Episcopal News Service reports:
Anglican bishops meeting at the Lambeth Conference on August 2 said there were passionate disagreements about aspects of a developing covenant designed to hold
together churches with theological differences.
In addition, the bishops on the next-to-last day of the July 16-August 3 meeting clashed over proposals that would require churches to stop entering other provinces to minister to conservatives, blessing same-sex unions and consecrating partnered gay persons to the episcopate.
It will be interesting to see to what extent the differences of opinion are contained in the final Reflection from the conference, but it very much sounds as though those who dissent are being given every opportunity to have their say so that, when the covenant is pushed through, they can be told they were fully consulted and listened to.
[Later in the article ...]
Several bishops said the most contentious area of the St. Andrew's Draft of the covenant is an appendix [flow chart of its procedures here, pb.] that suggests a procedure for churches that breach the covenant. There are various bureaucratic options involving the Archbishop of Canterbury and a group of assessors but in the end, wrote Archbishop Drexel Gomez of the West Indies, "if a church exercises its autonomy to reject a request made to it … then a decision has to be made whether rejecting the request amounts to abandoning the commitments of the covenant." Gomez is chair of the Covenant Design Group.
The covenant is "not setting out to be punitive," said Aspinall, but if a church is found to have abandoned the covenant, "what might flow from that is still being talked about -- whether that would mean no invitations to Lambeth or you lose seats on the ACC …those kinds of things might be possible." But, he added, "immediately there is established a process to seek reconciliation."
That's alright then - it's a non-punitive covenant so any sanctions are imposed for the sake of unity and, presumably, those not-punished should be grateful for the wisdom of the others' actions. Surely if a Province is pushed away from the table it will feel a aggrieved, perhaps even insulted: it faithful witness will have been deemed invalid. In such circumstances why should they seek reconciliation?
All these suggestions - of exclusion from one or more aspects of the communion - are derived from the ultimate punishment of excommunication. To be treated as a penitent seeking readmission after a period of penance is just not going to wash.
Jim Naughton at The Lead suggested that the covenant, especially its punitive aspects, was being 'soft pedalled'.
Canon Gregory Cameron, of the Anglican Communion Office, secretary of the Covenant Design Group, discussed progress toward a covenant at this morning’s news conference, and was at pains to emphasize that the St. Andrew’s Draft of the covenant is open to revision.
The appendix of the St. Andrew’s Draft, which many Episcopal Church leaders find overly legalistic and potentially punitive, is “a first draft,” Cameron said, merely “an attempt,” to determine how disputes should be settled within the Anglican Communion.
I am also intrigued that Drexel Gomex has lengthened the timescale for implementation to 2015 (see my Bouncing change through the Anglican Communion here).
This is a recognition that the power currently lies in the Provincial legislatures. They have a veto. (This has been evident from the earliest discussions of covenant in the Windsor Report. Till now the programme has been to make this step seem as small and as inevitable as possible. It is neither.)
Provincial legislatures will now be the target of any campaign to stop (preferably) or neuter the convenant. Perhaps all it needs is to remind people of the maxim that constitutions should be written blind: you can never be sure that you or your group will remain in control. Powers that can be used against your enemies can also be used against you.
I have disagreed with Pluralist in the past as to whether the covenant is dead. I suspect (and fear) that my earlier judgement is correct: the bureacratic momentum and support from a few people at the centre of the Communion, not least the ABC, will drive through against the opposition and reluctance of the majority. They genuinely believe it is for the best. It won't even be irrelevant if the Communion crumbles: some sort of covenant will be drawn up for each of the smaller groups.