The Anglican Consultative Council determined that it was asking Provinces to consider the Anglican Covenant. That, of course, is appropriate, for the ACC is an "organization of organizations," that is, its members are Churches. So the ACC asks its members (the Provinces) to respond to the Covenant. At that point the ACC is clear - it is Provinces, not dioceses, that are being asked to sign-on.
The ABC has raised again an issue raised earlier by various US bishops who suggested that dioceses might declare themselves to be "Communion Partners" quite independent of the decisions made by the Provincial decision making bodies (General Convention and by extension Executive Council). That way, it is argued, if the Province does not buy in, the dioceses who wish to could and thereby be included in some way in the complete life of the Anglican Communion. Those who could not would be on a second level, more removed from the common life of the Communion.
On one level it seems perfectly reasonable that dioceses declare themselves committed to the Anglican Covenant. Why not? Dioceses make all sorts of commitments quite independent of Provincial decisions. I believe there are several very strong reasons for the ACC and the ABC not to receive those statements of commitment and accept diocesan buy-in as a basis for inclusion in the Anglican Communion.
The community of writers over at the Anglican Communion Institute, who have had very unpleasant things to say about me in the past month or two have now written in a more gentle way about my belief that this business of diocesan buy-in is a very bad idea. Several readers of Preludium have wondered why I am so opposed as well. The ACI attributes my opposition to my supposedly well known liberal bias. My readers may simply be puzzled.
So, here is the deal:
I believe diocesan buy-in is a very bad idea because:
(i) The Episcopal Church has already gone on record as commending the Anglican Covenant (with whatever changes are made in section 4) for study, for further careful theological work, for use as a teaching aid, with an eye to reporting to the next General Convention as it takes up the question of whether or not The Episcopal Church will sign-on to the Anglican Covenant. Here is what we said in D020 as finally passed:
Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, That the 76th General Convention of the Episcopal Church commend the Anglican Covenant proposed in the most recent text of the Covenant Design Group (the "Ridley Cambridge Draft") and any successive drafts to the dioceses for study and comment during the coming three years; and be it further
Resolved, That dioceses report on their study to the Executive Council in keeping with Resolution 2006-A166; and be it further
Resolved, That Executive Council prepare a report to the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church that includes draft legislation concerning this Church's response to an Anglican Covenant; and be it further
Resolved, That dioceses and congregations be invited to consider the Anglican Covenant proposed draft as a document to inform their understanding of and commitment to our common life in the Anglican Communion.
IF the ABC and the ACC were to decide that individual dioceses could sign on PRIOR TO the decision one way or the other by The Episcopal Church that it was as a Province going to do so, this would become divisive in ways yet unimagined because those affirming the Covenant would by that deny that they are bound together with the rest of The Episcopal Church in a common decision making community. They would be withdrawing not only from the democratic enterprise of decision making by General Convention, they would be acting in the face of what they fear would be a negative vote on the matter and in ways contrary to any consensus building at all. D020 may not have done what its authors wished, but it did do something - it called us as a church to make a response in three years. Individual sign-on by dioceses short circuits that process.
(2) Imagine that it is not simply The Episcopal Church that has some problems with the Anglican Covenant, either as it stands or in principle. (Actually we know that is true.) Then dioceses in several Provinces might sign on to the Covenant. Now, instead of there being a list of the Provinces that belong to the Communion (the ACC organization of organizations) - thirty-eight, there would be a list of the dioceses that belong to the Communion - perhaps some six or seven hundred.
Each would have to make its decision to join, but to whom would that announcement be given? The ACC is concerned with the Churches that make it up. Perhaps these signatures would go directly to the Archbishop of Canterbury. At least he has the staff to do the monitoring. Perhaps it would go to the Primates. But no, they have no staff at all, separate from the Anglican Communion Office. If it goes to the ACO, itself related to the ACC, the circle goes back to the source - an organization of organizations.
Right now the ACC and the ACO get their funding from Provinces. If dioceses sign on, in spite of Provinces, are they ready to pay the freight? What would dues look like from individual dioceses? Diocesan sign-on is a mess.
(3) However, the most important reason for opposing the possibility of diocesan sign-on is that the sign of connective relationship is then directly between the diocese and the Archbishop of Canterbury (who controls invitations to Lambeth and the Primates Meetings) and to the Anglican Covenant itself, which gives to the ABC and the Primates central power. The Primates part of that circle, of course, would be those Primates of existing Provinces that signed on.
The direct connection, independent of the Province to which a diocese belongs, would mean that a diocese could be so out of connection with its own Province, its own Church, that it identified entirely with the ABC. This way lies the madness of yet another papal system.
(4) And then, there is the simple problem that dioceses already have this sign-on option: if the bishops, deputies, standing committees, writers, bloggers, and what all of dioceses who believe we should sign the Anglican Covenant are so dead set on doing so, then let them convince 51% of the deputies and bishops (more if a super-majority is called for) to do so a the next General Convention. The pledge to use these three years to talk the Anglican Covenant up or down is a reasonable pledge. By the time we get to Convention we will be sick of it all, but if we all hold off from casting our votes now and do so then we might actually have some possibility of a Provincial decision, a decision by the so called "local" Church. And, as with other occasions, such decisions will not please everybody, but our social and faith contract is that we will try to live with one another anyway.
(5) What I mostly don't like about the notion of Diocesan buy-on is that it is in total denial of The Episcopal Church as a body that makes decisions together. If we do not vote to sign the Anglican Covenant, I am sure there will be a large number of the minority dioceses who will determine on their own to uphold the moratoria the Anglican Covenant currently supposes as the status-quo. They will also determine to give allegiance to the guidance of the Joint Standing Committee of Primates and ACC (God help them) and somehow hope that their standing in heaven and on earth will be enhanced by having done so.
If we do determine to sign on, I am sure others (probably me included) will wonder just what to do next. Next will no doubt be to return to the next General Convention and the next and the next to revisit the practical terms of having signed on to the Covenant in the first place.
I am, by the way, also opposed to dioceses opposed to the Covenant making a declaration of that fact prior to General Convention 2012.
The bottom line is we should not use the next three years as a "window for consent," but rather as a period of thoughtful engagement with the issues the Anglican Covenant presents. Consent or not should happen together, at General Convention. Three years is not a long time. Give it a rest.
The Archbishop of Canterbury did none of us a service by raising the notion of diocesan sign-on. He did so in the conditional situation, "whether a province declines such an invitation."
We have been invited, along with the other provinces, to consider signing the Anglican Covenant. So we are considering. We have not said no or yes. Therefore the condition for diocesan sign-on has not yet been fulfilled. Bishops and Dioceses can of course do what they like, but I hope any 'sign-on' documents they might send will be sent back with a note, "Save this for a later day."