One fallout from the great Anglican soap opera over issues of homosexuality has been a proposal for an Anglican Covenant that would lay out common doctrine to which Anglican Provinces are expected to agree (or be disinvited from the Communion). Today, the Anglican Communion took a step in this direction when the General Synod of the Church of England voted to move forward with such a covenant.
While the resolution does not spell out the contents of the Covenant (or even endorse a draft now being circulated within the Communion), it seems clear from the debate at General Synod that this was indeed about adopting a Covenant that will be used to thump the Episcopalian Church. And that is how Ruth Gledhill of The Times views it as well in this article:
The Church of England took a step towards averting schism over gays yesterday when the General Synod backed a process that would allow the expulsion of rebel provinces from the Anglican Communion.
Some liberals in the established Church oppose the introduction of an Anglican “covenant” outlining a common doctrine that is to be endorsed across all 38 provinces worldwide, because they fear it will limit the traditional diversity that has become a hall-mark of Anglicanism.
But the Synod, meeting in York, voted overwhelmingly to “engage positively” in the creation of the covenant after a series of speakers warned that the dispute over homosexuality had exposed deep flaws in how Anglican unity is maintained. The covenant would prevent any province from consecrating an openly gay bishop, as the US did in 2003 with the election of Gene Robinson to New Hampshire, without risking expulsion.
But the Synod also heard that it would put in place a curial-type structure that would mean other doctrinal innovations would also be jeopardised. One speaker warned that the ordination of women would never have got through had such a covenant already been endorsed.
The Archbishop of the West Indies, the Most Rev Drexel Gomez, who chaired the group that published the proposed draft covenant this year, warned that the “bonds of affection” that once held the Anglican Communion together were strained, “indeed, some would say broken”.
He said: “Suspicion is rife, as well as accusations of heresy, bad faith, and of theological and ecclesiological innovation.”
Read it all here.
I find it telling that Stephen Bates of the Guardian offers a quite similar account:
The Church of England yesterday bowed to pleas from two archbishops to help draw up a disciplinary covenant for the worldwide Anglican communion, despite fears that it will lead to the expulsion of liberal believers.
The church's general synod, meeting in York, voted to give its leaders, the archbishops of Canterbury and York, authority to agree a formal draft of the proposed code of belief, even though it will not be presented to the synod until next February.
The move - described by one speaker as "the most important development in the church since the Reformation" - was carried after bishops headed off concerns of some lay and clergy members by giving assurances that nothing will ultimately be adopted until it has been agreed by the synod, which is the church's parliament. Even so, approximately a third of the synod voted against the plan.
Earlier, members heard a strong plea by Archbishop Drexel Gomez, the primate of the West Indies who is in charge of the covenant drafting committee, that it was needed because of the risk that the communion will fall apart - chiefly over homosexuality - unless an agreed framework is in place.
. . .
The proposal for a covenant has been most strongly supported by conservatives and evangelicals within the church, confident that it will enshrine their theology and enforce doctrinal order. They see it as a means of disciplining member churches such as the American Episcopalians who have pressed ahead with the recognition and inclusion of gay members and elected an openly gay bishop in 2003.
Liberals claim the church has never needed a framework before and that the proposal goes against Anglicanism's traditional national autonomy and diversity of practice.
Read it all here.
So what to make of all this? First, it is interesting that a full third of the General Synod voted against the resolution--the Church of England is quite divided. Indeed, one reason why the vote may have gone as it did is that a refusal to do so could have forced a premature schism within the Church of England. (This is uninformed speculation from an Episcopalian--take it with a grain of salt).
Second, we don't know what the final Covenant would actually look like. While conservatives hope that it would address issues of sexuality, this may not be the case. There is still much work to be done, and a diasagreement over the details of the Covenant may yet itself be a schism causing event.
Finally, it is not at all clear who will be in the "Anglican communion" when these issues are decided. Several Primates have announced that they will not attend Lambeth if Episcopal Bishops who voted for Bishop Robinson attend. It may well be the case that much of the Global South will leave to form their own Communion.