CNI Sketchbook – Anglican Covenant stocktake
In the past ten days the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia rejected the Anglican Covenant and the Episcopal Church in the USA voted to “decline to take a position on the Anglican Covenant,” and to continue to monitor the progress of the Covenant until the next General Convention in 2015.
Connecticut Bishop Ian Douglas, (and member of the ACC) chair of the Episcopal Church’s World Mission Committee, commented following the vote that the resolutions are “a genuine pastoral response because we are not of one mind, and to push a decision at this time would cause hurt and alienation in our church on both sides and instead we chose to stay in the conversation.”
That said, it is difficult to disagree with the assessment of “No Anglican Covenant” Moderator, the Rev. Malcolm French, that the USA resolution is little more than an abstention. Furthermore the same General Convention in a budget trimming exercise phased out funding for the Episcopal Church staff position for Anglican Communion affairs.
Throughout the Anglican Communion, seven provinces have approved or subscribed to the Anglican Covenant. They are Ireland, Mexico, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, South East Asia, Southern Cone of America, and the West Indies.
Two provinces – the Scottish Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia – have voted against adopting the covenant. The bishops of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines also have rejected the covenant.
In March, it became clear that the Church of England could not adopt the covenant in its current form when a majority of its dioceses voted the document down.
The Anglican Church of Southern Africa has adopted the document pending ratification at its next synod meeting later this year.
The Church in Wales last April gave the covenant “an amber light, rather than a green light.” The church’s governing body said it feared the recent rejection of the covenant by the Church of England jeopardised its future and clarifications about that were now needed before a decision could be made. It sent questions on the matter to the Anglican Consultative Council, which meets in Auckland, New Zealand, in the autumn.
It may indeed prove impossible to obtain a document which binds Anglicans globally across cultural and theological differences. And it looks as though the Episcopal Church is continuing to put in place arrangements which maintain and build links with other Churches and provinces across the Anglican Communion, especially through the Continuing Indaba programme.
This may indeed be a model which may appeal to other churches and provinces. Regrettably it may reflect the process which is evident even in Ireland of having only ‘safe’ inter-diocesan links, where de facto “we only meet and speak to people who agree with our theological stance”. If the member churches of the Anglican Communion retreat into models in which they do not sincerely dialogue with fellow Anglicans of divergent and different views, can they avoid an assessment that it diminishes the witness the Church is intended to bring to a very divided world? How does the Anglican Communion demonstrate that people can dialogue with difference? The Covenant in its present form may vanish, but the challenge of the dialogue and the witness will not.
This report by Houston McKelvey, published in the Church of Ireland News, in the wake of the recent rejection of the Covenant by ACANZP and its interim rejection by TEC; purports to pronounce the defeat of the most likely means of keeping together the diverse elements of the Anglican Communion with a ‘tacit’ agreement to allow differences
Mr McKelvey talks of the disappointment that ensues when different Provinces cannot agree to differ while yet remaining in communion one with another. The real fact is that those who have declared their inability to live with the more liberal Provinces are not going to sign up to the Covenant in any case.
So the question remains: How can a Covenant work when the original defecting Provinces refuse to acknowledge those Provinces with whom they disagree? You cannot force the likes of GAFCON to sign up to a covenantal relationship with Provinces of the Church whose theology in matters of gender and sexuality differ from their own.
It’s all very well to talk about the need to maintain the unity of the Anglican Communion, but when a group of Provinces (Gafcon) decides is cannot live with the rest of the Provinces – on account of what Gafcon discerns as irreconcilable theology and praxis – there appears to be an intentional movement towards schism.
With the recognisable fountain of Anglicanism radiating from the See of Canterbury, it would seem that, if the Church of England cannot sign up to the Covenant, then this puts a serious limitation on anyone else claiming to represent traditional Anglicanism – despite the claims of Gafcon to more truly represent Orthodox Anglicanism.
From the present impasse, it would seem that there may be two differing streams of what we might call ‘anglicanism’. Those who want to sign up to the Covenant process, and those who do not. The big question here might then be: Where does the Church of England stand in all of this? Is it with those of us who cannot sign up to the Covenant – but on different grounds from the Gafcon Provinces? In which case, it seems that there may be NO Covenant; but instead: Two ‘Anglican’ entities:
Gafcon and The Rest of Us Anglicans.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand