Sunday, January 25, 2009

THE FUTURE OF THE ANGLICAN COMMUNION COVENANT in Light of the Global Anglican Future Conference

The call for an Anglican Communion Covenant resulted directly from the Windsor Report (sec. 113-120), and the Windsor Report itself was a crisis response document. It is therefore not possible or desirable to evaluate any document that emerges from a drafting process without asking the question: “Will it address the crisis facing the Communion?”

That said, the crisis has also raised issues of the identity and governance of the Anglican Communion that have lain dormant for many decades. From time to time, the Lambeth Conference began to address these issues, but more often than not it punted them further down the field. Now many of us feel that the conflicts and contradictions of Anglican identity and governance must be squarely faced. A covenant could be just the sort of document to do this. Or not.

It is my contention in this essay that the official Anglican Covenant process under the direction of Abp. Drexel Gomez will not be able to produce an adequate document to meet the requirements of the hour. In the two years since the formation of the Covenant Drafting Group in September 2006, a new team has taken the field, the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans. Meeting in Jerusalem in June 2008, the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) published a statement of identity – “The Jerusalem Declaration” – and formed a Primates’ Council claiming extraordinary authority to separate from a heterodox Province or to recognize an orthodox Province. It seems likely that this Council will soon recognize a North American Province separate from The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada.

Despite the advent of the GAFCON movement, representing nearly half the Anglicans in the world, the Lambeth Conference proceeded with business as usual, including the promotion of the existing Covenant process, which now faces the likely outcome of being rejected by both orthodox and revisionist wings of the Communion. It is now time to step back and reexamine the process and principles of the Covenant. It is my conviction that the Anglican Communion is a house divided against itself, and that no covenant can ignore this fact without becoming irrelevant and hypocritical.

The Covenant Process

The Covenant process, like the Windsor process, is the brainchild of the Archbishop of Canterbury and several of his top advisors. This fact cannot be ignored. Rowan Williams has repeatedly expressed the view that, given enough time for patient listening and dialogue, the two apparently opposite theological poles, which I shall call orthodox and revisionist, can be reconciled in a creative synthesis. No doubt this philosophical position is reinforced by the real fear that having to choose one side or the other would lead to the division of the Communion. So in any process the Archbishop requires that all must have a voice.

But it is more complicated than that. The Archbishop and his advisors seem to have concluded that within the orthodox and revisionist camps, the “fundamentalists” of both groups should be excluded and the leadership be inhabited only by the “moderates,” namely, those who agree with the premise that “unity” is the preeminent virtue and that schism is the ultimate vice. In practical terms, this means that only “institutionalist” evangelicals and catholics on one side and establishment revisionists, i.e., those who are not notorious unilateralists on the other, are participants in these processes.

I intend to address here only the role of evangelicals in the Covenant process. In doing so, I shall have to indulge in what may seem self-serving narrative about my role over the past few years. I have been a recognized evangelical combatant in the debates within the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion for almost twenty years. In terms of the Covenant, I gave an address in 2005 on “The Global Anglican Communion: A Blueprint” and was chosen to serve on the Global South Drafting Group, which began working on an independent draft in early 2006. I was also asked to help draft “The Road to Lambeth” statement, which warned that unless the Episcopal Church were disciplined prior to Lambeth 2008, many bishops would not attend. In the latter capacity, I attended the Global South Primates’ meeting at Kigali where it was announced that Rowan Williams had appointed Abp. Drexel Gomez to chair the Lambeth Drafting Group. At that point, the Global South group ceased to function. Abp. Orombi then nominated me to be a member of the Covenant Drafting group. It would seem reasonable that a theologian with experience of both the Global South and the Episcopal Church would be a good choice for such a group. In the end, however, I was named to a “corresponding group.” So Uganda, the second largest province of the Communion, had no representative in drafting the Covenant, whereas the Episcopal Church had two representatives, one an institutionalist catholic and the other an institutional apologist for the actions of 2003. So far as I can see, no conservative evangelical and no one who subsequently attended GAFCON, serves on the Drafting Team.

