Covenant: How We Got Here
The Anglican Covenant is a proposed solution to the public
conflicts and threats of schism over the last few years. Such
a document was first suggested in the 2004 Windsor Report, which
responded sympathetically to the complaints of those variously
described as conservative, traditionalist, or orthodox, and
who were dissatisfied with developments in the churches of the
West. The Report also addressed concerns of cross-border interventions
by bishops from the so-called Global South into The Episcopal
Church and the Anglican Church of Canada.
The Covenant went through a number of drafts and comment
periods before a “final” text was codified in December 2009.
The 38 provinces of the Anglican Communion are now being asked
to adopt this text. In June 2010, the Anglican Church of Mexico
became the first church to do so. The Covenant is immediately
effective for churches that adopt it. Non-signatory churches
that are in the process of adoption may be allowed to participate
in certain Covenant-defined activities, though their status
is not completely clear.
Churches adopting the Covenant will commit themselves to
a new relationship with other Anglican churches. At the center
of the new arrangement lies the Standing Committee (formerly
the Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council
and Primates Meeting). When conflicts arise, the Standing Committee
will look for consensus. If no consensus is to be found, the
Committee may ask an “offending” church to delay or stop a controversial
action. If that is ineffective, the Committee can recommend
“relational consequences.” In practice, enacting “relational
consequences” means demoting or excluding a church from participation
in certain bodies. Or it could mean asking other provinces effectively
to shun the intransigent church, banishing it from the Anglican
family. Even if such extreme actions are never taken, the damage
will have been done. At the heart of the new covenanted relationship
among our churches, there will always be the threat of exclusion.
The presenting issue that ultimately led us to where we are
now was the election of the gay partnered priest Gene Robinson
to be a bishop in The Episcopal Church (TEC). When his election
was approved, dissident bishops, who had long opposed innovations
in their church, appealed to the Archbishop of Canterbury for
an emergency meeting of the Primates to deal with the resulting
Williams quickly agreed to call such a meeting in October 2003,
at which the Primates called for a report about how the greatest
degree of communion could be maintained among member churches.
That request was fulfilled by the Windsor Report.
Over the last 30 years or so, certain groups in the Communion
have become increasingly concerned about the growing acceptance
of homosexuality in Western society and in some provinces of
the Anglican Communion. A succession of events in 2003 focused
attention on gays in the church and provided an opportunity
to develop a major campaign against it. First, Jeffrey John,
a gay but celibate priest, was appointed Bishop of Reading in
England, but the Archbishop of Canterbury, under pressure from
those who viewed homosexuality as a sin, persuaded John to withdraw.
Later that year, the Canadian Diocese of New Westminster authorized
a liturgy for same-sex blessings. The selection of the openly
gay Gene Robinson to become Bishop of New Hampshire seemed,
to some, the final straw.
The issue underlying the conflicts in the Anglican Communion
is one of authority. Who decides what is acceptable and on what
basis do they do so? Concern about homosexuality resulted in
a powerful alliance of some Evangelicals and some Anglo-Catholics
opposing the “innovations” of more liberal and tolerant Anglicans.
The Evangelicals objected to homosexuality on the basis of reputed
biblical prohibitions, and Anglo-Catholics objected to the alleged
rejection of Church tradition. Classic Anglican theology, of
course, stems from the writings of the sixteenth-century theologian
Richard Hooker, who argued that, in addition to scripture and
tradition, we have reason to guide us. With these three sources
of authority, change becomes possible and proper as conditions
and understandings change. Allowing a diversity of opinion allows
us to explore new possibilities.
The Windsor report recommend three moratoria as issues are
explored in the Communion: moratoria on the consecration of
partnered gay bishops, on the blessing of same-sex unions, and
on the crossing of diocesan boundaries by bishops of one church
to “protect” like-minded members of another church. The third
moratorium was a concession to Western churches opposed to the
unauthorized incursions by bishops of the so-called Global South.
Western churches continue to be vilified by the more conservative
elements of the Communion, who nonetheless, have continued their
Those unhappy with modern “innovations” in the Communion
often have more far-reaching complaints. The ordination of women
and, especially, the consecration of women bishops continue
to be controversial in some churches, including the Church of
England. Many object to the toleration of birth control, to
the acceptance of divorce, and to liturgical changes. The Anglican
Communion is hardly of one mind on any of these matters.
