There was a very curious document in last week’s Church Times (full-page advertisement, page 7). In it, two organisations, Inclusive Church and Modern Church, for which I have formerly had the highest regard, turned themselves into the nearest to an ecclesiastical BNP that I have encountered.
They resort to the old tactics of misinformation and scaremongering about foreigners and outside influences to whip up a campaign against the Anglican Covenant, and replace reasoned argument with a “Man the barricades!” mentality that is little short of breathtaking...
Later in the letter, he also refers to those leading such opposition as "our latter-day Little Englanders." For those unfamiliar with that particular slur, here is one definition; "...a term now applied to English people who are regarded as xenophobic and/or overly nationalistic and are often accused of being ignorant and boorish."
Ecclesiastical BNP? Misinformation and scaremongering? Latter-day Little Englanders? My, my, the good Bishop seems to be quite upset.
Let's take a closer look at the Bishop's accusation of those opposed to a Covenant resorting to "scaremongering and the misrepresentation of a text." In fact, to avoid any charge of "misrepresentation," let's look at the actual text of the proposed Anglican Covenant. Specifically, let's focus on a part of Section Four:
(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.The language has been softened from earlier versions, but the impact remains the same. This is a mechanism for "limiting" or "suspending" a Church's participation in the Instruments of Communion. Note that anyone who chooses not to sign on to this Covenant will be barred from any participation in the work of the Standing Committee or the Instruments in regards to the process presented in Section Four.
(4.2.6) On the basis of advice received from the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meeting, the Standing Committee may make a declaration that an action or decision is or would be “incompatible with the Covenant”.
(4.2.7) On the basis of the advice received, the Standing Committee shall make recommendations as to relational consequences which flow from an action incompatible with the Covenant. These recommendations may be addressed to the Churches of the Anglican Communion or to the Instruments of the Communion and address the extent to which the decision of any covenanting Church impairs or limits the communion between that Church and the other Churches of the Communion, and the practical consequences of such impairment or limitation. Each Church or each Instrument shall determine whether or not to accept such recommendations.
(4.2.8) Participation in the decision making of the Standing Committee or of the Instruments of Communion in respect to section 4.2 shall be limited to those members of the Instruments of Communion who are representatives of those churches who have adopted the Covenant, or who are still in the process of adoption.
Bishop Cameron points out that the Standing Committee only has the authority to "make recommendations." Well, of course. They will "make recommendations" to the Churches or the Instruments, who will then act on those recommendations. We've seen this before. The Archbishop of Canterbury, acting on the "recommendations" found in the Windsor Report, removed the Rev. Katherine Grieb of TEC and Bishop Tito Zavala of Chile from the Inter Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order. The "recommended" moratoria had became law, once an Instrument of Communion chose to act on them.
Now, in the instance above, Canterbury seems to have ignored the process put forward by the Covenant. He acted without recommendations from the Standing Committee. However, the process seems to give us a foretaste of a post-Covenant Communion. The Instruments receive recommendations, and then act on them, as they see fit. Note that if you opt out of the Covenant, those actions will be decided without you being in the room.
Bishop Cameron wants to assure us that we don't have to accept the recommendations of the Standing Committee ("Each Church or each Instrument shall determine whether or not to accept such recommendations" 4.2.7). So, we reject the recommendations. Then what happens? The matter will still go before the Churches or the Instruments. And those taking "controversial actions" will be limited or suspended, regardless of our response to the "recommendations."
Bishop Cameron also notes that Section 4.1.3 of the Covenant states "mutual commitment does not represent submission to any external ecclesiastical jurisdiction." That is indeed the language. But, based on the later language of "limitations" and "suspensions," such a grand statement becomes meaningless, unless it is understood to say something along the lines of, "No, you don't have to submit. But if you don't, we may limit or suspend your participation."
None of this is news to Bishop Cameron, btw. He served as the former deputy secretary general of the Anglican Communion and secretary to the Covenant Design Group. For him to present the Covenant as a completely benign document, instead of the punitive tool it is clearly crafted to be, is cause to wonder exactly who it is that is engaged in presenting misinformation.
Let's be clear about what this Anglican Covenant is all about. There are those in the Communion who have demanded that The Episcopal Church be disciplined. Some leaders of various Churches have even gone as far as threatening to leave the Communion if TEC is not disciplined. Those who are making these demands are supported by a few extreme conservatives who were once part of TEC. These extremists have formed their own shadow Province, known as ACNA. Their goal is to get TEC removed from the Communion, so they can take her place. This is not "scaremongering" or "misinformation," for the record. The plans to replace TEC are well documented. The boot with which they hoped to kick TEC out of the Communion was the Anglican Covenant.
What these extremists did not anticipate, however, was for "border crossing" (i.e., theft of property from other Churches) to be included among the moratoria. As a result, many of the extremists are now less than enthusiastic about an Anglican Covenant. The weapon they helped fashion may just be turned on them, as has been seen in the case of Bishop Zavala (whom, I'm informed, has been elected as the next Primate of the Southern Cone. Congratulations or condolences, as the case may be, Bishop).
Use whatever snarky names you can imagine, Bishop Cameron, but, regarding the signing of any current or future Anglican Covenant, this is one Anglican whose response must echo that of Bartleby the Scrivener; "I would prefer not to."
If you share some of my concerns regarding the proposed Covenant, I commend to you this website: No Anglican Covenant Coalition.
And while you're at it, visit this page, and scroll down to the "question of the week" at the bottom of the article.