Transcript of BBC Radio 4 Sunday Programme, 11 March 2012
Discussion on the Anglican Communion, audio clip here
Interviewer: Ed Stourton
Interviewees: Dairmaid MacCulloch, Graham Kings
Stourton The Anglican Covenant was Rowan Williams’s big idea for securing unity of the worldwide Anglican Communion after the row over the American church’s decision to appoint a gay Bishop. It lays out a set of basic principles to which all churches in the communion would be required to subscribe. In the Church of England the Covenant needs to be endorsed by a majority of the church’s 44 Dioceses. 10 [sic 6] of them have been voting this weekend and the running total stands at 17 against and only 10 for the Covenant. Dr Graham Kings is the Bishop of Sherborne and Diarmaid MacCulloch is the Professor of the History of the Church at Oxford.
Stourton Good morning to you both. Bishop you are going to have to make up a good deal of ground if you are going to get this through. How do you persuade people to vote for the Covenant?
Kings Yes, the momentum is against the Covenant at the moment but there are still 17 Dioceses to vote. I think we can look at the image of a bunch of grapes or a bag of marbles. A bunch of grapes is what the communion is at the moment and we want to keep it like that. It is to do with personal interdependence. A bag of marbles is about isolated autonomy that don’t actually meet together. The interesting thing about today is that I am in Bournemouth in a studio, Diarmaid is in Oxford and you’re in Manchester and we are connected. And I think that is interdependence. The danger is if we get cut off from each other we have isolated autonomy.
Stourton Diarmaid you’re more of a marbles man.
MacCulloch I don’t understand those images very much, I just don’t think they are very useful images at all. What is very interesting, is the way the figures have consistently built up as people have understood the arguments for the Covenant and they realise just how incoherent they are.
Stourton Right, what is the argument that you think swings it?
MacCulloch Well, what swings the argument against is that people realise that this is a sort of centralisation, proposed for the Anglican Communion, which has never been Anglican, which is against Anglicanism. The Anglican Communion is not an Anglican church it’s a family of churches and you don’t need some punitive, centralising, disciplining sort of process to make the churches work together. That’s not the Anglican way, and I’m delighted at the way that the Dioceses have recognised that. This is a great thing for the Church of England.
Stourton Let me put that to Graham Kings, because it is a very serious charge that the idea that this runs against the fundamental spirit of what Anglicanism is?
Kings I thinks it’s worth watching the Archbishop of Canterbury’s video which was put on Youtube on Monday this week. He specifically says, quote “Some people say there’s a misunderstanding that it is some sort of centralising proposal creating an absolute authority which has the right to punish people for stepping out of line!”, that’s what Dairmaid has just said, and the Archbishop says, “I have to say, that I think this is completely misleading and false”. In the introduction you said they would be required to sign the Covenant. No, this is an ‘opt in’ Covenant; nobody is required to sign it at all.
MacCulloch Yes, but what happens Bishop, if you ‘opt in’, what if you ‘opt out’? You are not opting out you are forced out. If you will not sign up to a set of arguments, a set of propositions, which have been drawn up by one body and they have decided what Anglicanism is. Then you have to say, am I going to agree to something, which someone else has decided on Anglicanism
Stourton Let’s just be clear Dr Kings is that right in formal terms? If you don’t sign up to this you are not a member of the Anglican Communion?
Kings No. That’s not right. You are still a member of the Anglican Communion. It may be some particular committees that you cannot take part. Yes, you are still fully a member of the Anglican Communion but not in the central committees. Nobody is forced to do anything. These are recommended courses of actions. It is not one central committee that has drawn up this, it has been discussed all over the Communion and the Church of England had a huge input into it.
Stourton Professor MacCulloch?
MacCulloch Well, it has been discussed by those who want to discuss it. There is a curious sense in which this lunatic proposal has gone down a path. Once you start you don’t see the alternatives. Watching it happen has been like a rather slow motion version of the Gadarene Swine.
Stourton A quick final word Dr Kings. On a practical point doesn’t this or won’t this, if it goes against the Covenant, as it appears to be doing, very much damage Archbishop Rowan Williams’ authority in the church because he set enormous store by this idea?
Kings I think we need to look at the Provinces. Provinces have voted worldwide. So far, six in favour and only one against. A liberal province, Mexico, has voted for it, Southern .......
Stourton But, the Church of England is the Mother church in a way ...........
Kings In some ways yes, we will see. The business committee have to report in July and we will see what their report is.
Stourton Graham Kings, Bishop of Sherborne and Diarmaid MacCulloch Professor of the History of the Church at Oxford, thank you both very much indeed.
The Rt Revd Dr Graham Kings is Honorary Assistant Bishop in the Diocese of Ely and Research Associate at the Cambridge Centre for Christianity Worldwide.