The Anglican Consultative Council spent the large part of yesterday afternoon and evening debating just what to do with the Ridley-Cambridge Draft Covenant. When they finished they found they had made the Anglican compromise - accepted part without question, approved part with questions, and sent the rest back for further work. Instead of having a single full text to take to the churches (meaning the Provinces, National and Regional Churches that make up the list of members of the Anglican Communion) and whoever else might be interested, they have no text to take at all. When there is one it will go ONLY to the Churches listed as part of the ACC.
The Covenant Bishops are left with the option to sign on to a text when it comes as diocesans but with the reality that their signatures are supportive only. They are not invited to sign. The Anglican Church in North America won't be invited to sign either.
Still, parts 1-3 of the Draft are acceptable to the ACC, even with the remarkable new powers granted to the Joint Standing Committee of Primates and ACC in 3.2. The first sections stand as an approved text. It is section 4 of the Draft that goes back for retooling. It won't go back to the Covenant Design Group that produced Drafts 1 to 3. It will go to a group appointed for the task. Their work will be to revisit the way in which the Communion will deal with divisive issues and the matter of inclusion in or expulsion from the Communion.
The Covenant has been touted as a treasure - a special gift that would make it possible for the Anglican Communion to remain a whole and repair itself when internal disagreements would arise. It appears that only some of the material found in the Ark of this particular Covenant counted as treasure. Other things found there were seen to be of lesser value.
Bishop Roskam, one of the Episcopal Church representatives to the ACC, suggested that the not so treasured part - part 4 - was something like a pre-nuptial agreement appended to a marriage contract. Others have seem part 4 as simply new and innovative and material that has not been widely distributed for discussion but rather plopped on the table for approval at the last minute. There is a good video of TEC representatives to the ACC discussing their sense of the debate, HERE. (I wish by the way that ENS had easily available ways to embed their videos in blogs.)
Had the Covenant text gone out the Churches as is, without further vetting there would have been real questions as to whether or not it would find even a majority of Provinces willing to sign on. The fact that the Draft is still not in completed form for distribution will be seen by detractors of a Lambeth centered Communion as additional evidence of the ineffectiveness of AC structures and faith stance.
For some, including myself, the fourth part of the Draft is an unsought treasure. And we ought to head the warnings not to seek such treasure. It may appear to be part of a covenant, but it is not. It is part of a contract, the part that has to do with default. It may be necessary but can be built into the rules of the various "instruments of unity" rather than into the shared vision of the covenant. If section four is considered part of the treasure, the ACC yesterday decided not to seek it.
I am reminded of the sequence in "O Brother Where Art Thou" where Everett and Delmar encounter Pete,the third member of the gang on a quest to find money, a treasure, buried by Everett. The encounter is in a movie theater. The whole thing is rather complex, but Pete tries to warn Everett and Delmar not to go after the treasure because the sheriff is waiting to ambush them. So he whispers, "Do...not....seek....the....treasure."
Here it is: