A Look Back At the Covenant & Prognosticating the Future
In light of the soon-to-be-announced next Archbishop of Canterbury and the November ACC meeting, I’m once again turning my beady-eyed gaze to “the future of the Communion” and posting a few links from the first few months of this year about the Covenant, post the COE’s formal rejection of it.
Andrew Goddard produced a very measured and fair analysis of the “state of affairs” over at Fulcrum. I’ll post a few excerpts from his analysis, but do go and read the entire piece. The T19 thread on his piece from March has a few interesting comments as well.
Does the Church of England’s decision bring an end to the Anglican Communion Covenant?
Those who have opposed the Church of England adopting the covenant clearly hope this will be the consequence. In the Inclusive Church/Modern Church Union advert “Who Runs the Church?” which opened their anti-covenant campaign, they said – “Because the Church of England is the mother church of the Communion, if England declines to sign it will probably not come into effect. This would be the best possible outcome”. This attempt to encourage England to reassert imperial control over the rest of the Communion is, however, unlikely to succeed.
Already over half a dozen of the Communion’s provinces (Mexico, Ireland, South East Asia, Southern Cone, Papua New Guinea, The West Indies, Burma) have covenanted with each other in the terms of the covenant and South Africa has agreed subject to ratification at its next provincial Synod in 2013. The covenant is clear that “This Covenant becomes active for a Church when that Church adopts the Covenant through the procedures of its own Constitution and Canons” (4.1.6). The only way the covenant could therefore cease to exist would be for all those provinces who have adopted it to withdraw from it.
As the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion has said – “In December 2009, as requested by the Standing Committee, I sent the text of The Anglican Communion Covenant to all the Member Churches of the Anglican Communion asking that they consider it for adoption according to their own internal procedures….What next steps are taken by the Church of England is up to that Province. Consideration of the Covenant continues across the Anglican Communion and this was always expected to be a lengthy process”.
What will happen at the Anglican Consultative Council?
At ACC, now nine months away (Nov 2012), the provinces will report “on the progress made in the process of response to, and adoption of, the Covenant”. A significant number of provinces will likely still be in the process of responding.
The ACC has no power to bring those provincial processes it requested to an end and would need to think very carefully before seeking to discourage them from continuing their processes, especially when it appears a majority of those who have completed the process will have adopted the covenant.
Although ACC or the Archbishop of Canterbury could propose amendments it is unclear what good this would do and it would further complicate the process. The amendments would need to be approved by three-quarters of the existing signatories before taking effect. Provinces still in the process of adopting would be left to decide between either adopting a covenant text undergoing amendment or stalling adoption until it was clear whether or not the amendments were accepted (a process likely to take a number of years).
Fulcrum naturally supports the Covenant, but his reading of the possible future structures within the Anglican Communion is pretty accurate, I think:
How does this impact the likely future shape and direction of the Anglican Communion?
There have been, broadly, three competing visions of the Anglican Communion in recent years. First, there is the vision of autonomy and interdependence with accountability. This developed out of the Communion’s historic pattern of life together and has been articulated in the Virginia Report, the Windsor Report and the Anglican Communion Covenant. This is the vision which the Church of England, through its diocesan synods, has rejected. It may, however, still prove to be the vision embraced by the Anglican Communion as a whole. If a significant number of Anglican provinces, particularly from the Global South, do adopt the covenant then it and its vision will still become central to the future life of the Communion even without the Church of England and perhaps some other, mainly “northern” provinces.
Second, there is the more confessional vision represented by the Jerusalem Declaration and GAFCON. Although the GAFCON primates have spoken against the covenant, one GAFCON province – the Southern Cone – has already adopted it and others are in the process of considering it. If the covenant is rejected by major liberal northern provinces, then the more conservative GAFCON provinces may conclude that their fears are unfounded that the covenant’s oversight would be not dominated by them and render it ineffectual. Rather, if supported, it provides the means of reforming the Communion. Alternatively, they may seek to persuade provinces that the Jerusalem Declaration now offers the best or only way to give expression to orthodox Anglicanism.
