I have, however, been reflecting on several matters of context - the wide ranging ways in which the Anglican Covenant idea, and the specific draft we have been presented with as a working document, has been received. There are also quite peculiar issues surrounding its development and role in the ongoing muddle that is the Anglican Communion these days.
At the outset there was the problem of the make-up of the Covenant Design Group (CDG), with Archbishop Drexel Gomez in the chair. I have commented on that HERE. I also stated at the time (Jan 9, 07) that I wondered if the CDG was in any way able to bring anything new to the struggles we now face. I said, then
"So, what are we to make of this? Is this the drip, drip, drip of water torture, in which slowly it dawns on progressives that there will indeed be a covenant and its form will require a stronger Primates House… a kind of ecclesiastical House of Lords Spiritual? Is the end of all this simply to make the Anglican Communion an international church, with an international hierarchy? If so those of us who don’t like this idea at all will find strange allies.
Or is this really the opportunity for a fresh spring from which we can all drink? What sorts of checks and balances are there out there which could in fact help us all to make better decisions?
The Covenant Design Group will have to work hard to convince us that what is achieved reflects not the Primates or the Archbishop of Canterbury, but some sense of governance by lay and ordained people. Very little of what has transpired gives much hope that the Design Group will move in this direction.
It seems to me that we mostly have the drip, drip, drip of water torture, not fresh springs. The outrageous statements of Primates who say they will not sit at the table with our Presiding Bishop, the request that the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada voluntarily withdraw from the ACC meeting, and the most recent findings of the Panel of Reference, all point to prolonged struggle."
The Episcopal Church had two members of the CDG: Drs Ephraim Radner and Katherine Grieb. Dr. Grieb has become a strong critic of the Covenant Draft.
The Draft Covenant is now being circulated for comments throughout the Anglican Communion. Executive Council will probably make its contribution to the comments in the next few days. But others have already weighed in on the matter and various blogs and web pages carry comments and studies as they are made available. Notably the Archbishop of Southern Africa spoke to the matter of the covenant in a sermon at the Diocese of California on October 22nd. He said,
"I have deep reservations about the prominence given to the Primates, rather than the Anglican Consultative Council, in the draft Anglican Covenant. Indeed, I remain to be convinced that a relationship founded on grace and the unity in Christ that is his gift, can be regulated in this way at all.
Furthermore, the present draft seems to be crafted as a mechanism for exclusion. This is wholly contrary to the very nature of God our Father, whose desire is always to seek reconciliation; and the very nature of Jesus Christ, who came not to condemn but to save; and the very nature of the Holy Spirit, the manifestation of whom is given to each of us for the common good, the life in common which Christians are called to share.
In upholding the Anglican way, we must also respect the autonomy of Provinces to order their own lives through their own Synodical processes.
Furthermore, no-one can claim to be authentically Anglican while ignoring the polity of the Church since earliest times, by which Bishops' authority is recognised within their own dioceses, without the interference of other Bishops, however much they may disagree."
The Archbishop has stated the major difficulties in the Covenant:
(i) Too much power for the Primates
(ii) The Covenant can become an instrument of exclusion rather than union
(iii) The Covenant does not sufficently respect the autonomy of Provinces
(iv) There is no adequate reaffirmation of the rule of non-interference.
There may be good reasons for some sort of positive Anglican Covenant or Compact, or some sort of clearly stated expectations concerning the practice of mutuality and interdependence in Christ. But the Draft Covenant is not getting very good grades. Perhaps that means the idea is a bad one, or perhaps that this particular idea is flawed. Either way there is more work to be done, work best done by people who are willing to sit with one another a long time by the fire, drawing from it warmth and hopefully light. People who tire of sitting in conversation too quickly will be tempted to leave. They ought not. Some members of the group around the fire may be tempted to exclude others from the conversation. They ought not. The conversation about life together requries patience, persistence, and the love of enemy and friend alike.
This is why the Anglican Covenant idea (not just the text but the idea) requires Lambeth, ACC, Primatial Conversations, wide discussion in the churches, and Provincial approvals. The really bad idea that is floated by some in the Global South that there should be no Lambeth Conference until there is an Anglican Covenant which all attending have signed is just that: a bad idea. The suggestion from the CDG that the Covenant ought to be signed off on some level before Lambeth and perfected there and later is similarly a bad idea.
The problem is that there has not been the communion wide discussion as to the value of the idea of such a Covenant. The Windsor Report proposed it, based on some long standing desires by various theologians to have some clarity about what constitutes Anglicanism, and on the problems of the moment. Groups have run off trying to cobble together a Covenant in a hurry. But where has the conversation been held that asks first, what do you think of the idea?
The CDG has done us a service by giving an example of a covenant so that we see what is at stake in the effort. Now that we know, perhaps it is time to go back and ask, "So...what do you think of the idea, now that you have seen this example?"