The Primate of the Anglican Church of South Africa has posted an open letter calling on provinces of the Anglican Communion to adopt the Anglican Covenant. The questions to be asked are why now, and who is the audience?
The Anglican Communion Office has a summary of the Archbishop’s letter which can be read in it’s entirety on their website:
“Recalling how the Communion was able to stand in solidarity with Southern Africa in the past, [Archbishop Makgoba] sees the Covenant as being an effective vehicle for more fully expressing Anglicanism’s theological, pastoral and missional understandings and callings.
Therefore, he says, it is a mistake to focus too narrowly either on the disagreements around human sexuality, or on seeking legally or structurally based solutions to current Anglican difficulties. The identity of the Communion’s member churches ‘should not principally be conveyed through legal prisms, whether of some form of centralising authority, or of Provinces’ constitutions and canon law which must be “safeguarded” from external “interference”.’
The Covenant also ensures that the Communion cannot ‘rest content with the sort of “autonomous” ecclesial units that implicitly privilege juridical unilateralism over autonomy more rightly understood as the growing organic interdependence that must inevitably mark the living body of Christ’ and so is necessary in taking the Communion beyond the context in which current difficulties could arise and be pursued so acrimoniously.
Though recognising the reality of human fallibility, the Communion should look to ‘the salvific work of Jesus Christ’ and put its trust in him, rather than appearing to seek structural or legal solutions to its difficulties. He sees the Covenant as a means for doing this, since it ‘places God’s vision for God’s Church and God’s world centre-stage; and then invites us to live into this as our ultimate and overriding context and calling.’
The provisions of the Covenant – which neither create new structures nor interfere in Provinces’ life – should be understood, he argues, in terms of ‘the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus’ (Rom 8:2). Covenanting together does not mean legal restrictions, but instead, says Dr Makgoba, ‘constraining ourselves through the same sort of mutuality of love St Paul had in mind when he wrote “all things are lawful but not all things are beneficial – all things are lawful but not all things build up” (1 Cor 10:23).”
So, to the question of to whom was this written and why now? Many of the Anglican Provinces in Africa are part of the GAFCON movement, and as such have already rejected signing the covenant. So this probably isn’t written to them. Canada and TEC are still in the decision making process, and while this letter does respond to some of the concerns about the rising centralism within the Anglican Communion, it doesn’t really address the concerns that are in play in the Northern parts of the Western Hemisphere.
But the Church of England is in the middle of their process of deciding on the Covenant, and according the vote count so far, it’s going to be close if it will be approved at all. The major concerns in England are exactly the sorts of points that this letter seems to be making. It appears that the ACO is trading on Makgoba’s popularity in the West.
So if this is a letter released to the Church of England as a primary audience, what does this say about where people think the process in England is headed?
UPDATE: Tobias Haller weighs in on the question here.