Canon Alyson Barnett-Cowan, Director for Unity Faith and Order at The Anglican Communion Office, has written a defence of the Anglican Covenant against recent criticisms. Here are her points, followed by a response.
The Standing Committee is not new
This hardly matters, but when a committee gives itself a new name and new powers, it’s at least debatable. More important, standing committees are usually committees of a larger body which wants a standing committee. This makes it rather odd that there should be a Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion, since the Anglican Communion has never said it wants one. (Unless you equate the Anglican Communion with the ‘Instruments of Unity’, but as Alyson is at pains to deny subordination I’m sure she doesn’t mean that.)
It is not that one Province would exercise a veto over another, but that there would be collaborative discernment.
If that’s all, then there’s no need for Section 4. It would also help if the Covenant’s proponents publicly declared that they had abandoned the proposals of the Windsor Report and were doing something completely different.
We’ve already had an excellent example of how the veto would work. Just think what happened over gay bishops. Some Anglicans approve of them, some don’t, others again are so strongly opposed that they have been threatening schism. The Windsor Report, Primates’ Meetings and the Covenant Design Group, instead of insisting that Anglicanism allows for differences of opinion, capitulated and agreed that the relevant appointments should not have taken place. The wording of the Covenant is designed to legitimate future such threats whenever objectors kick up a fuss ‘which by its intensity, substance or extent could threaten the unity of the Communion and the effectiveness or credibility of its mission’ (3.2.5). In effect, those who make the most convincing threats of schism will be enabled to hold the rest of us to ransom, as they have just done.
Some critics in the Church of England have suggested that Provinces would become subordinate to the judgements of the Standing Committee. This is not true. The Covenant explicitly says...
Yes it does explicitly deny subordination; but then it goes on to list what will happen to those who reject the ‘recommendations’. Powers are given to exclude them from representative functions. Either provinces do as they are told, or they will be excluded. It may not be as bad has having your fingernails pulled out but it’s still subordination. (These powers have already been pre-empted: it seems that some in high places are so confident that the Covenant will be passed that they aren’t even waiting.)
It is also not true that non-signatories would no longer count as part of the Communion. There will be Provinces which have adopted the Covenant, and there may be (though one hopes not) Provinces which have not. They are equally members of the Anglican Communion, according to the Constitution of the Anglican Consultative Council.
In that case,
(a) What on earth does the Covenant text mean when it expects signatories to recognise Sections 1-3 ‘as foundational for the life of the Anglican Communion and therefore for the relationships among the covenanting Churches’ (4.1.2)? How can Sections 1-3, which non-signatories have not signed up to, be ‘foundational’ if their relationship to the signatories is to remain unchanged?
(b) Why does ‘Recognition of, and fidelity to, this Covenant, enable mutual recognition and communion’ (4.2.1)? Until now mutual recognition and communion have applied across all Anglican provinces; what is this text saying if it isn’t saying that mutual recognition and communion will henceforth be withheld from non-signatories?
(c) What does Alyson’s ominous sentence mean: ‘They are equally members of the Anglican Communion, according to the Constitution of the Anglican Consultative Council’? Has it already been agreed, by some secret committee, that the Anglican Consultative Council has power to decree who is a member of the Anglican Communion?
The assertion is often made that the ordination of women could not have occurred if the Covenant were in place. It is not at all clear that this would have been the case. The consultative processes of the Anglican Communion actually resulted in the discernment that this was an issue about which Anglicans were free to differ.
Indeed they did – and they did so long after the ordination of the first woman priest in 1944, and in the absence of an Anglican Covenant. If the Covenant had been in place earlier it would have been a different matter. Of course we cannot be sure what would have happened, but there would have been a ready-made process available to opponents, anywhere in the Anglican world, to object to any province ordaining women.
...how do churches in communion distinguish between that which may further the Gospel and that which may impede it? There are never simple answers, but the intent is that the Anglican Communion Covenant provides a way of doing this in a collaborative and committed manner.
‘Collaborative and committed’ means that when Anglicans conscientiously disagree with each other, the last thing we should do is set up a committee with power to decree the right answer – or even ‘recommendations’. Instead both sides should put their reasons, their evidence, their arguments and their motivations into the public realm, and carry on listening and explaining to each other for as long as it takes to reach consensus.
16 November 2010