The future of the Anglican Communion is in a real mess as I look around Anglicanland today. It is quite like a disaster happening close to one of NZ's most beautiful beachlands where the Rena, a large container ship having sailed off-course onto a reef, is breaking up, leaking oil and dropping containers with hazardous chemicals over its side. Prior to hitting the reef the container ship was successfully sailing across the ocean holding together a large number of containers with different cargoes in them. Something went wrong on the bridge, some inattention to the map which would have guided the ship away from danger if the map was followed. So too the Anglican Communion.
I agree with all critics of the Covenant (see comments to post below) who argue that the Covenant will no more repair the damage to the Communion than putting duct tape over the gash in the sides of the Rena will hold it in one piece. That repair to the Communion will take a new attitude, a new willingness, and a new engagement with one another in order to restore relationships to a point where the Covenant would be a new map for the Communion moving into a new future.
But the signs today are not at all good that there is much in the way of a new attitude, willingness or engagement with one another emerging in the Communion.
In North America, we have the emergence of a what appears to be a full scale attempt to depose +Mark Lawrence, the Bishop of South Carolina, by a panel of bishops using the canons at their disposal to fire their salvo at one who has done nothing other than steer his diocese in the direction of orthodox, traditional, Scriptural Anglican Christianity. Here in the attempt to depose is Anglicanism at its very worst: an episcopal hierarchy which harbours in its midst a diversity of theologies, some straying a long way from creedal orthodoxy uniting to impose canon law on a colleague. There are no signs I can detect in this move of a willingness to restore relationships within TEC. Perhaps worse, there are no signs detectable of TEC's episcopal hierarchy engaging with the question, 'What have we done that South Carolina should have decided not to accede to our constitution etc?'
But down here in Down Under territory, we also have notice of the Diocese of Sydney rejecting the Anglican Covenant. Now there are many opposed to the Covenant (again, see comments to post below, to find Anglicans from a variety of theological commitments united in opposition to the Covenant) so it is scarcely news that Sydney is in the ranks of the opposers. (Though it might be news to those who equate both the Covenant and Sydney with opposition to progress on issues concerned with homosexuality and women in ministry). But what is noteworthy are the reasons for opposition given in the article linked to above. These reasons are seriously confused about what it means to be Anglican. If this confusion is representative of wider thinking across the Communion, then the Communion is doomed. A 'communion' by definition is an entity with beliefs and practices held in common. But if we are confused about the commonalities of Anglicans then Anglican 'communion' is impossible. Even this supporter of the Covenant recognises that some common starting ground is needed for the Covenant to be helpful to the common life of the future Communion.
Here, incidentally, are my reasons why I think the article linked to above expresses serious confusion about what it means to be Anglican:
The article includes the following five theological objections to the Covenant, drawn from a report the Sydney motion adopts, with my observations added in italics below each objection:
"a) Failure to give sufficient attention to historic Anglican formularies: This final text of the Covenant fails to give sufficient attention to the place of the formularies (the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the Ordinal and the Book of Common Prayer) in Anglican theology and practice. These ‘historic formularies of the Church of England’, while bearing authentic witness to the catholic and apostolic faith, are only ‘acknowledged and appropriated in various ways in the Anglican Communion’. While it is simply a matter of constitutional reality that the Articles do not have the same place or function in all the provinces of the Communion, the doctrine they espouse remains the doctrine of the Anglican churches. In other words they are not just further authentic witnesses to the catholic and apostolic faith; they exercise a particular function in the structure of our doctrine and life together (whether acknowledged or not). It is beyond dispute that the Articles (which, it should be noted, enjoin the reading of the Homilies) arose in a particular historical location and bear the marks of that location. England in the sixteenth century is very different from Africa or Asia in the twenty-first century. However, the few articles which are specific to that original situation (e.g. Article 37) can easily be distinguished from those articles treating biblical doctrine.
Given that this objection recognises that the 39A etc are influential in varying ways across the Communion, the Covenant gives sufficient attention to them. It cannot be expected that the Covenant gives more attention than realistically possible for a Communion of 38 member churches.
(b) Confused ecclesiology: The Covenant continues to operate with a confused ecclesiology. What is the basic unit of the denomination which would be able to enter into such a Covenant? Section 4 seems to rely upon the notion of Anglican provinces committing their member churches to this arrangement. However, such a notion of the nature and function of a province is quite novel and flies in the face of the two most enduring theological views: that the diocese and its bishop is the basic unit of ‘church’; or that the local congregation is the basic unit of ‘church’. The theological questions raised by giving provinces such a role in maintaining discipline are immense and yet this is assumed rather than established on the basis of Scripture.
This objection is itself confused. The Covenant is not a document for the church in general, but for the Anglican Communion which is an organisation of member churches. That is the basic units of the Communion are member churches and so the Covenant is for member churches to sign to, or not to sign to.
