GAFCON and The Anglican Covenant
by Andrew Goddard
One of the most serious questions left unanswered after the GAFCON conference was where the movement stood in relation to the proposed Anglican covenant. That question now appears to have been answered fairly unequivocally in two documents (from the GAFCON Theological Resource Team) on the St Andrew’s Draft Text to which the 7 GAFCON Primates refer in their response to the Archbishop of Canterbury
. These are apparently based on pre-conference discussions in Jerusalem. One is a response to the draft text
and includes the following paragraph:
Sadly this new draft of An Anglican Covenant is both seriously limited and severely flawed. Whether or not the tool of covenant is the right way to approach the crisis within the Communion, this document is defective and its defects cannot be corrected by piecemeal amendment because they are fundamental. The St. Andrews Draft is theologically incoherent and its proposals unworkable. It has no prospect of success since it fails to address the problems which have created the crisis and the new realities which have ensued.
The other document is a briefing paper (it is unclear whether this was a briefing written for those who then wrote the response or a briefing written by them to brief the wider GAFCON movement). This claims to examine “changes between the Nassau and St Andrews Drafts of An Anglican Covenant” and offers the following executive summary:
The St Andrews Draft is not a conservative revision of the Nassau Draft. Its changes are so significant theologically and practically that they completely recast both the grounds of common life together and the process by which the assault upon that common life by TEC and ACoC is to be addressed. The Nassau Draft is a much better document than its successor. The new document is severely flawed and should be repudiated.
The conclusion of the response is therefore clear:
In the light of these considerations we find that the St Andrews Draft of An Anglican Covenant does not meet our expectations or hopes for restoring the broken sacrament of Communion.
What are we to make of these unremittingly negative statements? In what follows I evaluate each of the two documents in turn, revealing their serious flaws, before offering some suggestions as to what they tell us about the GAFCON movement and the challenges now facing the development of an Anglican Covenant.
[Update added 30th July - Following original publication of this article, GAFCON subsequently withdrew the comparison
between the two drafts (the briefing document discussed below in part I) and apologised for their wrong identification of the document they were comparing as the Nassau Draft. They also made clear that their response to the St Andrew's Draft (the second document discussed and critiqued in detail in part II below) is their official substantive response and comes with the authority of the Theology Resource Group of GAFCON].
I - GAFCON Briefing Paper on Changes Between
the Nassau and St Andrews Drafts of An Anglican Covenant
The briefing paper lists 10 alleged removals from Nassau and 2 additions. In what follows the GAFCON claims appear in bold followed by an evaluation. Sadly the statement provides no supporting evidence for the claims and, despite appearances, cites nothing from either covenant text.
1. The St Andrews Draft significantly reduces the attention paid to the authority of Scripture in the Nassau Draft.
With the exception of removing the biblical verses which Nassau cited without explanation at the start of each section there are no significant removals in relation to Scripture and the new draft integrates more biblical texts into the main body of the covenant. In fact, the trend is quite the opposite of that claimed here when the two texts are compared:
· Para 6 of the introduction adds “We are a people who live, learn, and pray by and with the Scriptures as God’s Word”.
· 1.1.2 now makes clear the Scriptures are “those of the Old and New Testaments”
· 1.2.1 adds “and consonance with Scripture to Nassau’s “to uphold and act in continuity and consistency with the catholic and apostolic faith, order and tradition”
· 1.2.2, although removing reference to “biblically derived moral values”, speaks of a commitment “to uphold and proclaim a pattern of Christian theological and moral reasoning and discipline that is rooted in and answerable to the teaching of Holy Scripture and the catholic tradition” where before the reference was simply to “catholic tradition”.
· In 1.2.4 there is added a reference to building on “habits and disciplines of Bible study across the Church” where Nassau emphasised the role of bishops, synods and scholars.
2. The St Andrews Draft removes the language of obedience with reference to Scripture which appears at several points within the Nassau Draft.
A simple word search will show that neither “obedience” nor “obey” appear anywhere in the Nassau draft. The only possible basis for this claim appears to be the regrettable removal in 1.1 of “our loyalty to this inheritance of faith as our inspiration and guidance under God” (from the Declaration of Assent)
3. The St Andrews Draft removes all reference to the history of salvation which provides an important foundation within the Nassau Draft.
Again, this is hard to understand as a simple comparison of the introductions shows that St Andrew’s is much fuller than Nassau in terms of “the history of salvation” and indeed more explicit in its appeal to Scripture.
