July 3, 2015

Covenant? What Covenant?

Earlier this month, I wrote an essay titled “Time for a Definitive Response to the Anglican Covenant,” which called on the General Convention to hold an unambiguous vote on the Anglican Communion Covenant. I wrote, “This year we must provide a definitive response to the invitation to adopt the Anglican Covenant, and that response should be ‘thank you, no.’”

Well, the General Convention works in mysterious ways. In its collective wisdom, it has decided neither to say “thank you” nor to say “no.” Let me explain.

The two resolutions on the Anglican Covenant, A040 and D022, were assigned to the Governance and Structure Legislative Committee. Resolution A040 originated with the Executive Council. Although it would not have adopted the Covenant, it offered approval of most of the document. It also directed the church’s members of the Anglican Consultative Council “to express our appreciation to the 16th meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC16, Lusaka 2016) for the gift of inter-Anglican conversation and mutuality in God’s mission engendered by the Anglican Communion Covenant process.” Resolution D022, submitted by deputy Lisa Fox, differed from A040 only in that it denied that the Covenant captured our church’s present relationship to the Communion or any desired future relationship.

Even before the June 26 hearing on the two resolutions, it was obvious that there was little fondness for the Covenant among members of the Governance and Structure Committee. At the hearing itself, six speakers addressed the Covenant resolutions. Two, including Bishop Ian Douglas, who was a member of the Executive Council Task Force on the Anglican Covenant, supported A040. The Rev. Mark Harris, who is not a deputy this year, also spoke. According to one observer, “Mark Harris didn’t like anything but thought we needed to figure out a plausible answer.” The two endorsers of D022, Mary Roehrich and the Rev. Canon Scott Quinn, spoke in favor of their resolution. Also speaking in favor of D022 was Michael Booker, a deputy from the Diocese of Missouri recruited to address D022 by proposer Lisa Fox, who was prevented by sickness from attending the convention as a Missouri deputy.

I was surprised and confused when both A040 and D022 were marked on the General Convention Web site as “HoD acted to Discharge - Already acted on at this convention.” It took some time to figure out what action was being referred to. It turns out that Resolution A019 was repurposed by the legislative committee as a substitute for either A040 or D022. Resolution A019, which was proposed by Executive Council began as follows:
A019: Affirm the Inter-Anglican Secretariat

Resolved, the House of _______ concurring, That through our funding and active participation, this Church continues to bear witness to this Church’s ongoing commitment to the Anglican Communion and the work of the Inter-Anglican Secretariat.
Essentially, this resolution declared that we intended to remain in the Anglican Communion and to continue paying for much of its administration.

The resolution that was sent to the House of Deputies and approved by it on June 28 was this:
A019: Affirm the Inter-Anglican Secretariat

Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, That the 78th General Convention of The Episcopal Church affirm our common identity and membership in the Anglican Communion; and be it further

Resolved, That the 78th General Convention direct The Episcopal Church's members of the Anglican Consultative Council to express our appreciation to the 16th meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC16, Lusaka 2016) for the gift of Inter-Anglican conversation and partnership in God's mission; and be it further

Resolved, That The Episcopal Church affirm its ongoing commitment to the Anglican Communion and the work of the Inter-Anglican Secretariat through our funding and active participation.
The final resolve is a minor rephrasing of the single clause of the original Resolution A019. Prefixed to this are provisions derived from A040/D022. The first resolve reproduces the text common to A040 and D022. Nothing is said about specific parts of the Covenant or, in fact, about the Covenant at all! The second resolve is nearly the same as the second resolve of A040 and D022. Here are the subtle changes seen in A019:
  1. “Inter-Anglican” has replaced “inter-Anglican.”
  2. The amended A019 substitutes “partnership in Godֹֹ’s mission” for “mutuality in God’s mission.”
  3. The amended A019 drops “engendered by the Anglican Communion Covenant process.”
Not until July 3, the last day of the General Convention, did Resolution A019 appear on the consent calendar of the House of Bishops with the recommendation that the bishops concur with the decision of the House of Deputies. The consent calendar was approved by the bishops, who thereby concurred with the House of Deputies in passing Resolution A019.

Analysis

What has The Episcopal Church done here?

In the final resolve, we have yet again affirmed our commitment to and support of the Anglican Communion.

Implicitly, in the second resolve, we are grateful for conversation within the Communion, though not specifically (or perhaps at all) for conversation related to the Anglican Communion Covenant. Moreover, in speaking of “partnership in God’s mission” rather than “mutuality in God’s mission,” the church emphasizes its autonomy rather than its “interdependence” with respect to other Communion churches.

The first resolve declares that The Episcopal Church recognizes its common identity and membership in the Anglican Communion without reference to the Anglican Communion Covenant.

It is especially important that we have not suggested that, for example, we are bound by Section Three of the Covenant. That section demands shared discernment regarding difficult issues. We have not consulted the Communion and asked if we can proceed to marry same-sex couples. To have asserted Section Three as part of our Anglican identity and to have taken the actions the 78th General Convention took would have been the height of cynicism and insincerity.

I argued that the 78th General Convention needed to accept or reject the Anglican Covenant. The convention found a third way, a way that avoids the embarrassment of explicit rejection while making it clear that we want nothing to do with the Covenant.

In the end, The Episcopal Church decided not to adopt the Covenant, not to reject the Covenant, but to ignore it to death. It is to be hoped that the churches of the Communion recognize that the Covenant project has failed and that the Communion can only survive by partnering in mission wherever possible and agreeing to disagree wherever conflicts are, for now, irresolvable.

No doubt, the Anglican Communion office will conclude that The Episcopal Church is still in the process of receiving the Covenant. It isn’t, and the General Convention has made no provision to consider the Covenant further.

Thanks be to God.

No Anglican Covenant logo

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