Let's consider how this silly Covenant came to be.
A committee produces a report that says "maybe it would be useful if we had an Anglican Covenant something like this."
Then, by quasi-papal fiat, with no honest discussion or consultation about whether or not this is a good idea, some English civil service appointee declares that we are going to have a Covenant whether anyone else likes it or not.
Now, that may be the way they run things in the QUANGO called the Church of England. It is certainly the way the prince-bishops and pompous prelates of the so-called Global South run things in the unaccountable and authoritarian soviets of Kenya, Uganda and Nigeria. It makes one wish that Tony Blair's bonfire of the QUANGOes had gone a might farther, and that a little perestroika would break out in the Global South.
Out here in the real world, where bishops understand that real leadership is a servant ministry and not an open remit for personal aggrandizement, some of us actually think that recommendations of a report are only recommendations of a report until some reasonably open and transparent process concludes that the recommendation should be enacted. The Primate of Central America, Martin Barahona famously said: "The Windsor Report - it's just a report. When did it become like the Bible? "
Now, as if that process weren't unaccountable and arbitrary enough, we can consider the committee which was struck to write this abominable Covenant. When the chair of that committee, Drexel Gomez of the West Indies threw in his lot with those who were seeking to destroy another province of the Anglican Communion, one might think that his position as chair of the Covenant Design Group might - just might - come up for question.
Well, if the political appointee residing at Lambeth Palace had even a hint of leadership skill, one might have expected that. Gomez's outrageous behaviour might have at least raised one of those bushy eyebrows. But no. Apparently being a raving partisan is an essential qualification in designing a document intended to bring reconciliation.
Then we have the Windsor Continuation Group - composed of five bishops and one dean (with two more priests and one lay person as staff and consultants), the members of the committee are alarmingly monochromatic on the presenting issue.
After an appalling first draft and marginally improved second and third drafts, the Covenant Design group manages to produce a "final" draft that includes a bald-faced lie. I refer to section 4.1.1, which says: "Participation in the Covenant . . . does not represent submission to any external ecclesiastical jurisdiction."
Surely the Abominable Covenant was bad enough without actually including falsehoods in the final draft.
The ONLY purpose of the Anglican Covenant is to force member churches to submit to external ecclesiastical jurisdiction. I fail to see how any honest person can defend this clause with a straight face. The intent of the Covenant is that the most authoritarian and reactionary elements of the Communion can dominate and control the rest of us.
Our ecclesiastical tradition came into its own in protest against the idea that foreign prelates should control the actions of national churches. The Abominable Covenant undoes the very essence of Anglicanism in a vain effort to sate the authoritarian obsessions of some of the most nasty and brutish prelates ever to have disgraced the gospel.
Even so, Orombi of Uganda (who quietly supports the judicial murder of homosexuals) is annoyed that the final draft hides the Covenant's appalling purpose under disingenuous weasel words. He wants to add a clause that explicitly says what the present draft does only implicitly - to provide for a process "to initiate expulsion proceedings." Similarly, Venables of the Southern Cone of America wants clarity about "the process by which provinces that break the Covenant will be dismissed."
As if there isn't already enough back-room dealing and double-dealing, the current draft effectively creates yet another Instrument of Union - the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion - and delegates to that secretive and unaccountable body powers that other Instruments, and in particular the Primates, have claimed for themselves without any consultation or agreement.
This protocol on a plate has now been sent out for the various provinces to adopt (or not) according to their own canonical process. For the Episcopal Church (to use just one example) this will not be possible until at least their next General Convention in 2012. If it is determined that conforming to this primatial power grab requires any canonical changes, then the process could only be concluded in 2015.
But this provides the opportunity for the Primate of Jerusalem and the Middle East to demonstrate either a complete lack of integrity or a complete lack of intelligence. He suggests that "by the end of 2011 . . ., any Province that has not signed the Covenant should not be allowed to participate in the Anglican Councils (i.e. Primates Meetings, [Anglican Consultative Council], Standing Committee, etc. . . .) until the time when it finally adopts the Covenant."
