Convention to consider position on proposed Anglican Covenant

By Matthew Davies
Posted Apr 27, 2012

[Episcopal News Service] The Anglican Covenant has been variously rejected, affirmed, approved and subscribed to by some Anglican Communion provinces, and even been given an “amber light” by one. The Episcopal Church will soon consider its own formal response to the document which supporters say offers a way to bind Anglicans globally across cultural and theological differences.

At present, three resolutions, each calling for partially different responses to the proposed covenant, will be proposed to the 77th General Convention when it meets July 5-12 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

The Episcopal Church’s Executive Council announced last October that it would submit a resolution (A126, found on page 590 of the Blue Book) to convention that would have the church say it is “unable to adopt the Anglican Covenant in its present form.”

In recent weeks, two additional resolutions — from different groups of bishops — have been submitted to convention. Those two resolutions will be posted here soon.

One resolution proposed by Bishop John Bauerschmidt of Tennessee and endorsed by 10 other bishops would commit the church to affirming and adopting the covenant. Another, proposed by Bishop Ian Douglas of Connecticut and backed by two other bishops, would encourage a more via media approach, “embracing” the preamble and first three sections of the four-section document, urging continued study, and committing the church to ongoing participation in the covenant process.

The document’s fourth section, which outlines a disciplinary method for resolving disputes in the communion, has largely been the covenant’s sticking point.

The Executive Council and the Douglas-sponsored resolutions are identical in the first three resolves, saying that the church will “recommit itself to dialogue with the several provinces when adopting innovations which may be seen as threatening the unity of the communion”; and commit to “continued participation in the wider councils of the Anglican Communion” and dialogue “with our brothers and sisters in other provinces to deepen understanding and to insure the continued integrity of the Anglican Communion.”

The Bauerschmidt-sponsored resolution calls on the Episcopal Church to “affirm … and commit itself to adoption” of the covenant “in order to live more fully into the ecclesial communion and interdependence which is foundational to the churches of the Anglican Communion.”

The Anglican Covenant first was proposed in the 2004 Windsor Report as a way that the communion and its 38 autonomous provinces might maintain unity despite differences, especially relating to biblical interpretation and human sexuality issues. The report came in the wake of the 2003 election of Gene Robinson, an openly gay priest, as bishop of New Hampshire, a development that caused some provinces to declare broken or impaired communion with the Episcopal Church.

The covenant also was a response to some church leaders crossing borders into other provinces to minister to disaffected Anglicans and a decision by the Diocese of New Westminster in the Anglican Church of Canada to authorize a public rite to bless same-gender unions.

Following five years of discussion and several draft versions, the final text of the covenant was sent in December 2009 to the communion’s provinces for formal consideration.

Douglas told ENS in an April 24 telephone interview that the Episcopal Church has participated “at an extremely high level” in considering each draft of the covenant. He also said that Executive Council and its D020 Task Force on the Response to the Anglican Covenant “have done an incredibly good job in helping the Episcopal Church construct a response that is broadly inclusive of the diverse perspectives” in the church.

His only reservation about Resolution A126, he said, is in the final resolve that urges the Episcopal Church not to adopt the covenant in its present form. “My concerns about a straight non-adoption are that it doesn’t allow for letting the Episcopal Church embrace what is in the first three sections,” he said, noting that a straight “no” vote would remove the Episcopal Church from the covenant process entirely.

“I’ve never been a strong advocate of this particular covenant process. But participating in the discussion is still very important. And I don’t want to preclude the opportunity for us to be at the table,” he said.

Bauerschmidt wrote in an April 25 e-mail to ENS that he thought it would be a good thing if the Episcopal Church had the opportunity at this convention clearly to affirm and commit to adoption of the covenant.

“A communion that is committed to dispersed authority needs some means for seeking a common mind and expressing a common life,” he said. “The covenant provides the means for this. We ought to decide together the things that concern us all, or we will soon face being of little concern at all to each other.”

General Convention may decide in July whether to pass, amend and pass, or reject any resolutions it considers.

