General Convention 2015 and the Anglican Covenant

In the work up to General Convention 2015 we might note that the matter of the Anglican Covenant will again appear on the docket. How much attention it will get is questionable, particularly given the big prize items – New Presiding Bishop, Task Force on Restructure, and various remedies for the decline in numbers, monies in the budget, and so forth.

Still, there was this part of GC 2012: B055, On the Anglican Covenant:

“Resolved, that the General Convention ask the Presiding Officers to appoint a task force of Executive Council (Blue Book, 637) to continue to monitor the ongoing developments with respect to the Anglican Covenant and how this church might continue its participation; and be it further

Resolved, that the Executive Council task force on the Anglican Covenant report its findings and recommendations to the 78th General Convention.”

The task force will have to make some report to the next Convention, which opens the door to resolutions concerning the Anglican Covenant.

The task force has met twice by phone and the record of their meetings can be found online. In their last meeting by telephone, in August 2014, Bishop Ian Douglas offered the following as a draft resolution to go forward to General Convention in 2015. (This of course is subject to change prior to inclusion in the Blue Book.)

“Resolved the House of _______ concurring that the 78th General Convention of The Episcopal Church affirms our common identity and membership in the Anglican Communion as expressed in the preamble and first three sections of the Anglican Communion Covenant; and be it further

Resolved that the Convention direct The Episcopal Church's Members of the Anglican Consultative Council to express our appreciation to the 16th meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC16, Lusaka 2016) for the gift of inter-Anglican conversation and mutuality in God's mission engendered by the Anglican Communion Covenant process.”

This working draft expresses the willingness of some to say the preamble and the first three sections of the Anglican Covenant are acceptable as a means of describing what it means to be Anglican, even if the fourth section is defective and unacceptable. The draft also suggests that the Anglican Communion Covenant process (whatever that is) has been a source of “dialogue and mutuality.”

As usual Bishop Douglas has crafted a carefully worded resolution that neither affirms or denies the Anglican Covenant – that is it does not answer the question “do you vote yes or no?” It lets matters rest without a vote for or against.

Still, I think it goes too far. I believe the preamble to the Covenant is a strange sort of document. It is clearly labeled as not part of the Anglican Covenant but it is always to be included with it. Either it should be made part of the package, or dropped. (Dropping it is my choice.)

Many of us have offered analysis of the first three sections of the Covenant and have pointed out that section three in particular establishes the basis for binding commitment to limited autonomy, for which section four provides detailed “consequences.” It is not necessary here to do more than point out that there is not wide agreement among ourselves as to the benign character of the first three sections.

Lionel Deimel on his blog has written a reflection on the status of the Anglican Covenant in the light of post Convention 2012. You can read it HERE. Lionel is of the opinion that GC2012 “passed a timid resolution (B005) asserting that Episcopalians were too divided on the question of Covenant adoption to make a decision at that time.” “This,” he opined, “was a farce.” I believe it was neither timid nor a farce. Then again I am prejudiced, having been a prime mover in its crafting and adoption.

It certainly did not seem a timid notion at the time. To say that just because we were asked to say “yes” or “no” did not mean that we had to do as told and say either “yes” or “no” seemed appropriate at the time. It was a refusal to play the “Anglican Covenant” game.

The reason for the refusal was clear at least to some of us: the internal battles in the Episcopal Church expressed at that General Convention were so costly that additional win-loose propositions might well lead to overload. When I stood to support this resolution on the floor of the House of Deputies I did so knowing that some would consider this timid or a farce. It is far from it. I believe it was necessary and honest. We did not need to do what we were asked to do. We could refuse to play the Anglican Covenant game.

But, as usual, Lionel (who I believe got that wrong) gets it right on many other levels. In his blog essay “The Anglican Covenant yet again” he opines,

“Welby, I suggest, has figured out that what the Communion really needs is not engagement, but disengagement, exactly the opposite of what the Covenant strives to achieve. Let the churches do mission as they understand it and refrain from trying to correct the perceived errors of one another. The Covenant is not so much about how Communion churches can get along as it is about how they should fight. Why fight to begin with?”

Indeed, “Why fight to begin with?” 

Lionel suggests that we fess up this time (General Convention 2015), and vote NO on the Covenant. He believes that the Anglican Covenant idea will creep into the room by a slow process and become the default position for Anglican Communion life. His analysis of what it might have been if the Church of England had signed on to the Anglican Covenant and then tried to introduce the ordination of women to the episcopate is good reading. The stumbling block would have been (Bishop Douglas please note) in section three.

“According to Paragraph 3.2.3 of the Covenant, action by a church that will be controversial, new, or otherwise problematic should be “tested by shared discernment in the life of the Church,” and (according to Paragraph 3.2.4) the church should “seek a shared mind with other Churches, through the Communion’s councils, about matters of common concern.” The Covenant goes on to say that “[e]ach Church will undertake wide consultation with the other Churches of the Anglican Communion and with the Instruments and Commissions of the Communion.” In Paragraph 3.2.5, churches pledge “to act with diligence, care and caution in respect of any action which may provoke controversy,” and in Paragraph 3.2.6, churches are required “in situations of conflict, to participate in mediated conversations, which involve face to face meetings, agreed parameters and a willingness to see such processes through.

