Leader Sees Good Chance That Final Covenant Will Go To Provinces Next Year; Expresses Openness To Possibility Of New North American Province
By Robert England
Special To The Christian Challenge and Virtue Online
www.challengeonline.org :: www.virtueonline.org
September 15, 2008
The process of finalizing an Anglican covenant needs to move forward more quickly if the Anglican Communion is to be preserved.
That was the message delivered Saturday (September 13) by West Indies Archbishop Drexel Gomez, the chairman of the group charged with formulating the pact intended to help ensure unity in basic beliefs, settle disputes, and administer discipline among historically autonomous Anglican provinces.
“I believe Anglicanism has much to offer the world and has made a tremendous contribution to Christianity. But we are at a dangerous point in our history,” Gomez told more than 100 people attending the Festival of Faith at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Bladensburg, Maryland.
“There is nothing on the immediate horizon that offers any kind of hope to holding the Communion together other than the covenant,” Gomez contended. “Nothing else is on the table. If that fails, we will see only further fragmentation and disintegration. That is not theory but reality,” he said.
ARCHBISHOP GOMEZ was celebrant at a high pontifical Mass in the morning and gave two addresses at the day-long Festival, an annual event at the multi-cultural, traditionalist Maryland parish. Quincy Bishop Keith Ackerman, the president of Forward in Faith, North America (FIF-NA), also spoke at the conference regarding the state of Anglican relations with Rome and Orthodoxy, and delivered the sermon at Evensong.
Gomez noted that the covenant got a big boost at the 2008 Lambeth Conference July 16-August 3 in Canterbury, where bishops meeting in “indaba” groups overwhelmingly indicated their support for the concord, even as a small number of liberals loudly opposed it.
The covenant is expected to be a key focus of the Primates’ Meeting called by the Archbishop of Canterbury for last week of January, according to Archbishop Gomez, who retires at the end of December and so will not be part of that meeting. However, he has agreed to continue as chairman of the Covenant Design Group for another year and longer, if needed.
In a press conference following the Festival, Gomez indicated that the timetable for adopting a covenant could be shorter than some estimates at Lambeth, which maintained that it could take up to ten years to secure adoption of the pact in all or most of the Communion’s 38 provinces.
The first step to speeding up the process is to get the final draft complete, Gomez said. “It is my hope” and “a strong possibility” that the final draft of the covenant may be sent to the provinces sometime next year, he said.
Provinces have been asked to send in their responses to the second version of the covenant, known as the St. Andrew’s Draft, by mid-March 2009.
Taking into account all the comments and responses, including those offered at Lambeth, the third draft of the covenant is to be completed by next April to be ready for submission to the Anglican Consultative Council when it meets in May, Gomez said.
If the revised covenant meets with the approval of the ACC, it can then be released to the provinces for their deliberation, possibly in time for the General Convention of The Episcopal Church (TEC) next summer, the prelate said.
Gomez’s hope that the final draft of the covenant can be released next year is based on the work that the Design Group has put into the drafts “and the intensity with which we will be trying to respond to all the comments, certainly that were made at Lambeth,” he said.
“Having done all of that, we would have had three rounds of discussions” about the covenant, Gomez said, and “should be in a position to really declare the mind of the church. It’s on that kind of reasoning I am saying I believe we could be in a position (to move ahead), but I may be wrong.”
The covenant would then go to the 38 provinces, the vast majority of which have synods or province-wide gatherings every three to five years, Gomez explained. He anticipates that a large number of provinces could vote to accept the covenant fairly quickly.
In order to give the covenant a chance of succeeding, Gomez reiterated the call from Windsor Continuation Group at Lambeth for moratoria on the consecration of active homosexuals, blessing of same-sex unions, and provincial border crossings. Gomez said the idea of the moratoria could also be expressed as a “time-out.”
There are, of course, already clear signs that the “time-out” will be violated by pro-gay liberals, and therefore by conservatives; that humanly speaking it cannot last three to five years. And provinces outside North America may move into the rebel camp as well; reports say that the Church in Wales may elect a homosexual bishop soon.
But, Gomez lives in Christian hope and prayer that quickening the covenant process along with pressing appeals for restraint will finally be enough to see the Communion safely home. He urged representatives on all sides to use the time-out to pray more, engage in open and honest discussion, and “make no further efforts to promote your particular agenda.”
“Create a time and space for us to engage with the Lord and see where the Lord is trying to lead us,” Gomez said.
He also repeated the call by bishops at Lambeth that TEC “stop this business of going to court to solve problems.”
“If we cannot create this environment, the big time-out, then the matter will re-engaged, and we will be headed for further fragmentation and division,” Gomez warned.
