March 29, 2012

RNSB 'Covenant' to Bind Anglican Communion Appears Dead

'Covenant' to Bind Anglican
Communion Appears Dead

BY AL WEBB and KEVIN ECKSTROM                                                                          ©2012 Religion News Service

A proposed "Covenant" aimed at ensuring unity across the worldwide Anglican Communion appears to have failed, leaving the world's third-largest Christian body facing an uncertain and likely fragmented future.

The covenant, born of an idea in 2004 to try to set boundaries in belief and practice for the Communion's 40 members churches, appears dead after a majority of dioceses within the Church of England voted to reject it.

With results still being counted, supporters of the Covenant effectively lost their battle within the Church of England when the Diocese of Lincoln cast the 23rd vote against it. "The covenant is either buried or disabled," said Simon Barrow, co-director of the independent British think tank Ekklesia, in the aftermath of the decision.

Diarmaid MacCulloch, professor of church history at Oxford University, chimed in: "It seems to me the scheme is dead in the water throughout the Anglican Communion. There really would be no point in other provinces signing up to it, since already some are most reluctant to do so."

The Episcopal Church, the U.S. branch of the Anglican Communion, has not voted on the proposed pact but the idea faced steep resistance in a church that has shown an increasing willingness to go its own way in recent years.

The Covenant had been billed as a way to heal the growing splits within Anglican churches over a range of issues that centered on same-sex unions and homosexual bishops.

One of its biggest supporters was Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who backed the covenant's call to member churches not to take steps or adopt policies that could antagonize Anglicans in other countries.

Failure to abide by the Covenant would result in a kind of second-tier membership for independent-minded member churches.

Williams announced on March 16 that he will step down at the end of the year to return to his roots in academia, depriving supporters of the Covenant their most powerful voice.

In fact, Williams had little more than the force of his own personality to try and win over skeptics. The archbishop of Canterbury has no power directly over Anglican churches--either to adopt his policies or to keep them from adopting their own.

Without a central core of acceptable behavior to unite the global communion, Williams warned of the risk of "piece-by-piece dissolution."

The covenant was born after the consecration of an openly gay Episcopal bishop in New Hampshire, Gene Robinson, in 2003. The U.S. church furthered angered Canterbury by blessing same-sex unions and consecrating a lesbian bishop in Los Angeles.