Today we start a four part series written by the Reverend Caroline Hall, Integrity's resident expert on the Anglican Communion.
Part 1: Where did it come from?
If you look at the official Anglican Communion website, you’ll read that the Anglican Covenant was first suggested in the 2004 Windsor Report. The Windsor Report was the report of the Lambeth Commission on Communion which was asked by the Archbishop of Canterbury to make recommendations following the “emergency” in the Anglican Communion created by the response to Gene Robinson’s consecration as the first openly gay bishop.
In fact, the concept of an Anglican Covenant was first suggested in the Dallas Statement in 1997. This was the statement from a conference attended by 45 conservative bishops and 4 conservative archbishops from 16 nations to develop an anti-gay strategy for the 1998 Lambeth Conference. They outlined what they saw as “a shared and coherent orthodox Anglican framework” and called for discipline as a “necessary corollary of accountability” in keeping to the “bounds of eucharistic fellowship within the Anglican Communion”.
Within a few years this idea had developed momentum and in 2001 Archbishops Maurice Sinclair of the Southern Cone and Drexel Gomez of the West Indies published a small book titled: To Mend the Net. This document outlined a series of steps by which a province considered to be ‘erring’ might be encouraged to repent and return to ‘orthodox’ faith and morals. These started with an initial request not to allow changes considered to be outside the limits of diversity and led on to ‘godly admonition’, then to ‘observer status’ for the non-cooperating diocese or province followed by suspension of communion and finally the establishment of a new province or diocese. To the disappointment of many conservatives, To Mend the Net was not immediately adopted, but neither did it go away. It was considered by the Primates Meeting and, in 2003, the InterAnglican Theology and Doctrine Commission.
In 2004 the Windsor Report called for “a common Anglican Covenant which would make explicit and forceful the loyalty and bonds of affection which govern the relationships between the churches of the Communion. The Covenant could deal with: the acknowledgement of common identity; the relationships of communion; the commitments of communion; the exercise of autonomy in communion; and the management of communion affairs (including disputes).” (paras 117-120).
As a result a Covenant Design Committee was created in 2006, chaired by none other than Drexel Gomez, one of the authors of To Mend the Net (Sinclair had retired). The first draft of the Anglican Covenant, called the Nassau Draft, was produced very quickly by a largely conservative group. After a process of feedback a second draft was produced in 2008, called the St Andrews Draft. This was discussed at the 2008 Lambeth Conference and led to a third and final draft, the Ridley-Cambridge Draft.
The Anglican Consultative Council which met in May 2009 basically approved it except for Section 4 which had to do with discipline. In a move which was broadly seen as supportive of the Episcopal Church, Section 4 was referred back to the provinces for more discussion. After some revision a final text of the proposed Anglican Covenant was sent to the provinces for adoption (or not).
So the Covenant is the result of a process which began to try to make the Episcopal Church exclude LGBT members. Not surprisingly it still seems to many people to be a big stick clothed in fancy words intended to prevent innovation in response to God’s continuing revelation.
Coming Next: What does it say?