First, the 40-member legislative committee on World Mission will consider the Anglican Covenant resolutions and may decide to rework or consolidate them before any draft legislation is sent to whichever of the two houses (deputies and bishops) of General Convention has been chosen as the so-called house of initial action. The committee, which will begin meeting on July 4, is co-chaired by Douglas and Canon Rosalie Simmonds Ballentine, who also chaired the D020 Task Force that released its report along with its proposed Resolution A126 in October 2011.

The Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons determined in a June 2011 report requested by the D020 Task Force that adoption of the current draft Anglican Covenant “has the potential to change the constitutional and canonical framework of TEC, particularly with respect to the autonomy of our church, and the constitutional authority of the General Convention, bishops and dioceses.”

All three proposed resolutions call for the creation of a new task force that would explore the canonical changes needed if the church were to adopt the covenant in its entirety.

The 76th General Convention in July 2009 asked the dioceses, via Resolution 2009-D020, to study the Anglican Covenant during the 2010-2012 triennium. It also asked Executive Council to prepare a report, along with proposed draft legislation, to the 77th General Convention this year. That resolution led council to create the D020 Task Force.

Some Episcopalians and Anglicans, including the Executive Council, have raised concerns about the covenant being used as an instrument of control, questioning in particular the fourth section and its dispute-resolution process. Some critics have warned that adopting the covenant could result in a two-tier communion.

“I don’t find section 4 helpful,” Douglas told ENS. “I think it moves the covenant from a document that is relational to one that is more juridical. I do think the first three sections are relational and missional.”

The D020 Task Force said in its report (available for download here) that the rationale for advocating its “unable to adopt” resolution was based on its belief that the church’s unity is “best expressed in our efforts to be a church that fully welcomes those who have not always been welcomed.”

The Episcopal Church seeks to be faithful to that unity, the report continues, “by honoring the diversity of ministries in the Episcopal Church in multiple forms: our tradition of empowerment of all orders of ministry in governance; our identification of the interpretation of Scripture as the work of all Christian communities; and our heeding of the work of the Spirit in new understandings of how we are called to be in community and relationships.”

“This understanding of who we are as a church does not allow the Executive Council to support any covenant that might jeopardize this vocation,” the task force members said in the report. “The covenant consistently ignores the importance of the role of the laity and their full expression of ministry in all spheres of the life of the church.”

The task force members included those who were on the “extremes” of opinion in the church about the covenant, as well as people in the middle of that spectrum, Ballentine told the council Oct. 24.

She said that the task force purposely used the language of “unable to adopt in its present form” rather than suggesting that convention “reject” the covenant or “refrain” from adopting it.

“We still have hope for our continuing relationship, our continuing conversations, our continuing efforts to live in community and for us to move forward as part of the Anglican Communion,” she said.

Throughout the Anglican Communion, the seven provinces that have approved or subscribed to the Anglican Covenant are Ireland, Mexico, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, South East Asia, Southern Cone of America, and the West Indies.

The Anglican Church of Southern Africa has adopted the document pending ratification at its next synod meeting later this year.

In March, it became clear that the Church of England could not adopt the covenant in its current form when a majority of its dioceses voted the document down.

The Church in Wales on April 18 gave the covenant “an amber light, rather than a green light.” The church’s governing body said it feared the recent rejection of the covenant by the Church of England jeopardized its future and clarifications about that were now needed before a decision could be made. It sent questions on the matter to the Anglican Consultative Council, the church’s main policy-making body, which meets later this year.

Episcopal Church in the Philippines bishops have formally rejected the covenant although the Anglican Communion Office confirmed that it had not yet received a formal notification from that province. Maori action in the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia rejecting the covenant last November means that it may be rejected when it comes before the province’s General Synod in July.

During a recent visit to England, Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves of the San Jose, California-based Diocese of El Camino Real, told ENS that international partnerships, such as the one that her diocese shares with Gloucester and Western Tanganyika in Tanzania, are the “antidote to the Anglican Covenant.”

