Monday, 19 February 2007

Charlie Brown's football: why the Covenant is an irrelevance

Ed: welcome to all those of you who've looked at this story - there seem to be a lot of you from the USA! Since writing this, the Primates' Communique has been published and, to my surprise, it actually seems to have what look remarkably like teeth (see my first reflections). So maybe I've been a bit hard on some of the Primates in what I said here. But I stand by my point - what is needed is not yet another document, but a new attitude to the process. If the Communique turns out to have real teeth (and the jury is still out) the Covenant will already be unnecessary. If it doesn't, it won't work, no matter how much we tweak it. Either way, the Covenant is an irrelevance. What matters is the resolve of the Communion.

Remember those Peanuts cartoons where Lucy holds the ball for Charlie Brown to kick it? Every time Charlie Brown runs up, Lucy whips it away at the last minute, and every time Charlie Brown finishes up flat on his back.

The joke, of course, is not that Lucy always behaves the same way, but in the fact that Charlie Brown does. Lucy always acts according to character, but against all experience, Charlie Brown always acts as if she won’t.

Welcome, then, to the world of the Anglican Covenant. Doubtless over the next weeks and months there will be much time and energy spent analysing it, wondering if it will do the job for which it is designed, namely to provide a framework of discipline for the Anglican Communion.

In the same way, we might examine Charlie Brown’s football. Is it the regulation size and shape? Is it inflated to the right pressure? Are the stitches secure? And what about Lucy’s grip. Is her finger holding the ball upright? Will she be in the way of Charlie Brown’s kick?

We might examine all these things, and deliver the same verdict as does Charlie Brown himself. It all looks good enough. But it makes not a jot of difference. What matters is that Lucy is going to pull the ball away. How do we know? Because that is what she does.

And so the content of the Anglican Covenant is, to all intents and purposes, an irrelevance. What matters is what will be done with it by the constituent Churches of the Communion. And we already know what that is.

Let us ask ourselves this: was Lambeth Resolution 1.10 clear? Was the Windsor Report sufficiently specific? Was the Dromantine Communique properly worded? The answer to these questions is surely yes, certainly, of course.

And did the Episcopal Church in America heed the call to discipline which they expressed? The answer is that even the generous report presented to the Primates in Tanzania only gave them two out of three on compliance with the Windsor Report. Yet has it been made clear by the Primates that this is not good enough? The answer to these questions is no, and of course not.

Charlie Brown’s problem lies not with the ball but with his own attitude towards Lucy. He refuses to face the fact that she is deceitful and he is gullible. And in the same way, a discussion of the Anglican Covenant per se, without addressing the events that brought the Primates to Tanzania in the first place, will be a refusal to face the institutional dishonesty that runs through the Anglican Church like ‘Brighton’ through a stick of rock.

By all means, let us discuss the Covenant’s first draft. Let us dissect it, tweak it and refine it. It will bolster the spirits of the optimistic. It will keep the bureaucrats happy. It will keep us all at the table talking. And no doubt, what we will see in a few months time is a very fine Covenant.

And while we’re about it, let’s buy Charlie Brown a new football.

Revd John P Richardson
19 February 2007


  1. Best description I've seen that defines the true problem.

    More comments at StandFirminFaith dot com if you haven't been there yet.


    The Lakeland Two
    Lakeland, Florida, USA

  2. SO, the Primates are Lucy and the American Church is Charlie Brown and you are saying we should not kick the ball?

  3. The joke is not Charlie Brown. The joke is indeed Lucy. The reason Charlie Brown keeps trying is because he is relying on his ability to communicate to Lucy, and to provide reason. He signals his intent and desire, and she agrees to become part of it, but in the end, it's all a farce and it's all about her.

    Religion is the same. They won't listen to reason, and their own needs ultimately prevail. It's a huge scam. Lucy is a scam. She engages into something reasonable, even where she can benefit somewhat, just by being part of it. It's not even her ball. Her interest is in that it cheats other people, and only serves her purpose. Completely dysfunctional. Religion does the same, when it relies upon a society where things like medicine, transport, communications, and manufacturing, all come from the scientific world.