Friday, December 18, 2009

Canterbury Launches Covenant Push

The latest draft of the Anglican Communion Covenant has been released by The Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion (formerly known as Joint Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates). It is being introduced by the Archbishop of Canterbury:

The text of Dr. Williams' statement can be found here. Before we continue, this excerpt from his statement is worth noting:

...The last bit of the Covenant text is the one thats perhaps been the most controversial, because that's where we spell out what happens if relationships fail or break down. It doesn't set out, as I've already said, a procedure for punishments and sanctions. It does try and sort out how we will discern the nature of our disagreement, how important is it? How divisive does it have to be? Is it a Communion breaking issue that's in question - or is it something we can learn to live with? And so in these sections of the covenant what we're trying to do is simply to give a practical, sensible and Christian way of dealing with our conflicts, recognising that they're always going to be there...
That "last bit" of the proposed Covenant is known as "section 4." Episcopal Life offers us a helpful side-by-side comparison of the current and the previous versions of section 4, with the edits identified. Here's just a sampling of the language that appears in the current version:

(4.2.5) The Standing Committee may request a Church to defer a controversial action. If a Church declines to defer such action, the Standing Committee may recommend to any Instrument of Communion relational consequences which may specify a provisional limitation of participation in, or suspension from, that Instrument until the completion of the process set out below.
Limitations and suspensions. Yet, we are not to consider these to be "punishments and sanctions."

So, what happens if a Church signs up for this Covenant, but then later changes their mind?

(4.3.1) Any covenanting Church may decide to withdraw from the Covenant. Although such withdrawal does not imply an automatic withdrawal from the Instruments of Communion or a repudiation of its Anglican character, it may raise a question relating to the meaning of the Covenant, and of compatibility with the principles incorporated within it, and trigger the provisions set out in section 4.2 above.
We will limit you, we will suspend you, and we may even pull the "trigger" on you, but these are not punishments or sanctions. Oh really?

There is also a bit of bad news for the breakaway groups using the descriptive term "Anglican," but not in communion with Canterbury:

4.1.4) Every Church of the Anglican Communion, as recognised in accordance with the Constitution of the Anglican Consultative Council, is invited to enter into this Covenant according to its own constitutional procedures.

(4.1.5) The Instruments of Communion may invite other Churches to adopt the Covenant using the same procedures as set out by the Anglican Consultative Council for the amendment of its schedule of membership. Adoption of this Covenant does not confer any right of recognition by, or membership of, the Instruments of Communion, which shall be decided by those Instruments themselves.
Note that the group releasing this draft, The Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion, is given the authority to oversee and initiate the "limitation and suspension" process.

To get an idea of where the SCAC stands on some of our current controversies, it is worth noting that in addition to releasing this draft of the Covenant, they also made this statement:

The following resolution was passed by the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion meeting in London on 15-18 December, and approved for public distribution.

Resolved that, in the light of:

i. The recent episcopal nomination in the Diocese of Los Angeles of a partnered lesbian candidate

ii. The decisions in a number of US and Canadian dioceses to proceed with formal ceremonies of same-sex blessings

iii. Continuing cross-jurisdictional activity within the Communion

The Standing Committee strongly reaffirm Resolution 14.09 of ACC 14 supporting the three moratoria proposed by the Windsor Report and the associated request for gracious restraint in respect of actions that endanger the unity of the Anglican Communion by going against the declared view of the Instruments of Communion.
This Standing Committee now wants to not only define what "triggers" limitations and suspensions, but also assumes the authority required to inform us as to what constitutes appropriate "gracious restraint."

No thanks. If I wanted an ecclesiastical Curia, I'd swim the Tiber.


UPDATE: If the Episcopal Life comparison of the previous and current versions of section 4 was a bit difficult for you, Lionel Deimel is offering a different version of the changes, using the format of strikeouts for deleted text and underlines for added text, along with different colors. Quite fancy, and easy to follow.

The comment section of the The Lead points us to some good background information and commentary from the Covenant Working Group (thanks to Lisa and Ann). Some of the revisions of section 4 are explained. It remains unclear, at least to me, if the Working Group made all the current changes and submitted a finished product to the SCAC, or if the SCAC made additional changes.

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