The Anglican Covenant
Now that that decision has been taken (an overwhelming ‘aye’ in all three houses for sending it out the diocesan synods), the mechanism designed to encourage / facilitate / bolster / impose / bludgeon / compel / enforce unity merits a little analysis.
The Covenant is designed to hold the Anglican Communion together for better or worse, in sickness and health, ‘til the Second Coming do them part.
For, like papal infallibility, only the apocalyptic parousia can render it absolutely null and utterly void.
But to be Anglican is to be synodical and devolved, not totalitarian and centralised: the Archbishop of Canterbury is not a pope in his realm and neither is the See of Canterbury as absolute as the See of Rome.
So just how is the Anglican Communion to act when one Province decides unilaterally to re-define, adjust, develop and ‘progress’ in an area of morality or teaching in a manner that does not accord with Anglican tradition?
Whatever the Anglican tradition is.
Who will do what to whom?
Good grief, the Church of England can’t even discipline within its own ranks without uproar: the Suffragan Bishop of Willesden criticises the hereditary principle of monarchy and espouses distinctly republican views – which is, well, just a tad un-Anglican – and his boss the Bishop of London was so ‘appalled’ that he rebuked and suspended him.
But Bishop Pete’s twittering mates are all so appalled by the Bishop of London’s public rebuke and semi-suspension that they decide to start a Facebook support group. Lambeth Palace, in the meantime, says +Pete is ‘entitled to his views’, while former Archbishop of Canterbury rebukes the Bishop of London for being ‘far too severe’, asking: ‘How often in the past have bishops ignored heretical comments by clergy?’
Magnify this relatively minor spat to a rather more significant one between autonomous Anglican provinces, and you’ll see the problem.
If the US branch says it’s consistent with the ‘Anglican tradition’ to consecrate an openly gay bishop or the odd lesbian, who is the African branch to be ‘appalled’ at such a development?
And if one Province decides that it is most definitely consonant with the ‘Anglican tradition’ to appoint women to the Episcopate, who is to decide the proportionality of the punitive action against them?
What if the Anglican Church of Australia, like +Pete, wishes to object to the Queen being Supreme Governor of the Church of England on the basis that the hereditary principle is ‘corrupt and sexist’?
Shall ++Cantuar simply say they are ‘entitled to their views’?
Who is the guardian of the 'Anglican tradition'?
How can there be Roman unity in Anglican diversity?
How can one impose discipline without exerting a pseudo-papal authority?
The Covenant is designed to resolve disputes, yet it is clear that Anglicans do not do ‘punitive action’ very well: we do not even do suspension, preferring instead the euphemistic ‘withdraw from public ministry’. So we can forget anathematisation or excommunication.
Perhaps the Covenant is un-Anglican, but the very fact that it is a development in the Church’s doctrine of ecclesiology actually renders it rather Anglican.
If we are to avoid the ‘piece-by-piece dissolution of the Communion’, do we not need a bit of glue?
It’s a certain fact we’re out of whitewash.
And what on earth could be wrong with a framework which demands consultation?
How can one resolve disagreements without dialogue?
The bizarre thing is that the Anglican Church actually practises what the Roman Catholic Church pretends to: subsidiarity; notwithstanding that the very concept is a Roman Catholic invention. It is to do with governance at the lowest level, and the Anglican Communion has historically been constructed on devolved localism. Dan Hannan and Douglas Carswell would be proud.
But it hasn’t worked.
It is the old Conservative tension between Tory centralised authority that seeks to preserve tradition and Whiggish local democracy to precipitate radical reform.
Is the Covenant a via media between restriction and liberty; between subsidiarity and centralisation; between paternalism and autonomy?
Insofar as it appears to satisfy neither the Archbishops of West Africa nor the US Episcopal Church, perhaps the balance is right. Yet if the Covenant be not unanimously approved by all 38 Provinces in the Communion, it can be authoritatively adopted by none.
And that will just leave the Jerusalem Declaration, which advocates ‘the unchangeable standard of Christian marriage between one man and one woman as the proper place for sexual intimacy and the basis of the family’ (8) and the rejection of ‘those churches and leaders who have denied the orthodox faith in word or deed’ (13).
It also stands upon the bedrock of the XXXIX Articles ‘as containing the true doctrine of the Church agreeing with God’s Word and as authoritative for Anglicans today’ (4).
If His Grace is honest, he is a little tired of all this: we are not at a moment of historic schism like those of 1054 or 1517. Let the Worldwide Anglican Communion go the way of the British Empire, of which it is but the spiritual ghost. The Archbishop of Canterbury should be wholly concerned with leading the Church of England, not distracted hither and thither in cobbling together endless formulae by which mutually exclusive provinces may continue to perpetuate the perception of communion. You can’t pour new wine into old wineskins: the factions have already decided their courses and will not put aside their differences. The moment a province decides to appoint to the Episcopate Katharine Jefferts Schori and then Mary Glasspool, it is clear that they don’t give a damn about acting ‘with diligence, care and caution in respect of any action which may provoke controversy’.
It is not so much a matter of asking what fellowship light hath with darkness, but to some that is precisely what it is about. The ‘dissolution’ so feared by the Archbishop of Canterbury is as inevitable as the British withdrawal from India: you can’t buck the people.
Unless you’re prepared to use force.