Defeat for Archbishop as Covenant draft is rejected - Religious Intelligence

May 11th, 2009

By George Conger, Religious Intelligence

The Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) will not endorse the Anglican Covenant, and has voted to send it back to committee for further review. The vote comes as a major defeat for the Archbishop of Canterbury who had championed the covenant as the one way to keep the Anglican Communion from splitting. However the defeat was self-inflicted, as Dr Rowan Williams’ ambiguous intervention in the closing moments of the debate led to the loss.

Delegates adopted a compromise resolution, whose provisions Dr Williams had rejected at the start of the May 8 debate but backed by its end, to appoint a committee to review and revise section 4 of the covenant and report its recommendations to the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates and the ACC for adoption. A process, the ACC’s secretary general Canon Kenneth Kearon said would likely take up to year to bring to fruition.

Questions of treachery and incompetence were lodged against Dr Williams by conservative members of the ACC in interviews with Religious Intelligence following the vote, but the next day softened to exasperation with the archbishop’s ambiguous way of speaking that critics said was unsuited to the political rough and tumble of a meeting where many delegates had limited English-language abilities.

Delegates from the Church of Nigeria stated they were perplexed by Dr Williams’ actions. “All of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s contributions were positive” up until the last moment of the meeting, Bishop Ikechi Nwosu of Nigeria said.

Nigerian Archdeacon Abraham Okorie said there was a “satanic” spirit of confusion in the air. He noted it was hypocritical of the ACC to make a great noise of using African ways of decision making in addressing the covenant, but then resorting to slippery parliamentary tricks to thwart the will of the meeting.

Dr Williams was a “very weak leader,” Bishop Ikechi Nwosu of Nigeria observed. “Of course we pray for him, but couldn’t he be courageous for once?”

Over three years in the making, the work of the Anglican Covenant Design Group (CDG) was presented by its chairman Archbishop Drexel Gomez of the West Indies on May 4 to the representatives of the 38 provinces of the Communion gathered at the Pegasus Hotel in Kingston, Jamaica for the 14th triennial meeting of the ACC.

Archbishop Gomez, who retired as Primate of the West Indies on Dec 31, outlined the history of the document commissioned by Dr Williams and the circumstances that led to the creation of the final “Ridley” draft. It was imperative the delegates endorse the covenant as the Anglican Communion “is close to the point of breaking up,” he said.

The covenant would provide a degree of order, discipline and mutual responsibility. “Either we are a family, which means that each member of the family has care for and respect for the other members of the family, or we will have to learn to go our separate ways. The question is, do we wish to remain a Communion?” Archbishop Gomez asked.

Dr Rowan Williams also added his endorsement to the covenant in remarks to the meeting, while a letter of greetings from the Roman Catholic Church urged delegates to adopt the covenant.

In a letter of greetings distributed to the delegates written by the President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Cardinal Walter Kasper gave an oblique but clear endorsement of the covenant. He stated the “consideration” the delegates would give to the covenant would “play an essential part in discerning the way forward for the Anglican Communion in the light of current complex issues.”

The covenant debate would “encompass not mere external links which regulate the lives of respective provinces from outside, but rather the internal bonds that spring from deep within the heart of each individual church,” he said, adding that he prayed the debates would “contribute to the healing, articulating and strengthening of these bonds of love that unite” the Anglican Communion.

Following Archbishop Gomez’ presentation, a model resolution prepared by the Joint Standing Committee (JSC) of the primates and ACC endorsing the covenant was distributed to the delegates, who were divided into “discernment groups” operating on the “indaba” principle. First tried out with the bishops attending the 2008 Lambeth Conference, indaba is a faux African decision making process based upon a Zulu council meeting where tribal elders discuss an issue until a common mind is reached, however in the Anglican version debate is ended at a set time.

A discussion paper submitted to the JSC’s November meeting in London argued that while the indaba process used at the Lambeth Conference was “not designed to achieve final decisions”, the format of “respectful listening” could be adapted to the ACC’s needs for an up or down vote on the covenant. The ACC paper proposed dividing the discussions into a presentation by Archbishop Gomez, an information plenary session, discernment groups, and a decision making plenary, with delegates seated at tables of 6 to 10 people before the speaker’s platform.

Comments arising from the discernment groups would be passed to the ACC’s resolution committee, chaired by Dr Anthony Fitchett of New Zealand, for crafting into a resolution set down for debate at the decision plenary. The decision plenary began at the midmorning session of May 8. Dr Fitchett noted the resolutions prepared by the committee sought “to be as inclusive as possible,” but noted there were “mixed views on section 4” from the discernment groups.

