(Guardian) Diarmaid MacCulloch–The Anglican church can start afresh

Diocesan synods voted against the covenant, often in the face of great pressure from the vast majority of English bishops, who frequently made sure that the case for the covenant dominated proceedings. The bishops also exerted a certain amount of emotional blackmail, suggesting that if the scheme didn’t pass, it would be very upsetting for the archbishop of Canterbury (cue for synod members to watch a podcast from said archbishop, looking sad even while commending the covenant).

Well, it didn’t work, and now those particular bishops need to consider their position, as the saying goes. Principally, they need to consider a killer statistic: as the voting has taken place in the dioceses (and there are still a few to go), the pattern has been consistent. Around 80% of the bishops have voted in favour of the covenant, but the clergy and laity votes have split around 50-50 for and against, with votes against nudging ahead among the clergy. That suggests an episcopate that is seriously out of touch, not just with the nation as a whole (we knew that already), but even with faithful Anglican churchgoers and clergy in England.

Read it all.


Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, - Anglican: Commentary, Anglican Covenant, Anglican Provinces, Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops

29 comments on “(Guardian) Diarmaid MacCulloch–The Anglican church can start afresh

  1. Jim the Puritan says:

    It means the Anglican Church is no longer part of the Anglican Communion.

  2. Brian from T19 says:

    Something very significant in the history of the Church of England happened on Saturday. An absolute majority of dioceses in the Church of England, debating diocese by diocese, voted down a pernicious scheme called the Anglican Covenant. This was an effort to increase the power of centralising bureaucracy throughout the worldwide Anglican communion. However much the promoters denied it, the principal aim was to discipline Anglican churches in the United States and Canada, which had the gall to think for themselves and, after much prayer and discussion, to treat gay people just like anybody else.


  3. Brian from T19 says:


    I understand that there is a movement to claim “Anglican” as a theology, but the word Anglican literally means the established Church of England. Without the Church of England, it would be a Non-Anglican Communion Espousing Traditional Anglican Theology. It is the problem in nomenclature that the ACNA has and other breakaways – if you are not in Communion with the Church of England, you can not be in the Anglican Communion. Your theology may be Anglican, but that is all.

  4. driver8 says:

    So to be Anglican is to be in Communion with the see of Canterbury. One can be in Communion and vote differently than the Church of England on the Covenant. So far eight Anglican Provinces have voted to support the Covenant. It’s still possible that the Covenant will gain a majority of Provinces’ support.

    I make no comment on the Covenant’s strengths or weaknesses simply on the procedural matter of Provinces voting.

  5. Cennydd13 says:

    Brian, you don’t seem to understand that by their actions, the Church of England has, in effect, broken away from most of the Communion. And the word [b]Anglican[/b] is defined as “Of, pertaining to, [i]or characteristic of[/i] the Church of England [i]in origin[/i] and communion. Since the churches of the Communion [i]and those outside of the Communion[/i] are derived from the Church of England……even though those churches outside the Communion are not in communion with Canterbury, they are just as Anglican as the Church of England is Anglican, since they share the same historic belief and practices as the Mother Church. The Anglican Church in North America is every bit as Anglican in belief, worship, and theology as any member province of the Communion, and is recognized by at least 28 of those provinces.

  6. Brian from T19 says:


    I don’t disagree with either point. The other Provinces can still call it an Anglican Covenant if it makes them happy. It simply is meaningless without the Church of England. As I said in another thread, I can join a group of international Anglicans who like The Hunger Games but it doesn’t make that group a part of the Anglican Communion. The Covenant will be among Provinces who want to be part of it and they can hold each other accountable without any centralized Anglican Communion authority. I don’t see that as a problem.

  7. driver8 says:

    I’m lost by your point about the Hunger Games. This is an official proposal from the central organs of the Anglican Communion, and implies the use of the Instruments of Unity in its implementation, if it receives adequate support from Provinces. Provinces are, of course, free to adopt it or not. It doesn’t simply disappear or become an un-Proposal because the COE has declined at this point to support it. Whether it will achieve anything helpful is another question.

