What are the consequences of not signing the covenant?

A few stray thoughts on the Anglican Covenant and the recent meeting of the Central Committee of the Anglican Communion (I can’t bring myself to accept the power-grab-by-name- change that Rowan Williams has affected by calling this thing a Standing Committee, so I am using another name).

I am going to assume, until I learn otherwise, that the Episcopalians on this committee, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, and Bishop-elect Ian Douglas, did the best they could to soften the statement that the Central Committee released calling on us to graciously restrain from repenting from centuries of bigotry until cultures even more bigoted than ours can see their way clear to repenting along with us.

I am also going to assume that I may never learn otherwise because I have been told that the Central Committee members agree not to speak about what happens at their meetings. So any time you see the phrase Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion, remember that this body, which will soon be making essential decisions about the life of the Communion operates in secret.

While I dislike the Covenant as both document and enterprise, I still think the Episcopalians need to answer some hard questions before committing themselves to opposition. I can think of two off the top of my head, and hope commenters will suggest others:

1. Would choosing to not sign the covenant impair our ability to collaborate with other Anglicans? My hunch is that the answer is no. We’d be an associate member (or whatever title the folks who came up with the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion think up for those who refuse to sign). The homophobic provinces bankrolled by Howard Ahmanson and company would continue to keep their distance from us, but would anybody else shun our company? I don’t think so. What do others think?

2. Would it be politically damaging not to sign the Covenant? Again, I don’t think so, but I am less certain in my answer. The Episcopal Church really needs to emerge from the atmosphere of imminent danger in which it has existed for the last six years. It can be argued that the easiest way to do this is to put ourselves beyond the reach of Rowan Williams and the virulent homophobes whose appeasement is the hallmark of his tenure. If we do not sign the Covenant, the means by which they can intimidate us are significantly reduced. But let me make the counter arguments.

A. The Communion will eventually recognizes the Anglican Church in North America as a full member. Perhaps. But this seems far from a sure thing. If border crossing is an Anglican no-no, then a church composed almost entirely of congregations acquired through cross border interventions (and one that has thus far flaunted its non-compliance with the Anglican application process) has poor qualifications for membership. But let’s suppose ACNA does get admitted to the club. What changes on the ground? Not much, in my estimation. These folks have spent six years and millions upon millions of dollars trying to take down the Episcopal Church, and their own numbers suggest that they have lured away somewhere between three and four percent of our membership. And, increasingly, they will find themselves looking for new members amongst a generation that finds homophobia the Church’s greatest sin.

B. We will lose influence in the Communion. Maybe, but keep in mind, that the Covenant itself is an attempt to diminish the influence of our moral example in the Communion. What we might (and I say might because membership in the Instruments and even on the Central Committee is not restricted to provinces that sign the Covenant) lose is a seat at the closed-door, horse-trading sessions, like the one that just occurred in London. Would that be a bad thing if we weren’t bound by the decisions that were made? One could argue that being free to conduct our affairs as we choose would be the most powerful counterexample to life under the Romanizing disaster (Rowan Williams) that can be affected.

C. The Communion Partner Bishops will attempt to lead their dioceses out of the Church and join forces with ACNA to become a new North American province of Anglicanism. This is the one I worry about, but perhaps more on emotional grounds than practical ones. If this happens, there will be more infighting, some of it with people I’d rather not fight with.

Will the Communion Partner bishops try this? I don’t think so, but some of them seem to have fallen under the sway of the Anglican Communion Institute. As we know from those famously mis-sent emails, the ACI has already involved Bishop Mark Lawrence of South Carolina in a scheme to snatch a parish out from under the jurisdiction of Bishop Rob O’Neil of Colorado. And a number of these bishops signed a laughably wrongheaded paper prepared by the institute, which argued that dioceses were independent of the General Convention (and that these bishops therefore had powers that the Church has not actually granted them).

I hope these bishops and the Communion Partner Rectors will renounce the kind of behind-the-scenes machinations in which the ACI specializes, but the leader of the rectors group was also a participant in the errant emails, so I am concerned about how some of these folks will conduct themselves in the future. On the other hand, I am not at all concerned about others in the group, whose loyalty to the Church I think is unquestioned. And I think Bob Duncan’s act wore awfully thin on most bishops a long time ago.

Finally, I think we need to stop thinking of Rowan Williams as a gentle, scholarly soul caught between warring parties, doing his best to make peace. He exacerbated the crisis in the Communion by convening the emergency Primates Meeting in October of 2003; he has coddled and abetted the most virulent homophobes in the Communion throughout his tenure as archbishop, and he has used this crisis to ram through a centralized Communion structure that departs significantly from traditional Anglicanism, places much more power in his own hands, and dramatically reduces the influence of the people in the pews on the policies of the Church. I think he knew what he was doing every step of the way. Get past the beard. Get over the eyebrows. The man knew what he wanted–an Anglicanism that the Vatican would take seriously–and he has moved shrewdly and skillfully to get it.

So what do we do now?

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