The Church of England did none of this before authorizing women to be consecrated bishops.”

And, had they done so Lionel points out, we would not likely have women bishops in England, now or in the near future.

Lionel writes,

“We need a 2015 resolution rejecting the Covenant less to protect The Episcopal Church, the church that, along with the Anglican Church of Canada, the militant traditionalists in the Communion love to hate, than to send the message that the Covenant project is destined to fail. If The Episcopal Church decisively rejects the Covenant in 2015, Canada will like follow suit when its General Synod meets in 2016. At that point, the Covenant will be useless, which is much better than malevolent, which it now has the potential to become.”

I am attracted to this proposal, but wonder. Lionel earlier asks, “Why fight to begin with?” At this point might we, in our own way, like the Church of England, determine that there is insufficient energy to bring the matter to a vote in our general synod? And might that not be an effective “no”? 

(Lionel has just written a piece on just which Churches have signed on, rejected or otherwise considered the Covenant. He seems clear that the CofE action is more a rejection than not.)

Again I have to ask, why are we obliged to act on this measure? Just because the previous Archbishop of Canterbury or the Anglican Communion Office asks member churches to consider and sign on to the Anglican Covenant does not mean we must.

If it develops that there is a resolution specifically for or against the Covenant, I believe we need to vote NO. I see no canonical or ecclesial context in which we can be bound to such a covenant in ways that will effectively inhibit our need to act as a synod as we see fit. And barring such a binding, I see no reason for the Covenant itself.

And, if quite conversation with the Anglican Church of Canada suggests our “no” would be helpful for them as well, then lets say “No.” I am not sure that is the case, but we might ask.

However, barring any resolution requiring a “yes” or “no” answer, and keeping in mind Lionel’s concern about creeping Covenant-itus , there may well be an argument for a “continuing” very loose engagement with the Covenant process. At this point in the Communion’s life it seems to me we need to keep as many doors open to conversation as possible.

So my sense is that we might take on the Douglas proposal, with several revisions.

An alternative to the Douglas proposed text might be:

“Resolved the House of _______ concurring that the 78th General Convention of The Episcopal Church affirms our common identity and membership in the Anglican Communion as expressed in the preamble and first three sections of the Anglican Communion Covenant; and be it further

Resolved that the Convention direct The Episcopal Church's Members of the Anglican Consultative Council to express our appreciation to the 16th meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC16, Lusaka 2016) for the gift of inter-Anglican conversation and mutuality in God's mission engendered by the Anglican Communion Covenant process that has accompanied the several churches consideration of the Anglican Communion Covenant.”

This resolution makes no reference to the content of the Anglican Communion Covenant, does not say “yes” or “no” to the Covenant, affirms our identity and membership in the Anglican Communion and acknowledges with appreciation the deeper conversations that have grown from consideration of the Covenant.

Frankly, I agree with Lionel’s sense that with the Church of England unwilling to bring the matter to its own synod and therefore essentially saying “no” to the Covenant, the matter of “signing on” will be of less and less importance. It will become a document for useful study among Anglican geeks perhaps, but not the beginnings of a world wide church constitution. And that, in my mind is just fine. We do not need an Anglican Communion that is another world wide Church. We already have too many of those!


  1. Er, I think I'm missing something here, Mark. Your proposed resolution is verbatim the same as the one above from Bishop Douglas, except for the final clause "that has accompanied...." Did you hit the post button too quickly?

    Incidentally, though I have not blogged on the Covenant in some time, I'm linking to my blog on the topic, as I think there are several posts there that might still be relevant.

  2. Thanks Alan... unfortunately I hit the remove formatting button and so the editorial strike through and underlining. Hope that helps.

  3. Much better, Mark, but why dignify the proposed Covenant with any mention? You could leave out the underlined but in the first clause, and accomplish the same thing. Affirm the commitment to the Communion and leave it at that.

  4. Alan... I do believe the conversations about the Anglican Communion Covenant were (are?) useful, since they got us to thinking about what sort of thing the AC is. Prior to about 1990 very few Episcopalians thought much one way or another about the Anglican Communion, except to be proud to be connected as a Global community.

    It seems to me the task force, who must produce something of a report to GC would have to mention the words "Anglican Covenant." Other proposals re the Anglican Covenant might be differently stated.

  5. Bruce Kaye in Australia has written some very fine things on the Covenant, many of which were published in his Editor's Notes in the Journal of Anglican Studies, available online. I highly recommend them. He also suggests some interesting ways forward, at least some of which can be summarized as "less structure, not more."

  6. Ellen K. Wondra said...

    Bruce Kaye of Australia has written some very intriguing things on the Covenant, many of which appear as his Editor's Notes for the Journal of Anglican Studies, available online. Particularly worth considering: his suggestion that less formal structure may serve us better than the centralization proposed in the various Covenant drafts. I highly recommend his work on this!


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.