Attempts to bring in an Anglican Covenant which can be used to define Anglicanism and discipline member churches have run into difficulties.
Many are uneasy with this development. In November 2011, it became apparent that the province of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia would reject it.
In the words of a diocesan resolution, one of its clauses contains ‘provisions which are contrary to our understanding of Anglican ecclesiology, to our understanding of the way of Christ, and to justice’.
Perhaps it is time to abandon such efforts and build on the foundations laid six years ago by the Anglican Consultative Council, when it agreed a very different Covenant for Communion in Mission.
A confusing and divisive Covenant
The Anglican Communion is an international family of churches, in which there is considerable theological diversity and no central authority. However there are periodic gatherings and other connections. In recent years some Anglican leaders – including Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury – have urged member churches throughout the world to adopt a Covenant. This is supposed to strengthen unity in the face of divisions, especially over human sexuality, but has proved highly controversial.
In an attempt to win wide support, earlier drafts have been revised, to the point that some feel it is too weak. In 2010 the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) primates declared that “the current text is fatally flawed and so support for this initiative is no longer appropriate”. However, many other Anglicans still see it as too punitive, damaging the autonomy of member churches and likely to result in a divided Communion, with an inner circle made up of provinces which have signed up, while others are marginalised.
There is now widespread confusion about what the Covenant means and how it will be used, even among its supporters.
According to a Pentecost letter from Williams in 2010, “the Covenant is nothing if not a tool for mission. I want to stress yet again that the Covenant is not envisaged as an instrument of control.”
Likewise Gregory Cameron, Bishop of St Asaph in Wales and formerly Deputy Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, claimed in early 2011 that “A view has been expressed in some quarters that the covenant has been designed with narrow purposes: to squash any consideration of the place of gay and lesbian persons in the life of the Church, and to punish The Episcopal Church with expulsion from the Communion because they had made moves in that direction... that was not what the Lambeth Commission had in mind when they proposed the idea of a Covenant in the Windsor Report, and, I believe, such an understanding of the covenant is deeply flawed... the covenant itself is quite clear: it is about processes and not exclusion”.
Yet in May 2011, the Province of Southeast Asia signed up to the Covenant for the very reason that it was about control and exclusion. To quote the Preamble to this province’s Letter of Accession: