The Anglican Covenant has become a political tool.
The Anglican Covenant has become a political tool and has ceased to be (if it ever was) an instrument for the unity of the Anglican Communion.
Thinking Anglicans carries reference to a series of articles reacting to the GS primates on the Covenant that details just how divisive the Covenant has become out there in the land of the purified South.
The genesis of the Covenant idea may have been the desire to find a basis for unity in the Anglican Communion, but in the process of its formation it has become a political tool in the hands of Global South groups used alternately as a litmus test for inclusion and a basis for judgment against those who hold minority opinions in the Communion on matters related to the vocations of gay and lesbian persons in the life of the Church, and going back related to the vocations of women in the Church. As a result the Covenant is distrusted by progressives as well who see it as a trap. So both realignment and progressive groups are displeased with the Covenant.
More, the Anglican Covenant has been seen by some conservative or realignment critics of the current political / ecclesiastical structures of the Communion the outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritually defunct system that is the Anglican Communion. The Global South Primates (producers of the GAFCON conference and the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans) and the Global South Encounter #4 have both criticized the current form of governance in the Anglican Communion and the emerging form envisioned by the Anglican Covenant.
In particular they have soundly denounced the emergence in the Anglican Covenant of a primary role for the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates and the Anglican Consultative Council, now called the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion. They see the SCAC as a scheme to keep the Primates from exercising greater power. The GSE#4 and Global South Primates seem to view the ACC as a secondary synod, with the primary synod being the Primates themselves. In this view, the Primates meetings constitute the primary context for determining theological and ecclesial direction for the Anglican Communion. They become, as it were, an Anglican College of Cardinals. The end hope, of course, is that in the future the Primates will elect from among themselves the leader of the Communion and will as a group also determine the new roles for the ACC. The ACC would cease to be determinant of its own membership. It would no longer provide one of the two "lists" of churches in the Anglican Communion (the second being the list at the end of the Church of England's Canons, determined by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York). The Communion would consist of those Churches in communion with a Primates Council.
The Anglican Covenant as it stands places considerable power in the Communion in a body (the Standing Committee) that represents in one way or another the Primates, the wider bishops, and the Anglican Consultative Council lay and ordained members. It may be flawed, but at least it is synodical in a multi-leveled way. But the AC is seen by the GS Primates as a front for western, first world, establishment efforts to disperse power among "privileged" first world leaders and take it away from the Primates. So for some in the realignment camp the Anglican Covenant has become a symbol of all that is wrong with the current order.
The problem is that the objections to the Covenant by progressives play in to the hands of those set on realignment. As it stands the Primates as a collective have no authority to make themselves the focus of unity for the Anglican Communion as it is or as it might be in a realigned state. At the moment they could not muster a 'super majority' to claim for themselves that role. On a really good day the Global South Primates - as determined by the Global South Encounter #4 - might include 18 or 20 of the 38 Primates. On a really bad day, using the numbers from the Global South Primates of FOCA / GAFCON they number 10 or so. On really difficult tasks, such as limiting Primates to those of so-called "orthodox" beliefs, the Global South Primates would not muster enough votes to further clean house, so working for the exclusion of The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada is vital as part of the lead up to the change in the role of the Primates. Getting them out of the room and then voting gives the Global South a bit more muscle. Not much but some.
And here is the rub: If progressive Provinces (TEC and ACoC as starters) dump the Anglican Covenant it will be used as "proof" that these Provinces have put themselves outside the Anglican Communion (the litmus test). If they do sign the Anglican Covenant, it will be argued that their current actions of blessing vocations of gay and lesbian persons shows that their signing on or not is irrelevant, since they clearly do not intend to conform to "the mind of the Communion."
In either case, the end result would be to argue to expel TEC and ACoC, and no doubt other decadent provinces of the West or under the influence of the North and West. All of which tips the balance in the Primates meeting to the point where the remaining Primates by a super majority could indeed vote to take on synodical powers and determine who is and who is not in the Anglican Communion, who is the titular head of communion and what sort of thing a new ACC would be and look like.
It becomes important then to support the development of the notion of the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion (SCAC) precisely because it keeps the mix of primates, bishops, priests/ deacons, and lay persons at the center of decision making, rather than a new and improved Primates Council. But what of the SCAC role in the highly questionable and objectionable 3.2 and 4 sections of the Anglican Covenant? Could the SCAC recommend that TEC and or the ACoC be removed from active participation in the "instruments of communion" and the committees of the ACC? Sure. Could TEC or the ACoC be removed from membership in the Anglican Communion and their place taken by ACNA? Yes, but not likely. But all of that is the supposition about political possibilities in the future.
I am more and more persuaded that we ought not be afraid. We don't have to develop strategies to make sure that the Anglican Covenant is either approved or not. It is enough that we understand that no matter its approval by our Church wide synod (General Convention), those who are set on a power grab by the Primates don't really care a fig how our vote goes. They have already dismissed TEC. What they are interested in is a coup by so called "orthodox" Primates, usurping the powers of the various instruments of Communion unto themselves.
