The Honourable Ronald Stevenson, QC, is a recently retired Chancellor of the Anglican Church of Canada. He says,
As one trained in the law (60 years a law student) and who has both written and interpreted documents that define relationships and prescribe processes for the resolution of differences my principal concerns are with the quality of the language of the Covenant and with the processes set out in Section Four for the maintenance of the covenant and dispute resolution.He cites, as an example, the various uses of the central term 'faith' and questions how they relate to one another. He point to the ambiguities of Section 4, not least the differences between raising a question of interpretation of the Covenant and raising a question of compatibility with the Covenant, and he points out that Section 4.2 does not seem to envisage the possibility that the matter under dispute could be deemed to be 'compatible with the Covenant'.
A final concern. Much emphasis has been placed on section 4.1.3 of the Covenant the second sentence of which says, “Nothing in this Covenant of itself shall be deemed to alter any provision of the Constitution and Canons of any Church of the Communion, or to limit its autonomy of governance.” If a Church adopts the Covenant without qualification or reservation it might be argued that the Act of adoption does have the effect of altering the Church’s Constitution or limiting its autonomy. In my opinion any Church planning to adopt the Covenant should consider including in its Act of adoption a statement such as “The adoption of The Anglican Communion Covenant by this Church does not, and shall not be deemed to, alter any provision of the Church’s Constitution or Canons or limit its autonomy of governance.”Enough, I would have thought, to make even strong advocates of the Covenant think twice about how future lawyers will interpret this Covenant.
One key question is the punitive potential of the Covenant. Jonathan says:
What counts about the Covenant text is not whether it claims to be punitive, or even whether its framers intend it to be, but whether it can be used in a punitive manner, and the answer is clearly yes. Although the text states that provinces continue to be self-governing, when one of them refuses to accept the 'recommendations' of the Standing Committee there will be 'relational consequences': withdrawal from some, many or all of the international structures of Anglicanism. If a province rejects 'recommendations', it can be excluded from the Covenant's 'enhanced' relationship with other provinces and international committees. Given that this 'enhanced' relationship turns out to look very much like the relationship most provinces thought they already had with each other, the effect would be a demotion.
Is this a punishment? For some it is not punishment enough; others including Goddard claim that it not a punishment at all. Such a claim is hardly convincing. It is like telling a child 'You are free to eat your broccoli or leave it, just as you like, but if you do not eat it you will not have any chocolate'. Whether this is called a 'punishment' or a 'relational consequence' is irrelevant: the child feels only too acutely the limitations on freedom caused by an unequal power structure. In the same way provinces would have their autonomy limited by the threat of exclusion from international structures: they will in effect be told 'Unless you toe the line we shall no longer count you as one of us'.The article reinforces the argument that Anglicanism would be re-defined by the Covenant, reasserts that the Covenant would encourage provincial introspection and that it would create new dogmas.
Third, Mark Clavier at Living Church News Service has a world-weary and well-written article What Gentle Anglicanism. I share his thesis that Anglicanism has been a church in conflict through its history with the loudest cries for liberty coming from those who felt (and generally were) on the losing side at the time. I was amused to be told - and to accept without qualms - that as a liberal I am 'playing to script'.
I guess the question is what we draw from this reading of history as a moral for today. I would point to the historical and present day failure of all sides to so dominate Anglicanism as to exclude any of its strands for ever. The liberal Dean Stanley pointed out that nineteenth century ecclesiastical court judgements had even-handedly found for Evangelicals, Conservatives and Liberals in different cases. But instead of being equally pleased (and relieved) each party merely saw this as greater cause for annoyance.
Even the overwhelming preponderance of Anglo-Catholics in the 1920s did not squeeze out the rest and, as the wind changes, so liberals came to have their day after 1945 while Evangelicals have grown strong since the mid-1980s (which, I think, largely caught Liberals by surprise - but perhaps that's also part of the script).
As a Liberal I fear that the upsurge of neo-Calvinist conservatives in some parts of the world will do more than simply tip the scales in their direction. It feels to me as though they will effectively expunge liberal tradition (not just TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada) perhaps for more than a generation. Script or no script, it is a prospect I abominate and wish to oppose as strongly as I can.
I also fear that, in the US, the organised structures of schism, and the circling Provinces willing to offer legitimacy to their allies, will soon erupt into still greater schism and conflict, Covenant or no Covenant. And this, I think, has hardly any historical precedent in Anglicanism and none on this scale.
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I expect the recent flowering of posts and papers will subside soon after Wednesday's vote on the Covenant at General Synod. But I also know that, however the vote goes, it will be a long haul before it is finally defeated.