Douglas agrees. “Communion is fundamentally about relationships — relationships across our differences in service to the mission of God — and not some kind of juridical or contractual or ecclesiological statement,” he told ENS.

Many conservative Anglicans also have rejected the covenant, saying that it does not go far enough to bring into line provinces that have taken steps towards the full inclusion of gays and lesbians in the life of the church.

“While we acknowledge that the efforts to heal our brokenness through the introduction of an Anglican Covenant were well intentioned we have come to the conclusion the current text is fatally flawed and so support for this initiative is no longer appropriate,” a group of conservative Anglican primates, or archbishops, have said.

— Matthew Davies is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.

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Comments (15)

  1. I am glad to see that there will be further discussion around the Anglican Covenant. Bishop Douglas’s proposal respects the work that has been done without endorsing the “juridical, canonical” approach to the means by which we express the nature of our Communion: a community of autocephalic churches.

    I do wish that ENS would stop using language such as ‘Episcopalians and Anglicans’. It is both ungrammatical and logically wrong. In philosophy we refer to it as a ‘category mistake’ similar to writing ‘oranges and fruit’. ‘Episcopalian’ is a subcategory of ‘Anglican’ not a comparative term. Please!

    1. Marc Kivel says:

      Prof. Bronk makes a solid analysis in re Bishop Douglas’s proposal to come up with a nonjuridical, noncannonical approach….I would note, though, that the use of Anglican vs. Episcopal arose because of foreign intervention into Episcopal provinces in North America…

    2. Kenichiro Kira says:

      Thank you for your sharp and fair comment, Prof. Bronk.

      The term of Episcopal, ironically, has been stood out ever since Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori pushed “her own humanism” too much. Regardless of different theological interpretation among the Anglican Communion, it is hard to erase the image Jefferts Schori created, which is “mere humanism” rather than “theology tacked with ecclesiology. I feel bad for the the U.S. Anglicans (Episcopalians).

  2. John Greco says:

    Reject the Covenant! We are not now nor have we ever been a Covenant Church. Our union is based upon the Book of Common Prayer and the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. Our growth will rest not upon rigidity but rather flexibility of thought and expression.

  3. Katherine Clark says:

    To the House of Bishops: I am distressed that this proposed Covenant is becoming another cause for division among us. Our founding theologians (Richard Hooker, Jeremy Taylor, Launcelot Andrewes in particular) took pains to insure that Anglicanism would be spared the lock-step uniformity of Rome and of some of the emerging Protestant groups. Based on our own ecclesiastical history, many question the need for a Covenant beyond the binding force of Sacraments, Scripture, and the Book of Common Prayer. Within that framework, individual interpretation has always found a certain sanction, particularly within the Provinces.

    Even so, the idea of the Covenant came out of the controversy of Gene Robinson’s elevation to the episcopate. I know and understand the difficulty this has caused internationally. If the Anglican Communion had been encouraged to allow its diverse provinces to move ahead or lag behind on this issue depending on their culture and their understanding of the faith that binds us, much of the difficulty might have been resolved. However, this is not what happened.

    The issue over gays being allowed full participation in the Body of Christ seems to me a clear matter of faith and doctrine. Any argument or debate needs to address it first of all from this point of view. The Incarnation is our hallmark doctrine. If we as a whole church persist in denying baptized homosexuals full participation in Christ’s Body, many believe we are saying that the Church is claiming the right to determine who is included in Christ’s humanity and who is not. If the Church believes that the Purity Code in Leviticus binds gay practice to the sphere of abomination, then obviously we could not even baptize homosexuals since they would be living in an unrepented sin. Thank God we have not taken that route. At least so far. As long as a person is baptized, then by our own theological position, that person automatically has the capacity to receive every other Sacrament. (Barring some circumstance other than that person’s very identity!)

