Sunday, August 1, 2010

COMMUNION GOVERNANCE: A Revised Anglican Covenant


In March 2010, I published an essay titled “Communion Governance: the Role and Future of the Historic Episcopate and the Anglican Communion Covenant” ( The initial essay lays the theological groundwork for what I consider an urgent necessity for the Global South coalition[*]: a revision of the Anglican Communion Covenant draft (whether in its “Ridley Cambridge” or its “final” Standing Committee-approved form).

The present essay was drafted prior to the Fourth Global South Encounter held in Singapore in April 2010. While the Global South Encounter had the Covenant on its agenda, the composition of the delegations and the unfortunate absence of key leaders like Abp. Henry Orombi made it impossible to carry through proper deliberation on the Covenant text. Hence the Conference merely issued a general statement, which is nevertheless significant:

21. Global South leaders have been in the forefront of the development of the “Anglican Covenant” that seeks to articulate the essential elements of our faith together with means by which we might exercise meaningful and loving discipline for those who depart from the “faith once delivered to the saints.” We are currently reviewing the proposed Covenant to find ways to strengthen it in order for it to fulfill its purpose. For example, we believe that those who adopt the Covenant must be in compliance with Lambeth 1.10. Meanwhile we recognize that the Primates Meeting, being responsible for Faith and Order, should be the body to oversee the Covenant in its implementation, not the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion.

This statement makes clear: 1) that the proposed Covenant text is not “final” but must be reviewed further and strengthened; 2) that compliance with Lambeth Resolution I.10 on Human Sexuality must be a prerequisite for those signing on to the Covenant; and 3) that the Primates must be given their proper place as overseers of the Covenant.

The present essay is an attempt to put flesh on the bones outlined by the Global South leadership. It is presented to that leadership on the occasion of the All Africa Bishops’ Conference in Uganda in late August.


Events of the past twelve years since the 1998 Lambeth Conference have made it increasingly clear that the Anglican Communion, lacking coherent doctrine or effective discipline, cannot continue in its present form. The idea of an Anglican Communion Covenant as a remedy for the present lawlessness (politely termed “ecclesial deficit” by the Windsor Continuation Group) was raised by the Windsor Report (2004). From 2007-2009, a Covenant Drafting Group appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury produced three drafts. The third “Ridley Cambridge Draft” was brought to the Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Jamaica in May 2009 and was nearly approved by delegates representing the majority of Anglicans worldwide. But through some procedural maneuvering by the liberal leadership of the ACC aided by Canterbury himself, the fourth “disciplinary” section was rejected. Abp. Rowan Williams then took the matter into his own hands and appointed a new “Covenant Working Party” that met in November 2009 and presented a revised section 4 to the Standing Committee of the ACC for approval in December 2009. The “final” draft was then circulated to the provinces for possible adoption.

The ACC debacle in Jamaica changed the attitude of many in the Global South, including this writer, toward the Covenant text. In particular, critics began to note the enhanced role of the Standing Committee in the Covenant. The “Joint Standing Committee” of ACC and Primates had quietly morphed into a new “Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion” a.k.a. “trustee-members” of a new UK Company. The articles of this company make the Standing Committee the primary governing body of the ACC, structured according to secular “diversity” criteria and in which the Primates have a minority voice.[†] Disillusionment became public in January when Bp. Mouneer Anis resigned from this Standing Committee and raised serious questions about the overall governance of the Communion and the Standing Committee in particular. In April, Abp. Henry Orombi seconded Bp. Mouneer’s objections and stated that he had refused to attend its meetings as a matter of conscience (Abp. Orombi’s alternate on the Committee, Abp. Justice Akrofi of Ghana also resigned). Shortly thereafter, Abp. Ian Earnest agreed with the sentiments of Mouneer and Orombi and conditioned his attendance at a Primates’ Meeting on the absence of Primates from TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada. In June, Bishop Azad Marshall of Iran also resigned from the Standing Committee.

