The conversations about the Anglican Covenant
continue. However, we do have a few more "official documents" to consider now.
For instance, on June 9, the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church accepted a process for considering the Covenant as outlined in a Paper from the Faith and Order Board
...General Synod 2012 - The Synod would be invited to debate the substance of the Covenant culminating in a motion approving adoption of the Covenant “in principle”. This would not represent the final decision of the Church on the matter but rather would be a means of the Synod expressing at least a preliminary view on the merits of adoption or otherwise. Were such an approval “in principle” to be given, a further motion could be proposed to Synod inviting it to instruct the Faith and Order Board to prepare the necessary canonical material. If the “in principle” motion fell, it would seem that there would be no point in continuing with any further process...
If approved, the canonical material would have to be passed with two readings at Synod, putting any final determination off until General Synod 2014. The other possibility is that the Covenant idea is simple dropped at the 2012 Synod.
So, for the Scottish Episcopal Church, even if they agree "in principle" with the idea, the earliest any final decision can be made on the Anglican Covenant is 2014...three years from now. As we have learned, a lot can happen in three years.
Then, after a slight delay
, the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church released the Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons Report
, which is one document that will be used by the D020 Task Force to develop a recommended response to the Anglican Covenant for consideration at the 2012 General Convention.
From the SCCC Report:
...Section 4.2 would require substantial Constitutional and canonical action on the part of the Episcopal Church. It would purport to require the Episcopal Church to put into place “mechanisms, agencies, or institutions,” necessary to assure the compliance with the Covenant of all levels of the Church and respective dioceses. It further implies an expectation that the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church be amended to empower the Presiding Bishop to become the Anglican Communion de facto compliance officer for the Episcopal Church, which would clearly exceed her present constitutional and canonical authority...
As Mark Harris
suggests, since it appears that canonical changes may be required, the earliest prudent date for the Episcopal Church to approve a Covenant, if she were to choose to go that route, would be 2015...four years from now. Personally, I question if the all the canonical changes could be proposed by next General Convention, and envision the process to be more like that of the Scottish Episcopal Church...agree in principle, first reading of canonical changes and then second reading of canonical changes, making the earliest date 2018...seven years from now. A lot can happen in seven years.
Some parts in the Communion seem to be in a rush to decide on the Covenant one way or another. I'm not sure why. Does it matter if we take three, four or even seven years to approve it? Consider this segment of the Covenant:
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.
It seems to me that there is no rush. So, if the Covenant is such a "really big deal" as some would have us believe, who not slow down and take our time?
Now, finally, I hope you take a look at the report
presented by the Governance Working Group for the Anglican Church of Canada. This paper makes quite a few points regarding why the Covenant idea is indeed a "really big deal," although they might characterize it as a "really bad idea." As with the other reports, they also note the necessity for canonical changes (meaning years down the road, even if approved "in principle"). Beyond that, the GWG doesn't hesitate to spell out some of the specific problems found within the Covenant.
Right away, the GWG makes this clear statement:
The Covenant is more than a statement of belief or intention; it is a legal document...
Read that slowly, then read it again. This isn't some kind of "can't we just get along?" presentation. It's not primarily a theological statement...it is a legal document...and a complex one at that. An extremely good reason to slow down and be careful, it seems to me.
Much that follows involves some detailed calls for clarity of language, which I'll leave for you to consider. But I do want to point out one of the problems that such of lack of clarity has already caused. Regarding the question of the authority the Covenant:
The relationship of the Covenant to the constitutional and foundational documents of a Church is a live issue in other parts of the Communion. The Church in South-East Asia has “acceded” to the Covenant, and issued a long preamble to its Letter of Accession which makes it clear that it contemplates that the Covenant will be superior to the internal constitutions of signing Churches...By contrast, the Church of Ireland has “subscribed” to the Covenant, and issued covering documentation which makes it clear that it contemplates that the Covenant will have no effect on its sovereignty or existing constitutional provisions, which will be superior to the Covenant. Obviously, these contradictory views of the Covenant’s constitutional function and relationship cannot both be correct...
Then, the GWG goes on to make an excellent point that I've not heard much about elsewhere:
...the Covenant does not contemplate any specific role for the laity. Of the four Instruments of Communion, only the Anglican Consultative Council has any representation from the laity—and the lay members do not form a majority of that Council, nor is their concurrence required for any decision by that Council.61 Nor is there any guarantee that there will be any lay members on the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion which controls the process under section 4 of the Covenant.
The question therefore arises about whether the overwhelmingly episcopal nature of the decision-making process under the Covenant is compatible with the long-accepted constitutional role of the laity in decision-making in the Canadian Church...
The Covenant is extremely purple, yet the Spirit is color blind. Can I get an AMEN?
In section D; "Consequences of Not Adopting the Covenant," the GWG argues that signing or not signing will have no affect on membership in the Anglican Communion.
But, isn't the schedule kept by the Anglican Consultative Council the official membership list, from which Churches can be added or removed? Not, so, claims the GWG:
...the Constitution of the Anglican Consultative Council does not give it the authority to determine which entities are in communion with the See of Canterbury or are members of the Anglican Communion. The purpose of the Schedule to the Council’s Constitution is to identify how many members of the Council will be drawn from each group of the specified Churches (all of whom are members of the Anglican Communion). Indeed, there are entities which are not listed in the Schedule (and therefore do not have representation on the Council) even though they are undoubtedly part of the Anglican Communion.66
The footnote identifies these entities not listed in the schedule; the extra-provincial dioceses of Cuba, Bermuda, Ceylon, Spain, Falkland Islands as well as the Lusitanian Church.
So, if the ACC doesn't define who is a member of the Anglican Communion, who does?
The test for membership in the Anglican Communion was stated by the Lambeth Conference of 1930 (which pre-dates the creation of the Anglican Consultative Council after the Lambeth Conference of 1968) as follows:
The Anglican Communion is a fellowship, within the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, of those duly constituted dioceses, provinces and regionalChurches in communion with the See of Canterbury.
The GWG's conclusion of the full impact of not signing the Covenant?
...A decision by a Church to adopt or not to adopt the Covenant has no effect on that Church’s status as a member of the Anglican Communion (or with respect to its membership in any of the Instruments of Communion)...
...Accordingly, it is not apparent that there would be any consequence to the Canadian Church if it makes a definitive decision not to adopt the Covenant, apart from the restriction contained in section 4.2...
So, there you go...reports from three churches, all who seem to be taking a very slow and cautious approach towards the Anglican Covenant; for good reasons, it seems to me.
However, it is safe to assume that even if the acceptance process slows or even stalls, that will not stop another process from unfolding. It's the same process used to transform the Windsor Report from a set of recommendations to a document claimed to have some legal status. As the Churches study and reflect on the Covenant, its implementation will steam right along, as if it were already law. Actually, the implementation has already commenced
. Hopefully, such tactics will not hinder the slow and careful consideration of this cumbersome legal document.