4. The St Andrews Draft removes the theological anthropology in the Nassau Draft which provided an important foundation for understanding the crisis and the type of resolution that is needed.
The only removal this can refer to is that of “biblically derived moral values and the vision of humanity received by and developed in the communion of member Churches” from 3.1 where it is replaced (in 1.2.2) with “to uphold and proclaim a pattern of Christian theological and moral reasoning and discipline that is rooted in and answerable to the teaching of Holy Scripture and the catholic tradition and that reflects the renewal of humanity and the whole created order through the death and resurrection of Christ and the holiness that in consequence God gives to, and requires from, his people”. It is unclear that the original statement “provided an important foundation” in Nassau or why this revision – based on wording proposed by the Church of England’s Faith and Order Advisory Group which includes two evangelical ethicists – is so unacceptable.
5. The exploration of legitimate development in Christian understanding found in the Nassau Draft is likewise excised by the St Andrews Draft which provides no test for what is faithfulness and what is deviation.
It is unclear what this refers to as the nearest Nassau comes to addressing development and testing what is faithful – in its section 6.2 – appears in 3.2.3 unchanged except for a welcome addition referring to the importance of prayer.
6. There is no reference in the St Andrews Draft to the circumstances which provoked the need for a covenant despite the fact that an explanation of those events is an important part of the Nassau Draft. Once again a vital element of any proper response has been removed.
Neither draft covenant contains an explanation of the events which provoked the need for a covenant.
7. The Nassau Draft envisages that discipline is ‘required’ for departure from the apostolic witness while the St. Andrews Draft omits reference to any such requirement.
The only reference to anything being required in Nassau is in 6.6 where it refers to restoration and renewal following discipline - “and a process of restoration and renewal will be required to re-establish their covenant relationship with other member churches”. At no point does Nassau speak of discipline in response to “departure from the apostolic witness”. St Andrew’s has the same place and broad structure for discipline as Nassau did (albeit by a different method) and both drafts speak of “the need for mutual commitment and discipline” (para 4 of introduction) although they unfortunately lack any theological rationale for their proposals for discipline.
8 The St Andrews Draft removes the highly significant reference to the accountability of the ‘instruments of Communion’ in the Nassau draft.
Again it is not clear what “accountability” it is being claimed is removed. The Nassau draft’s reference to “We affirm the place of four Instruments of Communion which serve to discern our common mind in communion issues, and to foster our interdependence and mutual accountability in Christ” in 5.2 is removed and effectively replaced with 3.1.4 – “the importance of instruments in the Anglican Communion to assist in the discernment, articulation and exercise of our shared faith and common life and mission. In addition to the many and varied links which sustain our life together, we acknowledge four particular Instruments which co-operate in the service of Communion”. Although the word “accountability” is removed it is unclear this refers in Nassau to the accountability of the Instruments (rather than the provinces to each other) and why this change is “highly significant”.
9. The St Andrews Draft removes all reference to the legitimate concern to provide ‘adequate care and oversight for all those in north and south who find themselves alienated and abandoned’ which was an integral part of the pledge made in the Nassau Draft.
There is no “pledge” on this in Nassau and so it can neither have “an integral part” in that draft nor be removed in the new draft.
10. Similarly the St Andrews Draft ignores entirely the Nassau Draft’s insistence that new structures are necessary to support many parts of the Anglican family who have ‘remained faithful to Anglicanism as a valid expression of the church of the Apostles’.
Once again the Nassau Draft does not insist on new structures to support many parts of the Anglican family and so the St Andrew’s Draft cannot be accused of ignoring something in the original draft covenant.
11. While the ecclesiology in the Nassau Draft attempted to correlate the universal church and the local churches, the St Andrews Draft introduces the new notion of ‘autonomous in communion’ and constructs its proposed solutions on this notion.
The Nassau draft did not correlate the universal church and the local churches and the notion of “autonomous in communion” far from being a new one is at the heart of the Windsor Report (paras 72-86) on which both the Nassau and St Andrew’s Drafts are based. In fact, the latest draft is much more in line with Windsor as the reference simply to “autonomy” in Nassau 5.2 is clarified as “autonomous-in-communion” in 3.1.2
12. The ACC is introduced into the St Andrews draft and its role significantly enhanced at the expense of that of the Primates.