  8. Rob Eaton+ says:

    MacCulloch’s unfortunate conclusion [blockquote]That suggests an episcopate that is seriously out of touch, not just with the nation as a whole (we knew that already), but even with faithful Anglican churchgoers and clergy in England.[/blockquote] is seriously devoid of another clear possibility — need it be spelled out? — that 80% of the bishops in the CofE are correctly reflecting God’s desire for the Anglican Communion.
    Since when did the will of the majority automatically equate with the will of God?
    The best that can be said for the Covenant process in the CofE at this point is that the Canons allow for majority rule, and the synod voting formula has failed to press it forward. The voting at this point according to formula may in fact show God’s hand on the matter. The worst of the situation, though, is that the only group of voters who are in fact very clear (80% clear) are the bishops. The rest of the Cof E (at this point) are undecided. And rather than push forward to discern more clearly for the sake of all in the Church they are now going to live with their indecision.
    The Anglican Communion as a whole is in dire need of knowing how, and learning how, to accurately discern the will of God. This seems a good time (without undo influence by various groups) to practice discernment.

  9. Brian from T19 says:

    This is an official proposal from the central organs of the Anglican Communion, and implies the use of the Instruments of Unity in its implementation, if it receives adequate support from Provinces.

    ++Rowan said and Canon Kearon confirmed that only Provinces can join the Covenant. If this is the case, then the ABC can not join the Covenant and therefore an Instrument of Unity would be missing.

  10. c.r.seitz says:

    #9. See the clear report of Andrew Goddard above. he avoids the ‘hunger games’ (whatever that means) type of rhetoric.

  11. c.r.seitz says:

    MacCulloch — lovely ‘Little England’ mentality in this piece. As if the covenant’s future is over because England has so said within its ranks. This is meant to be a church historian of first rank, but the existence of the Communion seems to be lost on him.

  12. Brian from T19 says:

    #10 & 11

    Andrew and I agree completely (with the possible exception of his fanciful view of the ABC as a mascot for the Covenant folk).

    This is meant to be a church historian of first rank, but the existence of the Communion seems to be lost on him.

    He is indeed a historian of the first rank. The reality of the Communion is not lost on him. He simply doesn’t agree with the ACI and their revisionist view of history.

  13. Connecticutian says:

    I don’t care how well he ranks as a historian; when he insinuates that bishops ought to be merely representatives for the people rather than shepherds of them, I have no use for whatever else he might say.

  14. cseitz says:

    He’s a ‘Little England’ advocate, with a ‘Little England’ picture of the global communion. It’s ‘out there’ somewhere, but his historian’s focus is on the CofE, pre-19th century.

  15. William Witt says:

    At the risk of violating Godwin’s Law, one cannot help but wonder how many Germans in the 1930’s would have considered Karl Barth and the signers of the Barmen Declaration to have been “out of touch, not just with the nation as a whole . . . ., but even with faithful [Lutheran and Reformed] churchgoers and clergy in [Germany].” There are worse offenses than being “out of touch.”

  16. cseitz says:

    #15 could you decipher your comment? Barth was ‘out of touch’ and there are worse offenses — translates how vis-a-vis the covenant vote in the CofE and MacCulloch’s comments in the Guardian? Thanks.

  17. cseitz says:

    PS–why does the idea of ‘starting afresh’ strike me as pollyanna-ish, or a kind of hothouse idea? “Let’s just start afresh and be a family, because I think it sounds like a good idea”. Is this seriously proposed, against the backdrop of the wider Communion realities?

