Scottish Episcopal Church votes against adopting Anglican Covenant

June 8, 2012

[Episcopal News Service] The General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church on June 8 voted against the adoption of the Anglican Covenant, a document which supporters say offers a way to bind Anglicans globally across cultural and theological differences.

The Scottish synod was asked to vote on a motion to agree in principle to adopting the Anglican Covenant. The motion was voted down by 112 to 6 votes, with 13 abstentions.

“Our decision not to adopt the Anglican Covenant is not a decision to reject the Anglican Communion,” the Most Rev. David Chillingworth, primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, told synod following the vote.

“Nor are we indifferent to deeply held differences of view which are held across the Communion,” he added. “For those differences are also present in this church and they are part of our daily life and relationships. We hold a range of views. They are expressed with integrity, listened to with care and we are committed to living creatively with our diversity.”

The decision comes three months after it became clear that Scotland’s neighbors to the south in the Church of England could not adopt the covenant in its current form after a majority of its dioceses voted the document down. The Church of England’s General Synod cannot consider the covenant again until 2015.

The Anglican Covenant first was proposed in the 2004 Windsor Report as a way that the communion and its 38 autonomous provinces might maintain unity despite differences, especially relating to biblical interpretation and human sexuality issues. The report came in the wake of the 2003 election of Gene Robinson, an openly gay priest, as bishop of New Hampshire, a development that caused some provinces to declare broken or impaired communion with the U.S.-based Episcopal Church.

The covenant also was a response to some church leaders crossing borders into other provinces to minister to disaffected Anglicans and a decision by the Diocese of New Westminster in the Anglican Church of Canada to authorize a public rite to bless same-gender unions.

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

The document’s fourth section, which outlines a disciplinary method for resolving disputes in the communion, has largely been the covenant’s sticking point. Some critics have warned that adopting the covenant could result in a two-tier communion.

“Our decision not to adopt the Anglican Covenant says that we think that this was not the right way,” Chillingworth said. “We needed to recognize that what brings division and difficulty to our life as a communion is a number of inter-related issues, not just one – not just the single complex of issues around human sexuality.”

The Episcopal Church’s General Convention will consider its response to the covenant when it meets July 5-12 in Indianapolis, Indiana. At present, seven resolutions have been proposed to convention, each calling for different responses to the proposed covenant.

Throughout the Anglican Communion, the seven provinces that have approved or subscribed to the Anglican Covenant are Ireland, Mexico, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, South East Asia, Southern Cone of America, and the West Indies.

The Anglican Church of Southern Africa has adopted the document pending ratification at its next synod meeting later this year.

The Church in Wales in April gave the covenant “an amber light, rather than a green light.” The church’s governing body said it feared the recent rejection of the covenant by the Church of England jeopardized its future and clarifications about that were now needed before a decision could be made. It sent questions on the matter to the Anglican Consultative Council, the communion’s main policy-making body, which meets later this year.

Episcopal Church in the Philippines bishops have formally rejected the covenant although the Anglican Communion Office confirmed that it has not yet received a formal notification from that province. Maori action in the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia rejecting the covenant last November means that it may be rejected when it comes before the province’s General Synod in July.

The Anglican Communion’s Standing Committee agreed at its recent meeting that “no timeframe should yet be introduced for the process of adoption of the covenant by provinces,” according to a release from the Anglican Communion Office.

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