Disarray is one way to describe the present state of the Anglican Communion in which there is uproar over gay bishops (one consecrated, one waiting confirmation), non-recognition of ministries (there are places in the Communion in which ordained women or men ordained by a woman bishop or men bishops who have ordained women are not welcome to exercise their ministry), varying relationships with the See of Canterbury (e.g. no longer part of the constitution of Nigeria's Anglican Church), turmoil within North American Episcopalianism/Anglicanism, controversial episcopal arrangements in my own church (in summary terms, we can have two or more jurisdictions over the same territory), and the lurking possibility that from Sydney the Communion will finally be confronted with the question of whether our tolerance stretches to include lay presidency at the eucharist as an expression of Anglican polity. Bosco Peters offers a sweeping overview of these difficulties in our common life and draws the conclusion that the Covenant will make no difference to the mixture of diversity and division which is an ongoing characteristic of our life as a messy church.
It is certainly difficult to see how the Covenant will make any difference to the Communion if it is adopted by some provinces and not by others. In my own estimation it requires in the region of 90+% adoption by the member churches of the Communion if it is to make any difference to the life of the Communion. I offer this figure because a Covenant between members of a large body, by definition, needs agreement if it is to bind the body in any manner. Conversely, I do not see that we need hold out for 100% agreement (nice though that would be) as requiring 100% offers the possibility of a tiny minority vetoing the large majority. Having said that, however, I note two matters to ponder: (a) should 90% be 90% of members churches, each member church being one signatory, or 90% of the (presumed) numerical membership of the Communion (so that, e.g., Western Anglican churches such as Australia, ACANZP, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, England, Canada and TEC failing to sign up might not matter)? (b) could the Covenant get off the ground if Church of England, the church of the Archbishop of Canterbury itself did not sign?
This could all be put another way. If the Anglican Communion is in significant disarray (as Bosco effectively argues) and less than 90% sign up to the Covenant (my requirement for success, not his), then our disarray is underlined, indeed, set in concrete. But if the Communion signs up in near, or even total unity to the Covenant, this would be a sign that the Communion intends, albeit over time, to walk more closely together, to work on its common life, and thus, as an intended consequence, to minimise the divisions in our midst. There would be some changes required: Sydney might need to disavow further consideration of lay presidency; ACANZP might need to review and revise its episcopal arrangements; and so forth. But these changes, driven by a document called the Covenant, would not be about a stick used to beat us. They would be the result of committing ourselves to living by a common Anglican theology grounded in Scripture as received by us through our tradition and reason.
Take just one case, one I am reasonably familiar with: the way ACANZP has ordered its life through three tikanga arrangements which has led to more than one bishop having jurisdiction over the same territory. This is not, ultimately, a satisfactory expression of our unity together in Christ which, in an episcopal church, should be represented by one bishop per territory: our arrangements, I believe, are vital for the situation we find ourselves in as we work out the effects of colonization on Aotearoa New Zealand, but, measured against the gospel, they are provisional and should not be deemed permanent. Our church will have some within it, including, obviously, many Maori Anglicans, who fear the Covenant and its effects. But this is an unfortunate way to frame the role of the Covenant which is a calling back to our theological roots grounded in the vision for the church set out in Scripture. For Christians committed to Christ as the Lord of the church and resolved to live a common life in Christ, there is nothing to fear in the Covenant which should be welcomed, as should anything and everything which renews our life in Christ, even though the path of renewal is costly.
Thus the first revised paragraph of Section Four (remember the first three sections of the Covenant are now largely without demur on the part of member churches) proposes a vision for membership of the Communion that can only be disputed at risk to the foundations of ecclesiology itself:
"(4.1.1) Each Church adopting this Covenant affirms that it enters into the Covenant as a commitment to relationship in submission to God. Each Church freely offers this commitment to other Churches in order to live more fully into the ecclesial communion and interdependence which is foundational to the Churches of the Anglican Communion. The Anglican Communion is a fellowship, within the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, of national or regional Churches, in which each recognises in the others the bonds of a common loyalty to Christ expressed through a common faith and order, a shared inheritance in worship, life and mission, and a readiness to live in an interdependent life."
