Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Anglican Covenant: Who's Against It?

Who’s against the Anglican Covenant?

This is the fourth installment of Integrity's series on the proposed Anglican Covenant, written by the Rev. Dr. Caroline Hall. Integrity USA offers this infomative series as a teaching and resource for members, parishes and dioceses as we continue to study the proposed Anglican Covenant which will be an important topic for discussion and debate at our upcoming General Convention.

If you missed Part 1: Where Did it Come From? Click here.

If you missed Part 2: What's in it? Click here.

If you missed Part 3: Who Want's It? Click here

At this point people at both end of the spectrum are opposed to the Covenant. Those who originally wanted it quite badly are now opposed because it doesn’t go far enough – that is, it doesn’t say that if you believe God is okay with gay sex (maybe even invented it?) that you can’t be an Anglican. Progressives are opposed because it’s too vague or because they don’t think it’s Anglican to have a covenant at all and/or because they disagree with the disciplinary procedures in Section Four.

In the first group are the so-called GAFCON (Global Anglican Futures Conference) Primates of Uganda, Rwanda, West Africa, Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya, and the Southern Cone, their provinces and their supporters. In a statement from their Primates Council meeting in November 2010 they said “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.” It doesn’t actually say why, but back in April 2010, 130 delegates from the Global South met in Singapore. Their statement said “We are currently reviewing the proposed Covenant to find ways to strengthen it in order for it to fulfill its purpose. For example, we believe that all those who adopt the Covenant must be in compliance with Lambeth 1.10. Meanwhile we recognize that the Primates Meeting, being responsible for Faith and Order, should be the body to oversee the Covenant in its implementation…” Obviously they were unable to “strengthen” it in the way they wished and so they’re taking their ball and going to play somewhere else.

On the progressive side there are many people in England, North America and elsewhere who don’t agree with the Covenant for a totally different set of reasons. The No Anglican Covenant website provides an excellent resource for why not to support it. Here are the Cliff Notes:

1. By (a) formalizing the “Instruments of Communion” (Archbishop of Canterbury, Lambeth Conference, Anglican Consultative Council(ACC) and Primates Meeting) and

(b) giving significant new disciplinary powers to the Standing Committee (formerly the Joint Standing Committee of the ACC )and the Primates, the Covenant would for the first time create a centralized governance and polity. This is something that has been strongly resisted up until now.

2. The whole thing is vaguely worded and so we’ll have the same problems of different interpretation that we now have with Scripture.

3. Section 4 is open to all kinds of abuses. Canon Alan Perry of the Anglican Church of Canada has focused at some length on its fairness according to “Natural Justice”,  (part 1 and part 2)  and concludes that it isn’t fair because there’s no appeal and no process for reviewing the decisions of the Standing Committee. Moreover the Standing Committee has so much latitude in who it does or does not consult that there is no way to know that it has acted fairly in hearing both sides.

4. It just isn’t Anglican to try to come up with a clearly defined boundary. We are a communion of churches operating in different contexts, not an international church.

North Americans have more reason not to agree to Section 4 than other churches in the Communion because we have seen what can happen when there is an orchestrated effort to make an issue controversial enough to warrant so-called “relational consequences”. In the final blog of this series I’ll discuss whether the reasons for agreeing to the Covenant appear to outweigh the reasons against.

The Reverend Dr. Caroline Hall is priest-in-charge of St. Benedict's Church in Los Osos, California. She is a former member of the Integrity Board of Directors where her portfolio included international affairs. She is a frequent contributor to Walking With Integrity.

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