Meanwhile, Canon Mary Glasspool, a professed lesbian, was elected in Los Angeles and consecrated bishop by Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori. This act of The Episcopal Church and its Primate was in clear contravention of the so-called moratorium on homosexual bishops and confirmed for those who did not already know that TEC has rejected Lambeth Resolution I.10 and the Windsor Report irrevocably. And yet Schori and her fellow TEC bishop Ian Douglas both sit on the Standing Committee and participated fully in the most recent meeting. Meanwhile the Global South’s Stanley Isaacs’ resolution to discipline TEC was defeated by the “overwhelming opinion” of the Committee that it would “inhibit dialogue” (“dialogue” meaning that TEC keeps on violating Scripture with impunity).

In my view – and I think this view is widely shared now across the Global South – the role of the Standing Committee in the Covenant is unacceptable. This is so for two reasons. The first is theological. Final responsibility for doctrine and discipline belongs to the bishops of the Communion, not to a mixed group of Primates and “diverse” ACC members. In matters of Communion discipline, the Primates themselves or the Lambeth Conference of bishops should take the important decisions, not delegate them to an executive committee.

The second reason is political. The present Standing Committee of fourteen leaves power with the Lambeth bureaucracy at the expense of the Global South and the Primates. The geographical composition of the Primates’ Standing Committee itself is unbalanced, diminishing the importance of the church in Africa. The fact that Presiding Bishop Schori, not to mention other revisionists, remains on the Standing Committee despite the Resolutions of the Primates at Dromantine and Dar es Salaam, is reason enough to know that it will continue the disastrous policy of coddling TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada in their flouting of biblical and Communion teaching and practice.

So the current text offered by Canterbury to the wider Communion must be revised or the entire Covenant project abandoned. For those who believe the Covenant idea is good and necessary for the Anglican Communion at this point in its history, three options are available.[‡] One can:

1.      Replace the role of the Standing Committee with that of the Primates’ Meeting in Section 4 and keep the rest of the text as is.

2.      Go back to the drawing board and produce a completely new text (see e.g., the Jerusalem Declaration from the Global Anglican Future Conference).

3.      Replace the role of the Standing Committee (and the ACC since it is legally joined at the hip with the Standing Committee) and clarify and correct matters of Communion governance that have been revealed in the present crisis.

I believe the third way is to be preferred, and I think this way is consistent with the view expressed in the Global South Communiqué from Singapore. Consequently, I offer a series of revisions to the Covenant which I believe will strengthen it to serve as a vehicle for Gospel mission and godly leadership within a reformed Anglican Communion. [§]


Revision 1: Strengthening the historic and normative role of the Anglican formularies

Section One: Our Inheritance of Faith

Each Church affirms: …:

(1.1.2) the catholic and apostolic faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds, which faith the Church is called upon to proclaim afresh in each generation.

(1.1.3) The historic formularies of the Church of England - the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordering of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons – are in accord with Scripture and bear authentic witness to this faith.

Rationale: The role of the Thirty-Nine Articles, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal as the common doctrinal basis among Anglicans worldwide was stated in the Nassau Draft; in later drafts it was mentioned only obliquely and hedged with qualifiers such as “forged in the context of the European Reformation.” The neglect of the Articles, treating them as historic artifacts rather than biblically faithful truths, has eroded our common inheritance of faith. By restoring an explicit affirmation of the Reformation formularies alongside the affirmations of catholicity (1.1.1-2) and the ecumenical Lambeth Quadrilateral (1.1.3-6 [4-7]), the Covenant will assure Evangelical Anglicans that their position is upheld within the Communion.

Revision 2: Affirming explicitly God’s standard of marriage and abstinence

(1.2.3)  To uphold the Church’s historic standard of “faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union,” and that “abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage”; [footnote reference to Lambeth I.10]

Rationale: This amendment would signal that biblical mandates and prohibitions are binding on members of the Communion (see 1998 Lambeth Resolution III.5), would ensconce 1998 Lambeth Resolution I.10 on Human Sexuality in the Covenant text and would set a precedent for recognizing future resolutions of the bishops in council as authoritative.

Revision 3: The Covenant Communion and its Instruments

Section 3: Our Unity and Common Life

3.1  Each Church affirms:

(3.1.2) its resolve to live in a Communion of Churches under the terms of this Covenant.