In a press conference following the event, when asked how his approach to the crisis in the Communion differed from that of Bishop Ackerman, who leads one of three dioceses that are likely to vote to leave The Episcopal Church and align with another Communion province, the Argentina-based Southern Cone, led by Archbishop Gregory Venables.
“My emphasis is on the Communion first and not on the more immediate and that’s where the difference [between myself and Bishop Ackerman] will be. But [it is] not contradictory. Because I understand what [the need to focus on the immediate] means.”
Speaking of these likely imminent departures, Gomez said that he feared that if “the pace does not quicken” in the Communion, “there will be far more of that. I think that is clear as night follows day. If the Communion doesn’t hurry up and gets its act together, we will be in for more of that.”
-Origins of the Covenant-
The proposal for a covenant came out of the 2004 Windsor Report, prepared by a panel commissioned by Anglican primates (provincial leaders) to deal with the crisis brought by the actions of TEC in consecrating a practicing homosexual as bishop in 2003, and of the Anglican Church of Canada’s Diocese of New Westminster in implementing the blessing of same-sex unions in 2002.
In the most recent St. Andrews Draft of the covenant, provinces would pledge to uphold historic Christian faith inherited by Anglicanism and to promote and proclaim the Biblically-based Gospel through mission.
Signers of the covenant, Gomez explained, are called on to pledge themselves to the understanding that the Anglican Communion requires mutual accountability among provinces and that the constitutional autonomy of provinces exists within a larger framework of communion that sets limits on that autonomy.
The covenant also would provide a mechanism or process by which provinces, once they have signed the covenant, could be determined to have violated the covenant and, thus, to be deemed to have removed themselves from the Communion.
Gomez provided some details on how comments and responses so far might reshape the language of the covenant.
Significantly, the draft now under development is likely to reflect more of the concept of mutual accountability than did the St. Andrew’s Draft, with a clearer idea of how provinces might find themselves outside the Communion, according to Gomez. “Without that, the covenant is meaningless,” he added.
He noted there had been complaints that the covenant was punitive and designed to discipline wayward provinces.
“From what I’ve heard, there are some bishops in [TEC] who are not at all in favor of the covenant concept. One said to me the whole objective of the covenant is to kick out [TEC] from the Communion,” Gomez said. ”That’s not the brief we were given.”
“Discipline is not meant to be something punitive, but it is to say that if you give your word, it is expected you will keep your word, and if you don’t keep your word, it means you are not willing to be held accountable for what you say and what you do.”
When asked how a province would be taken out of the Communion, Gomez replied, “The language we have used is that you place yourself outside by that action (of violating the agreements within the covenant).”
In the St. Andrew’s Draft, a complicated process is set up to determine whether a province has violated the covenant. For example, one of the “instruments of communion” among Anglicans – the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primates’ Meeting, Lambeth Conference or the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) – can issue a request for a province to adopt a particular course of action with regard to a matter under dispute. However, under that same draft, any such request is not binding on a province unless recognized by the province.
In “the most extreme circumstances,” however, according to the St. Andrew’s Draft, “where a [province] chooses not to adopt the request of the instruments of communion, that decision may be understood by the [province] itself, or by the resolution of the instruments of communion, as a relinquishment by that [province] of the force and meaning of the covenant’s purpose.”
In its appendix, the St. Andrew’s Draft appears to assert that only the offending province itself, or the ACC alone among the instruments, can determine this “relinquishment,” which seems to fall short of suspension, separation, or expulsion.
Asked about this, Gomez seemed to suggest that another province could make that determination as well. “We also say ‘or another province or the ACC,’” he maintained.
“Another province can say what you are doing is outside of the scope of the covenant, outside of the common understanding, and bring the matter to a head,” Gomez asserted. Then, the ACC can make the determination of whether or not the province has violated the covenant.
Even so, it may appear to some by the way the covenant is presently written that a province could violate the covenant in a way that would be clear to rest of the Communion and yet no determination would be made that it had relinquished membership in the Communion; the ACC might refuse to act, either from pressure from the Archbishop of Canterbury, or because it felt this was not an “extreme situation.”
Gomez was asked about the possibility that a province could sign the covenant, but apply a different interpretation to its language from that originally intended; and then when a disputed matter goes to the ACC – now seen as a body dominated by liberals – it would accept the province’s tortured explanation that it had not violated the covenant.
“I would not put it quite like that,” Gomez said. “But I would hope they would not be as devious as that,” he added. “Some persons have expressed those same sentiments to us, but I hope and pray that the situation would not degenerate to such a low level,” he added.
