Alyson Barnett-Cowan (i.e. 'ABC' but not 'the ABC"!) makes a simple, succinct point about the Covenant. One many NZ students appreciate in the month of November: read it then respond! (In their case 'read the examination question'). Alyson is Director for Unity Faith and Order in the Anglican Communion Office.
"The first thing to say is that for any Anglican or Episcopalian to be able to properly enter into a discussion about the Covenant it is vital that they first read it for themselves here http://anglicancommunion.org/commission/covenant/final/text.cfm "
She goes on to point out the role of the Covenant as the opposite of draconian, devilish, or deranged:
"The point of the processes outlined in the Covenant is precisely to encourage one part of the Communion, when seeking to respond responsibly in its own context in mission, to consider how that will affect other parts of the Communion It is not that one Province would exercise a veto over another, but that there would be collaborative discernment. In a globalised world, it is no longer possible (if it ever was) for one church to act entirely for itself; decisions have ramifications, and the intention is for these to be explored together. "
But, or BUT, ABC goes on to say some things which, frankly, this pro-Covenant covenanter does not find as persuasive as he would like!
(1) The Covenant will work for those who sign up to it and the Communion will still work as a mixed group of signers and non-signers
"It is also not true that non-signatories would no longer count as part of the Communion. There will be Provinces which have adopted the Covenant, and there may be (though one hopes not) Provinces which have not. They are equally members of the Anglican Communion, according to the Constitution of the Anglican Consultative Council. The difference would be that signatories will have made a commitment to live in that communion in a particularly enhanced way, and to a process of consultation and common discernment."
Is not this an articulate form of nonsense? True, if 35/38 member churches sign up, three non-signers could be 'carried' along in some kind of communion as a Communion while 35 work 'in a particularly enhanced way etc'. But what if 19 sign and 19 do not, or 31 sign and the 7 non-signers are TEC, ACCan, ACAustralia, ACANZP, CofE, ACWales, and EpCScotland, would the Communion really be able to operate as a (so to speak) mixed economy? I suggest the ACO works on clarity about the level of support the Covenant requires for it to be a meaningful rather than nonsensical document.
(2) The Covenant will make a difference (badly illustrated)
One of the arguments against the Covenant is that it is not needed as current structures are sufficient to deal with imaginable future developments. So I find a less than helpful point being made when we read this:
"The assertion is often made that the ordination of women could not have occurred if the Covenant were in place. It is not at all clear that this would have been the case. The consultative processes of the Anglican Communion actually resulted in the discernment that this was an issue about which Anglicans were free to differ. That is exactly the kind of discernment that is needed when any new matter emerges: how do churches in communion distinguish between that which may further the Gospel and that which may impede it? There are never simple answers, but the intent is that the Anglican Communion Covenant provides a way of doing this in a collaborative and committed manner."
The intent is one I agree with: to counter assertions about a hypothetical situation (if the Covenant had been in place then X would have/not have taken place). But the wording here undermines the Covenant. If the pre-Covenant Communion previously found a way to engage in common discernment on a tricky matter, why would it need a new way via the Covenant?
The better argument to make here is that the pace of communication around the globe today means that we are interconnected as member churches of one Communion in a different manner to the past. A formerly ad hoc approach to controversial matters, appropriately informal and patient over time, now needs a structured, clear, formal process able to be entered into with speed and efficiency (even if the process, once engaged, should take as much time as the particular issue warrants).
I imagine that both supporters and opponents of the Covenant might agree on one thing, at least, about ABC's post: it has a whiff of panic about it! We can be sure, by the way, that the ABC will have approved of ABC's action in writing and publishing this promotion.