    If we as a church adopt this Covenant as it stands, especially Section 4, then we run the real risk of alienating this entire generation of young adults, many of whom are already stunned at the church’s hesitancy on this issue. If we truly want to preach the Good News, then we as a church need to think very seriously about the implications of our course of action regarding the life of homosexuals within the Body of Christ. This is not an issue that will disappear. Other Christian denominations have already moved formally toward inclusion, something that could well give us pause. “Pray for the Church!”

    1. Gloria Penwell says:

      Well Said. If we truly believe that we are to follow Jesus’ example and “love our neighbour as ourselves, and if we believe his answer when asked who is “our neighbour”, then can finally understand it is not up to us to determine who can come and who cannot come to receive the blessing offered by Jesus through the church.

      Jesus did not try to form an organized religion or a church, rather he tried to form a community of people who loved God and were in relationship with one another. Those people came from all aspects of society and were welcome to participate in the joy of worship and service to God and to the people of their day.

      Am I comfortable with diversity in our church? Not always, but that stems from my own inability to place myself in another’s shoes. Do I try to embrace those who are different? Yes, because as a disciple of Jesus that is my calling.

      My children cannot understand what the fuss is all about and the longer it goes on the more they are disappointed in the church. Are we the body of Christ or are we not? I shudder to think what Jesus would think of us if he walked into some or our churches today. We have a lot of work to do too build up the body of Christ, the church in the world, and I wonder why we are wasting time and money on this issue when there are people to feed, clothe, provide shelter for and to bring justice to.

      It’s hard to walk humbly with our God when we are busy making ourselves gate keepers of the church. I am tired of talking about and doing nothing about moving forward on this issue.

      In recent months I feel refreshed and spiritually fed when I go to a church which welcomes all believers whatever their background. The United Church in Canada dealt with this issue long ago and are moving forward in ministry. I love going to church there at times just to feel surrounded by a truly inclusive christian community and see the work of ministry being done in terms of justice and outreach. Can we please get on with the work of ministry???

    2. Marc Kivel says:

      I concur, Gloria…we need to get on with mission and ministry….

  4. Marc Kivel says:

    It seems to me that perhaps the more relevant set of statistics would be:

    Of the people leaving TEC, how many go to another Anglican community?
    How many go to non-Anglican communities?
    How many drop out of Christianity all together?
    How many stop going to church but do not officially drop their affiliation?

    Finally, how many of these folks are actually interviewed and their feedback on TEC and their decision making calculus captured? Thoughts?

  5. Lisa Fox says:

    Thank you, Matthew, for this story and background. As a Deputy to General Convention, I will have to decide among the various resolutions. You’ve done a great job in presenting them and explaining the background, and I am grateful.

  6. Kieran Conroy says:

    Bishop Douglas is a wise man I was blessed to study under just before his election at Episcopal Divinity School. While recent Church of England moves, GAFCON rejections, and Archbishop William’s resignation seem to pose real challenges, joining other Provinces around the world who are trying to take the Covenant seriously and remain committed to this dialog seems vital. I like his idea of strongly affirming what we can, and being honest about where there are still challenges.

    As a cradle Roman Catholic I have seen the other side of TOO much ecclesiastical authority-recent crackdown’s on our countries devoted Religious women being one example. But I also fear any moves within my new Anglican home that good intentions throw vital eccumenical connections and ancient Christian traditions “out with the bathwater.” That does not mean hesitating to stand with those in need with “Radical Welcome” (as my Angli-merging friends at the Crossing, Boston would say), but it does mean considering the deep impact of our actions on centuries of history with Christians around the world. Deeply drawn to our tradition for its respect for the full dignity of women, minorities and LGBT folks, I still sometimes wrestle with the fact “progressive” actions taken uncritically can be more about feeling good than making a more lasting impact in the world. The ability of Anglicans to preserve our Catholicity alongside our Protestant heritage, to give people space to wrestle with hard issues, but preserve the riches of 2,000 years of Christianity, and above all show the diverse but beautiful face of Christ to the world is a very high stake indeed.