In my role as a consultant, I have sent four submissions to the Covenant Design group. My most substantial attempt at consultation was entitled “An Evangelical Commentary on the Draft Covenant” (2007) based on the first “Nassau” draft. I attempted in that critique to propose a minimal number of changes to the draft which would at the same time meet the concerns that conservative evangelicals would want to see in order to own the Covenant. Although I submitted this critique directly to the Chairman of the Drafting Group and it was circulated widely on the internet and to a group of bishops in Oxford, none of these amendments made it into the St. Andrew’s draft. Similarly, I have joined in in two submissions from the Church of Uganda, neither of which has seen the light of day.

The moral of my story is this: the drafting process is skewed in such a way that the legitimate concerns of orthodox evangelicals and traditionalists will not be represented in the final Covenant document. The process itself is faulty in such a way that even orthodox men like Archbishops Gomez and Chew cannot produce an effective Covenant. It is part and parcel of the method used at Lambeth 2008 that produced a hodge-podge “Lambeth Indaba” with no authority and no conclusions. This process seems doomed to get worse, as the recent “Lambeth Commentary” proposes to subject subsequent drafts to yet further equivocation.

In the present political context, “time is not our friend,” as we say in Uganda. Inaction means victory for the revisionist party, which can proceed to carry out its “long march through the institutions” without fear of discipline. Over against those who urge patience in letting the Windsor and Covenant processes play out, there are more than a thousand Anglicans and 250 bishops who have concluded that there is no other way to preserve and reform the Communion than a movement independent of the Lambeth bureaucracy. They have concluded that a process orchestrated by Canterbury is not capable of addressing the crisis of the house divided, and whether or not that process meanders on or rushes on to completion, the resulting draft will be unacceptable.

What is Needed in an Anglican Covenant
In my view, the two essential ingredients of an effective Anglican Covenant involve doctrinal substance and disciplinary efficacy. The Nassau and St. Andrews drafts in my opinion are adequate on matters of doctrine and inadequate on discipline, and both fail to deal with the current context of radical departure from the faith once for all delivered to the saints.

Both drafts have a section on doctrine echoing the Lambeth Quadrilateral: “The Life We Share: Common Catholicity, Apostolicity and Confession of Faith” (Nassau); and “Our Inheritance of Faith” (St. Andrews). These sections are the strongest part of the Covenant drafts, and many evangelicals can affirm them as far as they go; however, the treatment of the Thirty-Nine Articles, in relegating them by name to a footnote (St. Andrews) and stating merely that they “bear significant witness” to the faith, is problematic.

The next section of the drafts, which addresses matters of hermeneutics and ethics, contains several weaknesses, both critical in the present context. Here is the comparison of the two drafts with my proposed emendations in the “Evangelical Commentary” with proposed changes in the latter higlighted.


3 Our Commitment to Confession of the Faith(Deuteronomy 30.11-14, Psalm 126, Mark 10.26-27, Luke 1.37, 46-55, John 8: 32, 14:15-17, 1 Corinthians 11.23-26,2 Timothy 3:10-4:5;)
In seeking to be faithful to God in their various contexts, each Church commits itself to:

1. uphold and act in continuity and consistency with the catholic and apostolic faith, order and tradition, biblically derived moral values and the vision of humanity received by and developed in the communion of member Churches; ...

3. ensure that biblical texts are handled faithfully, respectfully, comprehensively and coherently, primarily through the teaching and initiative of bishops and synods, and building on our best scholarship, believing that scriptural revelation must continue to illuminate, challenge and transform cultures, structures and ways of thinking;


Section One: Our Inheritance of Faith1.2 In living out this inheritance of faith together in varying contexts, each Church of the Communion commits itself:
(1.2.1) to uphold and act in continuity and consonance with Scripture and the catholic and apostolic faith, order and tradition;
(1.2.2) to uphold and proclaim a pattern of Christian theological and moral reasoning and discipline that is rooted in and answerable to the teaching of Holy Scripture and the catholic tradition and that reflects the renewal of humanity and the whole created order through the death and resurrection of Christ and the holiness that in consequence God gives to, and requires from, his people;
(1.2.4) to ensure that biblical texts are handled faithfully, respectfully, comprehensively and coherently, primarily through the teaching and initiative of bishops and synods, and building on habits and disciplines of Bible study across the Church and on rigorous scholarship, believing that scriptural revelation continues to illuminate and transform individuals, cultures and societies;...


