February 1, 2011

GAFCON and the Covenant

It was a delicious irony that, while the Church of England’s General Synod was in the process of giving the Anglican Covenant a free pass in its first step toward acceptance by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s own church, GAFCON, an alliance presumed to be the greatest beneficiary of the Covenant, was dismissing the pact as inadequate. In particular, in item 5 of the November 24, 2010, Oxford Statement, GAFCON leaders, after announcing a boycott of the now concluded Primates’ Meeting in Dublin asserted, “And while we acknowledge that the efforts to heal our brokenness through the introduction of an Anglican Covenant were well intentioned we have come to the conclusion the current text is fatally flawed and so support for this initiative is no longer appropriate.”

There has been some confusion about the timing of the General Synod vote and the posting of the Oxford Statement. As one who was following the Church of England’s debate in real time, I can assure you that Oxford Statement was posted to the Web before, albeit just before, the General Synod vote, but those debating the Covenant appear to have been unaware of that development. I suspect that both the timing and the irony were intentional.

I was prompted to think about the GAFCON position while reading the lead editorial by Trevor Donnelly in the February newsletter from Inclusive Church. The editorial devotes two paragraphs to the Covenant. In the second paragraph, I detect a certain sigh of relief:
While the conservative bishops were on board, the Covenant was dangerous; with them out of the picture the Covenant is pointless for everyone, and creates an unnecessary structure that we don’t want to be burdened with. Inclusive Church still opposes the Covenant—resources and information on it are available from Modern Church and the No Anglican Covenant group. The Covenant may be less of a threat, but we must not forget that it was created to penalise inclusive churches.
I find the suggestion that the threat posed by the Covenant is past and that, even if adopted, the Covenant, at worst, will only be a nuisance, to be dangerous and wrongheaded.

In particular, I don’t think we can rely on the most “orthodox” churches to stick to their resolve to reject the Covenant. I am not privy to the thinking of GAFCON’s Primates’ Council, but it is not inconceivable that the drafters of the Oxford Statement were not even trying to bring about a revision of the Covenant text. Instead, they may have been seeking to make the current text seem innocuous enough to attract adoptions from less conservative, and even liberal, churches. After most of the Communion has accepted the Covenant, the Nigerias and Ugandas of the Communion can quickly sign on as well. They can then begin the process on strengthening the Covenant and using it against the churches of the West.

Even if the Primates’ Council was not being so Machiavelian, its members may change their minds. A split of the Communion remains a possibility, but GAFCON primates may well conclude at some future time that remaining in the Communion governed by the Anglican Covenant may give them more influence than they would have running a parallel “Anglican” communion.

At the very least, I predict that the GAFCON churches will hedge their bets, neither adopting nor rejecting the Anglican Covenant until most of the other Communion churches have acted. Should The Episcopal Church accept the Covenant, I predict that the GAFCON churches, despite their charges of insincerity, will quickly follow suit.

Opponents of the Covenant should not be letting down their guard.


No Anglican Covenant

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