ENGLAND: Church groups campaign against Anglican Covenant

October 27, 2010

Two progressive Anglican groups, Inclusive Church and Modern Church, have joined together to campaign against the proposed Anglican Covenant, which they say is "an attempt by some leaders of the Anglican Communion to subordinate national churches to a centralized international authority, with power to forbid developments when another province objects."

The covenant first was proposed in the 2004 Windsor Report as a way that the Anglican Communion and its 38 autonomous provinces might maintain unity despite differences, especially relating to biblical interpretation and human sexuality issues.

But some Anglicans, including Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and the Episcopal Church's Executive Council, have raised concerns about the covenant being used as an instrument of control, particularly in section 4, which outlines a method for resolving disputes in the communion.

In November, the Church of England's General Synod will be asked to approve the covenant.

"Many synod members do not realize it, but it could be the biggest change to the church since the Reformation," said an Oct. 28 press release from Inclusive Church and Modern Church, ahead of a campaign launch Oct. 29 when full-page ads (available here) will appear in both the Church of England Newspaper and the Church Times.

The campaign "will continue during the weeks leading up to the General Synod debate," scheduled for Nov. 24, "and if the [covenant] is not rejected, but referred to the dioceses, it will continue throughout 2011," the release said.

The ad, titled "Who runs the church?" encourages General Synod members to vote against the covenant, saying that it would "redefine Anglicanism" and make it more "centralized and clerical."

"Anglicans traditionally value the role of reason and thus expect to learn from other people. We have therefore been better at staying united because we have debated our disagreements openly within the church, without threatening schism, until such time as consensus is reached," the ad says. "The way to keep united is to insist, as the Church of England has normally done, that differences of opinion may be freely and openly debated within the church, in the interests of seeking truth, without invoking power games or threats of schism."

In February 2009, members of the Church of England's General Synod signaled their overall support for an Anglican Covenant but remained divided on how much authority or influence it should marshal in the communion's 38 provinces.

"We mustn't have excessive expectations of the covenant," Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said at the time, cautioning against it being used as a legal instrument. "It's part of an ongoing inquiry of what a global communion might look like. At every stage it is something which churches voluntarily are invited to enter into."

Following years of discussion and several draft versions, the final text of the covenant was sent in December 2009 to the communion's 38 provinces for formal consideration.

In the U.S.-based Episcopal Church, congregations are being urged to study and discuss the covenant during the next two years in preparation for General Convention in 2012.

Executive Council has predicted that any formal approval of the covenant by the Episcopal Church could not come until at least 2015 should endorsement require changes to the church's constitution.

The Anglican Church of Mexico, meeting in General Synod in June, became the first province formally to adopt the covenant. The Anglican Church of Southern Africa on Oct. 1 voted in favor of adopting the covenant, but that decision will need to be ratified by the next meeting of provincial synod in 2013.