There has been a plea from The Anglican Communion website to look at what the Covenant really says before judging it. Well, that seems fair enough, except that I have read the text of the Covenant several times and have come to the conclusion that there is no knowing just what the Covenant really says - or at least what it will really do - until we see the damned thing in action. I didn't think anything could actually make me more uncertain or dubious, but I was wrong, this peculiar missive actually did.
First of all the director of unity, faith and order tells us that the Standing Committee is "not new" and then helpfully explains that it would have,
"no power other than proposing to the Instruments of Communion (the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meeting) steps to be taken to encourage discussion and discernment about disputed questions among the Provinces, or, if processes of mediation have broken down, what the relational consequences might be."
Oh well, that's all right then... no power at all really -and we have still no idea what the "steps to be taken" or "relational consequences" might be...
We are then told that,
" The Covenant explicitly says in section (4.1.3): “Such mutual commitment does not represent submission to any external ecclesiastical jurisdiction."
and this, of course, should be noted. The Covenant does not alter the Canons or existing laws of any church, it might however curb their powers to pass new legislation or make changes, particularly if this legislation just happened - as a completely random example - to relate to the ordination of gay priests or the blessing of same sex relationships.
It continues ,
"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."
No, it's not at all clear that this would have been the case. Neither is it at all clear that it wouldn't have been the case. In fact, let's just say its not at all clear what effect it would have had in the past and thus it is not at all clear what effect it would have in the future. Or to simplify matters, let's just say - "it is not at all clear."
It continues with its - er- faultless logic,
"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:"
Well, if the consultative processes actually resulted in the correct discernment on the issue of women's ordination - why not use those same processes again? Why use something that may or may not have hindered this process?
Section 2 of the Covenant clearly speaks of the need for a "shared mind". The director of unity, faith and order speaks of the Covenant's ability to bring about "discernment of (an) issue on which we are free to differ." You know when people say "we'll have to agree to differ?" Well, now it will be -"Ah no, you can't agree to differ until I agree that you can agree to differ." Well, that sounds like a recipe for harmony to me!
Does all this reassure you? Because it sure as heck didn't reassure me!
If it had confidently said, "the Covenant would not have held back the dignities and rights of women in the Church", I might have been reassured. If it had said, "this Covenant will not hold back the dignities and rights of gay people within the Church", I might have been reassured.
Because, boys and girls, that is what it is all really about.
Gay people have been marginalised, despised, derided, condemned, driven to suicide and worse for centuries. The Church has played a part in that role, and continues to do so. Some people would like that status quo to continue.
So, read the document now, ask yourself what it really says - and weep.