    What balance is needed between binding authority and freedom of local conscience/pastoral need to keep us along the Middle Way, not just solving our problems but in seeking peacemaking, world changing relations not just within our own borders around the world? For example, the important influence our membership in the Anglican Communion has on voiceless LGBT folks in more hostile places, and the vital influence the voice of Christians of many races and cultures has on us? What happens to our solidarity with LGBT folks around the world, for example if their Provinces refuse to be in any relationship with us? I struggle with these things.

    An eye cannot say “I do not need you” to a hand (1 Cor 12:21), as Paul says well. I don’t see easy answers, but will be keeping our brothers and sisters in the General Convention- including those from my own communities- in prayer this summer.

    Grace and Peace,
    Kieran Conroy, MDiv (Harvard Divinity School)
    Omaha Ressurection House Alumni
    St. Andrews Omaha and Alegent Health Chaplain Resident

    1. John-Albert Dickert says:

      Dear Kieran,

      I get weary when people talk about maintaining a continuity with ecumenical connections and ancient Christian traditions which by the way subjugate both men and women and are ruled by absolute monarchs. Especially when it is those very institutions you are referring to which look upon us as incompatible as equals. As far as preserving the riches of 2,000 years of Christianity , I will go with those who tried to maintain the poverty of Christ. What was the parable about putting new wine in an old wine container about? And I never knew Jesus to do anything in the middle way, so to speak. As a matter of fact he was quite radical. No my friend I am not castigating you or your opinions. You have as much right to them as I do to mine. But I am not going to insist you join in a covenant that gives me the right to punish you because we have divergent opinions. That is why I can love you as an equal. Because of those divergent opinions. But then again that must be the Protestant in me. Wink. Don’t you love being an Episcopalian!!!!

  7. I would like to see the Gen. Con. vote down the Covenant all togehter . The purpose of the Covenant was to ‘discipline’ those churches of the Communion that went against Lambeth deliberations. Lambeth has never had legislative power and shouldn’t have. What the Covenant would do is change the unique character of our Communion into a single Church rather than the Communion of churches that have their discreet histories and discreet missions.

    What Anglicanism provides for the Universal Church is an approach to Christianity that does not require coercion to be in communion with one another. The Via Media can still be strong and important to churches and nations that are terribly polarized. And if Via Media is going to be viable it must start within the Communion. It requires us to be able to find Christ in one another while the Covenant does not.

  8. Bruce Marshall says:

    Thank you Lauren Gough+! I too hope that the upcoming General Convention will vote to end the debate over the Anglican Covenant. Several of the foregoing comments spell out additional reasons for doing so, but the most obvious one is that its rejection by the Church of England (together with the refusal of the GAFCON group) renders the covenant a dead letter. Canon Kearon’s opinion notwithstanding, there is nowhere left for it to go. It is time to get this albatross off our necks and get to work on the real challenges facing the Church. Just vote it down.

  9. We in the New Zealand/Pacific Islands context of the Communion are an independent Province of the Anglican Communion which helped the Church of England to understand and initiate the ethos of a three-House Synod – which permitted the faithful laity and well as the clergy to become part of the governance of our Church. We also, together with TEC, have helped the Church of England to understand the importance of Women’s Ministry in the Church – which the C.of E. is still struggling to implement at the level of the episcopate.

    Without our joint and independent action, our Mother Church may never have entered into the modern world understanding of these important matters of Ministry and mission. To tie ourselves to a juridical Magisterium-type relationship would be like taking a step backwards – like Rome and its movement away from the liberation of Vatican II.

  10. John-Albert Dickert says:

    Time to put this at peace. I think it is time to let the Anglican Communion be what it wants to be and let us be who we are. We disagree fundamentally on what full-inclusion means. So be it. The tactic of waiting till those who disagree with you drop dead is not only degrading but unkind for those who wish to move on in the light of full equality. And to be honest even when we do say good-bye and go our own way we will still have issues which need to be resolved. Such as moving to one Sacrament of Marriage, and quit deluding ourselves into thinking that a Sacred Union and Marriage are equal. They are not and should be. There is much to be done in the Kingdom of God.

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