Some thoughts about the Anglican Covenant
Someone has raised some questions with me about the Anglican Covenant in the context of our church, ACANZP, moving towards its General Synod in July and of our diocese moving towards a synodical consideration of the Covenant on 21 April. My responses are in italics.
If the intention is to provide a framework for dispute resolution and a covenanted description of our commitment to each other rather than behaviours... the big picture is about the possibility for reconciliation and restoration. Yes, the big picture and the long-term goal is reconciliation and restoration. Critics of the Covenant argue that the Covenant will achieve no such thing and likely will exacerbate differences in the Anglican Communion. Supporters of the Covenant argue that we got into the situation we are in without the Covenant whereas the Covenant will help clarify in the future both what Anglicans believe (hold in common as a global communion) and how we should resolve disputes between member churches of the Communion.
Since many groups (including the Dioceses of Dunedin, Auckland and Waiapu, and Tikanga Maori) have already said ‘no’ to the covenant, why should Christchurch continue to consider the matter and vote on it? Christchurch Anglicans should have the opportunity to have their synodical say about the Covenant. As a matter of fact Christchurch’s vote would signal what the majority vote of Tikanga Pakeha was, 4-3 in favour or 4-3 against the Covenant. It could be that our church (via General Synod) would like to say to the Communion that one Tikanga is in favour, one is not (and, am not sure what Polynesia is going to say). We should be careful not to presume what General Synod will do when it meets together and hears all arguments from all sides. It will make a difference to the debate knowing what each and every diocese has said in its own synod. Finally, a Christchurch vote will guide the Christchurch representatives at General Synod.
Would the signing of the Covenant by 60% of the Communion have the effect of more starkly defining those 'in' and those 'out,' Covenanters and non Covenanters? That could depend on whether the Communion deemed that the Covenant was a ‘working document’ for Communion life with that amount of support. Arguably a document that binds its members to a way of mutual accountability should be signed by over 80% for it to have effect. Either way there is an understanding that non-signers are not bound by the Covenant and there is a hypothetical possibility that on some issues non-Covenanting member churches would not have a say on those issues. (An example of such an issue could be a revision to the Covenant!)
What would the result of a 60% - 40% or any other signing mix be? A split? Possibly. It would depend on what practical outcome re the Covenant followed on from a 60/40 split.
Theologically the two ‘sides’ of the Communion are not going to agree with each other. Ever. So what mechanism allows us to stay together? Two thoughts. (1) This is unduly pessimistic. Our lifetimes are short, history is long. Dare we judge that disagreements profoundly felt will never be overcome? (Incidentally, on the shortness of one lifetime, see this lovely post). (2) Is any mechanism going to hold together in any meaningful way two sides with significant disagreement? Could the Covenant be as good a mechanism for holding Anglican diversity together as any other? Might it even be the best mechanism, even if imperfect?
It seems the Covenant cannot be that mechanism, so is it back to the drawing board? It is unlikely that the Covenant would be that mechanism if the vote is 51:49 or 60: 40. Even 70:30 may not work. Would we accept 80:20? (Incidentally, that is 31/38 member churches voting in favour). What would the ‘drawing board’ mean in the event of failure to agree to the Covenant by an adequate majority? The ‘drawing board’ could be quite radical: the end of the Communion as anything which is meaningfully a ‘communion’ and something more honestly described as an ‘association.’
Or are the issues of sexuality and authority worth another split in Western Christianity? (The Reformation should be the great embarrassment of the universal church, but since we now have upwards of 8000 denominations what is one more?). A split in the Anglican Communion would be more significant than making 8000 into 8001. The Anglican Communion’s gift to Christianity has been a mixture of the bridge it forms between Catholic and Protestant Christianity, and the promise it holds out of a reformed Catholicism being embraced by all Christians as a church most faithful to Christ. To split would destroy both the bridge and the promise. Are the issues of sexuality and authority worth splitting over? That is a key question which lies in the centre of our anguish over these matters: how are we to live as Christians, and how do we know what God’s will is for our lives are not light questions and both are touched on by the question of ‘sexuality’ and ‘authority.’
Is each diocese voting so we can see if we have consensus, or will ACANZP go with majority, or will we have the signed up and the non-signed up which just shifts the disputes and animosity onto a different playing field? We are voting so that episcopal units have opportunity to share (albeit in a guiding rather than binding manner) in the decision-making of our church in an important matter. It is unknown what General Synod meeting in July would consider a sufficient basis for committing our church to the Covenant. Given a general motivation evidenced through many General Synod sessions to maintain unity in our church, it is likely that our representatives will not vote for an outcome which will lead to animosity. Alongside that we might also consider whether we think it likely that our representatives would vote for the Covenant if signs were that would make us part of a minority or that they would vote against the Covenant if that would place in a minority in the Communion.