Monday, February 20, 2012

We happy few

When we first launched the No Anglican Covenant Coalition just shy of 16 months ago, the odds of actually stopping the proposed Anglican Covenant seemed none too good.  And it became clear within a matter of hours that the ecclesiastical one percent responsible for the document were not going to take even our quixotic challenge lightly. 

Covenant critics were compared to the British National Party, the UK's current fascist party.  Then (once the Communion apparatchiks realized how stupid that made them look) we were repeatedly accused of having not read the document we were criticizing.  The Archbishop of Canterbury himself used the bully pulpit of his formal address to General Synod to condemn us for "campaigning" on an issue - as though no one had ever done that before in the entire history of Anglicanism.  We may have been mere mosquitoes buzzing around the heads of our betters, but we were clearly to be smashed with whatever sledgehammers were available.

Yet despite the contempt of those who thought they ought to be obeyed, we persevered.

It became clear that those in charge were not committed to a full and frank discussion.  Every effort was made to silence and marginalize critical voices.  Background materials from the Anglican Communion Office and the Church of England were so decidedly one-sided they made Faux News look fair and balanced.  Attempts to have dioceses include any material critical of the Covenant were rebuffed - and at least one Coalition member received a fairly nasty telling off for having tried to "interfere."

Then came January 2011, when the Coalition found itself with an odd bedfellow.  David Phillips of the very conservative and evangelical Church Society published an essay in which he endorsed the Coalition's concerns about the centralization of authority inherent in the proposed Anglican Covenant. 

The second major area of concern with the Covenant is the assignment of authority to some body or bodies within the Communion to exercise a disciplinary function. Here we share with the liberals a justifiable concern. Put in bogey-man terms, we do not want an Anglican Papacy or Inquisition. Although the Church of England has had clear disciplinary structures, part of the break with Rome involved the rejection of a universal structure within the Church.
And in March, we saw the Coalition's first clear victory as the Diocese of Wakefield, the first English diocese to consider the matter, voted down the Anglican Covenant.  As I recall, we were all a bit surprised.  We didn't even have a contact in the Diocese of Wakefield.
Then came Lichfield's kangaroo synod.  Only official pro-Covenant propaganda was distrbuted to synod members.  Prominent Covenant apologist Bishop Graham Kings was handed the first 30 minutes of a 90 minute debate to present a completely unbalanced pro-Covenant propaganda piece.  Yes, he did refer to some of our criticisms, but only to explain them away.  After Bishop Kings was done, another pro-Covenant apologist was given ten minutes to introduce the already introduced Covenant.  In other words, in a 90 minute debate, synod was subjected to a 40 minute sell job before any Covenant critic was permitted to say a word.  The remaining 50 minutes were evenly split between pro and anti speakers - meaning that pro-Covenant speakers were allocated 65 minutes and Covenantsceptics only 25 minutes.  To the surprise of no one, Lichfield gave a very strong yes.

So as we went into the summer of 2011, the situation was mixed.  A few provinces had hurriedly approved the Covenant, but most provinces seemed to be nowhere near considering it.  Canada had produced some balanced background materials.  The Coalition announced the appointment of retired bishops Peter Selby and John Saxbee as Episcopal Patrons.  The focus of the struggle was the dioceses of the Church of England, where the score was tied and the prospects for further success seemed very limited.
In the fall, things started to move.  Durham and Europe approved the Covenant, leaving the CofE score at three for and one against.  At the same time, the Australian Diocese of Sydney came out against the Covenant.  While conservative and evangelical Sydney's opposition was different than most Coalition members, the one shared concern was the Covenant's unprecedented centralization of authority and power.

November was when things started to move even faster.  One weekend, St. Edmundsbury and Ipswich voted no, follwed a week later by Birmingham and Truro.  Again, the Coalition had little organization on the ground in any of these dioceses.  With Bristol's yes in December, we ended the year with the CofE score tied at four.

February, though, has begun to show a shift of momentum.  The Coalition announced the appointment of two new patrons, Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch kt and Professor Marilyn McCord Adams.  And of the seven English dioceses that voted this month (so far), six have voted against the Covenant (Derby, Gloucester, Salisbury, Leicester, Portsmouth, Rochester) with only Canterbury voting in favour. 
Of fifteen English dioceses that have voted to date, ten have voted against the Covenant.  This gives the Coalition a significant tactical advantage.  To have the Covenant return to General Synod for a final vote, it has to be approved by 23 of the Church of England's 44 dioceses.  However, defeat in 22 dioceses in enough to derail it.  Thus the Covenanters need to win 18 of the 29 dioceses remaining, while the Covenant's opponents only need another 12.

In November 2010, this seemed like tilting at windmills.  It seemed inevitable that the Church of England would endorse the Covenant and that, eventually, the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada would be isolated and relegated to an ill-defined second-tier limbo.  A small band of bloggers hardly seemed the vehicle to change the narrative.

But, if I might borrow from the Bard (with some amendment):
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Richard Hooker shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of bloggers.


Anonymous said...

Yes, there is a team spirit and yes it may even be of the Holy variety...who knows? Not us, we are simply glad to be saying no to a document that will harm others, many others worldwide at the Anglican Communion...that feels very good. Thank you, for this, I´m off to sleep tonight (under the volcano with Jolly Olde/Ole´ England on my mind), Len/Leonardo

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you very much, Malcolm. I had pieced some of this together but, having only joined the band of brothers recently, it is good to see it as a whole.
We happy few? Team spirit? Yes to both of these. But what it actually feels like, being part of this team, is the Anglican Communion as it should be.

Erika Baker said...

Thank you all for taking up this fight. You say you did not have contacts in many of these Dioceses but I believe that what you did online was so impressive and widely read that people knew and understood your arguments maybe even more quickly than if you had had to rely on one or two local contacts.

Three Cheers to the No Anglican Covenant group!!

Lapinbizarre said...

Succinctly written and exceedingly encouraging. Thanks for this and for all your work in this field.

JimB said...

When we started this journey, I thought we had only a slight chance of success. In fact, here we are,not only wining the moral and intellectual cases (those were never in doubt) but also some of the votes!

The Spirit blows where she will, and sometimes, despite of the best efforts of archbishops, voters listen!