Here, at last, there is a clear and substantive concern. The ACC of course did appear in the Nassau draft (5.2.IV) but is now given the key role which Nassau gave to the Primates in terms of resolving conflict and disputes. This is, undoubtedly, one of the main areas where further thought is needed.
Conclusion on Briefing Paper
In the light of this analysis, it is clear that this highly critical briefing paper is almost totally misleading and erroneous in the negative comparisons it makes between the two drafts with the only exception being the final point (the only one not to mention the Nassau Draft). In fact it is so indisputably false that some other explanation must be found for its claims. That explanation is best sought by paying attention to the various quotations that appear in the comparison:
- “required” (point 7)
- “adequate care and oversight for all those in the north and south who find themselves alienated and abandoned” (point 9)
- “remained faithful to Anglicanism as a valid expression of the church of the Apostles” (point 10)
A Google search for “required” would clearly get nowhere and the second phrase apparently yields only this document itself. However, the third phrase provides two results – one is this document and the other is “Called to Witness and Fellowship”. This is another document also originating in Nassau – a paper from 2004 which was “commissioned by Archbishop Drexel Gomez as a submission from the Global South to the Lambeth Commission and was produced in Nassau Bahamas May 31-June 3”. Among the signatories to it are such leading GAFCON people as Bishops Bob Duncan, Robinson Cavalcanti, Michael Nazir-Ali, Lamin Sanneh, Vinay Samuel, Chris Sugden and then Canons, now bishops, Martyn Minns and Bill Attwood. Ironically, the convenor of that meeting and first signatory is also the Chair of the Covenant Design Group which produced the Nassau Draft in 2006.
A reading of that paper makes quite clear that it is indeed this document (which of course does not use the word ‘covenant’ anywhere, being written before the Windsor Report recommended a covenant) that is being cited as “the Nassau Draft of An Anglican Covenant” throughout the comparison. All the claims about the Nassau Draft which make no sense when reading the real Nassau Draft are much more coherent if “Called to Witness and Fellowship” is what is being compared with the latest draft.
In the light of this we must now turn to the more detailed GAFCON response to the current draft covenant text. [Those wishing to compare the two real draft covenants in detail may find the comparison here
II - GAFCON Response to St Andrew’s Draft Text
This document makes no comparison with Nassau and it is unclear whether it was written in the light of the seriously flawed briefing paper discussed above although there are signs of some overlap between the two as noted below. It offers seven “serious theological flaws” and “two other significant issues” in its critique of the current draft.
In what follows each of these 9 points is first summarised and then assessed as to whether it offers a valid critique of the current draft. In making that assessment it is important to look at the critique of the St Andrew’s Draft text in relation to the process that has produced that draft. In particular the critique offered here must be considered in the light of the Nassau draft of 2007 (to which response were sought by the Covenant Design Group and considered in the redrafting) and the earlier Global South draft covenant
of June 2006 (which formed the basis for the Nassau draft and still provides much of the material in the St Andrew’s draft).
1. A failure to address the issue
GAFCON argues that the covenant must recognise the crisis and it defines this in two ways – “a crisis of obedience to Scripture” and the Instruments are themselves parts of the problem. It concludes “this covenant will not allow the real issues to be addressed”.
While both of these are indeed elements of the current crisis this critique fails to recognise that the covenant – from its inception – was seeking to address another important cause of the crisis. This is the lack of agreed procedures for dealing with a situation where one province wishes to (and in the case of same-sex unions proceeds to) introduce innovations others find unacceptable. While this focus of concern in one sense recognises the current Instruments are insufficient the problem it addresses encompasses more than disobedience to Scripture. This was the focus of both the Global South covenant – that also did not “address the issue” - and the Nassau draft and so to reject the St Andrew’s draft for having this focus is to raise a concern that could and should have been raised earlier.
2. An illegitimate notion of authority
GAFCON claims that “the understanding of the individual Churches of the Communion throughout this document is fatally ambiguous” and criticises the use of the language of “autonomous-in-communion” as unjustified and unqualified (especially by no reference to Scripture).
