There are three main groups. Caroline Hall offers a brief but informative overview.

  • Opponents who consider it too tolerant;
  • Continuing supporters;
  • Opponents who consider it too intolerant.

Opponents who consider it too tolerant

The main change since the Windsor Report is that many of the Covenant's original supporters now reject it because the final draft is not as punitive as they wanted. To represent this view the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans was formed with an inaugural conference (GAFCON) in 2008. A similar view is taken by Anglican Mainstream. The Australian Diocese of Sydney has rejected the Covenant for these reasons.

These opponents had originally hoped that the Covenant would make a clear distinction between churches which accepted their teaching and those which did not. There was much talk of requiring the North American churches to 'repent' of their disloyalty to 'biblical teaching' and abandon their tolerance of same-sex partnerships. When it became clear that the final draft would not meet their requirements they abandoned their support for it.

Continuing supporters

Some supporters want a centralised international authority with real power to oblige churches and still think, or at least hope, that the Covenant will provide it. An example is an article, written a few months before the final text was agreed, by Tom Wright on behalf of the Anglican Communion Institute. In a similar vein the Province of South-East Asia has acceded to the Covenant on the understanding 'that those who accede to the Anglican Communion Covenant will unequivocally abide by Lambeth 1998 Resolution 1.10 in its spirit and intent'.

Most supporters, however, argue that it should not and could not operate in this manner. Instead it would provide a method for provinces to consult each other before embarking on potentially contentious actions. This is the case currently being argued by the Anglican Communion OfficeFulcrum, Living Church and its blog Covenant.

Lionel Deimel has published a list of Living Church articles prefaced by a critical commentary. Most of them argue for closer coordination, implying (though not necessarily stating) that provincial autonomy should be reduced. Among them are articles by Paul AvisGeoffrey Rowell and Nathaniel Peirce. Fulcrum have also provided a list of articles favourable to the Covenant, from their own and other websites. Thus Andrew Goddard writes that it:

preserves provincial autonomy but allows the clear articulation of the catholic consensus within the Communion and an ordered - rather than the recent chaotic - response within Anglicanism when provinces believe they need to act contrary to this.

Similar claims are often made elsewhere, for example by Philip Turner and of course Rowan Williams.

The Anglican Communion Office has published a Study Guide (which does little more than state what the text says) and a Questions and Answers document promoting the Covenant (to which Alan Perry has replied). These defences of the Covenant reveal widespread agreement on what the Covenant would achieve. It is on this basis that the Province of the West Indies has approved it.

How it would achieve it is another matter. On this question one struggles to find an explanation as clearly thought out as Tom Wright's more disciplinarian approach. Andrew Goddard does offer a defence of Section 4, but this is comparatively rare. More typical is Paul Avis' comment that 'The Covenant is not perfect and it is not completely clear to me how the "Consequences" aspect of it will be worked out'. The question remains a central matter of debate - more about this.

Occasionally the Covenant is defended for other reasons. Ian Ernest believes that far from reducing provincial autonomy it would 'discourage unilateral imposition and diminish the extension of a western cultural hegemony'. Some focus is on church unity, with the Covenant valued as a statement of its importance over and above the question of how to resolve disagreements; so argues Christopher Wells. Norman Doe, in An Anglican Covenant: Theological and Legal Considerations for a Global Debate, Norwich: Canterbury, 2008, hopes it will help tidy up Canon Law. Paul Bagshaw responds.

Opponents who consider it too intolerant

Opponents who consider the Covenant too intolerant include Modern Church and the No Anglican Covenant Coalition. Among others:

Most of those who believe the Covenant too intolerant also believe same sex partnerships should be accepted; others, like the Church of the Philippines, do not.

Paul Bagshaw argues here, here and here that the Covenant cannot resolve theological disagreements or engender unityMore on these points.

Defenders of the Covenant, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, sometimes ask critics what alternative they can offer - a direct reply; the question is also discussed here.

Most of the debate centres around Section 4.

Legal issues:
In additional to the general responses, Paul Bagshaw, Alan Perry and Lionel Deimel (here and here) have written many critiques of the Covenant based on close reading of the text. Both Bagshaw and Perry have a background in Canon Law. Alan Perry argues here and here that the Covenant contravenes internationally recognised principles of natural justice. Bagshaw's collection contains over 100 articles. He argues here and here that key Covenant concepts, like 'faith', 'communion' and 'shared mind', are left undefined in the text. Debates about their precise meanings would be inevitable, and over time a body of literature would develop to interpret them. Similarly Perry questions the meaning of 'Communion' in the text.

With these uncertainties, administration of the Covenant would become increasingly dependent on lawyers. Ronald Stevenson offers a critique of the proposed procedure. Jim Naughton reflects on the Covenant as a legal process. Bagshaw raises some constitutional problems, with particular reference to England.

Perry explores what the Covenant means by 'controversial action', 'raising a question' and 'relational consequences'. Bagshaw reflects on the notion of incompatibility with the Covenant, and concludes that 'Incompatibility is determined when the SCAC [Standing Committee], on advice from the ACC and Primates' Meeting, says there is incompatibility.'

Centralisation:
Another common criticism is that the Covenant will centralise power at the expense of provincial autonomy. Ronald Stevenson reflects on Anglicanism's long history of resistance to centralised authority. Anglicans Online argues for the benefits of looseness and Alan Perry defends autonomy. Malcolm French finds parallels between the Covenant process and Stalinism.

Paul Bagshaw has written extensively on the processes through which the Covenant would reduce provincial autonomy and transfer power to central organisations. He argues here that a significant change has already taken place with new powers granted to the Standing Committee, and discusses the relationship of central institutions to provincial autonomy here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

More on this website about centralisation.

Punishments:
Critics often accuse the Covenant of being punitive, despite its careful avoidance of punitive language. So argues Paul Bagshaw, who also cites the programme proposed by the booklet To Mend the Net.  Others arguing along similar lines are Lionel DeimelAlan Perry and Father Jake; Perry offers a further analysis of 'relational consequences'.

More on the power of the Standing Committee at the expense of provincial autonomy.

Sections 1-3. For many Anglican Catholics the description of the Church is too Protestant. The Eucharist is mentioned only rarely, and is not treated as important even in descriptions of communion. The supreme authority of Scripture is affirmed many times, yet no attempt is made to resolve the conflicting interpretations of it which lie behind our recent controversies.

Paul Bagshaw discusses the Introduction here. Lionel Deimel offers a critique of Sections 1-3 here and here. Alan Perry examines Section 1 here and here.

Other issues:
Critics also discuss what would happen to provinces which did not sign the Covenant and what it would cost. Perry notes the absence of any statement about when the Covenant would come into force.

Behind these concerns lie issues of theological principle: more here. Other relevant Modern Church articles discuss the nature of liberal theology and the dangers of certainty.

As indicated here, analyses by those who consider the Covenant too intolerant are far more extensive and detailed than the literature supporting it. Comparably detailed responses to the arguments from Covenant supporters would be helpful; if you know of any we have omitted please email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.