-Opposition to Covenant-
Gomez noted that there is a distinct minority of bishops who oppose the covenant as being anti-Anglican. “They don’t want anything that even appears to be putting up barriers to exclusion.”
One reporter at the press conference noted that TEC Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said in an online briefing following Lambeth that a majority of bishops at Lambeth claimed the second draft was too punitive and legalistic.
“That’s not true,” Gomez said. A number of bishops, but not a majority, felt the language was too legalistic [and complicated] in the appendix,” which he said was drawn up principally by Professor Norman Doe. “We have already determined that we are going to rework the appendix.”
And he asserted that “no one I think who is objective can claim that the St. Andrew’s draft is punitive. What it says is if you sign up for the covenant and you break your word, then you are really removing yourself.”
He acknowledged that a couple of bishops have said to him and publicly that “no matter what you do, you’re still supposed to be in the Anglican Communion.”
“One bishop from Canada used the analogy of the family. Once you belong to the family, you belong [forever],” Gomez recalled. “But in many families, you remain in the family but you can’t stay in the house because your presence in the home is a bad example to other young people, and so you are forced to move out because what you are doing is an offense to the integrity of the family.”
-North American Province-
Gomez was asked how a new orthodox North American province might affect the covenant process.
He said that Global South Anglican leaders meeting a few years ago in Kigali, Rwanda, felt that “eventually there has to be some arrangement for North America to deal with the realities of the situation.”
The Global South at the time avoided the idea that it would be another province, he asserted. ‘We couched the language deliberately in a vague way, because at the time, we didn’t give any serious consideration to the form that structure would take.”
But after June’s Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON), “it’s quite clear that there’s a movement that is going to be pressing that line of argument,” Gomez said.
The potential for wider splits in the Communion supports the call for speedier adoption of the covenant, according to Gomez. “As I said earlier, if the Communion does not act quickly, something [like a province] is going to be inevitable. But I still hope and pray the Communion will act in the interest of Anglicanism,” he said.
What happens if a new North American province emerges? “Even if you went with some form of a structure for North America, if it is kept within the bounds of ‘GAFCON’, that would at least hold it in a place in which it can relate to the rest of the Communion,” the Archbishop said.
He said a potential new North American province could sign onto the covenant and petition the ACC to be admitted as a province in the Communion. Short of a change in membership in the ACC, though, he thought it unlikely that the ACC would admit the province.
Gomez was asked whether or not the Global South, in signing onto the covenant, might set as a condition that something be worked out in North America.
“Yes,” Gomez indicated, “and I think we will have to have some very serious discussions with the Global South representatives.”
If TEC signs the covenant, would it require its liberal leaders to suspend or resolve all their lawsuits immediately?
“What we are saying with the covenant is that we are not dealing with the past. If a new situation emerges when the covenant is signed, it will certainly be contrary to the spirit of the covenant and to the actual terms of the covenant for persons to go outside of the fellowship for a resolution of disputes,” Gomez said.
“It’s contrary not only to the spirit, but also the letter, of the law because the covenant fixes the boundaries for the settling of disputes. And if you go outside of that, you are renouncing the covenant.”
Gomez was asked if ongoing lawsuits would need to be resolved in North America after those provinces signed the covenant.
Gomez replied: “In the spirit not only of law but in the spirit of Christian charity, they would have to revisit any matters that are still before the court,” Gomez says. “And that’s part of the price that will have to be paid.”
Asked what role January’s Primates’ Meeting will play, he said: “Exactly what they will try to do I’m not sure yet,” Gomez said. “But it is quite clear when the primates meet they will face up to the reality of what’s going on on the ground. Anything else would be foolhardy.”
What could the Primates do?
Gomez said they could give “some further impetus” to the covenant process, and “push forward the covenant concept” in their respective provinces when they return home.
But again, Gomez knows time is short. He voiced concern, for example, about whether and how long bishops in three more Canadian dioceses that have approved same-sex blessings will hold off implementing those ceremonies. If they acquiesce, “they will not be exercising the restraint Lambeth was calling for,” Gomez said.
Gomez was asked: While the prospects for support from TEC and Canada might not be bright, would quicker action on the covenant possibly assure more unity than would otherwise exist throughout the rest of the Anglican Communion?
“I think so,” said Gomez. “I spoke to [Nigerian Archbishop Peter] Akinola last week. He’s still adamant that he’s not out to break up the Communion. He’s not out to start a new church.”
Would the Church of England support the covenant? “A majority of the bishops in the Church of England, certainly at Lambeth, gave the indication they would support the covenant,” said Gomez. “They would want to see some changes in the text, but definitely were in favor of a covenant.”
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