(c) Inflated view of the Anglican bishop: The final text contains a highly inflated view of the Anglican bishop. Why, for instance is the teaching of bishops highlighted in §1.2.4? They are authorised teachers within our polity but so is every priest or presbyter and even each deacon. Neither the Ordinal or the Articles presupposes a distinction between them at this point. The teaching of all is to be tested by the Scriptures themselves. Similarly, to suggest that ‘Churches of the Anglican Communion are bound together … by mutual loyalty sustained through the common counsel of bishops in conference’ (§3.1.2) is problematic, notwithstanding the fact that this was the language of the Lambeth Conference of 1930.2 In contrast to the trend in some circles to elevate the Anglican bishop, recent history and the current crisis make clear the need to highlight the accountability of bishops to live and teach according to the Scriptures rather than to suggest they (or anyone else) stand over the Scriptures as in some way privileged interpreters.
It is not an inflated view of the Anglican bishop to emphasise the special role of the bishop in Anglican polity. The objection (b) above has precisely defined the basic unit of the universal church as the diocese, which places extraordinary specialness on the human leader of that unit! Priests and deacons are licensed by their bishop; dioceses are units because they are about a grouping of God's people bound together around an office, united by fellowship with the holder of that office, the bishop. Thus on a bishop is a special teaching responsibility because the doctrine taught by the bishop will aid, or undermine, the unity of the diocese as the basic unit of the church at large. Priests or presbyters and deacons share in that responsibility, the standard of teaching within which responsibility is determined by the bishop. (If I preach the bodily resurrection of our Lord while my bishop is headlined in the media as denying the resurrection, guess which teacher has set the standard!?). All that is to say nothing of what this objection says nothing, that the eucharistic presidency of priests/presbyters is a collegial responsibility flowing out from the role of the bishop.
(d) Inordinate power given to the Archbishop of Canterbury: This document involves ratifying an authority structure which gives an inordinate amount of power to the Archbishop of Canterbury. As mentioned above, he plays a significant role in each of the other three ‘Instruments of Communion’ which therefore cannot operate as effective counterbalances if he should himself be part of the problem at any point. His role in issuing invitations to Lambeth, chairing the ACC and also the Standing Committee, and convening the Primates Meeting raises serious questions about whether there are in reality four ‘Instruments of Communion’ or one.
There is no 'inordinate' power given to the Archbishop of Canterbury. The power of the ABC is the power of influence, not of rule. The Archbishop of Canterbury first and foremost has ordinate power according to the order of the Church of England, bound by canon and civil law of that church and of the United Kingdom, and in those interconnected domains, the power of the ABC is of influence, not of rule. Within the Communion the power of the Archbishop of Canterbury is the power of 'host' and 'chair', not the power of a ruler (i.e. an 'Anglican Pope.')
(e) Failure to give due weight to the teaching of Scripture: Perhaps most serious of all, the Covenant does not differentiate – and has no mechanism for differentiating – between those actions which are a departure from the teaching of Scripture and others which involve no such departure. The Covenant’s focus on maintaining institutional unity blurs this most significant distinction. The abandonment of biblical teaching on human sexuality is of an entirely different character to the exercise of extra-diocesan jurisdiction for the sake of those faithful men and women who are suffering at the hands of an errant leadership. Neither the search for faithful episcopal oversight outside of the normal structures nor the approval of administration of the Holy Communion by persons other than presbyters are contrary to Scripture. On the other hand, both a public denial of the necessity of faith in Christ for salvation and an endorsement of homosexual activity are manifestly contrary to Scripture."
This is very seriously confused. The Covenant's role is precisely to maintain the unity of an institution, because it is a Covenant designed for a specific institution, the Anglican Communion. That institution is not a general Christian institution (for which one might make claim that the key standard of all faith and practice was Scripture and only Scripture), but an institution with a specific character, namely, the character of being Anglican.
An Anglican institution inevitably mixes general Christian teaching and practice (e.g. creedal orthodoxy, love one another) with specific Anglican teaching and practice (e.g. permissability of breadth of eucharistic understanding, bishops and priests/presbyters preside at communion, non-subservience to Rome, acknowledgement of heritage in the Church of England through communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury).
The Covenant, with inexorable logic, is precisely a Covenant which guides the Anglican institution of the Communion on what it means to be Anglican and on what it means to be Communion. Thus the Covenant potentially speaks both to things which are a departure from Scripture and to things which involve no departure from Scripture but do depart from Anglican tradition. This is not different to the canons and constitutions of Anglican churches which both spell out the Christian doctrine of these churches and prescribe what is and is not ordered in the life of these churches.
If the Communion is not to break up, like the stricken Rena on the Astrolabe Reef, then it needs within its midst some greater tolerance than is being afforded the Diocese of South Carolina and its bishop, and some clearer thinking than is going on in Sydney at the moment.
I have to say, today, that the future of the Anglican Communion as an Anglican Communion and as an Anglican Communion, looks particularly bleak. That the Covenant looks like it will not save it, on either score, is because it seems we lack within ourselves good understanding of what it means to be Anglican, and what it means for Communion to be viable.
Oh, well, for a brighter future I can look forward to the All Blacks winning on Sunday night. It just requires mentally blacking out the fact that when we last played Australia we lost, as well as ignoring all news reports that Richie McCaw's injured foot is deeply troubling him, the team, and the nation.
Err, on second thoughts, perhaps salvaging the Rena would be the easier task to face.