How is it designed to work?
The Covenant pages -
The text of the Covenant contains a brief preamble and four sections.
Full Covenant text.
Section 1 affirms basic Anglican beliefs and commitments and
Section 2 commits churches to shared mission and service. Section 3 establishes the authority of the
four Instruments of Communion. These are the Archbishop of Canterbury, the
Lambeth Conferences of bishops, The Anglican Consultative Council (made up of
representatives of the provinces) and the Primates' Meetings. It then focuses
on how to keep the Communion united. Churches must 'have regard for the common
good of the Communion in the exercise of its autonomy', 'respect the constitutional
autonomy of all of the Churches', 'spend time with openness and patience in
matters of theological debate and reflection', 'seek a shared mind with other
Churches', 'participate in mediated conversations', 'act with diligence, care
and caution in respect of any action which may provoke controversy, which by
its intensity, substance or extent could threaten the unity of the Communion', 'uphold
the highest degree of communion possible' and 'uphold the highest degree of
communion possible' at times of conflict.
It is Section 4, the process for conflict resolution,
which is the controversial part. When a 'shared mind' is not attained the
matter is referred to the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion. This is
an international body consisting partly of primates and partly of members of
the Anglican Consultative Council. About the Standing Committee.
The Standing Committee is to attempt to negotiate
agreement and if this fails, request a church to defer the relevant action. If
this too fails it is to recommend 'relational consequences which flow from an
action incompatible with the Covenant'. A 'relational consequence' would
characteristically be to exclude a province from an international function (as
has already been done in anticipation of the Covenant).
A province's bishops might be excluded from Lambeth
Conferences. A list of possible actions was published in the 2008
Lambeth Commentary (see page 25).
In effect this would establish a two-tier Communion,
with inferior status assigned to churches which either do not
sign the Covenant, or do sign it but then reject a Standing Committee
'recommendation'. Such a two-tier Communion would reflect the original motive
for having a Covenant. Others, however, are concerned that their own church
might one day suffer the same treatment, perhaps due to a controversy which has
not yet arisen.
There has been much less controversy about Sections 1-3.
As a description of Anglicanism, some have found them satisfactory but
others have not. We should note
that even if Sections 1-3 are acceptable as a good description of Anglicanism,
the Covenant would turn them into a criterion of Anglicanism; the Covenant
would commit future generations to agreeing with them.
The Covenant pages -