This again fails to consider the background to the current draft and in particular all the work of The Windsor Report on autonomy. As noted above, far from being ambiguous, the current draft is much clearer and better by qualifying the language simply of “autonomy” and speaking of being “autonomous-in-communion”. This is not only an improvement on Nassau but also on the Global South draft which, though referring to the same principle was even more ambiguous in its language and privileging of autonomy when it proposed the wording, “Each autonomous Church has the right to order and regulate its own affairs through its own system of government and law. At the same time, in essential matters of common concern, each Church shall in the exercise of its autonomy have regard to the common good of the Communion”. The concern about the authority of Scripture is addressed by the covenant’s commitments to Scripture and the GAFCON critique fails to grapple with how to address the problem of what the Communion does when there is disagreement over whether or not “Scripture has spoken definitively (and where autonomy is therefore a euphemism for sin)”
3. No biblical theology
GAFCON states the entire document and particularly para 1 “is detached from the Scriptural narrative of salvation and redemption from sin” and “the principal concerns of Scripture are ignored”. It implies the covenant seeks in a “sub-biblical” way to “generate or sustain” unity on our own terms and by our own institutional efforts.
This, given the lengthy theological and biblically-based introduction added to the latest draft (and in total contrast with the Global South draft which had practically no explicit biblical theology), is a bizarre claim. The introduction makes quite clear that our communion “flows out of the redeeming work of Christ and the incorporative ministry of the Spirit” eg in para 2 where it states “In God’s Son Christ Jesus, a new covenant is given us, established in his ‘blood … poured out for the many for the forgiveness of sins’ (Mt. 26:28), secured through his resurrection from the dead (Eph. 1:19-23), and sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit poured into our hearts (Rom. 5:5). Into this covenant of death to sin and of new life in Christ we are baptized, and empowered to share God’s communion in Christ with all people, to the very ends of the earth and of creation”. While one may wish to critique and offer amendments to this part of the covenant, it is hard to see how it can be claimed there is “no biblical theology”.
4. A faulty anthropology
GAFCON notes that ecclesiology presupposes a doctrine of humanity and claims the implicit anthropology “fails to capture the reality of any Christian’s life in this world as this is explained in Scripture”. This is because it fails to recognise we remain sinful even when redeemed and does not take seriously “the reality of temptation and sin”.
It is unclear how the covenant is guilty of this failing or what it would need to do in order to address it. Once again, earlier drafts are at least as “faulty” here. In fact, an addition to Nassau in the St Andrew’s Draft Introduction acknowledges “our divisions caused by sin” and as in Nassau the introduction concludes “Our prayer is that God will redeem our struggles and weakness”. Implicit in much of the covenant (hence the need for explicit commitments to one another) and explicit in the final section is a recognition that sin is present in the church and the church needs some way to encourage enable mutual accountability and where necessary rebuke and discipline.
5. An absent eschatology
GAFCON claims the draft “fails to adopt an appropriately biblical eschatological perspective” and is too preoccupied with “institutional processes”. So it says there is no reference to “sin, judgement, ‘the coming wrath’ or to God’s provision of a remedy in the cross of Christ and the forgiveness of sins which attends faith and repentance”.
Although there is indeed not much of an eschatological perspective in the covenant it would appear that the criticism fails to consider what the covenant is trying to do and no constructive suggestion is made as to how these elements could be incorporated or how it would help serve the covenant’s goal. The criticisms are, once more, applicable not just to the earlier Nassau draft but also the original Global South draft. While it is correct that there is no reference to final judgment, there are 5 references to “sin” and the claim there is no reference to the cross or forgiveness is false as the new introduction adds a reference (noted above) to “a new covenant...in his “blood … poured out for the many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt. 26:28)” and the new conclusion ends with a citation of Hebrews 13 with its reference to the “blood of the eternal covenant”.
6. Neglect of obedience
GAFCON believes that “throughout this document an attenuated view of biblical authority is presented” seen in the language of “respect” (1.2.4) but not obedience – “the absence of the language of obedience to the Word of God throughout the document is one of its most serious flaws”.
This is where there is the strongest evidence that the writers of this paper may have been misled by the briefing paper which makes these points in its first two criticisms. In addition to the response to these two points above, it should again be noted that the Global South draft covenant is also marked by “the absence of the language of obedience to the Word of God”.
7. An isolated and vacuous appeal to unity
GAFCON claims that throughout the covenant “biblical values are not treated in their mutual relationships” and in particular that unity is not related to “the equally serious injunctions of Scripture to preserve the truth given to us”. The concern of the covenant is with threats to unity not “moral and doctrinal error” despite the latter being the cause of our current disunity.
