laughing, wondering if I should be. But she laughs along too.

The other day she was talking about a man who had made a delivery at her home. “He was sleeky,” she said. “Sleeky?” I said. “Claire, did you make that word  up?” “No!” she replied, “It’s a real word. It’s even in the Oxford  Dictionary,” (It’s not in the one I have, but I did find it online). “It means,” she paused, “Sleeky. It means mistrustful, like he was up to something, or would be up to something if given the chance.”

Well, that’s how the Anglican Covenant feels to me. Sleeky.

This post is not a critical analysis of the document, because my reaction to reading it was not very critical. It was more visceral.

I was encouraged by the first line and most of the first two sections: God has called us into communion in Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1.9). As one who chose the Anglican church as a young adult, having been a loved member of different churches, this is what I stress; that our communion is not with anyone on Earth or any structure, but in Jesus Christ. It also acknowledges the different manifestations of the expression of God’s love and mission through different church families.

Throughout it I was waiting for the “but” moment. It all reads as a document most Christians could agree to in our diversity. That also means it is open to many interpretations. That’s OK by me. Scripture works that way, and I give thanks for the many expressions that come out of our Christian tradition. But in the back of my mind this thought rolled over and over: I agree with that. Others agree with that. But many have judged me and said I am not living faithfully. I uphold the authority of Scripture. You uphold the authority of Scripture. What happens when that looks different? Majority rules? That doesn’t make great theology.

As my friend Mark Chiang, a minister in the Presbyterian Church of Canada, said, “Sounded lovely to me until Section Four which, to a Presbyterian, seemed very dark and scary.”

As an Anglican, it seems pretty dark and scary to me, too. We have never done well in this system. We have always honored the authority of national churches, provinces and dioceses (as long as we have had them) and loved one another through differences in doctrine, liturgy and pastoral practice. Every time we have tried to have one single expression of Anglican thought on any doctrinal matter, heads have rolled. Literally.

Except that we vehemently fight about sex. I can’t think of anything in recent history that has produced more vitriol and bile amongst ourselves than the place of genders other than straight men in our institution. Over those years, I have been called revisionist, selfish and heretical among other things. At our last diocesan synod, I and others of my persuasion were publicly told we were in violation of our ordination vows. Now them’s fighting words.

I’ll just say it. I don’t trust all my sisters and brothers in the Anglican Communion. And that makes me very sad. Many have called me names, committed violence against people I love, slandered my vocation, and have forced people out of the church that I love (four out of my tiny congregation of 40 alone). I’m sure many of my sisters and brothers don’t trust me, either.

And now I am placing my “membership” in their hands. With a document that, at first glance is a no – brainer to sign. But I would sign it with the a foreboding that I am signing something that, no matter how hard I work at it, I’m gonna fail. I’m signing up for failure.

I know this has happened on both sides. I can only write from where I am. We are not reconciled. We need reconciliation. I need reconciliation. I need reconciliation and peace in my heart to sit along side those who differ from me, and I need genuine expressions of regret and reconciliation for the violence that has happened. Without a sincere reconciliation, a covenant isn’t worth the paper it is written on, particularly one that threatens me with expulsion while, at the same time, removes my voice from the councils of the Communion. I need some reassurance that you can hold my trust, because I feel bullied, excluded and hurt.

I don’t know where reconciliation will lead us. It may lead us to different paths. It certainly has before. It may lead me down a different path. But I’m not there yet. I don’t think I can move right now until there is an attempt at forgiveness.

What do I give in return? I don’t know if it will be enough, but it is all that I have. I will share a place at the table in our disagreement. I will accept the Body and Blood from you even though you will not accept it from me. I will listen without defense to how you have been hurt. I will not ask you to perform a rite that causes you a crisis of faith and conscience. I will honour your expression of God’s love as I would hope you would honour mine. I will continue to acknowledge Christ in you.

Is that enough of a covenant, for now?