By Adrian Worsfold
If you go back to Tuesday June 27, 2006 and the Archbishop of Canterbury's comments , it was clear that the Anglican Communion Covenant was intended to divide the Anglican Communion into core and association elements, with privileges of participation given to the core in strengthened, centralised, Instruments of Communion making the Anglican Communion more like a worldwide Church.
So strongly was that envisaged, that the difference between being a core member and an associate was like the difference being an Anglican and a Methodist. It was solution by centralisation and organised hiving off, somehow better than a schism.
Through each successive draft, that distinction has been reduced and that has meant less in the way of what was effectively disciplining associate members. The stress turned to 'welcoming' and a great deal of opposition was shown to a document that was juridical.
The Ridley-Cambridge Draft Covenant (RCDC) moved further in the direction of Churches autonomy and difference, and took away even a difference of participation in institutions between those that signed up and those that did not. Furthermore undefined Churches could start signing up as soon as the document was distributed - a Churches approach rather than a Communion approach. Rat smelling was rife.
There was something distinctly crafty about the RCDC. It would let in non-Canterbury Anglican Churches, and even dioceses of non-signing Canterbury-linked Churches, according to Dr Ephraim Radner. GAFCON theologian Stephen Noll thus urged a speedy signing on to the Covenant of his approved Churches including the Anglican Church of North America on the basis that the entry conditions were biblical and orthodox. While The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada dithered, his Churches could steal a march on them. Gregory Cameron spoke about a weight of Churches that might then mean a difference between core members and associates after all.
Thus the Covenant, more inclusive in its formal text, was a document of manipulation, allowing the kind of result it was intended for by the creative means of joining.
What the Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Jamaica has done is removed the backdoor and windows means to entry and manipulation. First of all, only signed up members of the Anglican Consultative Council can join, thus cutting out the Anglican Church of North America's ambition to fast track itself into recognition against that of TEC and the ACC. Furthermore, it wants the section 4 revised, so that even that centralising and residual disciplining is removed. It was a close vote, but nevertheless that's it regarding the ambitions of GAFCON and the separatists who would opt to press the Communion into its own shape first.
Now GAFCON was the equivalent of the 1980s Trotskyite Militant Tendency inside the British Labour Party, with narrow parallel institutions but pressing on the larger body. In order to recover the Labour Party, Neil Kinnock removed it and forced it to stand on its own two feet. Having been ejected from its host, the parasite diminished into its own pointlessness.
This has happened at the ACC. The plugholes have been plugged. The rush to sign on is now pointless, and ACNA can have no delusions of fastracking. The parallel institutions (Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans Primates Council, the FCA itself - a believers' fellowship communion, and ACNA, the first GAFCON Church) are out on their own. However, it gives them little choice but to take on the institutions that will not let them apply pressure by manipulation.
They claim large numbers and majorities, but (even if numbers are near to the claim) they are concentrated, and this means the existing ACC will not succumb to the Conservative Evangelicals that are a considerable minority in many of the Anglican Churches.
Nevertheless the ACC vote of 33 to 30 was close and the result is messy. The Covenant will take so long to appear that the presenting issue for many will remain unaddressed and even unaddressable. The Covenant is like a marshmallow kicked into long grass, and seems to be dying of a hundred tactics and revisions.
Canon Graham Kings, soon to be a bishop in an attractive part of rural southern England, has promoted his scheme of Communion Conservative, Federal Conservative, Communion Liberal and Federal Liberal categories. He has assumed that Stephen Noll's conversion to the Covenant was a Communion Conservative shift on his part, whereas it could simply be taken as yet another Militant style tactic among many. But it is the fact that these tactics were presented, that have effectively bust any means to have a Communion Conservative approach. If there is a Federal approach (actually, Confederal - his terminology is too loose) that is Conservative, it is to be the muscle flexing of GAFCON as more or less parallel and independent. Well, some think we've seen its maximum strength and its institutional weakness. As for the likes of Fulcrum, recent lectures and comments by the likes of Oliver O'Donovan and Andrew Goddard have shown a depressing obsession with homosexual sex and a depressing sectarianism regarding this issue relating to ministry and rituals. They are closer and closer to the GAFCON reactionaries, and that is probably the direction in which many of them will go. The condition of Anglican evangelical theology is narrow, sectarian and culturally separated and strikes anyone outside as obsessive, institutional and irrelevant. It is a pity that liberal theology has been moribund for too long, as it too tries to obey doctrinal rules that don't quite come with the support of theological research. Indeed there is one general crisis of the whole of the Anglican form of Church and its relevance - it is losing its anchor within Western society.
The greatest likelihood is no particular Communion or confederal outcome but rather a balkanisation of Anglicanism across the world. There will be a concentration of GAFCON Churches that will attempt international episcopal oversight into America and Europe that will receive measures to block them. There will be fairly conservative Anglican Churches not linked to GAFCON and its concentration of power, but may have its own catechism and defining documents. There will also be Western Churches, and will variously find the freedom to become more inclusive. Let's be clear here: when the Church of England ordains women bishops, it will finally lose its traditionalist Catholic wing, and this Church will move closer to, nor further away from, The Episcopal Church and its own neighbouring Churches in the British Isles in terms of inclusivity. Yet this loss of the traditionalist Catholic side means even more a simple straight bipolar fight between liberals and conservatives, with the line passing through the position occupied presently by the likes of Fulcrum. This means only more strain not less, and one wonders how much weak institutions can take when disagreements have become so simplistic and narrowly focused.
On taking up his job, the present Archbishop of Canterbury ditched his moderate narrative liberalism but retained his Catholicism, because the latter was seen as still legitimate. He used this as an institutional solution for the Anglican problem, but when an institution spins outwards the answer is to loosen up not tighten up. The whole of the Covenant process has been one of impossible expectations, and instead of accepting that there will be more Anglican difference and even competition, the attempt to divide and centralise has just increased the amount of recrimination as expectations of 'disciplining' could not be met. Anglicanism is not and cannot be the Archbishop's vision of a worldwide Church all based around bishops. His policy has been a complete and utter failure, of only half of what makes up Anglicanism, and whereas the previous Archbishop was arguably ineffective and blundering this one has been, I suggest, positively destructive as well as ineffectual in action. It may be that his options have never been very many, but the policy intention and direction was wrong from the beginning. Look at what was said in 2006 and look at the outcome now.
Adrian Worsfold (Pluralist), has a doctorate in sociology and a masters degree in contemporary theology. He lives near Hull, in northeast England and keeps the blog Pluralist Speaks.