Rationale: The Anglican Communion will be constituted by those who adopt the Covenant. While the mechanics of joining the Covenant Communion will be spelled out in section 4, there is need for a definition of Communion membership in terms of the Covenant.

The Ridley Cambridge draft leaves in place the existing muddled and failed governance structures. In fact, the idea of four “Instruments of Communion” are not sacrosanct but relatively recent developments. They emerged at different times and commentators have noted serious overlaps and confusion about their roles, especially as regards the Primates’ Meeting and the Anglican Consultative Council. In order to order these authorities properly, I would propose the following revisions to section 3.1.4:

I. We accord the Archbishop of Canterbury, as the bishop of the See of Canterbury with which Anglicans have historically been in communion, a primacy of honour and respect among the college of bishops in the Anglican Communion as first among equals (primus inter pares). As a focus and means of unity, the Archbishop gathers and works with presides at the Lambeth Council of Bishops and the Primates’ Council Meeting and presides in the Anglican Consultative Council.

Rationale: While retaining the Archbishop of Canterbury’s historic role of “focus of unity” and his “primacy of honour,” this revision limits his executive or “gathering” authority. The revision makes clear that the primary form of Communion governance is conciliar, by bishops in conference, as stated in section 3.1.3. In my opinion, this clarification is necessary in order to shed the colonial past and to remedy a weakness in Communion polity that goes back to the first Lambeth Conference. Such a change is consistent with the overall thrust of the 1930 Lambeth Conference Report, which linked “communion with the See of Canterbury” (Resolution 49) to a conciliar mode of governance. At a practical level, the Archbishop of Canterbury may be authorized to call special meetings of the Primates on his own initiative or on petition by a certain number of Primates, but this will be in his presiding role in those bodies as primus inter pares.

II. The Lambeth Council of Bishops , held historically at Canterbury, expresses episcopal collegiality worldwide, and brings together the bishops for common worship, counsel, and deliberation consultation and encouragement in their ministry of guarding the faith and unity of the Communion and equipping the saints for the work of ministry (Eph 4.12) and mission. This Council, consisting of archbishops and diocesan bishops, meets regularly at designated locations.

Rationale: Changing the name from “Conference” to “Council” and adding “deliberation” clarifies the role of the Lambeth Conference as an authoritative body within the Communion. The phrase “Council of Bishops” emphasises the bishops’ spiritual authority rather than the particular venue of their meetings. The exclusion of assistant bishops (and wives) makes clear that this Council meets for authoritative business, not for a tea party. I see no reason why the Lambeth Council of Bishops might not be conducted as part of a larger assembly including other clergy and lay members, which might ratify the work of the Council. This revision leaves open the frequency and venue of Council meetings, as “Lambeth” refers only to the historical continuity of the body with earlier Lambeth Conferences.

Current Section III. Delete the Anglican Consultative Council as an Instrument of Communion and replace it with a revised section on the Primates.

III.       The Primates’ Council meets regularly between Lambeth Council of Bishops’ meetings for mutual support, prayer, counsel and deliberation.

Rationale: The ACC has always been considered an advisory body only. Ironically, as the only “Instrument” with a legal constitution and with the power of the purse, it is the only organ of Communion governance which has no ecclesiological significance. The listing of member churches of the Communion is a clerical function that does not require a separate “Instrument.” I have no objection to the existence of a body that will advise on Communion matters, but it should no longer be classed with the other Instruments of the Communion. At the present moment, the Articles of the ACC and its Standing Committee are inconsistent with the aims of the Covenant, and it is best simply to drop both of them from the Covenant text altogether. By the same token, the secretariat of the Communion should no longer function under the thumb of the ACC but under the Primates (which probably means setting up a new secretariat, since it seems unlikely that the current one will go gentle into that good night).

As for the revisions of (old) section IV on the Primates, the changes follow the rationale for the Lambeth Council of Bishops, giving authority as a Council to the Primates rather than just a “meeting.” Alternatively, the body could be named the “College of Primates” to avoid confusion with the “Lambeth Council of Bishops.”

