Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What If They Sign the Covenant, and No One Comes?

Bytes are streaming every which-way across the Internet as the General Synod of the Church of England debates whether or not to recommend the Anglican Covenant for further consideration before final adoption. The process is complicated (see paragraphs 23-26), and will depend in part upon later action taken by the House of Bishops, but the entire process could be stopped now if Synod tomorrow votes the pending resolution down.

In his opening address to Synod, the Archbishop of Canterbury made a plea for (are you surprised?) continuing dialogue among the Communion's members, and explained that the Covenant adoption process was part of that continuing dialogue. Some of the individual Synod members appeared to take him up on what he said, and indicated that they would like more time for dialogue and conversation among themselves before taking action as a Synod at a subsequent meeting. For the reasons that follow below, I believe that would be the wisest course -- but that is just my humble opinion.

The anti-Covenant forces have in the meanwhile concentrated their fire on General Synod, and are doing their level best to see to it that, as far as the Church of England is concerned, the adoption process will halt here and now. While many of those forces are part of the Church of England, others outside the CoE have joined them in the apparent hope that if the Mother Church rejects the work of the past seven years, the resulting embarrassment for its advocates in the wider Communion will ensure no further approvals by other Churches, as well.

If that result comes to pass, the Anglican Consultative Council will have come a cropper, indeed. To date (as far as I am aware), only Mexico has given its official approval to the Covenant. The Province of the West Indies, whose former Archbishop Drexel Gomez played a leading role in its formulation, is also meeting this week to vote on its approval. The provinces of the Global South have thus far signaled that they are unhappy with the role to be played by the newly created Standing Committee, and that Section 4 of the Covenant will need revision before they can sign on to it. As I predicted some time ago, the Episcopal Church (USA) will go through the motions of considering it, but will refuse to approve it in the end.

Thus, what will it mean for the Anglican Communion if it is reduced to defining itself as the Province of Mexico and the Province of West Indies -- with or without the Church of England? In this perspective, the action taken by General Synod today (it is already November 24 in England as I write), although by no means final, will have much to do with the momentum of the Covenant approval process. If the Church of England calls a halt to the process at this point, it will have many ramifications for the provinces which have still to act on its adoption. The particular ramifications will depend entirely on the reasons which carry the day in Synod, despite the Archbishop's pleas, for any such rejection.

In a previous post, I tried to analyze all the responses to the various Covenant drafts proposed, and concluded that there was a group of about fifteen "followers" of the Communion which will go along with what the ACC recommended (this included Mexico and the West Indies). However, I was not aware of Synod's timetable when I wrote that post. We may still have fifteen or so provinces which eventually agree to sign the Covenant in its current form, but if they do not include the CoE, the approval process will halt, and the signers will be a minority of the Communion.

If, on the other hand, the resolution passes, thereby ensuring the possibility that the Church of England may eventually sign on, then that action will give momentum to (or at least not deter) the adoption process in all the other provinces which have thus far indicated their approval of the drafts circulated to date. And depending on how matters proceed from there (i.e., if the rest of the provinces can agree on a final draft), the stage could then be set for the showdown at General Convention 2012 which I forecast in the previous post.

What is required now is for the provinces of the Global South to weigh in with one voice on the changes they would like to see in the Covenant. It would not then be too late for any such changes to be brought to ACC-15 in New Zealand in 2012, before ECUSA's General Convention, and any changes approved there could also be worked into the Synod process in the Church of England.

There remains, however, this paradox: if the Church of England finally adopts the Covenant in its present form, a triangulation could occur which will ensure the failure of the Covenant as a means of unifying what is left of the Anglican Communion. The CoE will thereby set itself apart both from the liberal forces which control ECUSA, and from the GAFCON provinces. If the latter, and those voting for the Covenant, are unable to come together on a new formulation at ACC-15, ECUSA will not even have to decide anything at its Convention in the summer of 2012. The Covenant, as such, will have been relegated to the scrapheap of history.

