May 3, 2009

The ACC Begins Its Meeting

The meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council is now underway in Kingston, Jamaica. The most important item on the agenda is the fate of the Ridley-Cambridge draft of an Anglican covenant. Will it be sent to provinces for approval? Will it be sent back to the Covenant Design Group for a third revision? Will the idea of a covenant simply be dropped? The most likely outcome is surely that it will be offered for approval by individual churches, so that the primary issue to be decided will be the guidelines of the approval process.

Early reports from the meeting have been surprising. Anglican Journal carried this report:
“I think the Covenant Design Group thinks that it has done what it can with the text and feels that it is now mature enough to be handed out to the provinces,” added Canon Kenneth Kearon, secretary general of the Anglican Communion. While it is up to the ACC to make a decision, “the hope is that the ACC will feel that it’s mature enough to go to the provinces,” said Mr. Kearon. “No instrument of the Communion is going to make a decision about the covenant, it’s up to the member churches in the Communion.” The Anglican Communion is composed of 80 million Anglicans in 44 regional and national churches in over 160 countries.

Acceding to the covenant is voluntary, explained Mr. Kearon, adding that the membership in the Communion of churches will not cease or be altered if their decision-making bodies decide not to sign on to it.
This is an encouraging report, at least insofar as the idea of a two-tiered Communion seems to be off the table. It is difficult to know how confident one should be that that is the case, however. (Personally, I had no problem with The Episcopal Church’s being in the outer ring of the Communion, so long as we did not finance the activities of the inner circle.)

One should not be too confident that the Anglican Communion Office either knows what will happen in Jamaica or is able to control it. Interestingly, Anglican Mainstream reported Kearon’s statement like this: “The text is mature enough to send on to the provinces who will make the decisions.” Notice that this attributes the opinion to Kearon himself and not to the Covenant Design Group. More worrisome is this from Anglican Mainstream:
However, he [Kearon] admitted that ACC-14 will need to decide whether it will be individual dioceses or provinces that will sign up to the Covenant. So it appears that ACC 14 [sic] needs to decide whether individual dioceses can sign up to the Covenant even if their province does not.
Although this latter statement attributed to Kearon was not reported by Anglican Journal, there is no reason to doubt its authenticity. Conservative American bishops are trying to gain the right of dioceses to sign on to an Anglican covenant even if their province does not. (See “Communion Partner Bishops’ Statement.”) Those bishops, no doubt, have their allies in the ACC.

Let us hope that the Communion Partner bishops are not granted their wish by the ACC, which would be disastrous for the Anglican Communion. Not only would it call into question the structure of the Communion as a fellowship of provinces (churches), but it would directly undermine the internal coherence of provinces with dioceses that insisted on dissenting from the decision of their churches. Note that, if a diocese could accept the covenant if its church does not, it could presumably reject the covenant if its church does sign on. This is an invitation to anarchy. Moreover, it is unclear how Section Four of the covenant would work if dioceses can opt in or out, as that section deals with churches, not dioceses.

Can anyone doubt that, if diocese are given an option of accepting or rejecting the covenant, not all dioceses in The Episcopal Church will go along? Either the church will reject the covenant, and conservative dioceses will accept it—the most likely outcome—or the church will accept the covenant and liberal dioceses will reject it.

The notion that an Anglican covenant would unify the Communion was never a tenable idea. The ACC now has an opportunity to assure that not only the Communion will be destroyed by a covenant, but that the individual churches will be thrown into chaos. This is what comes of deciding early on that you have the “only way forward” and never looking back. And you thought only the likes of GM, Chrysler, and AIG were bad at strategic planning!

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