3 Our Commitment to Confession of the Faith(Deuteronomy 30.11-14, Psalm 126, Mark 10.26-27, Luke 1.37, 46-55, John 8: 32, 14:15-17, 1 Corinthians 11.23-26,2 Timothy 3:10-4:5;)

In seeking to maintain the faith given once for all to the saints, each Church commits itself to:
1. uphold and act in continuity and consistency with the catholic and apostolic faith, order and tradition, and the historic Anglican formularies;

2. uphold the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament as God’s Word written and to ensure that biblical texts are interpreted in their plain and canonical sense, through the preaching and teaching of pastors, the regular reading of the people, and the oversight of bishops and synods, building on our best scholarship, believing that scriptural revelation must continue to illuminate, challenge and transform cultures, structures and ways of thinking;

4. uphold the vision of humanity as male and female and our Lord’s teaching on the unchangeable standard of marriage of one man and one woman (or abstinence);

I gave the following justification for the proposed amendments to this section:

Explanation: The amended introductory phrase recalls the “once for all” character of the Christian faith, as contended for by St. Jude. The catholic and apostolic nature of the Church is given its due in subsection 1, along with the Reformation insights mentioned above.

I believe the authority of Scripture should receive a separate subsection (2) and be given priority in the order of “Word and Sacrament.”

The use of the phrase “God’s Word written” from Article XX is of great importance in the present crisis of authority. I propose interpretation in the “plain and canonical sense” as a somewhat stronger wording to stress the Reformation emphasis on the clarity and unity of Scripture, and I note the joint responsibility of upholding Scripture by people, pastors, scholars and bishops as a classic application of biblical authority.

Finally, I think that the Covenant should openly confront the presenting error of our day: the substitution of personal sexual fulfillment for obedience to God’s order of marriage and procreation. I refer to the “unchangeable standard” of marriage in the words of Resolution 66 (Lambeth 1920).

So in conclusion, the doctrinal component of the Draft Covenants could form a theological basis for Communion faith and mission, if it could be strengthened at key points, but these are the very points at which the current process will move, if at all, in the wrong direction.

When we turn to the question of effective discipline, both drafts are deficient in lacking a final point of excommunication, a.k.a “walking apart.” Now we should all agree that a process of discipline must be careful, with a “strategy of time” in which issues can be clarified and parties can change their minds and actions. In this regard, I think a return to the process proposed by Abps. Gomez and Sinclair in “To Mend the Net” is in order (see Appendix). In any case, process without end makes a mockery of discipline. So the exclusion clause is essential to an effective covenant, and this is the place where the current Draft Covenants fail. Again, I compare the key clauses with my proposed amendment highlighted.

6 Unity of the Communion(Nehemiah 2.17,18, Mt. 18.15-18, 1 Corinthians 12, 2 Corinthians 4.1-18, 13: 5-10, Galatians 6.1-10)
9 We acknowledge that in the most extreme circumstances, where member churches choose not to fulfil the substance of the covenant as understood by the Councils of the Instruments of Communion, we will consider that such churches will have relinquished for themselves the force and meaning of the covenant’s purpose, and a process of restoration and renewal will be required to re-establish their covenant relationship with other member churches.


Section Three: Our Unity and Common Life(3.2.5.e) Any such request [for discipline] would not be binding on a Church unless recognised as such by that Church. However, commitment to this covenant entails an acknowledgement that in the most extreme circumstances, where a Church chooses not to adopt the request of the Instruments of Communion,Bold that decision may be understood by the Church itself, or by the resolution of the Instruments of Communion, as a relinquishment by that Church of the force and meaning of the covenant’s purpose, until they re-establish their covenant relationship with other member Churches.

6 Unity of the Communion
(Nehemiah 2.17,18, Mt. 18.15-18, 1 Corinthians 12, 2 Corinthians 4.1-18, 13: 5-10, Galatians 6.1-10)
9. We acknowledge that in the most extreme circumstances, where member churches choose not to fulfil the substance of the covenant as understood by the Councils of the Instruments of Communion, we will consider that such churches will have relinquished membership in the Anglican Communion.