(3.1.2, cont’d)

Each Instrument shall be constituted from among those Churches that have adopted the Covenant, excepting the Archbishop of Canterbury whose ministry is independent of the Church of England. It is the responsibility of each Instrument to consult with, respond to, and support each other Instrument and the Churches of the Communion. Each Instrument may initiate and commend a process of discernment and a direction for the Communion and its Churches.

Rationale: The entire thrust of the revision is to constitute the Communion under the Covenant. This means that the Instruments themselves must be representative of the churches that adopt the Covenant. In excepting Canterbury from this requirement, I am assuming his willingness to fulfill an historical and ecumenical role independent of his roles in British church and state (see Implementation section below).

Revision 4: Restoring the Primates to their proper oversight of Communion faith and order

Section Four: Our Covenanted Life Together

Revision 5: Binding the Communion into an Accountable Union

Adopt the following revisions to section 4.1 in order to make adoption of the Covenant and membership in the Anglican Communion coterminous.

(4.1.4) Every national or regional Church of the Anglican Communion is expected to adopt this Covenant according to its own constitutional procedures. Provinces that reject adoption or fail to adopt in a timely manner will be declared vacant by the Primates’ Council and de-recognized by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

(4.1.5) The Instruments of Communion may invite other Churches – dioceses, parishes and ecclesial networks – in non-adopting national and regional Churches may adopt the Covenant according to their own constitutional procedures. Such Churches will be recognised by the Primates’ Council as having provisional status within the Communion until such time as the status of a replacement national and regional Church is ratified by the Lambeth Council of Bishops and recognized by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

(4.3.1) Any covenanting Church may decide to withdraw from the Covenant. The Primates’ Council and Lambeth Council of Bishops will treat such a case in the same manner as that of non-adopting churches (sections 4.1.4 and 4.1.5).

Rationale: This set of revisions makes adoption of the Covenant a requirement of Communion membership. Following the suggestion in the original Ridley Cambridge draft (section 4.1.5), it gives dissenting churches in non-adopting Provinces the chance to sign on to the Covenant, but it also looks toward the replacement of those Provinces and the incorporation of the dissenting churches into the new Province.

Revision 6: Communion Discipline

Replace the Standing Committee [of the Anglican Communion] with the Primates’ Council (or College of Primates) throughout section 4.2 and 4.4 (see Appendix for specific revisions).

Rationale: In general, see my discussion in the introduction to this essay and the longer argumentation in my paper on “Communion Governance.” The idea of leaving the Standing Committee in section 4 but identifying it with some other body of the same name misses the point that it should be the full council of bishops, whether the Primates’ Council or Lambeth Council, that oversees ecclesiastical discipline under the Covenant.

At a practical and political level, it is hard to imagine the current Standing Committee reforming itself to become an administrative body of the Primates. A new Primates’ Standing Committee will probably need to develop a constitution and rules of order under some secular authority (the objection to the new articles of the current Standing Committee is not to their existence but to their incompatibility with the Covenant and with a conciliar form of governance).


These proposed revisions, I believe, are “conservative” in treating the existing draft texts respectfully but also “radical” in seeking to address anomalies in these texts in such a way as to form a coherent structure of governance.


The question of how churches of the Anglican Communion might implement changes such as those suggested above is a thorny one. Anyone who has followed the Covenant process to date knows that such revisions will never be sanctioned by the Lambeth bureaucracy. In fact, if given the opportunity, Canterbury will claim his “gathering” authority to co-opt any bodies set up by the Global South, as he did in 2007 with the Covenant drafting committee.

The only feasible political way forward therefore is for the Global South churches to take the authority of revising and adopting a Covenant into their own hands. As I see it, there is nothing illegal about doing so. The Covenant text does not itself require any particular method of formulation and adoption, and it has been agreed by all that final adoption is a matter for the constitutional assemblies of the Provinces. In my opinion, if a number of Provinces adopt a revised Covenant and begin operating according to it, there is no “Communion law” that would nullify this action. For the Global South to adopt a revised Covenant without Canterbury’s approval will require courage born of conviction that this is God’s will at this particular moment in the Communion’s history.

How long would it take for Provinces to adopt the revised Covenant? No longer than the current “final” text, which stipulates that each Province places itself under the terms of the Covenant as soon as it adopts it under its own constitutional procedures (section 4.1.6). One might hope that special synods might be called to deliberate on such an important matter.

