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‘Forceful’ fictions

At its November 2011 Diocesan Synod, the Diocese of St. Edmundsbury and Ipswich voted against the Anglican Covenant after considering two papers on it. The first was by the bishop of St. Asaph, Gregory K. Cameron, and the second was by the former bishop of Worcester, Peter Selby. Perusing the latter document, which consists of ten points, is a grating wake-up call.

Selby, a member of the No Anglican Covenant Coalition (NACC), offered the diocese a paper that not only contained not only sloppy logic but also a rather curious mis-citation of the Covenant text. In what follows, we address this, noting both Selby’s mis-citation and his misinterpretation of the Covenant’s very vocabulary.


Point #8 of Selby’s text reads:

The notion that we need to make “forceful” the “bonds of affection” is fundamentally flawed. If we need force and coercion to maintain relationships between Communion churches, there is no true affection, and the very foundation of the proposed Covenant is fraudulent.

Two points are worth noting.

Fact #1: The Anglican Covenant never uses the word “forceful” (which does not mean the same as “force” and “coercion”). However, the Covenant does speak twice of the “bonds of affection.”

First, in paragraph 5 of the Preamble, we read: “To covenant together is not intended to change the character of this Anglican expression of Christian faith. Rather, we recognise the importance of renewing in a solemn way our commitment to one another, and to the common understanding of faith and order we have received, so that the bonds of affection which hold us together may be re-affirmed and intensified. We do this in order to reflect, in our relations with one another, God’s own faithfulness and promises towards us in Christ (2 Cor 1.20-22).”

We can only ask, what is wrong with re-affirming and intensifying that which has long defined Anglican relations? Selby does not tell us, although he implies that this something to be suspicious about. Perhaps his argument is merely rhetorical?

Second, in 3.2.7, we read that Anglicans are “to have in mind that our bonds of affection and the love of Christ compel us always to uphold the highest degree of communion possible.”

Again, we can only ask a question: since when did Anglicans deny that bonds of affection, which depend upon the love of Christ, allow us to reject the highest degree of communion possible? Are Anglicans no longer committed to dynamic ecumenism and its constant pursuit, against all odds, of being the common ground between Christian bodies who seem so dissimilar (e.g., Roman Catholics and Methodists)?

Fact #2: The Windsor Report uses the word forceful twice. But Selby and company apparently do not understand the meaning of the word. A quick look at Merriam-Webster offers the following synonyms for forceful: compelling, conclusive, convincing, decisive, effective, cogent, persuasive, satisfying, strong, telling. This is exactly how the word is used in WR paragraph 97, in which the authors write of being “struck forcefully” by provincial disregard for the Instruments of Communion. So too in paragraph 118, when a covenant is recommended, the authors write that such a document would “make explicit a forceful the loyalty and bonds of affection which govern the relationships between the churches of the Communion.” A word such as explicit meshes well with convincing and persuasive, and is thus well-paired with forceful.

Selby seems to have a poor command of the English language. Forceful does not mean the same as forced. Here again, Merriam-Webster offers insight. Synonyms for forced are: compulsory, mandatory, imperative, incumbent, involuntary, necessary, nonelective, obligatory, peremptory, and required. These are rather different than the synonyms for forceful, such as compelling and satisfying.

Conclusion: Selby and NACC have only offered an argument only against a fictitious version of the Covenant. They have not only mis-cited the text, but misinterpreted their own mis-citation. The diocese of St. Edmundsbury and Ipswich should ask itself if it is content to retain a vote which is based upon misinformation. Selby and company claim that “the very foundation of the proposed Covenant is fraudulent.” In truth, it is their argument that is fraudulent. It is they who have mis-cited the Covenant, and it is they who have twisted the meaning of the Windsor Report by casting its words in an erroneous light. A vote made under false pretenses is like a marriage solemnized under false pretenses: justifiably annulled. The diocese should call for a re-vote.

In Part Two of this article I will discuss the NACC document by noting its contradictions. If Anglicans claim to value reason, how can they take such a document seriously?


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