The committee decided to frame the debate on the covenant around concerns, Religious Intelligence learned, had arisen in one discernment group around the disciplinary provisions of section 4 of the Covenant.

Resolution A sought to detach section 4 from the covenant for further study and possible revision, but was silent on sections 1-3 of the document.

The Archbishop of Cape Town was the first to rise, offering his support for the resolution, saying it would “allow more time” for debate. The Rev Ian Douglas of the Episcopal Church also endorsed A saying he was concerned section 4 had not undergone the scrutiny and “same review process” parts 1-3 had had.

There were “too many ambiguities” in section 4, he argued, saying it was “immature.” He added that the current language of section 4 opened the door to churches not part of the ACC to endorse the document. He speculated that if the breakaway Anglican churches in North America signed the covenant as now written, while the Episcopal Church’s legislative process made it unlikely a final decision could be made in less than six years, could lead to the “question at ACC-15 about who is the Anglican body” in America?

Delegates from Brazil, Ireland, and Scotland urged adoption of resolution A, but other delegates were not persuaded by the call for delay.

Bishop Ezekiel Kondo of the Sudan urged rejection of resolution A as section 4 of the covenant was its “most important” clause. The President Bishop of Jerusalem and the Middle East, Bishop Mouneer Anis stated that without section 4 the “covenant was no covenant.” The Ridley draft was “most perfect covenant we can get,” he argued.

Southeast Asia delegate Stanley Isaacs said the vote on the covenant was the “defining” moment for the communion, and it would be “disastrous” to remove section 4. Delegates from Tanzania, Iran, Peru, Australia Nigeria, and Central Africa endorsed the “no” vote on resolution A, as did the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Dr Williams told the delegates that he did not see how adopting A “gets us much further along.” He also noted its language was ambiguous. “What would be the remit for redrafting,” he asked, urging the defeat of the resolution. In response to Dr Williams, Josephine Hicks of the United States said that if the “covenant is sent to the provinces with section 4, some provinces may reject” it.

After further debate the delegates broke for lunch. When business resumed, the Primate of Australia, Archbishop Phillip Aspinall offered a new resolution, labeled C, that sought to combine elements of A’s call for further study of section 4, and B’s call for adoption of the covenant.

Bishop Andrew Curnow of Australia objected to the introduction of C, saying it “moved the goal posts” and confused the issue while A had yet to be decided. Janet Trisk of South Africa rose in support of C, but Bishop Annis and Mr Isaacs also objected to the introduction of a third resolution, while other delegates from South Africa and the Church of England rose in support of the original A, and Bishop Gerald Mpango of Tanzania stated C was improperly before the meeting anyway, as it had not been passed through the resolutions committee. Ugandan delegate Jolly Babirukamu said she was worried the meeting lacked the “spirit of discernment.” It was the “devil’s plan” to divide the church, she said, and the introduction of C had led to “anger and confusion”.

Dr Williams closed the debate, saying he believed the meeting should “move to A, then B” while the “extra material” introduced by Archbishop Aspinall could be added as an amendment to B.

Following a vote by secret ballot, Resolution A calling for section 4 of the Covenant be sent back for further study was defeated by a vote of 17 in favour, 47 opposed, 1 abstention.

Debate then began on Resolution B. After an introduction to the resolution by Dr Fitchett, the chairman of the meeting, Bishop John Patterson of New Zealand, stated each clause of the resolution would be put to a vote.

Clauses a and b of Resolution B, thanking the CDG for its work and affirming the need for a covenant passed with little comment or debate, by votes of 60-2-1 and 61-3. Janet Trisk of South Africa then rose and offered an amendment, seeking to introduce two clauses from Archbishop Aspinall’s resolution C into B, as paragraphs c and d.

Paragraph c of the Trisk amendment was a verbatim repetition of clause b of the defeated resolution 2 which asked the resolution be sent back for “possible” revision, while clause d gave the JSC the authority to approve the final form of section 4 before it was sent on to the provinces.

Resolution A was voted down. Janet Trisk of South Africa then offered an amendment to resolution b, inserting two sections from the Aspinall amendment into resolution B. Bishop Patterson responded that he would not accept the amendment as “the difficulty I have is that the house has already decided not to proceed along the lines of resolution A.”

Dr Williams rose to offer a point of order stating “it did seem to me that the voting on A may very well have been properly influenced by the fact that an alternative form of A is known to be about to be tabled. That I suggested the material of C should be moved as part B, I suspect that people may have voted with that in view.”