Is it conceivable that the Archbishop of Canterbury might come to accept a revised Covenant in which his role was reduced? What happens should he decline to accept this role among those churches that adopt the revised Covenant? Surely such refusal would cause a further constitutional crisis, and further amendment of the Covenant might be necessary, as provided for in sec. 4.4.2. The Archbishop, however, would have real incentive to accept the more focussed role assigned him in these proposals. He has opined previously about the need for two levels of Communion membership. This would give him a role in both. He could thereby maintain his ties with the Global South coalition while probably continuing to function as primate among the non-adopting churches. If the Church of England were not to adopt the Covenant, his international role would then be delinked from his role in the Established Church, which should free him from constitutional and even ecumenical restraints.

Many Anglicans, particularly from the churches of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, may hesitate to sign on to a Covenant in which Canterbury remains the titular head. I would urge those Anglicans to recognize that under a revised Covenant, the role of the Archbishop and the Lambeth bureaucracy will be fundamentally changed. The GAFCON movement itself was prepared to respect the historic role of the see of Canterbury so long as it was not seen as constitutive of Anglican identity, and that role is important for many other orthodox Anglicans as well. Politically, all may have to risk something in order to gain a greater good.

What about the Anglican Consultative Council? In my original draft for the Global South Encounter, I made room for a reformed Anglican Consultative Council. However, considering the current ensconcing of the ACC in UK law, I think self-reform by the ACC and its Standing Committee is next to impossible. There may well be a need to constitute a consultative, missional and ecumenical body that serves the Communion, but like other consultative bodies, it is not needed in the Covenant text.

What will happen to the “old” Communion and the non-adopting churches? I suspect that we shall see the development of a parallel Communion – call it the “TECommunion” – probably under the sway of the Standing Committee and financed out of TEC’s coffers. This Communion will no doubt dispute the name and legitimacy of the Communion gathered under the Covenant, and it will attempt to infiltrate the regions of the Global South. This is a sad fact of our current situation, and one can already see this scenario playing out in North America. But that is where the acceptance of a false Gospel in some churches and the acquiescence to this at the top level has led us. Let’s be honest: the division has already occurred. The question is whether this division leads to dissolution or reform of our historic tradition.


As one who has written extensively about the Anglican Covenant, I present these recommendations to the bishops of the Global South, beginning with those assembled in Uganda in August 2010. One thing I have learned in the Anglican world: theologians may propose, but bishops will dispose. The burden now falls on the episcopal leaders of the Global South to ponder these proposals and take action.[**] Failure to do so, I fear, will have tragic results. In the short term, it may encourage individual Provinces to neglect international affairs and simply mind their own shops. “To your tents, O Israel!” may become the byword of the Global South churches. To take a pass on the opportunity to be part of a worldwide Gospel-centred church would sell short the providential moment in which we find ourselves. Even more ominous, the atomization of Global South Anglicanism would leave the door open for the powers that currently rule the Communion to augment their subversive and divisive activities around the globe. Remember, these powers were soundly defeated at Lambeth 1998, and yet twelve years later they continue to defy biblical and traditional teaching and to hold the balance of power in the official Communion organs.

I ask the bishops of the Global South to address the future of the Anglican Communion Covenant urgently. At a critical point in Israel’s history, Joshua summoned the leaders of the nation to reaffirm its commitment to the Covenant and the God of the Covenant, and he challenged them: “Choose this day whom you will serve,” whether the gods of the pagan nations or the Lord, God of Israel. “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord,” he concluded (Joshua 24:15). The Anglican Communion is facing just such a crisis of two religions within one body, one a new paganism, the other the faith once for all delivered to the saints. To adopt a revised Anglican Covenant is to decide to serve the Lord and to stand firm for the God of Scripture and the God of the Anglican martyrs – those who died in the fires of Oxford and Namugongo. So I urge you, brothers: “Be strong and of good courage!” Do not turn aside from your duty to defend the word of God and His holy church (Joshua 1:7).