The main argument in favour of the Covenant is that it would
prevent future controversies being so bitter by establishing
an international authority with power to decree Anglican teaching.
We believe that, on the contrary, it would encourage schism,
because it would treat those who dissent from any such judgment
as un-Anglican. Instead we believe unity is best ensured by
maintaining the classic Anglican position that diversity of
opinion is a sign of a healthy community committed to seeking—but
not necessarily always possessing—truth.
Finally, it should be noted that not all opposition to the
Anglican Covenant is from moderates and liberals. Our objection,
of course, is that the Covenant is restrictive and authoritarian.
Some of the strongest criticisms of the Covenant, however, have
come from the Global South, where the Covenant is viewed as
not nearly restrictive or draconian enough. Whether or not the
Anglican Covenant is widely adopted, a formal split of the Communion
as currently constituted remains a possibility.
The timeline below is not intended
to show all the events relevant to the question of whether the
Anglican Covenant should be adopted. Rather, it clarifies and
expands on the information presented in the essay above to help
the reader understand the background of the Covenant.
|Early 16th century
||The Church of England separates
from Rome. Emphasis on supreme authority of the Bible
leads to two conflicting principles: (1) Nobody has
the authority to dictate how to interpret it, so it’s
up to each individual, but (2) because all Christians
submit to the Bible there should be no disagreement.
The current debate revives this conflict.
|Late 16th century
||Richard Hooker’s Of
the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity written. Gradually,
Hooker’s treatment becomes normative for Anglican theology
with its balance of scripture, reason, and tradition
as sources of authority.
||Restoration of monarchy
after Puritan rule. Prayer Book of 1662 largely aims
to incorporate a wide range of opinion within one church.
||First Lambeth Conference,
called in response to row over Bishop Colenso’s claims
that some of the Old Testament is historically inaccurate.
Some want the Conference to forbid his ideas, but others
object to centralization of power. Assurances are given
that the Conference will not be a decision-making body.
In principle, this has applied to all subsequent Lambeth
conferences. Today it is accepted that Colenso was largely
||Kuala Lumpur Conference
of Global South Anglicans expresses concern that “the
setting aside of biblical teaching in such actions as
the ordination of practicing homosexuals and the blessing
of same-sex unions calls into question the authority
of the Holy Scriptures.”
||Lambeth Conference sees
stormy session and passes Resolution I.10 that describes
“homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture.”
||Anglican Mission in America
(now Anglican Mission in the Americas) established in
the U.S. by the Church of the Province of Rwanda. This
was the first large-scale border crossing by a conservative
church to protect American conservatives from the “liberal”
Episcopal Church. Many more incursions were to follow.
||Announcement that Rowan
Williams is to be the next Archbishop of Canterbury
touches off media campaign opposing his appointment
because of his liberal views. Repeated and heavily publicized
threats of schism begin, focusing on disapproval of
||Jeffrey John, a partnered,
celibate gay man, appointed Bishop of Reading. The Archbishop
of Nigeria threatens schism if the consecration goes
ahead. Archbishop Williams eventually persuades Canon
John to withdraw.
||Canadian Diocese of New
Westminster authorizes a liturgy for same-sex blessings.
||Openly gay and partnered
Gene Robinson is elected Bishop of New Hampshire in
the U.S.A. The threats intensify. Much public talk of
“disciplining” or “expelling” Canadian and American
churches from the Communion, with demands for “repentance.”
||Primates’ Meeting blames
the Canadian and American churches for threatening the
Communion’s unity and requests what will ultimately
become the Windsor Report.
||Secret so-called Chapman
letter leaked to the press. It explains that while,
in public, Episcopal Church dissidents are asking for
“adequate episcopal oversight,” the real aim, being
secretly planned on both sides of the Atlantic, is a
major realignment of Anglicanism, a “replacement jurisdiction”
to exclude the liberals.
||The Eames Commission publishes
the Windsor Report, which blames the American and Canadian
churches for Communion disruptions and proposes a covenant
to resolve future disputes.
||Covenant Design Group works
on successive drafts of a covenant. Persistent tension
between those determined to give it teeth and those
concerned with protecting provincial autonomy.
||Lambeth Conference, structured
for discussion rather than for legislation. Many Global
South bishops attended the alternative GAFCON (Global
Anglican Future Conference) held in Jerusalem in addition
to or instead of attending Lambeth. Archbishop Rowan
Williams pointedly did not invite Bishop Gene Robinson
to Lambeth. GAFCON establishes the Fellowship of Confessing
Anglicans and promulgates the Jerusalem Declaration,
seen by some as an alternative faith statement to that
contained in the Anglican Covenant.
||Final Covenant draft approved
for consideration by churches.
