And then, there was the Covenant.
Oh, Anglican Covenant! You seemed like such a pressing issue only a few months ago. (We were so young and naive then….) Then England staged its own small uprising, and now, no one can figure out if you are still an issue for us or not. But to that in a second.
For the purposes of us here at home, the Anglican Covenant is a brief little document that can be found here:
This is the fourth and final draft, and it has been sent to General Convention for our acceptance, or refusal. (Or our kicking the can down the road, which is always an option. The Anglican Covenant: it IS a houseplant!) This came out of the Windsor Report–that document that came from the wider Anglican Communion after we consecrated +Gene Robinson in 2003.
All that aside, there are some structural problems with the Covenant. Setting aside the moral, ecclesiastical, and postcolonial problems that are all in this document and its assumed worldview, there are also some structural problems in there. Just to round it out.
The Standing Committee on Constitution and Canons did an excellent report regarding these problems, and it is to this that I now turn.
They said, for starters, that the beginning is not great. Specifically, the preface possibly conflates our communion with Christ, and our accession to the ordering of Anglican Communion. Whoops. This is not encouraging–at no time in our history as Anglicans have we taken a “no church= no salvation” stand, and it seems odd that we’ve chosen this point in time to start.
It’s one thing if we strive to make our common life mirror the communion we already have with Christ. It’s another thing if we insist that our relationship with God depends entirely upon the status of our earthly relationships. Here there be dragons. Here, madness lies.
Specifically, saith the SCCC, our TEC Constitution does not mention the Anglican Communion, (other than the fact it exists) or Lambeth, or anything other than The Episcopal Church, and, y’know, Jesus Christ. Mainly because that was all we were concerned with at the time. (Revolution, y’all.)
Same with our Canons. We don’t require accession to the Anglican Communion at ordination; we require adherence to the “doctrine, discipline and worship as this church has received them.” (emphasis mine) Right off the bat, in the Preface and Introduction even!, the Anglican Covenant suggests that it would like to change all that. So there’s a Constitutional change we’d have to make, right off the bat. (Keep in mind, that would take at least 9 years.)
Which brings us to: Section 4! Such a mess, Section 4!
This section is the one that draws the most fire. It’s the disciplinary section: the part that lays out what happens if the fellowship that’s set up so nicely in Sections 1-3 falls apart. In other words, it’s the Section of Consequences.
We already talked about the issue of autonomy; are we bound in the Anglican Communion by love and friendship, despite our distinct differences at times, or are we bound by our agreeing on things? It’s entirely unclear.
Amusingly, the Covenant itself seems to want it both ways. In Section 4.1, the text says that nothing in the Covenant will override the autonomy of individual provinces, or let one province direct or guide another.
Then, it proceeds to lay out procedures by which both of those things can happen. According to the report, the Anglican Communion at large would have to weigh in on …anything. From changes in our Prayer Book to ordinations of bishops. Also, we would need someone to make sure that we were toeing the official Anglican Communion line here in the States, and that person would suddenly be the Presiding Bishop. So that canonical job description would need to be entirely rewritten.
Basically, as it currently stands, to accept the Covenant would mean placing the Anglican Communion, and its Instruments of Communion, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, above our General Convention in our hierarchy. And it would mean a vast rewrite of our Constitution and Canons.
But! There is, as aforementioned, a wrinkle.
For those not keeping score at home, not enough individual dioceses in the Church of England voted in favor of the Covenant to let it go to their General Synod for confirmation. They can try again, but not before 2015 at least.
Despite the protestations of the Anglican Communion Secretary General to the contrary, this would seem to throw a major wrench in the works worldwide.
The Rev. Canon Kenneth Kearon, in his statement immediately after the vote in England, said that basically, everything was fine, we are not concerned over a minor setback, the parrot was just pining for the fjords of Norway, and anyway, you naysayers, seven other provinces (out of 38) like the Covenant just fine. So there!
What he glossed over in his frantic, nothing-to-see-here attempt was that the Covenant hands a lot of power to the Archbishop of Canterbury; not just the primates, and the Anglican Consultative Council. The Archbishop of Canterbury is an archbishop with jurisdiction in the Church of England; not just a random dude in a funny outfit sauntering vaguely about Europe. So if the Church of England has decided (as they just did) not to partake in this whole structure, it’s rather bad form to stick their bishop in charge of the rest of the Communion.
We once fought a revolution over the likes of this.
So now, it’s anyone’s guess what will happen. Reject it? Ignore it and hope it goes away? Pass it, and try to conquer the known Anglican world, just to bother +Peter Akinola?
We’ll find out, come July.