The first three sections of the proposed Anglican Covenant have been given the green light – in principle – by General Synod/Te Hinota Whanui.
Episcopal units will now be asked to consider the entire Covenant over the next two years and report back to General Synod in 2012. That Synod will then decide whether to adopt it.
In the meantime, legal opinions will be sought on a controversial part of section 4 of the Covenant – regarding participation in the decision-making of the Communion Standing Committee (clause 4.2.8).
The vote came after the synod heard arguments supporting the Covenant from Bishop Victoria Matthews, a member of the Windsor Continuation Group, a body appointed by Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, to carry on the work of the panel that wrote the Windsor Report. The WCG is composed entirely of opponents of gay ordination.
Dr. Tony Frichett of Dunedin argued against passing a Covenant that contains the controversial fourth section, which he referred to as "punitive, controlling and UnAnglican."
A few comments:
Bishop Matthews previously served in the Anglican Church of Canada. Anyone familiar with how difficult she made life for Bishop Michael Ingham after he and the Diocese of New Westminster approved the blessing of same sex relationships will have a hard time accepting her self portrait as an irenic presence.
Dr. Frichett suggests that adopting the Covenant is an extremely serious decision, and should be done using the same mechanisms as changing the Church's constitution. That's a good idea, and one the Episcopal Church should consider as well.
Although the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia spent significant time debating the content of the Covenant, it is possible that the content no longer matters.
It is clear that hardly anyone is satisfied with the Covenant. The North American churches aren't happy with it because they believe that it diminishes the autonomy of member churches that has long been central to Anglicanism. Various African church leaders are unhappy with it because it does nothing to punish churches that treat gays and lesbians as full members of the Church. And the Anglican Communion Institute-Fulcrum-Living Church party is worried that after all their efforts to marginalize the Episcopal Church, we might just elude the fate they have been preparing for us by holding our noses and signing the darned thing.
But though various factions throughout the Communion have complained about the Covenant, no faction has said definitively that it will not sign it. Why? Because everyone involved in this charade understands that the first party to walk away from the table loses. The Global South can't work its will on the Communion if it refuses to participate in its governing structures. The Episcopal and Canadian Churches can't defend themselves from further incursions if they bail out. Regardless of how much theological prattle ensues, the decisions on whether to sign this document will be made on entirely political grounds.
One might say the process has lost all theological integrity, but you cannot lose what you never had.