US Executive Council rejects Anglican Covenant

The Episcopal Church’s Executive Council has rejected the Anglican Covenant.

On 24 Oct 2011 the council unanimously endorsed a resolution recommending the General Convention – the governing body of the Episcopal Church – not endorse the covenant as it now stands.  The Anglican Covenant was a political and theological threat that would alter the American church’s power base and undo the advances made by the church’s liberal wing in recent years.

The US recommendation to reject the covenant likely spells the death blow to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s plan to forge an agreement that sets limits on the acceptable parameters of doctrine and disciple within the Anglican Communion, and follows upon last week’s vote by the Sydney synod to reject the agreement.  With liberals and conservatives united in opposition to the proposed agreement – though for different reasons – the political future of the covenant is grim.

While Sydney rejected the covenant out of concern for its theology, the executive council rejected it for not been sufficient welcoming of diversity.  A report submitted by an executive committee task force stated the Episcopal Church must heed “the work of the Spirit in new understandings of how we are called to be in community and relationships. We believe our unity is best expressed in our efforts to be a church that fully welcomes those who have not always been welcomed. This understanding of who we are as a church does not allow the Executive Council to support any covenant that might jeopardize this vocation.”

The covenant was too clerical, the task force said and “consistently ignores the importance of the role of the laity and their full expression of ministry in all spheres of the life of the church.”

According to the task force report, 29 of the church’s 110 dioceses responded to requests for comments about the covenant.  A press release noted that some dioceses had endorsed the covenant, but their views were not included in the report as they had not been transmitted to the executive council.

Suggestions the Episcopal Church adopt those portions with which it agreed were rejected by the task force in the belief that “this would not honor the intention of the covenant’s creators that the document stand as a whole. We also do not believe that using language such as ‘receive’ the covenant without approving it honors the intention of the document.”

The report further noted that “to adopt the current version would mean changes to both the Constitution and Canons which would significantly alter our current understanding of what it means to be an autonomous province.”

While the executive council remained committed to “continuing engagement in thoughtful dialogue within the Anglican Communion around issues that may be divisive,” it could not “recommend adoption of the covenant in its present form.”

The resolution adopted by the executive council calls for the Episcopal Church to “recommit itself to dialogue with the several provinces when adopting innovations which may be seen as threatening the unity of the communion.”  It also pledges “continued participation in the wider councils of the Anglican Communion” and dialogue “with our brothers and sisters in other provinces to deepen understanding and to insure the continued integrity of the Anglican Communion.”