Appendix to Revision 4: Restoring the Primates to their proper oversight of faith and order

In light of the revisions to the Instruments and the substitution of the Primates’ Council for the Standing Committee, the changes to sections 4.2 and 4.4 are fairly predictable – indeed they are simplified with the consolidation and omission of sections 4.2.5-8.

4.2 Maintenance of the Covenant and Dispute Resolution

(4.2.2) The Primates’ Council shall monitor the functioning of the Covenant in the life of the Anglican Communion on behalf of the Instruments. In this regard, the Primates’ Council shall be supported by such other committees or commissions as may be mandated to assist in carrying out this function and to advise it on questions relating to the Covenant.

(4.2.3) When questions arise relating to the meaning of the Covenant, or about the compatibility of an action by a covenanting Church with the Covenant, it is the duty of each covenanting Church to seek to live out the commitments of Section 3.2. Such questions may be raised by a Church itself, another covenanting Church or the Instruments of Communion.

(4.2.4) Where a shared mind has not been reached, the matter shall be referred to the Primates’ Council . The Primates’ Council shall make every effort to facilitate agreement, and may take advice from such bodies as it deems appropriate to determine a view on the nature of the matter at question and those relational consequences which may result.

(4.2.5) The Primates’ Council may request a Church to defer a controversial action. If a Church declines to defer such action, the Primates’ Council may declare that an action or decision is or would be “incompatible with the Covenant” and may specify relational consequences, including a provisional limitation of participation in the Instruments or declaring the Province vacant. Final exclusion of a Church shall be determined by the Lambeth Conference of Bishops.

(4.2.6) Each Church undertakes to put into place such mechanisms, agencies or institutions, consistent with its own Constitution and Canons, as can undertake to oversee the maintenance of the affirmations and commitments of the Covenant in the life of that Church, and to relate to the Instruments of Communion on matters pertinent to the Covenant.

4.4 The Covenant Text and its amendment

(4.4.2) Any covenanting Church or Instrument of Communion may submit a proposal to amend the Covenant to the Instruments of Communion through the Primates’ Council. The Primates’ Council  may seek advice from any other body as it may consider appropriate, including the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lambeth Council of Bishops. The Primates’ Council shall make a recommendation on the proposal in the light of advice offered, and submit the proposal with any revisions to the covenanting Churches. The amendment is operative when ratified by three quarters of such Churches. The Primates’ Council shall adopt a procedure for promulgation of the amendment.

Mukono, Uganda
1 August 2010

[*] Throughout this essay, I refer to the “Global South” as the body of orthodox Anglicans who look to the leadership of the bishops and churches in Africa, Asia and South America but who come from various regions of the world. The coalition represented in Singapore included Anglicans from northern and southern hemispheres and those who have explicitly identified with the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans and those who have remained outside it.
[†] For analysis of the new ACC Articles and its incompatibility with the Covenant, see “Contrasting Futures for the Anglican Communion: A Transformed ACC and the Anglican Covenant,” at One small sign of the power of the purse vested in the Standing Committee was a Resolution “that there be a two-year gap between the Primates’ Meetings” (Resolution 8, December 2009) This Resolution to reverse a decision made by the Primates themselves is rationalized on the grounds that such meetings cannot be financed, but of course it is the Communion Office and Standing Committee that set budget priorities. The Standing Committee did not seem to have trouble financing its own special meeting in July.
[‡] I acknowledge that there are those who think the way to reform the Communion is for orthodox Provinces to adopt the “final” Covenant text with provisos attached and to amend the text later. It strikes me that this proposal is awkward theoretically and unworkable politically, given the inevitable opposition by the Standing Committee and the commitment of Canterbury to indaba (“keeping everyone at the table”) and his repeated assertion that the Covenant is not intended as a disciplinary document.
[§] Throughout this essay, I am assuming that the Communion formed by the Anglican Covenant will be the rightful inheritor in God’s eyes of Anglican tradition and identity. Hence the Covenant will constitute the ongoing Anglican Communion. However, it is a distraction at this point to get into branding wars. Hence one can refer to the “Covenant Communion” to distinguish it from those churches which reject the Covenant.
[**] Clearly this action may include revising the revisions proposed herein.

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