Here there is some basis in the critique. In particular the test of 3.2.5 only refers to actions which “threaten the unity of the Communionand the effectiveness or credibility of its mission”. While presumably “moral and doctrinal error” would fall into this category (though again the covenant seeks to be broader than this) this could be made explicit, perhaps drawing (though again GAFCON make no positive suggestions) on the earlier recognition that the Lambeth Conference “serves as an instrument in guarding the faith and unity of the Communion” and the Primates’ Meeting collaborates on “doctrinal, moral and pastoral matters that have communion-wide implications” (3.1.4). The covenant’s establishing of a process to deal with threats to unity is not “vacuous” but actually offers what the Communion is currently lacking and desperately needs – an agreed way of dealing with the moral and doctrinal error that so concerns GAFCON. The dismissal of the covenant’s proposal as “abstracted from biblical faithfulness” is unfounded (e.g. the covenant signatories commit explicitly “to ensure that biblical texts are handled faithfully” (1.2.4)). Although GAFCON and others have found the Instruments’ responses to recent events insufficient, the root problem lies in the actions of member churches (to which the Instruments have inadequately responded) and it is therefore hard to see how “the Instruments of Communion themselves might be the focus of objection” once the covenant is in place or how any covenant can address the fact that whatever bodies have oversight they may themselves be objected to at some stage (here one risks entering an infinite regress...).
8. The Instruments and the Archbishop
GAFCON claims that in describing four instruments the covenant draft “fails to recognise the disproportionate influence of the Archbishop of Canterbury”. This is “compounded by the lack of formal accountability on the part of the Archbishop and the prominence the document envisages for this Primate is frankly colonialist”
This is clearly an application of GAFCON’s relativisation of Canterbury but once again this critique applies just as much – if not more – to earlier versions of the covenant. The Windsor draft covenant gave the Archbishop of Canterbury even more power. The Global South draft made no criticism of the fact that, in its words, “from the late 1940s, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s office is enhanced due to his historic role” though it did note that “The Archbishop of Canterbury together with the Primates should work in full collaboration in all decisions that have Communion-wide implications”. The St Andrew’s Draft revises Nassau’s description of Canterbury’s role in a way which tends to lessen the see’s significance: he “gathers” rather than “calls” the Lambeth Conference, he “presides in” rather than “is President of” the ACC, in its description of the Lambeth Conference the claim that it is “under the presidency of the Archbishop of Canterbury” is removed and in relation to the Primates’ Meeting it is now “called by” rather than “presided over by” the Archbishop). The covenant itself makes no further claims for the Archbishop of Canterbury so the “prominence” claimed must refer to the current draft appendix (which it is stressed by the Covenant Design Group has a “provisional nature”) where the Archbishop has a key role as “gatekeeper”. However, it should be noted that he must seek advice from Assessors and only in emergency situations does he rather than another Instrument make a request and he is not the final court of appeal. The concerns about the “colonialist” are therefore exaggerated though could be perhaps countered by various changes eg asking the Primates rather than the Archbishop to appoint the Assessors. Sadly no such concrete alternatives are offered by GAFCON.
9. The Joint Standing Committee
GAFCON is concerned that “the prominence given to the Joint Standing Committee of the ACC and Primates” further increases the ability of the AbC and ACC “to exercise disproportionate influence over the Primates, thereby tending in effect to silence dissentient primatial voices”.
Again this critique relates not to the covenant but to the current “tentative draft” of procedures where the JSC has a role of hearing appeals in certain cases. It reflects wider concerns about the current Instruments and in particular the JSC. These clearly need to be addressed but again GAFCON offers no positive alternative either within the current structure of the Instruments or, more likely and better, in terms of new structures.
