The Anglican Covenant: To Sign or not to Sign, that is the question



News Analysis by David Virtue

By now it should be apparent to every thoughtful Anglican that the Anglican Covenant designed to hold the Communion together is in deep trouble.

Last July, Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori dismissed the Covenant as “cheap grace”. More recently, two liberal (progressive) groups in the Church of England have poured cold water on it. Inclusive Church and Modern Church, joined together in late October to campaign against the covenant, which they say is “an attempt by some leaders of the Anglican Communion to subordinate national churches to a centralized international authority, with power to forbid developments when another province objects.”

What in fact they object to is Section IV of the Covenant that calls for disciplinary action in the event that a province violates the Covenant.

(The Rev) Susan Russell, a lesbian leader of the pansexual Episcopal organization Integrity, put it succinctly when she said, “Like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, the current proposal is coercion in covenant clothing.”

More recently, an international coalition stepped up to the plate condemning the Anglican Covenant calling it an “unwarranted interference in the internal life of the member churches of the Anglican Communion,” arguing that it “would narrow the acceptable range of belief and practice within Anglicanism, preventing further development of Anglican thought.”

The coalition — made up of Anglicans in Canada, England, New Zealand and the United States — launched a website, called “No Anglican Covenant” that says it provides resources “for Anglicans around the world to learn about the potential risks of the proposed Anglican Covenant.”

One of their number, the Rev. Lesley Fellows, the coalition’s moderator and a member of the Church of England, said his group wanted to encourage a wider discussion and to highlight the problems the covenant will cause. He did not state what the problems are, but clearly the disciplinary section was on his mind.

They believe that the acceptance and approval of the current proposal of the Covenant would bring historic changes to the nature of Anglicanism, trade a vibrant and colorful Anglicanism for drab uniformity, impede local mission and destroy creative evangelism and trade local oversight for centralized decision making.

There is so much self-contradiction and outright falsehoods here that it is hard to know where to begin. What “historical changes” are they talking about? This is not a legislative document as Dr. Rowan Williams reminds us. It is not, he says, designed to be punitive. If the so-called “colorful Anglicanism” signals that pansexual behavior is part of the rainbow of Anglican colorfulness, it is certainly not sitting well with the Global South. As for “impeding local mission and creative evangelism,” this is nothing short of hysterical fantasy. TEC is slowly dying. Evangelism now means inclusion and no one is knocking down the doors to join TEC, despite Gene Robinson’s call for greater inclusion. Furthermore, no one is suggesting “centralized decision making” unless one is referring to the power grabbed by Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori in rewriting the national canons of the church to override local diocesan canons, but I doubt that is what these folk have in mind.

Whether or not TEC signs on to the covenant remains to be seen, but what is going on is death to the Anglican Covenant by a thousand cuts.

To date only a small handful of TEC dioceses have signed on to the Covenant. They are mostly orthodox including, Dallas, North Dakota, Central Florida, Western Louisiana and Albany. Many dioceses say they are praying about it and are still studying it. The vast majority of dioceses have not made a commitment either way. One suspects that they are waiting for a more definitive lead from 815.

Episcopal congregations are being urged to study and discuss the covenant during the next two years in preparation for General Convention in 2012. Executive Council has predicted that any formal approval of the covenant by the Episcopal Church would not come until at least 2015 should endorsement require changes to the church’s constitution.

The Anglican Church in North America passed a resolution at their inaugural Assembly (Bedford, TX–June 2009) declaring their willingness to sign. “We voted overwhelmingly to sign,” the Rev. Canon Daryl Fenton, Canon for Provincial and Global Mission told VOL.

On the international front, only the The Anglican Church of Mexico, (a largely family run province that has seen enormous corruption), which met in General Synod last June, has adopted the covenant. The Anglican Church of Southern Africa voted on Oct. 1 in favor of adopting the covenant, but that decision will need to be ratified at the next meeting. Both these provinces have been and continue to be the recipient of hundreds of thousands of dollars from The Episcopal Church. Like in the Episcopal Anglican Province of Brazil, money buys loyalty.

GLOBAL SOUTH

Lost in all the nyets from western pan-Anglican liberals is the mindset of Global South archbishops.

Orthodox African provinces have told VOL that the Covenant will never be ratified by them because they don’t believe Western liberals will honor it, anyway. They cite recent actions of the Episcopal Church in electing an avowed lesbian to the episcopacy to strengthen their case. “We don’t trust them and we don’t trust the Archbishop of Canterbury to exercise disciplinary action in the eventuality that TEC or the Anglican Church of Canada violates the covenant,” a number of archbishops told VOL recently in Cape Town, South Africa.

At the Third Global Lausanne Congress on Evangelism in South Africa where a number of African, Asian and Middle East archbishops met, they made it clear that the covenant has no future. They confirmed that to this writer when they asked a well respected North American evangelical Anglican theologian sympathetic to the Covenant to cease further efforts trying to fit the square peg of the Covenant into the round whole of Anglican orthodoxy.

It is ironic that the message finally filtered through to the ultra-liberal Canadian Archbishop Fred Hiltz when he recently observed that a number of Global South archbishops might just not sign it or be present next year in Dublin.

In fact a number of orthodox archbishops, including Henry Orombi (Uganda), Ian Ernest (Seychelles), Mouneer Anis (Middle East), Eliud Wabukala (Kenya), John Chew (South East Asia) and Gregory Venables (Southern Cone) to name but a few, have indicated that they will not be attending the January meeting of primates in Ireland because they won’t be seen in the same room as Mrs. Jefferts Schori. Is it any wonder then that anything TEC signs on to would be anathema to them?

It is noteworthy that groups on both sides of the aisle – liberal and orthodox – are not remotely interested in signing a covenant, which, seen from different perspectives – one coercive, the other meaningless – is embarrassing the Archbishop of Canterbury.

A source in London told VOL that the Covenant will be a major issue of discussion when the Synod meets later this month. The Church of England will vote to pass it if only to give the church a veneer of orthodoxy while continuing down its liberal pathway endorsing women bishops and the full acceptance, over time, of non-celibate homosexual priests to the priesthood, a source has told VOL.

Andrew Goddard in his recent article “Framing the Anglican Covenant: Trick or Treat?” exposed the sheer irrationality of liberal fury and expressed outlandish claims such as it will “make the Church of England subject to an outside power for the first time since Henry VIII”.

As Charles Raven observed, the puzzle remains as to why there should be such strong feelings about a program that the majority of the orthodox in the Anglican Communion are no longer interested in.

The growing storm of disapproval and rejection of the Covenant is only likely to increase in the coming months as there is nothing to stop it.

Orthodox Archbishops have told VOL that the Jerusalem Declaration is now the official marker of orthodoxy in the Anglican Communion, not the Covenant.

Whatever hope Dr. Williams holds out for it as the touchstone of Anglican unity is dead on arrival. It will not do what he hopes it will. Even the notion of a two-tiered Anglican Communion will not fly with Global South Primates. Arranging prior meetings of smaller groups of like-minded primates is a non-starter. The whole idea that Rowan Williams can continue to play shuttle diplomacy between both groups is also dead on arrival. Orthodox primates have been there and done that. They will not live through those tactics, again. They are done talking.

If, increasingly, both sides of the ecclesiastical aisle see the Covenant as flawed, then the slow but inexorable break-up of the communion, already begun, will only accelerate as the lines become more sharply drawn and hardened.

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