I have italicised the words above which draw us to consider what our life in Christ means as Anglican together in the mission of God in the world. Do we have 'bonds of common loyalty to Christ' or not? If we do, are these to be 'expressed through a common faith and order'? If they are, my argument through these posts, contra other commentators, is that the proposed Covenant is the means to enable that expression to take place. Naturally if questions about our common faith and order never arose we would not require a Covenant, so we expect the Covenant would say something about how we respond to such questions. Thus there is now an all new section 4.2.1:
"The Covenant operates to express the common commitments and mutual accountability which hold each Church in the relationship of communion one with another. Recognition of, and fidelity to, this Covenant, enable mutual recognition and communion. Participation in the Covenant implies a recognition by each Church of those elements which must be maintained in its own life and for which it is accountable to the Churches with which it is in Communion in order to sustain the relationship expressed in this Covenant."
In other words, if Communion means we have things in common in a relationship of mutual accountability then those things must remain in common for our fellowship as a Communion to be sustained. But what if some things do not remain in common between us? Here the revised Section 4 sets out a procedure which I quote in full:
"(4.2.3) When questions arise relating to the meaning of the Covenant, or about the compatibility of an action by a covenanting Church with the Covenant, it is the duty of each covenanting Church to seek to live out the commitments of Section 3.2. Such questions may be raised by a Church itself, another covenanting Church or the Instruments of Communion.
(4.2.4) Where a shared mind has not been reached the matter shall be referred to the Standing Committee. The Standing Committee shall make every effort to facilitate agreement, and may take advice from such bodies as it deems appropriate to determine a view on the nature of the matter at question and those relational consequences which may result. Where appropriate, the Standing Committee shall refer the question to both the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meeting for advice.
(4.2.5) The Standing Committee may request a Church to defer a controversial action. If a Church declines to defer such action, the Standing Committee may recommend to any Instrument of Communion relational consequences which may specify a provisional limitation of participation in, or suspension from, that Instrument until the completion of the process set out below.
(4.2.6) On the basis of advice received from the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meeting, the Standing Committee may make a declaration that an action or decision is or would be “incompatible with the Covenant”.
(4.2.7) On the basis of the advice received, the Standing Committee shall make recommendations as to relational consequences which flow from an action incompatible with the Covenant. These recommendations may be addressed to the Churches of the Anglican Communion or to the Instruments of the Communion and address the extent to which the decision of any covenanting Church impairs or limits the communion between that Church and the other Churches of the Communion, and the practical consequences of such impairment or limitation. Each Church or each Instrument shall determine whether or not to accept such recommendations.
(4.2.8) Participation in the decision making of the Standing Committee or of the Instruments of Communion in respect to section 4.2 shall be limited to those members of the Instruments of Communion who are representatives of those churches who have adopted the Covenant, or who are still in the process of adoption.
(4.2.9) Each Church undertakes to put into place such mechanisms, agencies or institutions, consistent with its own Constitution and Canons, as can undertake to oversee the maintenance of the affirmations and commitments of the Covenant in the life of that Church, and to relate to the Instruments of Communion on matters pertinent to the Covenant."
Some would see the bite in these teeth of the Covenant as affecting relationships in respect of meetings in the life of the Communion which (as Bosco Peters reminds us) are non-binding. In other words, not much bite.
However I suggest the bite is at its sharpest at another point, in the section whose words I have italicised above, which I repeat here:
"(4.2.6) On the basis of advice received from the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meeting, the Standing Committee may make a declaration that an action or decision is or would be “incompatible with the Covenant”."
If the Covenant is that which expresses our common life together as an Anglican Communion then it is a statement of what being Anglican means in this day and age. This determines that what being Anglican means will not be set by facts on the ground laid out by individual Anglicans (e.g. through publication of heterodox theology or well publicised provocative actions such as we have seen in recent days in Auckland, NZ) or individual member churches (e.g. through deciding to permit lay presidency at the eucharist). Rather it will be set through a process in which members of the Covenanted Communion may draw attention to actions or proposed actions and seek consideration of those actions as to whether they are or are not compatible with the Covenant, that is, with our resolve to be what we are as a Communion, that is, to live a common life together in Christ. At the least this will mean that of some things labeled 'Anglican', we will be able to say , "No, that is not so. They are not part of our common life together, no matter what the newspapers say".
Perhaps, I feel emboldened to ask critics of the Covenant, we do not wish to live a common life together in Christ as global Anglicans?
There is much more to say about the Covenant in respect of matters such as who may sign up to the Covenant, what signing up would mean in terms of the constitution and canons of member churches and so on. But others are saying those things. This is what I want to say for now. Tomorrow I hope to post on a practical aspect of Covenant thinking as expressed in a recent decision of the (newly named) Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion in respect of the election of Mary Glasspool.