The Covenant as theater

By Frederick Quinn

The setting is spooky, a large, cold English room filled with furniture of different styles and periods crowded together and needing a good dusting. It could be the setting for Masterpiece Theatre or Mystery, with the voice of Vincent Price introducing another dark tale of intrigue, etc. But the voice was that of Rowan Williams and this was his December 18 four minute visual presentation designed to win friends for the proposed Anglican Covenant that is otherwise going no where.

Numerous commentators have pointed out the document’s deficiencies, its misuse of Anglican history, and the dreary proposals in Section Four that would give us regulatory structures not dreamed of in Cromwell’s time.

Presumably the Williams video would assuage such apprehensions. The archbishop sat in what could have been a British railways hotel lobby chair, in a room out of Agatha Christie. His hands were pressed tightly together, voice was high and tense, and he tried briefly to be reassuring. A lot of work has gone into the Covenant, he began, I guess thinking that somehow such an opener would successfully paper over the numerous objections to the document. “It is not a penal code,” he continued, which immediately flagged that question. “We haven’t learned to trust one another,” he continued, and the leaden document being unrolled once more that December 18 would presumably “intensify our fellowship and our trust.” But does trust intensify from signing a poorly drafted document nobody wants, or does trust come instead from contacts built up over years of sustained sharing ministries?

The presentation was only four minutes long, ending in a flow of random observations that raised many questions and provided little reassurance of any kind. Parsing the individual lines serves no purpose, as the objections to the draft Covenant and the imperious way it has been presented have been chronicled elsewhere in Episcopal Café. What was most interesting was William’s body language, tense, imperious, and grasping at straws. It did not suggest the intensification of trust.

As a longtime follower of Mystery, I thought the video might end with a crow flying past or a suit of armor clanging to the floor, but the tape just stopped. Maybe what is needed is for some actors from Mystery or Masterpiece Theatre to film a set of short spots in period costumes ending with a line like “The Covenant really is good for you” or somesuch. But so far the Covenant rollout is unconvincing,

The Rev. Dr. Frederick Quinn has written extensively on law and Anglican history.

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