  18. Terry Tee says:

    Dr Seitz, Bill’s intriguing analogy reminds us that Barth, Bonhoeffer and others in the Confessing Church were a concerned and small minority in the Deutsche Evangelische Kirche (ie the federal Protestant Church) in the 1930s. The exciting way forward to the bulk of the population seemed to be co-operation with the National Socialist Party and its representatives in the churches like Reichsbishop Muller. This was the new thing. By contrast the Barmen and Confessing Churches group must have seemed out of touch, even sadly staid, not going along with progress and the future. Analogously (Bill would say) perhaps the English bishops supporting the covenant seem out of touch in refusing to go with the Zeitgeist (sorry … ) but like Barth, Bonhoeffer et al., will be seen in the long run to have kept the faith.

  19. Cennydd13 says:

    Cseitz, the Anglican Communion isn’t “little England,” nor are they England transplanted overseas. They may be [b]descended[/b] from the Church of England and share the same theology……though this is debatable in some cases (TEC being one of them), but that’s as far as it goes. The Church of England may have aspired to “make the world England” at one time, but thankfully, colonialism is dead, and there is no longer anything special about being in communion with Canterbury.

  20. cseitz says:

    #18 — that’s all well and good. I made the comment that MacCulloch was ‘out of touch’ and it is hard for me to associate him by analogy to Barth et al and the bekenntnisse Kirche.

  21. cseitz says:

    #19 — this is precisely my point.

  22. driver8 says:

    Diarmaid MacCulloch is a very lovely man but the his keenness to offer advice to the church that he walked out of as a young man is slightly weird.

  23. cseitz says:

    I agree — why suddenly this interest from an Oxford professor in the life of the CofE he no longer involves himself in? I hadn’t thought of the right word, but ‘weird’ may come close. It would be like leaving the Rotary Club out of principle and then writing letters to the Times about why you don’t like what it is doing.

  24. William Witt says:

    My reference was to MacCulloch’s comment that those bishops who voted in favor (or rather “in favour”) of the Covenant are “out of touch” (his actual words) with the clergy and laity. Terry Tee expressed my point well. There was no reference to anything you had written.

  25. Lapinbizarre says:

    “It would be like leaving the Rotary Club out of principle and then writing letters to the Times about why you don’t like what it is doing.” And like the ACNA members who obsess about TEC, Dr Seitz? I don’t see your logic here.

  26. Brian from T19 says:

    # 22 & 23

    “I was brought up in the presence of the Bible, and I remember with affection what it was like to hold a dogmatic position on the statements of Christian belief. I would now describe myself as a candid friend of Christianity.” -Diarmaid MacCulloch, A History of Christianity

    So that is probably his interest

  27. cseitz says:

    #25 If you asking if there is a similarity between ACNA’s leaving TEC and MacCulloch’s leaving the CofE, there is, except that MacCulloch hasn’t joined any Christian group purporting to remedy things, and he offers the most bizarre and out of touch comment imaginable: ‘let’s start afresh’. Is this serious? As I said above, this is either pollyanna-ish or just rhetoric. There is no re-set button to push that gives us a nice anglican family. Surely he is not so out of touch with communion realities.

  28. c.r.seitz says:

    #24 Got it. I had referred to MacCulloch being out of touch as well. The Bishop vote in favour was almost 80% (we have more voting to come). I think one of the dynamics in CofE is just a default to ‘leave things as they are-ism’: ‘we know our GS relationships, etc.’ Is the NO vote a way to upbraid Bishops for being ‘out of touch’ — I actually doubt that seriously. It is just an inherent conservatism. ‘Why change anything?’

  29. Lapinbizarre says:

    I very much doubt that it’s first & foremost a hit at the bishops, Dr Seitz, beyond, perhaps, resentment at the perception of being, in some instances, railroaded. More to do, probably, with a radical change in British social attitudes in recent years. A poster at Thinking Anglicans earlier today said “I think it safe to say that no-one, literally no-one ……… would have foreseen that the Covenant would not gain a considerable majority of dioceses and General Synod” and he is absolutely right. A month or two back, this outcome was unthinkable. At this point I think that many people, both sides of the divide, are a wee bit shell-shocked and no-one, I am sure, knows what will come next. The Gafcon/Foca folks excepted, maybe? Which we’ll likely know more about a month from now. Roger Mortimer