I had resolved, in the spirit of Christmas, not to blog on anything controversial, upsetting or demoralising, at least until the end of December, then I saw that the proposed draft of the Anglican Covenant had been published. Couldn’t they have kept it for January when we’re all depressed anyway, was the first thought that came to mind!
I’ve had a quick read through and, no, it isn’t auspicious. Rowan Williams has written an accompanying commendation (now above) in which he tells us that this document is “not going to solve all our problems” (...you don’t say...) but hopes that it may provide a practical, sensible and Christian way of dealing with our conflicts ( I very much doubt it.)
I am not an expert on this matter, and it will be interesting to see the reactions and commentaries from those in the know ; for what it is worth, I personally suspect that this document will please nobody. Liberals will find it too confining and conservatives may feel it lacks disciplinary force – although those with enough wit may recognise that it goes as far down this road as is possible.
The first two sections are couched in very general terms, unfortunately within those generalisations there is plenty of scope for disagreement. Section 2.2.2, for example, commits each church to,
“ bring all to repentance and faith ”while not addressing the fact that some will call for repentance from liberal beliefs and “lifestyles” and some for repentance from homophobia and injustice.
Section three really begins the squeeze upon liberals and TEC in particular, committing all to “ seek a shared mind with other churches” and by (3.2.5)
“ to act with caution in respect of any action which may provoke controversy..or threaten the unity of the Communion”and ( 3.2.6) “in situations of conflict, to participate in mediated conversations...agreed parameters and a willingness to see such processes through.”This emphasis on not acting until there is a “shared mind” will not be acceptable to TEC, they are simply are not prepared to wait until places such as Uganda and Nigeria have reached the same understanding of human rights and dignity of LGBT people.
It is in Section four, of course, that the pressure to conform and the consequences of not acting in the light of shared discernment are outlined.There will be a Standing Committee and if anyone doesn’t do as it says they will be kicked out of the Covenant, or as the document more gracefully puts it,
(4.2.5) The Standing Committee may request a church to defer a controversial action. If a church declines ... the Standing Committee may recommend to any Instrument of Communion relational consequences which may specify... a suspension from that Instrument until the completion of the process set out below.”
There have been calls from conservatives for Section four to offer “discipline” and sanctions. It does not “discipline” as such but it is a charter to exclude and ostracise - is that really what a covenant should ultimately be about?
I do not think TEC will sign and as such Rowan’s two track Communion will be established. There will be first and second class members, the approved and “righteous” at the centre and the “sinful” , the transgressors, pushed to the margins. So much for the role of the Church in bringing about the Kingdom of God on Earth!