The Nassau and St. Andrews drafts refuse to concede that at some point membership in the Communion ceases and an alternative jurisdiction is necessary. The tortured nature of the language in this section suggests that a final blow will never fall. Rowan Williams has opined at times about the possibility of levels of membership in the Communion, an idea suggested in the St. Andrews draft which speaks of “degrees” of communion (sec. 3.2.6). At no point do these documents recognize the possibility that a church might be heretical and impenitent, and the process laid out in the Appendix to the St. Andrews draft is so byzantine that it is hard to imagine any member would ever be excluded. Such a “gentlemanly” approach to unity within the Anglican Communion may have sufficed during periods of our history, but it is totally inadequate to deal with the kind of division that now exists.

GAFCON and the Covenant
The Global Anglican Future Conference had the look of a constitutional assembly. To be sure, those present stated clearly that their purpose was reform of, not departure from, the Communion. But the production of a Declaration and the formation of a Primates’ Council, acclaimed by the entire assembly, recalls scenes of biblical covenant-making or -renewal (Deuteronomy; Joshua 24).

The Jerusalem Declaration itself mirrors elements of the two Covenant drafts in certain ways. The first seven clauses are primarily addressed to the “inheritance of faith” as found in the Scriptures, the Creeds and Councils, the Thirty-Nine Articles and the Book of Common Prayer and Ordinal. The second seven clauses address a number of contemporary issues, including “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” and the “commitment to lifelong fidelity in marriage and abstinence for those who are not married” (clause 8).

The Declaration lays down the basis for excommunication, although it does not spell out the process whereby that end point is reached:

We reject the authority of those churches and leaders who have denied the orthodox faith in word or deed. We pray for them and call on them to repent and return to the Lord. (clause 13)

Clause 13 is not merely hypothetical. The Global Anglican Future Statement includes an indictment of some churches and bishops who have embraced a different “gospel,” causing orthodox provinces to declare themselves out of communion with them. It is because the existing Instruments of Unity have proved ineffective in dealing with this situation that the GAFCON movement and Primates’ Council commends the temporary arrangement of cross-border jurisdiction and the final recognition of a North American province outside The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada.

The spirit of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans is not separatist or puritanical but ecumenical, with the hope of a recovery of a generous and dynamic orthodoxy, as reflected in the Jerusalem Declaration:

We are committed to the unity of all those who know and love Christ and to building authentic ecumenical relationships. We recognise the orders and jurisdiction of those Anglicans who uphold orthodox faith and practice, and we encourage them to join us in this declaration. (clause 11)

The necessary discipline of the Communion at this time may be painful, including the abnormal breaking of historic ties, but its goal is “the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).

The Form of Communion Governance
The present crisis has brought into focus another area in need of reform: the governance of the Communion. The Global Anglican Future Conference resulted from the failure of the Instruments of Unity to work properly to discipline erring members. While the Anglican Communion was originally established as a colonial council of bishops, the direction for the past thirty years has been toward conciliar governance through the Primates. The overturning of this direction by the Archbishop of Canterbury following the meeting in Dar es Salaam led in a straight line to GAFCON and the formation of a Primates’ Council as a governing body of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans. Clearly, the informal, even arbitrary way in which the Archbishop of Canterbury has exercised his authority calls for some sort of constitutional regulation. The Windsor Report speculated on the need for a stronger primacy for Canterbury. The GAFCON movement trends in the opposite direction: toward full conciliarity among churches and bishops. The idea of conciliar governance does not contradict the idea of a Primus inter pares, but it is not clear that this role needs to be tied to Canterbury, especially in light of the specific legal entanglements of Establishment. Clearly there is a need for a clarification of matters of autonomy among provinces and the roles of synods and bishops in leadership. These matters should also be addressed by a covenant.

The idea of a Covenant, or call it a Communion Constitution and Canons, is necessary if the Communion is to maintain the special identity of Anglican theology, worship, polity and mission. The current covenant process established by the Archbishop of Canterbury will not be able to reach that end, because it is compromised by failing to identify the brokenness of the Communion and by including those who have broken it in the Covenant process itself. In the meantime, the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans has emerged, by the grace of God, and this Fellowship has many aims in common with those who are seeking a Covenant.