Conclusion on GAFCON Response
Although not as flawed as the comparison, this response is likewise unremittingly negative – given GAFCON claims to be committed to the reform of the Communion there is a disturbing lack of any constructive proposals to the Covenant Design Group. It is also seriously flawed in that many of the critiques are unfair or inaccurate. Almost all of them apply to the Nassau Draft (but were not raised by most GAFCON supporters during the consultation) and to the Global South draft which was produced when Archbishop Akinola was Chair of the Global South group. Faced with this evidence I could not but help think of the story told in John Campbell’s biography of Edward Heath relating to the French 1963 decision to veto Britain’s attempted entry into the EEC:
What so outraged the British and indeed the other five members of the Community who wanted Britain in was that everything de Gaulle alleged about the historic differences between Britain and the Six, and Britain’s special relationship with the United States, had been known before the negotiations started. The sixteen months of arduous negotiations had been undertaken on the basis that the political will was there to overcome and reconcile those differences; and on that assumption they had virtually succeeded. Now de Gaulle was saying that it was all a waste of effort and the differences were after all unbridgeable. Eric Roll afterwards recalled an ominous (and very French) story which Oliver Wormser had told him at the outset of the negotiations of a suitor who insisted that he must see the girl naked before he would agree to marry her and then finally, when she stood stripped before him, objected to the shape of her nose! That was – humiliatingly – what de Gaulle had done with Britain. Why could he not have rejected Britain’s application at the beginning, when it was first made? The bitterness for Heath and his team was that de Gaulle had felt compelled to use his veto to abort the negotiations precisely because they had come so unexpectedly close to success. He had not expected Britain to be prepared to strip so far. (pp129-30).
Likewise here it appears that a negotiated covenant process with a clear goal, supported by Global South leaders as recently as May this year and yielding a covenant based largely on their own proposed draft back in 2006 is now on the verge of reaching a final form to be discussed, as requested by the Global South, at the ACC next year. Suddenly, over two years into the process and 18 months since the Nassau draft [welcomed at the Dar Primates with critiques but none of the stringent rejection seen here] the GAFCON Primates are raising what they describe as “fundamental defects” which “cannot be corrected by piecemeal amendment” and dismissing the draft covenant as “theologically incoherent” and its “proposals unworkable” and having “no prospect of success”. This, together with the other wholly flawed document raises serious questions about not just GAFCON’s relation to the wider Communion and covenant process but about the whole movement.
III - The GAFCON Movement
The first and irrefutable conclusion that must be drawn from these two documents is the shocking inadequacy of GAFCON’s theological resource group and wider leadership. To have produced a briefing paper claiming to summarise the changes between the Nassau and St Andrew’s draft covenants but actually comparing the St Andrew’s draft to a quite different document unrelated to the covenant (and which many of the GAFCON team were involved in writing) is an astonishing error. That nobody in the group (or among the GAFCON leadership which released it) realised that the claimed removals from the Nassau draft were therefore all fraudulent suggests an inexcusable level of ignorance about the covenant process on the part of all those involved in writing and then disseminating this briefing paper to the wider Communion. The authorship is unclear but either we have a very small number of people writing what claims to be a representative document commended by seven Primates or we have a large group which failed to spot this basic and serious flaw. I am not sure which of these options is I would prefer to be reality. Unfortunately this all gives the strong impression that the conclusion – “the new document is severely flawed and should be repudiated” – was already decided upon on other grounds.
The second conclusion is that the other response of the same team is therefore seriously discredited, especially if it was put together on the basis of the briefing paper or by people who had seen the briefing paper and not realised its basic error.
Thirdly, that other response
- shows no recognition of the background to the St Andrew’s draft (including the significant role of the Global South draft covenant)
- raises “serious theological flaws” that are themselves seriously flawed or could and should have been raised earlier in the covenant process, and
- offers no constructive alternative (presumably because of its belief that the document “cannot be corrected by piecemeal amendment”).
Fourthly, as is evident from the GAFCON Statement after the meeting in Jerusalem, the reason for this response lies in the fact that the GAFCON movement interprets the events of the last decade in a particular manner and is developing a strong “confessionalist” response to the crisis in that light. What is disturbing about this response to the covenant is in part that it fails to see how – even if not expressed in GAFCON’s terms - the covenant has the potential of achieving most if not all its aims in terms of reform and enabling the Communion to deal with error in future. Even more serious is that the response bears false witness about the covenant process and its goals and amounts to a wholesale rejection of the covenant process as conceived from the start in 2004. If this has always been the judgment of GAFCON leaders, why did they not raise it earlier? If this is a new development (perhaps even since the Global South statement in May) then why not offer their perspective more constructively, especially when the Covenant Design Group is not exactly a hotbed of liberals but is chaired by the senior Global South primate and includes such strong orthodox leaders as Archbishop Chew and Ephraim Radner.