Bishop Patterson reversed himself and set the amendment before the meeting. Prompting Dr Anis to object saying “We have already voted against A, that is deciding to bring in A again, but in a different form.”

Bishop Patterson did not respond to the objection, an Australian lay delegate then rose in support of the Trisk amendment and the question was put to vote. Bishop Patterson said, “The question is whether or not for the introduction … for the amendment or against the amendment, with the introduction of those two clauses, and the subsequent renumbering from 15 to 16” of the vote.

Following a secret ballot, the vote was 34 to 31 for accepting the Trisk amendment. The renumbered clauses e and f, asking to the covenant to be sent to the member churches of the ACC for consideration and adoption and for a report from each province to be given to ACC-15 in 2012 on its progress on adoption the covenant were passed by votes of 63-2. While a vote to introduce the Trisk amendment was held and adopted by the meeting, no vote on the substance of the amendment was held.

A tea break was called, but as the delegates streamed out of the room, Bishop Patterson said there was some confusion as to the outcome and proceedings and the subject would be revisited at the 5:00 pm session.

While the delegates gathered in the tea room, a visibly angry Dr Williams met with his advisers for over a half hour on the floor of the deserted conference room. Dr Anis subsequently approached Dr Williams stating his objections to the breach of parliamentary procedure of resubmitting a defeated resolution for consideration. Dr Anis declined to comment on the substance of his conversation with Dr Williams, but confirmed Dr Williams was not pleased with the outcome. Aides to the Archbishop explained to Religious Intelligence that Archbishop Aspinall’s amendment had been preserved as it had been offered before a final vote on A, and thus could be discussed later.

Delegates questioned by Religious Intelligence appeared confused by the proceedings. One francophone delegate stated he had voted against A, but as Dr Williams had commended the Trisk amendment, he had switched his vote. A second delegate from Africa told CEN he had understood Dr Williams as not having commended the Trisk amendment but was offering housekeeping advice to the meeting to straighten out a confused situation, while a third delegate whose native tongue is English said he understood the Archbishop to have switched horses, and was now calling for section 4 to be stripped out of the Covenant.

Upon resumption of business at 5:00 pm, Bishop Patterson announced there would be no further vote on the Covenant, as the “legal advice” he had been given stated the matter had been settled.

Dr Anis rose to object, saying “Resolution A was defeated, then brought back as a resolution. It is illegal. How can we bring back a defeated clause?”

Bishop Patterson responded that the vote on A was “in anticipation that other material will be taken” into consideration, closing debate.

Members of the Episcopal Church’s delegation told the Episcopal News Service they were pleased by the outcome. “We came up with what was clearly a compromise,” Josephine Hicks said. “Not everyone is entirely happy with what we came up with, I feel certain, but that’s what compromise is all about.”

Bishop Catherine Roskam said there had been “a lot of graciousness” in the midst of “a lot of pressure” to adopt the Ridley draft of the covenant. Passage of the Trisk amendment would allow further work on section 4, “we were grateful for that and the tone of that vote.”

Dr Anis told Religious Intelligence he was “very disappointed” by the “manipulation” of the proceedings. “It was not right. It was absolutely wrong,” he said.

It was “unfair” for the resolution committee to have staged the debates by arranging the resolutions in that order, he charged. And it was “unfair to appoint three members [to the committee] from countries known to reject the covenant: New Zealand, America and Scotland,” he said.

“All that happened was to increase the distrust” and dysfunction of the communion, Dr Anis said.

The registrar of the Church of Nigeria, Abraham Yisa, said he was amazed by the proceedings, which were “contrary to all known rules” of parliamentary procedure.

Bishop Nwosu asked why the ACC needed to spend £330,000 to meet in Jamaica, when “we could have just asked [Dr Williams] what he wanted” and all stayed at home. Bishop Patterson was “taking direction” from Dr Williams and it “was not fair. The whole thing was manipulated.”

However, Bishop William Godfrey of Peru stated that while Friday’s session had been “a difficult time, a painful time,” and it was sad that we “will have to wait longer” for a covenant, it “could have been worse” as section 4 could have been thrown out entirely rather than sent back for further review.

“Everything is in God’s hand,” Bishop Godfrey said. “He is in control” and we just have to be patient.

2 Responses. Comments closed for this entry.

  1. Alice C. Linsley Says:

    The strangeness of Dr. Williams’ timely intervention causes me to wonder… Perhaps he has served the Communion better than we realize. God’s hand in this? The Lord made Balaam’s ass speak when he wanted something done. Surely HE can make an Archbishop speak!

  2. game Says:

    great read, thx for posting