In 2012, the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church (USA) concurred with Resolution B005, “Ongoing Commitment to The Anglican Covenant Process.” The resolution declined to take a position on the Anglican Communion Covenant but also affirmed the Covenant process and called for a task force “to monitor the ongoing developments with respect to the Anglican Covenant.”
The Episcopal Church’s response (or, as some have considered it, non-response) was new. According to the Anglican Communion website, of those provinces that had voted on the Covenant by mid-2012, seven had adopted it and one had not. Since 2012, responses have varied. Four more provinces have adopted it, one has rejected it, and one has offered a 3/4 affirmation, rejecting only the fourth and final section of the Covenant. Although a draft Act of Synod adopting the Covenant was approved by the Church of England in 2010, the Covenant was not ratified by the majority of English dioceses, thus preventing it from being approved by General Synod (full report available here). As I have already noted, the Episcopal Church (USA) affirmed the Covenant process without taking a stand on the Covenant itself.
Thus, of the sixteen Anglican provinces that have voted on the Covenant, eleven have adopted it, three have not, one has offered a partial affirmation, and one has affirmed the process itself.
One resolution currently on the table for the 78th General Convention is A040, which reaffirms resolution B005 from 2012. However, just last week, a new resolution (D022) was proposed which calls the Episcopal Church to: “affirm our common identity and membership in the Anglican Communion, neither the present nor any desired future nature of which is properly described by the Anglican Communion Covenant.”
To those who will consider the sweeping (if poorly worded) condemnation at the heart of this resolution, I would like to raise the following questions:
- What has changed between 2012 and 2015 that would require the Episcopal Church to alter its stance toward the Covenant?
- If we reject the Covenant, how should we respond to the eleven provinces that have accepted it?
- If we reject the Covenant, will we continue to affirm the right of other provinces to either accept or reject it as they see fit, or will we look to alter relations between ourselves and those who dissent from our opinion?
- Given that one province — Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia — has subscribed to the first three sections of the Covenant, might we also seek to discover elements of the Covenant that we too affirm, thus identifying as much common ground between ourselves and other Anglicans as is possible?
Questions 2 and 3 jointly look toward a simpler question as well: how will we envision our relations with pro-Covenant provinces?
Question 4 turns toward wider Anglican discussion of the Covenant. My own view is that the Anglican Covenant is a good thing. In 2012, I edited a collection of essays on the Anglican Covenant — Pro Communione: Theological Essays on the Anglican Covenant. Widely praised, it remains the only published work that considers the completed text of the Covenant. It is factually wrong to claim, as does resolution D022, that the Anglican Covenant does not correctly describe the present nature of the Anglican Communion (the future nature of anything being known only to God). It is furthermore factually wrong to assume that the text of the Anglican Covenant has no relation to earlier Anglican history. (A short overview is available here; a longer overview may be found as the first chapter of Pro Communione.)
I fear that D022, with its sweeping and uncompromising language, not only attempts to legislate in favor of historical error — as if might makes right! — but also risks driving a wedge between us and those Anglican provinces who have not only recognized something of themselves in the Anglican Covenant, but found something of value in it as well. If we cannot agree in full, let us agree in part and affirm in part, remaining open in hope to Christ, who is all in all (Col. 3:11).