I would suggest the following steps for those who wish to see a sound and effective Covenant.

1. Affirm the Jerusalem Declaration;
2. Call for the reconsideration of “To Mend the Net” as a step toward genuine discipline (see below);
3. Call for an extraordinary meeting of the Covenant Drafting Group and the leadership of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans to find a way forward.

It would be most helpful if conservatives who did not favour GAFCON would join in this effort, as it will be in the interest of all Anglicans to find a way forward which is faithful to our heritage and open to Christ’s mission in the world.

Appendix: “To Mend the Net” (expounded)
The following steps in a disciplinary process are mentioned in the proposal “To Mend the Net,” pages 20-22. See To Mend the Net: Anglican Faith and Order for Renewed Mission, eds. Drexel W. Gomez and Maurice W. Sinclair (Carrollton, Tex.: Ekklesia Society, 2001). I have expanded and expounded a bit on each step in the process, with two concluding notes.

1. Self-examination by Primates. Jesus’ warning to “judge not lest you be judged” is a gospel truth: people are often ready to cast the speck from their neighbour’s eye while ignoring the log in their own (Matthew 7:1-5). For this reason, St. Paul urges us to “examine yourselves that to see whether you are holding your faith” (2 Corinthians 13:5). In the weighty matter of breaking communion, leaders must be particularly vigilant of their own hearts.

2. Educative Role of Primates. Heresy is rooted in deceptive, worldly understandings (Colossians 2:8). Hence it is important for leaders, in separating themselves from such understandings, to give an orthodox “explanation for the hope that is within” them (1 Peter 3:15).

3. Advanced Sharing among Primates. Any decision to break communion should involve patient consultation among orthodox leaders to establish the reasons that such separation is justified.

4. Preparation of Guidelines. Leaders should work according to established guidelines and not act arbitrarily in a crisis mentality.

5. Godly Admonition. Admonition is out of favour in today’s tolerant climate, yet it is still essential to church leadership (1 Thessalonians 5:12). So orthodox leaders must give clear warning and time for repentance to those who have gone astray.

6. Relegation to Observer Status. Paul urges the Corinthians to deliver the sinner to Satan “so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 5:5). Seen in a church context, those provinces or bishops who violate the orthodox faith should, after due warning, be relegated to a status where they may repent before it is too late.

7. Continued Evangelism and Pastoral Oversight. This step justifies “interventions” in jurisdictions that are, in effect, on probation. Observer status creates a vacuum of proclamation for those who are trapped in these jurisdictions and need pastoral care as well as for those who have never heard the Gospel. During this probation period, the work of the church must go on, even if it is opposed by those being disciplined.

8. Recognition of a New Jurisdiction. There comes a time in the disciplinary process when it is acknowledged that those who have offended will not repent, that they have hardened their hearts to the Gospel (Hebrews 4:4-6). The process of discipline therefore may require the formation of an alternative jurisdiction, under new leadership.

Note 1: “To Mend the Net” was submitted with a sense of urgency to the Primates’ Meeting at Kanuga (USA) in March, 2001, but was discussed only at a “fireside chat.” It was then referred to the Inter-Anglican Commission on Doctrine and Theology (IADTC). Although the Kanuga Primates’ Meeting chaired by George Carey. Rowan Williams as Archbishop of Wales was present at that meeting and no doubt consented to its demise, based on his comments on the March 2000 Primates’ Meeting in Portugal: “Anglicanism has always been wary of a central executive power…. The primates’ meeting showed no signs of wanting to become a ruling synod.” In the final Report of the IADTC (2008), “To Mend the Net” is not even mentioned.

Note 2: It can be justly asked whether the breaking of communion with the North American provinces by the GAFCON Primates (and others) has “overstepped” the process laid out in “To Mend the Net.” In one sense, the answer is yes, because these Provinces have been dealing with an unprecedented situation. However, one could also argue that Lambeth 1.10 concluded steps 1-5 and the remaining steps have been followed by the successive Primates’ Meetings through Dar es Salaam.

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