Third, there is the autonomy-as-independence vision which drives the Episcopal Church and to a lesser degree parts of the Canadian church. This also lay behind the anti-covenant campaign that has now triumphed in England and so this vision may increase its influence here. This vision is unlikely to be able to win the support of most Anglican provinces but the question is whether those who advocate it, because of their historic power and disproportionate influence in Communion structures, will be allowed to wreck the covenant just as they have successfully ignored the moratoria. If so, they will prevent a shared vision of what it means to be a communion of churches taking shape and so potentially secure their much looser vision by default, though perhaps driving more provinces into the GAFCON vision as a result and causing the divisions evident in North America to appear elsewhere, including England.
In short, a major reconfiguration of the Anglican Communion now appears inevitable in broadly one of these forms:
PATH A - A Communion focussed on the covenant and comprising most Anglicans but with the Church of England and any other future non-adopters no longer at its heart.
PATH B – A looser, more incoherent Communion (which would be more of a Federation or Association) with no shared understanding of its common life and thus an increasingly dysfunctional set of Instruments. Either within this - or perhaps increasingly separated from this - there may be one or more networks seeking deeper communion and developing out of bodies such as GAFCON, the Global South, CAPA etc.
Two developments would help the Communion avoid path B which risks being the default, “do nothing” outcome. First, a significant number of provinces should adopt the covenant. Second, the Instruments should – particularly if faced with further disregard of the moratoria (TEC’s General Convention this summer will likely authorise rites for same-sex unions including same-sex marriages where these are legal and may be asked to confirm a priest in a same-sex marriage as Gene Robinson’s successor in New Hampshire) – seek to exercise the authority they already have over the ordering of their own affairs which the covenant provides with formal structure and processes. They have been reluctant to use this authority but, as a result, the Instruments have not been able to function as they should.
Anglican Down Under also produced his pro-Covenant analysis, but with rather a more ominous tone about the future:
(5) Effectively, that is, the present Anglican Communion of 38 member churches will work out its life as an Anglican Association of about 10-12 member churches and an Anglican Communion (or Fellowship) of about 26-28 member churches.
(6) Eventually the penny will drop, the idea of the Covenant will have its time: those within the Anglican Association who are tired of being part of an Anglicanism going nowhere and lacking common doctrinal accord will join with the (effective) Anglican Communion in a revised form of the (official) Anglican Communion which will have Instruments of Unity which work, a covenant which binds, and conferences which all member churches attend. However by that stage the ‘covenant which binds’ will have more in common doctrinally with the Jerusalem Declaration than with the Covenant doing the synodical rounds today.
(7) This means that the next ABC from a Communion perspective should be someone capable of seeing into the far future of the Communion, able to relate well to the leaders GAFCON/FCA while also connecting with the leaders of the Anglican Association, and, of course, competent to lead the C of E but not given to being anxious about the course of Communion life during the decade or so they will be in the ABC role.
My own theory is that, as is long typical for the two groups of conservatives that have taken action within the Anglican Communion, the Jerusalem group seriously overestimated the number of conservative-led provinces willing to buy into a theological treatise that spelled out doctrine and yet appeared “higgledy piggledy” and light on church order, and the Covenant group seriously overestimated the interest of certain other conservative-led provinces in engaging in a heavily bureaucratized, ill-defined, and lengthy process of church structuring.
The natural *hope* of orthodox believers in the Anglican Communion would be that all faithful Christians within the rather broad parameters of Anglican identity would be capable of being together in an organizational entity. But some of those Anglican Christians don’t want what is entailed with functioning within the Covenant—given its faults—and other Anglican Christians don’t want what is entailed with signing onto the theological treatise of the Jerusalem Declaration, given its faults.
I’ve always said that a part of this is that Anglicanism is too broad to be held together solely by either type of structuring idea, which is why we’ve thrived, until recently, on vague things like “bonds of affection” and common liturgy and a unifying historic see.
But once you allow people who don’t believe the Gospel into central positions of leadership, those vague things begin to be revealed as very slender reeds indeed.
Regardless, I still don’t think that either the Covenant or the Jerusalem structures, as currently constructed, will appeal to broad enough swathes of provinces within the Anglican Communion. And even if well-constructed, I don’t think those in themselves will be enough to hold things together.
Of course, I’ve bleated about these things, in a continual sonorous droning, for years now. But I just thought I’d repeat them.
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