Whatever General Synod decides today, therefore, the future of the Anglican Covenant is fraught with perils -- which stem largely from the lackadaisical leadership at the top of the Communion. This is why I believe that the optimum outcome would be a vote to continue deliberations to a later session, and to take steps to work with the Global South in the interim. Voting to approve it in its current form, on the other hand, will require a commitment to consider seriously, at some point in the future (such as at ACC-15), the objections which the Global South will raise to it -- and the sooner they make those objections with one voice, the better for all who want in good faith to respond to them.

We are witnessing the dysfunctional processes of a fractured Communion. The forces that would tear it apart are threatening, at this point, to gain the upper hand. They have only been strengthened by the actions of the Communion's bureaucracy at ACC-14, and in the clumsy inauguration of the Standing Committee. The Archbishop of Canterbury, while motivated by the best of intentions to preserve the Communion, seems to be clueless about the overall consequences of his failure to guide the process with a firm hand.

What is reassuring is the civil tone of the debate at General Synod. If reasonable minds can grasp the importance of what is at stake, and the need for a firm direction that will enable the Covenant to reflect the mind of the (majority of the) Communion, then we may be hopeful that a sense of direction will emerge with which others can align themselves. But if the Covenant goes down to defeat as a result of the fears being so vociferously expressed by those who are unalterably opposed to its very concept, the Communion itself may never recover, or be known hereafter in its present form.

[UPDATE 11/24/2010: The vote was requested by orders, and the Covenant passed with decisive, even overwhelming, majorities in each of the three orders: the Bishops voted unanimously for it, with one abstention (39-0-1); the Clergy were for it, 145-32-11; and the Laity also, 147-25-8. The Church of England has thus added substantially to the momentum for Covenant approval, and has given the Archbishop of Canterbury a strong show of support. Now it will be up to the latter to use all of his diplomatic skills to try to reach an accommodation with the primates and provinces of the Global South.

The GAFCON primates' council have just issued their statement, as well -- more than one month after their meeting at Oxford (presumably it took time to secure everyone's signature to the statement). In it, they declare:
For the sake of Christ and of His Gospel we can no longer maintain the illusion of normalcy and so we join with other Primates from the Global South in declaring that we will not be present at the next Primates’ meeting to be held in Ireland. And while we acknowledge that the efforts to heal our brokenness through the introduction of an Anglican Covenant were well intentioned we have come to the conclusion the current text is fatally flawed and so support for this initiative is no longer appropriate.
Thus the triangulation of the Anglican Communion has begun -- the Global South will not put forth any proposed changes to the Covenant, and instead they call on Anglicans to join with them in attesting to the Jerusalem Declaration. The Archbishop of Canterbury has his work cut out for him.]


  1. Hi Curmudgeon,

    I would advocate less delay rather than more. If the Covenant is the only game in town for dealing with the chaos we are in now, then it needs to be enacted as soon as possible. I think it is probably too late for it to deal in any substantive way with the crises we face. But we need a clear Yes or No from the CofE and other provincial synods. Delay would be the worst option. It would create more "facts on the ground" that make the Covenant worthless anyway.

    Andrew Reid

  2. Oh my. what a mess! That is all my brain can figure out at this point.

  3. +++Rowan, with his incessant dithering and political machinations, has done great damage to the "Windsor Process™", the "Covenant Process" and just about every initiative to bring a sense of cohesion, uniformity and discipline to the Anglican Communion.

    He is now reaping what he and his fellow Lambeth Palace apparatchiks have sowed.

  4. Perhaps "messier" than you can imagine.. As of 4pm eastern, the GAFCON Primates, as totally rejected not only the convenant, but refused to attend the Primates meeting.
    A couple of hours after that, SYNOD accepted the Covenant and is sending it out to the Dioceses for voting..

    The "con" is on in Britain, but than God, not everywhere..
    I saw this on Anglican Mainstream..

  5. In my previous post, I mentioned the machinations and maneuvering of +++Rowan. This is particularly true in how he botched his "leadership" role at ACC-14 in the way he shamelessly interfered with the debate process and managed to gut Section 4 (the section on discipline) almost single-handedly.

    He is to blame for the wholesale rejection by GAFCON. If he wants to complain, he needs to buy himself a very big mirror to stare at himself with. It is his fault.

    But I doubt +++Rowan will be man enough to own up to his own sins.