It has been just over week since the Proposal for Anglican Covenant has come out, just enough time for the initial blast of publicity and visceral reactions to ease down and, perhaps, just time to start to think about the implications of this move. What I offer here is hardly a systematic review of the document (which can be found at Covenant Proposal ), but rather a series of impressions based on my reading of the proposal and the reaction to it.
First, I think this is a good idea. One of the most frustrating aspects of the last few years is the almost total lack of accountability in how provinces act towards each other. I am the first to recognize the effective independence of each province of the Anglican Communion and to recognize that this means that there is considerable scope for different practices from province to province. These differences are a good thing, but we also have to remember that, as a Communion, we are also affected by other provinces' decisions. A covenant to recognize that interdependence and to work out ways to appropriately deal with problems between provinces is long overdue.
Second, this idea of a covenant which binds us as a Communion is a biblical one. Indeed, implicit in the ecclesiology of the Bible, is an assumption that the churches of St. Paul's day, while effectively independent in most areas, are bound by the good news they share and by the bonds of affection with which they are bound. The generous assistance of the Macedonian churches to Jerusalem is only on example of these ties. If we are looking for a model to retain independence and the sense of belonging to each other, we would do worse than the Pauline churches or even the churches of the sub-Apostolic age. We don't need an imperial bishop to accomplish this, but we do need forbearance and wisdom among ourselves.
Third, I recognize that this covenant is viewed by both sides with considerable suspicion and, to some degree, rightly. There has been so bad blood between the two sides in this conflict that it should be unsurprising that both sides cannot trust each other not to manipulate the mechanisms set up by this covenant to drive the other out. Yet, this covenant has been implicit in the logic of the Windsor Report and really is a measure to cool the conflict. I pray that we can bear that in mind.
Lastly, I recognize a certain amount of fatigue around this issue. Over the last year, we have been increasingly seeing both moderate liberals and moderate conservatives muttering about wanting this issue to just go away. Rightly, moderates point out that there are other serious issues in the Communion and it is time to get on with things. Yet, I do want to caution that, now that this issue has been exposed to the light, we can't sweep it under the rug. I certainly wish the New Westminster crisis and the Robinson ordination crisis never happened, but they have and we need to deal with those issues. Before we can even get going, we need to figure out what are our common bonds and how do we deal with provinces which disregard those bonds. I get that ECUSA and the diocese of New Westminster believe they are at the forefront of a prophetic call to open the church to homosexuals (I dispute that, but that is the subject of another blog), but we have to recognize that the prophets tend to cause as much conflict as they solve. If this is true prophecy, we will look back on this time and say that the divisions created needed to happen. If it was not, then both New Westminster and ECUSA have to answer for that. The jury is out on the prophetic call, but we had better figure out how to discern these calls or we're just asking for further division and conflict.