In the table below, we track the
status of the Anglican Covenant in the various churches of the
Anglican Communion. To help readers understand the state of
Covenant adoption without having to do a lot of reading, we
have added icons to the listing for each church about which
we have any information. Doing this is more difficult than you
Some churches have clearly adopted
the Covenant (green icon), and at least one (we think) has rejected
it (red icon). Many churches are in the process of making a
decision about the Covenant (yellow icon). Because the Covenant
does not specify the exact form that adoption must take, however,
some churches have acted positively on the Covenant but have
seemingly restricted or extended its significance. We have tagged
the entries for these churches with an orange icon, since such
“adoptions” may or may not be the functional equivalent of unambiguous
If you know of updates that should
be incorporated into our table, please let us know. (Go to
Australia, The Anglican Church of
to a nationwide debate on Covenant. All dioceses are
to comment on the Covenant by December 2012. Report
to be prepared for 16th session of General Synod. in
time for the next meeting of the church’s national parliament
in 2013. Resolution amended to say the church “received,”
not “welcomed” the Covenant.
Source The Diocese of Newcastle passed a resolution
Source The Diocese of Sydney has also rejected the
Source On June 30, 2014, the General Synod
adopted a resolution affirming openness to
considering a covenant but without mention of the
covenant currently on offer.
Source (page 15)
Bangladesh, The Church of
Bermuda (Extra-Provincial to Canterbury)
Igreja Episcopal Anglicana do
Burma: The Church of the Province of Myanmar
was noted in passing in an Anglican Communion New Service
story of January 30, 2011, that this province has accepted
Burundi, The Anglican Church of
The Anglican Church of
Resolution A137 in June 2010. Sent Covenant to dioceses
and parishes for study. General Synod to consider in
Source It now appears that a decision by the Canadian
church will be delayed until 2016.
Source The church, as expected, adopted a
resolution to delay a decision until 2016.
Central Africa, The Church of the Province of
Central America Iglesia Anglicana de la Region Central
Ceylon, The Church of (Extra-Provincial to Canterbury)
Congo, Province de L'Eglise Anglicane Du
Cuba, Iglesia Episcopal de
England, The Church of
Synod voted 24 November 2010 to send the Covenant to
diocesan synods. If a majority of synods vote in favour
of adopting the Covenant, the question will be brought
back to General Synod for a final vote.
Source More information about the referral to the
dioceses can be found
here. To date, the dioceses of
Sheffield have voted in favor of adopting the Covenant.
The dioceses of
St Edmundsbury & Ipswich,
Sodor & Man have voted against adoption. Portsmouth,
Rochester, Salisbury, and Leicester have also voted
against the Covenant.
Source The dioceses of Chelmsford and Hereford have
voted against the Covenant, but Bradford has voted for
Source Ripon & Leeds, Southwark, Worcester, and
Bath & Wells have voted against; Coventry and Carlisle
have voted for.
Source In the next round of voting, St. Albans,
Liverpool, and Ely voted against the Covenant; Chester
and Norwich voted for it.
Source The dioceses of Oxford and Lincoln voted
against the Covenant, and the dioceses of Exeter, Blackburn,
Peterborough, and Guildford voted for it.
Source After these votes, Covenant adoption in England
was defeated. After its defeat, five additional dioceses
voted: Manchester voted against (source),
as did Newcastle (source).
Voting for were Chichester and Southwell & Nottingham
as well as York (source).
The final tally of dioceses, then, is 26 against the
Covenant and 18 for. Modern Church offers a
table showing vote totals in all Church of England
Falkland Islands (Extra-Provincial to Canterbury)
Kong Sheng Kung Hui
Communion News Service reported June 20, 2013, that
the General Synod of the church, meeting June 2–5, adopted
the Anglican Covenant.
