Giles Fraser on the Covenant: “The Anxious and Untrusting Legalism of the Pre-Nuptial Agreement

Something quite shocking has happened; an event of seismic proportions no less.

I agree with Giles Fraser.

That’s right (and apologies to those of you drinking your coffee while you read that). Fraser is right.

In his latest opinion piece in the Church Times (no, not this week’s which is the usual banal “if only everyone, and in particular those nasty American neo-cons, could be nicer to one another”) Fraser sets his mind and pen to the question of the proposed Anglican Covenant:

Let me be clear. There is nothing wrong with the expression of mutual commitment, and for this mutuality to have a formal aspect. The marriage service, for instance, is precisely that. But the Anglican Covenant isn’t at all like the commitments of a marriage service. It is more like the anxious and untrust­ing legalism of that thoroughly distasteful feature of modern life, the pre-nuptial agreement.

And no amount of Lambeth Palace spin is going to persuade me that, like the pre-nuptial agree­ment, this Covenant isn’t a way of arranging, in advance, the terms of some future divorce. The only people who are going to love this document are the lawyers.

And Fraser is right. Given the state of the Communion at the moment, the Covenant is ultimately the means of defining the conditions and then terms for divorce.

I am of the opinion that there is never any reason to sign a pre-nup and I am unwilling, in my role as minister, to marry anyone who signs one. Let me explain.

There are, as far as I can tell, two main sources of objection to the Anglican pre-nup.

First, there are those who reject it for they wisely see that any marriage partner who must be constrained by a pre-nup is not trustworthy. As I have said to more than one couple seeking pre-marriage counselling, if you need to insist upon signing a pre-nup then you clearly, at some level, don’t trust the other party and there is no solid ongoing basis for this marriage. Of course, there is more than one grounds for that lack of trust. It may simply be that one party is unhealthly jealous or untrusting. On the other hand it may be that their future spouse has already demonstrated their untrustworthiness.

The latter is, obviously, the case for the Anglican Communion. Bodies like TEC have clearly demonstrated that they are unwillingly to wholeheartedly participate in this “marriage”, at least on generally and commonly accepted terms. The spouse that, then, thinks that a pre-nup is going to solve the problems is drowning in foolish naïvety. This is why so many of us oppose the covenant.

Second, there are those who refuse to sign because they realise that the pre-nup will leave them in a mess. They do not want the accountability of marriage. They are the adulterer who assures their spouse that they love them and then jumps into bed with someone else. The pre-nup would be a disaster for them for it would codify their misbehaviour and accelerate the removal of whatever benefits they perceived as receiving from the marriage.

And this is the situation of the liberals, whatever Fraser may argue. His matter of fact description that:

Pre-nuptial agreements don’t make people stay together, and it is just as likely that this document won’t make any differ­ence to whether the Com­munion stays together, either.


It just uses a proper reminder of where our prayers ought to be located right now as a way of squashing down a deep-seated resentment generated by the thought that we are being stitched up.

smacks of dishonesty.

Fraser, TEC and the rest are not being “stitched up”. Rather, their destructive behaviour is being codified and the consequences of it set out. No wonder they are opposed to the Covenant. The previous moratoriums of the Communion (by which I mean the implicit moratorium on actually doing anything about their apostasy will come to an abrupt end and divorce proceedings will have to start.

So I do agree with Fraser, but for very different reasons.

We must fight it on the beaches. . .

He opines. Well and good but let’s all be clear about why we fight it.

And, perhaps, a final word on the question of unity. It seems clear to me that unity is either there or it is not. I am united to millions of Anglicans all around the world (of which the great privilege of being part of this community is no small aspect) by virtue of a common Christian belief. Of course, as Anglicans, we have done what every denomination does and set out our understanding of that common Christian belief, in our case in the words of the 39 Articles and BCP. Which is why, incidentally, the Jerusalem Declaration was signed by so many for it, at heart, did nothing more than re-iterate those commonly held principles.

Which is why, at the end of the day, I can’t see a need for the Covenant anyway. Christ’s sheep are already united, and that far beyond denominational boundaries. We endorse what we think are accurate expressions of that unity but we should, at the same time, reject those that in any way express a unity that does not actually exist. This is particularly the case when the other party has, by their actions, already demonstrated their wholesale opposition to those common Christian beliefs and therefore to unity. No wonder they do not want to sign up – their lies would be exposed. And why should we be part of the lie either? And if they are not part of the Covenant then why is it needed anyway when we have perfectly adequate unitive documents?

Leave a Reply

Leave a Comment - but please pay careful attention to the house rules