The Anglican Covenant is not as dead as it looks

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I am wondering if the proposed Anglican Covenant is as dead as many Episcopalians think it is. It seems to me that Rowan Williams is making slow but significant progress toward assembling a notional center that he can then play off against the left (constituted by us, the Brazilians, the Scots and maybe the Welsh) and the right (constituted by Nigeria, Uganda and the Southern Cone.)


Consider: The Churches of Mexico, Myanmar and the West Indies have approved the covenant, and the Churches of England and South Africa have embarked on a process that seems almost certain to end in its approval. Mexico and South Africa are two of the provinces that opponents of the covenant within the Episcopal Church hoped might keep us company if we declined to sign up.

The Australians and Canadians are in the midst of processes whose likely outcomes are not clear to me. But both are members of the British Commonwealth, and Archbishop Philip Aspinall of Australia is a leading figure among the Primates, so covenant opponents would be foolish to presume that these two provinces won’t follow where Canterbury leads.

When Bishop Martin Barahona of El Salvador was primate of the Central American province, the province was firmly in the no-covenant camp, but his successor is a more conservative theological thinker, so it isn’t clear where that province will come down.

The Irish and Japanese may not sign the covenant, but their primates are pushing in that direction. I don’t know where the churches of Korea, the Philippines and Hong Kong stand, but at some point, I do worry about a domino effect.

Numerous primates from the Global South have signed a statement saying that they will not adopt the covenant unless it is strengthened, but the Global South is not the monolith its American backers would have us believe. The primate of Rwanda is not the ideologue his predecessor is, ditto Kenya, which is actively seeking better relationships with the Church of England. The primate of Tanzania tries to raise money from everyone, and therefore tries not to alienate anyone permanently. The Primate of Sudan walks a tightrope, balancing his multiple relationships with Episcopal churches and dioceses with the reality of his surroundings, and his own convictions. The Church in the Congo is in a war-ravaged shambles, and making decisions based on survival, rather than any particular ideology.

Even among those who participated in the boycott, Archbishop John Chew of Southeast Asia is in favor of a covenant, and Archbishop Ian Earnest of the Indian Ocean is something of a mystery. He had close gay friends while a fellow at Episcopal Divinity School, but has taken a hard right turn since being elected to lead the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa.

I don’t know whether I would say it is likely, but it seems to me at least possible that Rowan Williams will gin up just enough support for his covenant to force provinces that oppose it to make some hard choices.

Which brings me to New Zealand. At the moment that province has ratified the first three sections of the document, but not the disciplinary fourth section. Maybe they will leave it at that. Is that an approach our church could be comfortable with?

This little survey is somewhat impressionistic and by no means exhaustive. Feel free to chip in facts and analysis in the comments. There is a running scorecard on whose done what regarding the covenant maintained by Anglicans for Comprehensive Unity.

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tobias haller
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tobias haller

I've been doing a lot of study and conversation on the Covenant. There will be further water under the bridge by 2012.

While I think the draft on the table is far from perfect, I also feel it is necessary to go beyond the document itself to see what its purposes or uses might be. Clearly the earlier drafts were geared towards the exclusion of certain provinces from the life of the communion; but that seems both not to be an aspect of the current draft, nor a likely possibility. (I've created a parallel listing of the last three drafts for reference, and the changes are important, if in some cases subtle -- for example, the previous draft allows non-Anglican churches to apply for Covenant status; the present version states they may be "invited" to apply. I'll make this "harmony of the Covenants" available shortly...)

Long story short, I'm not so sure what opposition to the covenant or refusal to adopt it accomplishes, or what signing it risks. To use a nonce phrase I've heard in other contexts, "are we afraid of Anglican cooties?" It may be that the chief value of the covenant will be in showing willingness to continue living together through differences -- as a kind of pennant or ensign -- rather than as anything approaching an Anglican Constitution and Canons (which it clearly isn't!)

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Michael Russell
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Michael Russell

Again I think we can sign onto a modified Covenant. Since all but the ++ABC and those determined to support him think the Ridley Draft needs modifying I am sure we can at least keep this a document in progress for another decade. That in and of itself would be a worthwhile goal.

But the major flaw remains the unworkable nature of four centers of authority. We already have the GafCOn Primates insisting that their pronouncements are somehow authoritative, insisting that the ++ABC's job is to implement them!

There will never be anything but conflict as the Primates the ++ABC and the ACC dance around for dominance. There is no Constitution defining their powers or the interrelation of them. So again we can watch for a decade some dance among them, but please remember that these instruments having any central authority was and is a fiction.

So we should amend it, modify it then sign it as a sign of good faith and send it back. What's a good enough response for GafCon is good enough for us.

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Jim Naughton
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Thanks for the responses, guys. Marshall, I have been doing a fair amount of traveling lately, and the idea that the Covenant is dead, and that therefore we don't have to worry much about it, is pretty widespread. Mike, I worry that not signing on to the covenant creates openings for Episcopalians who would use it to make mischief.

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Michael Russell
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Michael Russell

Jim,

As one of those who has intoned that the Anglican Covenant is Dead, I must say that there are many sorts of death. I never doubted that many provinces would adopt it, perhaps even a majority.

But that does not mean it will ever work. The so called instruments of communion are already squabbling over power in the communion and there is nothing in the AC that mediates between them or assigns them spheres of authority.

Now certainly the GafCOn people might change their minds and adopt it in order to make a big stick of it, so we will have to wait to see on that. But if they don't then you have a pointless Covenant since there is no possibility for unity.

I could agree to do what NZ did, with the additional change of insisting that Reason be included in our scheme of how we decide things theologically. The present formulation of Scripture and tradition is simply not Anglican and in good conscience I cannot support signing on to such a flawed document.

The advantage for us signing on is that we can then pursue complaints against ACNA and those provinces who have interfered in our internal business. That they are no longer doing it is irrelevant, sort of like saying yes we stole your house, but since our accomplices now have the title we are NOW doing nothing wrong.

In the end though the AC may have some currency while ++Rowan is the ABC, but then it will hit the dustbin of bad ideas.

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Execute
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Jim, I don't know that many folks, even in the Episcopal Church, have said that the Covenant is dead, so much as some have said that it is (or should be) dead here. I hear your concern (not to say pessimism) regarding the process in the Church of England. As divided as C of E is, I don't know that we can really predict how the dioceses will decide. The Canadians, too, have significant differences diocese to diocese. It is probably simply too early to make predictions.

As a Deputy, it seems to me we will have hard decisions in Indianapolis one way or the other. Certainly, if by that point it has failed in C of E it will be a mite easier; but probably not much. I note, too, that Southern Africa's final step is after we meet in 2012. No, it probably won't change; but it's possible.

I have some attraction to the decision taken in A/NZ/P. It might well work at General Convention; but then we will all be wondering what it will mean, and how Canterbury and the ACO will react. Still, I would be interested in considering it.

Marshall Scott

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