The Church of North India
India: The Church of South India (United)
Indian Ocean, The Church of the Province of the
Ireland, The Church of
Ireland church “subscribed” to the Covenant on 13 May
2011. The General Synod intended to make it clear that
the Covenant did not supplant existing governing documents
of the Church of Ireland.
Japan: The Nippon Sei Ko Kai
May 2010, the General Synod determined to move forward
with consideration of the Covenant, overruling a recommendation
from the theological committee of the House of Bishops.
Jerusalem & The Middle East, The Episcopal Church in
The Anglican Church of
The Anglican Church of
Lusitanian Church, The (Extra-Provincial to Canterbury)
Melanesia, The Church of the Province of
Mexico, La Iglesia Anglicana de
Covenant June 2010.
Nigeria, The Church of (Anglican Communion)
New Zealand: The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand
May 2010, the General Synod/Te Hinota Whanui approved
the first three sections of the Covenant in principle.
The Covenant will be studied and brought back to the
Synod in 2012 for final acceptance or rejection. Legal
opinion will be sought regarding Section 4.
Source Two Maori dioceses have rejected the Covenant.
Source The Diocese of Auckland has rejected
Source So has the Diocese of Waiapu.
Source The Diocese of Dunedin voted against adoption,
but the Diocese of Wellington voted for it.
Source The Diocese of Waikato and Taranaki voted,
in principle, for the Covenant.
Source Although the final vote on the Covenant has
not been taken, a vote by the Tikanga Maori appears
to assure that the church will reject the Covenant.
Source The Diocese of Christchurch voted down a
pro-Covenant motion April 21, 2012.
Source The General Synod/te Hinota Whanui voted
9 July 2012 that the church is unable to adopt the Covenent.
Pakistan, The Church of (United)
Philippines, The Episcopal Church in the
bishops rejected the Covenant in May 2011.
Papua New Guinea, The Anglican Church of
Provincial Council of the Anglican Church of Papua New
Guinea approved the Covenant in December 2011.
Rwanda, L'Eglise Episcopal au
Scotland: The Scottish Episcopal Church
Faith and Order Board will advise General Synod 2011
on what process or processes might be appropriate to
be followed by the Synod to enable due consideration
of the final version of the Covenant.
Source The General Synod voted decisively against
Covenant adoption on 8 June 2012.
South East Asia, Church of the Province of
church “acceded” to the Covenant in May 2011 and published
explanation of its understanding of the action,
which seems to go beyond the Covenant text itself.
Southern Africa, Anglican Church of
Synod approved Covenant October 2010. The decision
had to be ratified in 2013.
Source That happened at the Provincial Synod October
Southern Cone: Iglesia Anglicana del Cono Sur de America
Southern Cone approved the Covenant in November 2011.
Spain, The Reformed Episcopal Church of (Extra-Provincial
Sudan, Province of the Episcopal Church of South
was reported at the May 2014 meeting of the Standing
Committee that the Sudan church has adopted the
Tanzania: The Anglican Church of
Uganda, The Church of the Province of
United States: The Episcopal Church
its 2009 General Convention, the church approved a resolution
commending the draft Covenant and successive versions
of the document to dioceses for study. The Covenant
will be taken up at the 2012 General Convention.
Source Various dioceses have passed resolutions
both for and against the Covenant. Most notable, because
of its detail is a resolution against adoption from
the Diocese of California.
Source As of April 19, 2012,
three resolutions regarding the Covenant have been
announced. They call for everything from rejection to
adoption. The No Anglican Covenant Coalition has proposed
a resolution for the July 2012 General Convention as
Source On 10 July, the General Convention passed
a resolution indicating that the church was not ready
to make a decision about the Covenant, which means that
it cannot be dealt with before 2015.
Wales: The Church in
Governing Body passed a motion on April 18, 2012, indicating
its willingness to consider the Covenant but asking
the Anglican Consultative Council to clarify the status
of the Covenant in light of its
rejection by the
Church of England.
West Africa, The Church of the Province of
West Indies, The Church in the Province of the
Provincial Synod voted to accept the Covenant in December
2009, and the Standing Committee did so in November