January 28, 2015

How Does the Anglican Communion Office Count?

Anglican Communion News Service announced January 19, 2015, that the Anglican Church of Melanesia adopted the Anglican Covenant at its November General Synod. ACNS noted that Melanesia “is the 12th Province to adopt or subscribe the Covenant.” The story also provided a link to what I take to be the official Anglican Communion Office tally of Covenant acceptances and rejections.

The Living Church dutifully picked up this story two days later under the headline “12th Covenant Affirmation.” Interestingly, Episcopal News Service ignored the development.

As Episcopal Church Convenor and Webmaster for the No Anglican Covenant Coalition, I was naturally interested in the story out of Melanesia. At the very least, I needed to update our own reckoning of decisions about the Covenant in the various Anglican churches.

I had assumed that updating the status table on the No Anglican Covenant Web site would be quick and easy. A little spot checking, however, made me realize that many of our links documenting the progress of actions involving the Covenant were no longer available on the Web. I therefore embarked on the lengthy project of fixing broken links. In most cases, I was able to retrieve a page from the Internet Archive. In a few cases, I had to delete a link or link to a different page. To the best of my knowledge, the No Anglican Covenant Coalition’s status table is now correct and up-to-date.

The Coalition’s tally differs in some significant ways from that of the ACO. Most conspicuously, the Coalition has attempted to document all the steps leading to a final decision on the Covenant, something that is not an objective of the listing on the Anglican Communion Web site. We note the current status of the Covenant in The Episcopal Church, for example, citing two General Convention resolutions, a resolution from a diocese, and three pages documenting resolutions proposed for the 2012 General Convention. The Episcopal Church has not yet made a decision about the Covenant, and this fact is unreported by the ACO. Fine, that’s not the purpose of its listing.

Two omissions from the official list of Covenant decisions are notable, however. Bishops of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines voted against Covenant adoption in May 2011. This has not been especially well documented or explained—but see this story—and we have taken this to be a Covenant rejection. More distressing is the omission of the Church of England’s rejection of the Covenant. There seems to be an unwillingness to admit that the Mother Church of Anglicanism has, in fact, failed to endorse the project so ardently supported by its former Archbishop of Canterbury. No doubt, the rejection of the Covenant by a majority of English dioceses is somehow deemed less than definitive by the ACO. The church could reconsider, after all, but so could a church that has unambiguously adopted the Covenant.

Most distressing, however, is the claim by ACNS that 12 churches have adopted the Covenant. Even counting in the most generous fashion, the Anglican Communion Web page lists only 11 adopters! The Coalition, on the other hand, counts 9 unquestioned adoptions and 2 ambiguous ones. Our listing for the Church of Ireland notes
The Ireland church “subscribed” to the Covenant on 13 May 2011. The General Synod intended to make it clear that the Covenant did not supplant existing governing documents of the Church of Ireland. Source
Is the action taken by the Church of Ireland substantially different from a simple adoption? Who knows? Only time will tell.

Our listing for the Church of the Province of South East Asia is the following:
The church “acceded” to the Covenant and published an explanation of its understanding of the action on 7 May 2011, which seems to go beyond the Covenant text itself.
The South East Asia’s “Preamble to the Letter of Accession” reviews Covenant history and recent Anglican Communion conflicts from a conservative, Global South perspective. It also sets out expectations of churches adopting the Covenant, expectations not contained in the Covenant text itself. Moreover, the Preamble asserts that “our accession to the Anglican Communion Covenant is based” on those extra-covenantal expectations. We therefore believe that South East Asia’s acceptance of the Covenant is conditional.

Even if Ireland and South East Asia are counted as adopters, the page from the ACO shows that only 11 churches, not 12, have adopted the Covenant. A screenshot from the page, on which I have highlighted adoptions in green, rejections in red, and ambiguous adoptions in orange, is shown below. (These are the colors we use on the No Anglican Covenant page.) Click on the image for a larger view. A PDF file showing the entire page, annotated as in the image below, is here.

Partial page from Anglican Communion Web site

So, can the minions of the Anglican Communion Office not count, or are they willing to engage in sleight of hand to promote the Covenant? Who knows?

Update, 6/7/2015. The link to the Anglican Communion Office tally of Covenant adoptions has been updated to reflect the current location of the information on the Web.

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