These conclusions point fairly inexorably to the sad conclusion that the GAFCON movement, although it may talk about its commitment to the Communion and its reform and may appear to have given support to the established Windsor and covenant processes, seems determined to pursue its own agenda on its own terms and to weaken and undermine the wider Communion if it believes that it will not get from it exactly what it wants. It thereby reveals that, in relation to our common life together as Anglicans, it is suffering from the same spiritual sickness as the North American churches have revealed in relation to Communion teaching on sexuality.
At present it is unclear who is ultimately responsible for these two flawed but revealing documents. However, 7 leading primates have, in their response to the Archbishop of Canterbury, commended them as a GAFCON response to the St Andrew’s Draft Covenant. Given they are all men of integrity who seek to address the Communion in truth and with good faith it is to be hoped that they will now apologise for this commendation and these failures, withdraw and rewrite the response and seek, as the GAFCON Primates’ Council, to ensure future GAFCON contributions aimed at bringing about necessary reform are more conducive to the building up of the Communion.
IV – The future of the Anglican Covenant
One of the main concerns of the Lambeth conference is the development of a covenant and all bishops invited to the conference have been asked questions by the Covenant Design Group which will consider their answers and produce a third draft when they meet in September later this summer. It is to be hoped that those attending have heeded the request of the Design Group to “study the present draft in their preparations for the Conference, consulting in their dioceses and sharing their reflections at the Conference “ better than the authors of the GAFCON response.
Until now the main substantive criticisms of the covenant’s content have come from provinces such as Brazil, Mexico, Wales etc. They are concerned that as it stands the covenant draft and its clear and strong vision of mutual accountability and being autonomous-in-communion (and particularly its proposed appendix) will prove too restrictive on autonomous innovations such as have been witnessed in North America in relation to same-sex unions. In short, they fear it will accomplish exactly what GAFCON are claiming it will not accomplish!
Were the fallacious and fraudulent claims in the GAFCON response to gain wider currency (from innocent less-informed orthodox Anglicans who trust the GAFCON response under the name of 7 primates to be well-researched and perceptive) there is the tragic prospect of an unholy alliance between radical rootless liberals and the most disenchanted doctrinal conservatives – the pluralists and the confessionalists – each lobbing their grenades at the covenant process and hoping to benefit from the damage they together can cause.
Of course the St Andrew’s Draft is not perfect. There are some valid and serious concerns that communion-minded catholic and evangelical Anglicans will want to raise about the St Andrew’s Draft and its tentative proposals about procedure in its appendix. In particular, the problems in replacing the Primates’ Meeting with the ACC as the ultimate court of appeal in times of conflict raises the serious question as to whether any of the existing Instruments are able to accomplish the tasks now being asked of them in a covenanted Communion. It may be that new bodies have urgently to be considered, just as the existing Instruments were created to meet needs as they arose within the life of the Communion in the past.
One of the undoubted strengths of the original GAFCON statement was that it highlighted something of which the Archbishop of Canterbury has also often spoken: the extent to which the current structures are not “fit for purpose” and need serious reform. The sadness is that having failed in that statement to relate this concern to the proposed covenant they have now done so but in a wholly negative and destructive manner and based on false information and misleading claims. The hope is that the GAFCON Primates’ Council will acknowledge the weaknesses and errors in its response and that by implementing the request that it “seek to expand participation in this fellowship beyond those who have come to Jerusalem, including cooperation with the Global South and the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa” it will start afresh on a response working more constructively with those committed to the covenant process. If it does so then it could ensure that, whatever actions it may need to take in the meantime in areas of crisis, its greater service to the Communion and indeed the wider catholic church (which is looking on and praying for the Communion) will be to cooperate with all those who share the fundamental convictions expressed in the Jerusalem Declaration and thereby help to create a strengthened covenant that will enable Anglicans across the globe to discover a new way of being a communion united in the truth and committed to sharing together in the gracious mission of God to his needy world.
Andrew Goddard served on the Leadership Team of Fulcrum from its launch in 2003 until 2020. He currently teaches Christian ethics at Westminster Theological Centre and Ridley Hall, Cambridge and is Assistant Minister at St James the Less, Pimlico where his wife, Lis, is Vicar. He has previously taught at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford and Trinity College, Bristol and been an Adjunct Professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California. He has served for a number of years on the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC) and was on the Co-Ordinating Group of the Living in Love and Faith project. He is author of a number of books, including Rowan Williams: His Legacy (Lion, 2013) and co-editor with Andrew Atherstone of Good Disagreeement? Grace and Truth in a Divided Church (Lion, 2015).