Monday, May 22, 2006

Anglican Covenant

The proposal for an Anglican Covenant mentioned in a news story last week has now been made public in a paper entitled Towards an Anglican Covenant.

The first thing worth noting is that the proposed timeline for such a Covenant is 6 to 9 years, with implementation happening in 4 to 6 years. This is not something that is going to happen this year, or next, or even at Lambeth 2008. This is both a blessing and a bane. We have time to reflectively consider this proposal, which, recalling the pace of past pronouncements within the Communion in the last few years, is a blessing. Yet, to be distracted from the mission of the Church by this process for another 6 years is a very big disappointment.

It appears that the proposers of this Covenant are following very closely to the recommendations made in the Windsor Report. Consequently, one might assume that the proposed text of the actual Covenant will be very similar to the draft offered as Appendix Two of the Windsor Report. If this is the starting point, reviewing the WR draft will be helpful when the time comes for specific recommendations to the body that will be charged with the initial formulation of the text of this Covenant.

The Questioning Christian raises a point that troubled me as I read this paper. Why will the Primates have veto power over a proposed Covenant? That group of purple-clad men is the least representative body of the Anglican Communion among the Instruments of Unity. If we are to give anyone veto power, the Anglican Consultative Council, which includes all four orders, would seem to be the obvious choice. Personally, I don't trust the Primates much. As the newest Instrument of Unity, they have been too quick to claim authority for themselves.

Tobias Haller suggests that we have no need for such an additional Covenant, and points us to an existing document that would serve just as well; The Constitution of the Anglican Consultative Council.

The Special Commission has already proposed a resolution for next month's General Convention that would express our support of this Covenant process:

Resolution A166 Anglican Covenant Development Process
Resolved, the House of __________ concurring, That the 75th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, as a demonstration of our commitment to mutual responsibility and interdependence in the Anglican Communion, support the process of the development of an Anglican Covenant that underscores our unity in faith, order, and common life in the service of God’s mission; and be it further

Resolved, That the 75th General Convention direct the International Concerns Standing Committee of the Executive Council and the Episcopal Church’s members of the Anglican Consultative Council to follow the development processes of an Anglican Covenant in the Communion and report regularly to the Executive Council as well as to the 76th General Convention; and be it further

Resolved, That the 75th General Convention report these actions supporting the Anglican Covenant development process, noting such missiological and theological resources as the Standing Commission on World Mission and the House of Bishops’ Theology Committee to the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Joint Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates, and the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion; and that the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church report the
same to the primates of the churches of the Anglican Communion.

EXPLANATION
This resolution supports the development of an Anglican Covenant as suggested by the Windsor Report, the Primates’ Meeting of February 2005, and the 13th Meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council. It directs appropriate bodies in the Episcopal Church to serve as resources for the development of an Anglican Covenant, and to report to the Episcopal Church regularly as to current covenant proposals.
It is clear from this proposal that there is no need for us to respond to this idea at all, or ever sign such a Covenant:

What of those who say that the content of the Covenant is such that, for the time being at least, they cannot “take it”, and they will have to “leave it”? Do they leave the Anglican Communion as a result? That may not be a necessary result of failing or refusing to sign up. Just as it would be wrong to assume that the Anglican Communion did not exist before the first Lambeth Conference, so it would be wrong to assume that failure to sign the Covenant meant that a Church ceased to be Anglican. The marks of Anglican identity go rather deeper. There is bound to be a lengthy period when synodical bodies are considering the Covenant, prior to adoption. They will not be “less Anglican” during that period than they are now; and it remains to be seen in what sense they might become “more Anglican” if they decide to adopt it for themselves...
What would be the result of not signing?

It might be expected that, as time goes on, stronger presumptions of mutual recognition and interchangeability of ministry and membership would arise between those Churches and Provinces that had signed up than amongst those that had chosen not to do so. That is not to say that the present arrangements for mutual recognition and interchangeability would be swept away by the introduction of the Covenant. What might emerge is a two (or more) tiered Communion, with some level of permeability between churches signed up to the Covenant, and those who are not.
In other words, we would be relegated to second-class citizen status, but as long as we keep paying the bills, we can keep the name "Anglican."

To be quite honest, I'm uncomfortable with such a Covenant, but am certainly open to being convinced of its value. If I recall correctly, Bill Carroll, who has eloquently and insightfully commented on a number of topics here at Jake's place, has mentioned his support of the Covenant idea. Bill, I'd be interested in hearing more.

Responses to Towards and Anglican Communion may be sent (preferably in Word) to: covenant@anglicancommunion.org

J.

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