Right, Mouneer. Several Provinces cannot possibly adopt the Covenant in that time frame, even if they want to do so. Thanks for reinforcing the odious and authoritarian nature of this whole deceitful initiative.
Thinking Anglicans provides a good round up of commentary - most of it calmer than mine. I particularly refer you to the comments of Fr. Jim Stockton of Austin, TX and Canon Giles Fraser of London, UK.
You can also peruse the official commentaries of several Provinces to the penultimate draft of the Covenant, with particular emphasis on Section 4 - the section which establishes a uniquely Stalinist form of unaccountable curial government to which we are all expected to submit. In the provincial responses, one finds some reassuring gems:
From Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia:
. . . it implicitly proposes to subjugate those bonds of affection, that is the actual relationships of good will and faithful engagement, with a commitment to a document that appears to focus more on enforcing doctrinal agreement and applying discipline where it is absent.
. . . most respondents remained concerned about Provincial autonomy. They reiterated the previous response from this Province that had an earlier Covenant been in place, it is unlikely that the ordination of women, the Constitutional Changes which enabled this Church to act more justly to our indigenous partner, and the Shared Primacy, may not have been accomplished.
. . . while the punitive and complex juridical language of the Appendix appears to have been subsumed in a more sanitized form . . . the underlying intent is unchanged.
. . . The creation of this hierarchical, "magesterium" or central committee [the Standing Committee] was described by one writer as by far the greatest and most far reaching innovation the Communion has contemplated since the Anglican Church in its current form was established. The JSC is seen as unrepresentative of this three House Communion, too weighted to Episcopal and Archiepiscopal influence and with little or no accountability other than to itself . . . . in direct conflict with the current model of Provincial independence through Synodical / Provincial autonomous governance . . .
. . . the [Standing Committee] may in effect accrue greater authority than the existing four instruments. This may result in the SC acting like a curia, which would represent a significant change to existing Anglican polity.
. . . we lament the fact that this process has been conducted without broad consultation with missiologists and liturgists, as well as the polemical circumstances, marked by mutual mistrust and judgement, which conferred a judicial character . . . showing little emphasis on spirituality, liturgy and mission, and accentuating traces of institutionalization that significantly alter the ecclesiological nature of the Anglican Communion, bringing it closer to the idea of a denominational macro-structure.
. . . the description of Section 4.2 as "Dispute Resolution" is misleading. There is no mechanism in the section for resolution of disputes. It is merely a provision for the Joint Standing Committee to make decisions respecting the compliance with the Covenant by a member Church. That is not a resolution of a dispute. There is no provision for input into the decision making from the Church undergoing scrutiny. There is no provision for review of the decisions made by the Joint Standing Committee. There is no provision for mediation or even discussion with the Church under review.
The declaration . . . that "nothing in this Covenant of itself shall be deemed to alter any provision of the Constitution and Canons of any Church of the Communion, or to limit its autonomy of governance" is undermined by the provisions of Section 4.2.
The Covenant appears to be undestood in some quarters as a tool for the reordering of the Church which will be used to effect a rapid severance between Provinces . . .
. . . free communication and easily available travel gives rise to unrealistic expectations of uniformity and sets up a series of false cultural norms. A false cultural norm of pseudo-uniformity is created when, in reality, the differing norms of one place do not impinge upon the life of another. The 'flattening' of human culture - the sense that there is a certain 'default' setting - is a characteristic of modernity. By contrast, Anglicanism has long celebrated diversity, but not for diversity's sake. Rather, the varied expression of Anglicanism is born of the conviction that the Gospel, because of it's richness which exceeds all particularity, can be mediated in many ways.
For many, the disputes which face the Anglican Communion - same-sex relations, lay presidency at the Eucharist, the ordination of women to the priesthood or the Episcopate - are not matters of human culture but of divine authority in the ordering of the Church. Nevertheless, the Church is unavoidably culturally situated and the Gospel culturally mediated.