We have been talking about it for eight years; it was intended to be an instrument of unity among Anglicans.

“The Anglican Covenant” was proposed as part of the 2004 Windsor Report in an attempt to hold together the fractious 38 autonomous national and regional churches that make up the Worldwide Anglican Communion.

On Saturday March 24, a majority of the Church of England’s 44 dioceses voted against the Covenant.

If, even leaders in the Church of England cannot agree to the principles in this document, it is unimaginable that the rest of the world’s Anglicans will sign on to this attempt to forge unity among Anglicans who are divided by such vast differences in theology and culture.

It was an ambitious plan. Imagine trying to get Anglicans to agree on anything from the wide range of perspectives that the Anglican Communion embodies. It is certainly a diverse group, including some 80 million Christians from:  

Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Bermuda, Burundi, Canada, Central Africa, Central America, Ceylon, the Congo,  Cuba, England, the Falkland Islands, Hong Kong, the Indian Ocean, Ireland, Japan, Jerusalem &  the Middle East, Kenya, Korea, Lusitania, Melanesia, Mexico, Myanmar (Burma), New Zealand & Polynesia, Nigeria, North India, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Rwanda, Scotland,  South Africa, South America, South East Asia, South India, Spain, the Sudan,  Tanzania, Uganda, the United States of America, Wales, West Africa, the West Indies

On one end of the spectrum opposition to the Covenant coalesced around the fear that such an agreement would become a means of trying to control autonomous Anglicans without taking seriously the different cultural contexts in which Anglicans are attempting to embody the Gospel.

Other Anglicans opposed the Covenant arguing that it was not a sufficiently strong instrument to bring back into line those churches that are viewed as having strayed from the true embodiment of the teachings of Jesus. Without real disciplinary muscle, such an agreement bears no authority and has little value.

Andrew Brown in the Guardian suggests that the evident failure of the Anglican Covenant demonstrates that

the idea of a global form of Christianity that somehow managed to transcend cultural boundaries without rigid centralised disciplines has been shown decisively to be an illusion. 


But is unity based on “rigid centralised disciplines” really unity? or is it mere institutional conformity? If a married couple remain together simply because some dominant external power demands that there be no fighting in the family and that divorce is not an option, it is fair to question the health of the marriage.

Arguing against the Covenant Bishop James Jones of the Diocese of Liverpool said,

When we are in Christ, we are in Christ with everybody else who is in Christ and in communion, whether we like it or not – or them or not, whether we agree with them or not.

You cannot legislate communion. You cannot mandate bonds of affection. Where there is no will to be together, there are not enough covenant agreements in Christendom to maintain relationship. If we are not doing the hard work of being in authentic relationship, no quantity of paper is going to create the unity we seek.

Ironically, as communication technologies make the world a smaller place, it may be increasingly impossible for people with vastly different worldviews to choose to stay together in any form of meaningful community.

It is too easy to walk away when a relationship becomes uncomfortable, or disagreements become too harsh. If we are not bound together by a common love, we will not stay together when dissensions emerge, as they inevitably will in any community larger than one. It may be sad to say goodbye, but it may be worse to compromise so far that all distinctive identity is sacrificed simply in the interests of perpetuating a shaky institution.