So it is all the more important that we insist that our Primate be at Primates Meetings and our representatives to the ACC be at ACC meetings. There must not be again a request honored that we refrain from participation in an ACC meeting. It is time to do away with the polite phrases of immoderate princes of the Church. Just as a request for "gracious restraint" is a polite form of command, so a request that we refrain from participation in ACC or the Primates Meeting ought to be viewed as no request at all, but rather a subtle effort to enact exclusion without taking a vote and by having those being punished take the responsibility for their own punishment. Such polite phrases are sick.
Where does this all leave TEC or the ACoC, or other "progressive" Churches in the Anglican Communion? As regards the GS Primates and the GSE#4 proposal that there be a Primates Meeting called without inclusion of the Primates of TEC or the ACoC, we need to be consistent and clear: Such a meeting would be regarded as a de facto usurpation of the processes outlined in the Anglican Covenant and sufficient grounds for suspending all consideration of the Anglican Covenant and the basis for suspension of all support for the Primates Meetings.
As regards the suggestion that a vote against the Anglican Covenant is a vote to "walk apart" from the rest of the churches of the Communion, it will need to be made clear that no such intention is there. All the Churches of the Anglican Communion have been asked to respond to the Anglican Covenant and indicate assent or dissent. But nothing is thereby implied about our desire to remain part of the Anglican Communion or about our fitness to be part of the Communion.
As regards the notion that TEC and ACoC is incapable of honestly assenting to the Covenant, given the actions of the past several years, actions that have been repeated, it would be well to remind the Communion that the Anglican Covenant does not require submission to any prior judgments by the Churches of the Communion. I do believe that if we know we will continue to act in ways that displease one or another of the instruments of communion, assenting to the Covenant is to invite our Church to continue a rigorous defense of our decisions, often in difficult venues some resembling a star chamber. Those who believe TEC to be dishonest will have reason to be suspicious of our decision, no matter what it is. So let us simply do our job - let our yes be yes and our no be no.
As regards the Anglican Covenant itself: I believe we in TEC ought to let the matter go forward marshaling our best arguments pro and con and putting the matter to General Convention with out fear about the outcome. I am personally persuaded that the Anglican Covenant is unnecessary, badly written, and a descent into old, rather than new, covenant mentality. I believe we do not need greater rules governing our fellowship of Churches and molding it into a false unity and an uber-church. We need more passionate and compassionate love for one another in the Communion. I am concerned that the Covenant involves limitations on TEC not envisioned in the current Constitution and Canons of TEC. But that is me.
At least in theory I can be persuaded otherwise. That is the value of all the discussion and debate leading up to General Convention and all the hearings and debate that will no doubt take place there. So let us take the Covenant to Convention and deal with it there. And be not afraid. Those who would use the Covenant to "punish" TEC or the ACoC will not care one way or another how we vote. They neither trust us or want us present with them. And however TEC or the ACoC votes on the matter of the Covenant, the fact remains, we need to be ready to witness to the faithfulness of what we do anyway.
Many hoped that the Anglican Covenant would be in itself a "tool" for unity. It has become, however, an instrument of division. It is a political mess. Into this mess come those seeking a new and improved Communion in which the power shifts to the Primates and they in turn are final arbiters of inclusion and exclusion. Into this mess comes the Anglican Church in North America, seeking inclusion and offering the "orthodox" Primates one more vote in the effort to take over.
Still, in the midst of all the mess that arises out of the Covenant "process," regular life goes on in every part of the Anglican world... of the 60-80 million Anglicans worldwide most never meet an Anglican beyond their own neighborhood, village, town or city. For them, and perhaps for all of us, it is a reminder that while some of us may indulge in head thinking on a global level, most of us engage in matters of the heart on a local level. No one at the level of the heart will much care one way or another about the Covenant. Except of course if you are a woman, or a person different from your neighbors, or gay or lesbian or a child. Then it would matter greatly if the Covenant made it more difficult to live in place into the full vocation that we are called to in baptism.
So the final Anglican Covenant problem is this: whatever it was first envisioned to be, it has become an instrument of delay, of caution, of fear, and thus of exclusion, in place. That may be the final reason to set it down and let it rest from a task it is not up to taking on. This does not sound like a covenant having to do with loving one another, as Jesus the anointed one loved us.
But then, what do I know? For some reason it reminded me of Firesign Theatre's "The Further Adventures of Nick Danger," and this famous dialogue:
"NICK I don't know why you're doing this, Nancy, but it doesn't change my feelings about you...
NANCY (sobbing) Oh, Nick, you're such a tool!"
Indeed, I may not know what we're being done the Anglican Covenant, but it doesn't change my feelings about the Anglican Communion....I'm such a tool. Not a political tool like the Anglican Covenant, but a tool of the heart. I believe we can live in the land of differences with a good heart and that the fellowship of Churches in the Anglican Churches is more about the new commandment then the old ones.