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from Signs of the Times, No. 26 - Jul 2007
We wish to make three main arguments against the Draft Anglican Covenant:
This is an unjustified and extensive innovation in Anglican ecclesiology.
The central proposal of the Draft Anglican Covenant is to concentrate power in the hands of the 38 Primates of the Anglican Communion.
This will constitute a fundamental and extensive change to the Anglican Communion, ending the autonomy provinces now have and centralising power in a small group.
We believe that this has not been justified, would result in a narrowing of the theological and communal life of the Anglican Communion, and will not resolve doctrinal conflict.
Provincial legislatures, as trustees for the church in each place, could not properly agree to hand their powers to others on the basis of so little information.
The Draft Anglican Covenant is vague or silent on all the key elements of its proposals.
The Primates would act, like judges, to determine the 'common mind' of the church and then enforce it on the Provinces but there is no discussion of what the 'common mind' of the church might mean nor how would it be ascertained.
The Draft contains no detail of how its proposals would work, what bureaucracy it would require, what matters should be decided locally, what safeguards would govern the Primates' use of their power, nothing about the role of the laity, and no discussion of implications, including its cost.
The proposals disregard traditional Anglican theology and theological expression.
The Draft does not explicitly addresses Anglican theology. Nonetheless its tenor, and the proposal that the Primates should determine Anglican belief, suggest that doctrinal differences should be resolved by authoritative statements.
Classical Anglican theology asserts there is no single infallible source of theological truth; instead we rest on the three-legged stool of Scripture, reason and tradition. In this proposed polity theological truth will be determined by the Primates. This is likely to lead to a narrowing of Anglican theology and an ethos of doctrinal authoritarianism.
As a group of liberal Anglicans we suspect that these power will be used against liberal expressions of theology. But as there are no safeguards in the Draft the same powers could be used against any minority theological position.
At its meeting in July 2007 the General Synod of the Church of England is asked to address the principle of the Covenant. We urge that they reject it on these grounds, and also that to accept this Draft in principle is to accept the possibility that they would hand their powers of decision making over doctrine and (to some degree) canon law to the Primates' Meeting and thus give up their autonomy.
We recognise that there is a need to look again at the structures of the Anglican Communion. However this proposal is not the way forwards. There is much in the rich Anglican tradition of dispersed authority, of hospitality, mutual respect and trusting co-operation which can provide an alternative to the proposals of the Draft Anglican Covenant as grounds for hope for the future.