Section Four: Our Covenanted Life Together
This is a completely new section for the covenant text addressing the matter of joining, participating in and leaving the covenant, and resolving matters of dispute. The Nassau Draft provided that the Primates' Meeting should act as a body which could respond to controversy in the Communion. Matters of serious dispute could be submitted to them, and they would give guidance and direction (6.5). A provision was included that in extreme circumstances Churches would be recognised as having "relinquished for themselves the force and meaning of the Covenant's purpose" (6.6), in a way which implied that such a relinquishment would be understood as fracturing or impairing communion, and leading into a period which would have to seek "restoration and renewal". The provisions of these sections were an attempt to describe how the Communion was actually living its life at the time, rather than to invent new ways forward, knowing that the draft would be tested in consultation.
These proposals in the Nassau Draft were widely criticised. There were two grounds. First, many responses indicated that there was great unhappiness with the idea that the Primates' Meeting should become formally the body within the Communion which could give final direction on a matter. The proposals appeared to create a centralised authority located with the Primates, which overrode Provincial autonomy, a much cherished concept. Secondly, it was felt to be too punitive in its construction, in that the provisions were oriented towards possible exclusion.
A further criticism was also voiced. It was felt that the procedures set out in Section 6 of the Nassau Draft were not sufficiently clear. Since any elaboration of principles would be likely to be lengthy and complicated, it was also felt that such language might be incompatible with the aspirational and relational language of the Covenant. It was therefore proposed (in the Primates' Meeting in Dar es Salaam) that it might be appropriate to develop a more detailed set of procedures in an appendix to the Covenant.
In the St. Andrew's Draft, there was an attempt to develop a more balanced and therefore complicated procedure. The relational processes of arbitration in the Nassau draft were repeated (3.2.1-3.2.5.c), but now the autonomy of the Churches was more explicitly respected. The Instruments of Communion could not give "direction", but they could make a "request". A refusal to accept the request might be understood, but not necessarily so, as a "relinquishment" of the Covenant. The CDG also developed an initial draft for an Appendix. This set out lengthy procedures for the handling of disputes, and, mindful of the criticism of the Nassau Draft that placed the Primates' Meeting in the role of arbitrator, the Appendix placed much more emphasis on the work of the Anglican Consultative Council. The Appendix sought to incorporate established principles of natural justice into the process.
The general feeling was that the St Andrew's Draft was an improvement. However, it still drew substantial criticism, both from Provincial responses, and at the Lambeth Conference. If the role of the Primates' Meeting in the Nassau Draft has been criticised as too curial, then the role now given to the ACC was considered beyond their capacity as a consultative body. The detailed rules of the Appendix were felt to be too juridical and complex in their approach. Within the St Andrew's Text, the concept of "relinquishment" and what it might mean was felt to be too unclear, and still too oriented towards punishment. The status of the Appendix was felt to be uncertain, and its relationship to the Covenant text unclear.
In the Lambeth Commentary, we set out some of our thinking in response to these criticisms. In the first place, we indicated that the CDG was inclined towards the development of a new Section Four of the Covenant which would include the sort of material needed. It would address questions of how to join as well as how to leave the Covenant. It could offer a system of dispute resolution, which respected the autonomy of the Churches. It could indicate who would be responsible for the maintenance of the Covenant, and even floated the idea of a "Covenant Commission" in the life of the Communion.
In Section Four of the RCD we have attempted to meet these criteria. However, there is one criterion which is even more fundamental. It is clear that one of the main fears attached to the idea of a Covenant is that it would limit Provincial autonomy. In the responses, this fear worked itself out in two directions. In the first place, there was substantial resistance to the idea that there should be any development of a body which could be seen to be exercising universal jurisdiction in Anglican polity. Anglicans wished to keep the autonomy of their Churches. Secondly, it became clear that the processes of adoption of the Covenant would be immensely complicated if the Covenant were seen to interfere with or to necessitate a change to the Constitution and Canons of any Province. The surrender of any legislative autonomy would in itself prove a stumbling block to the implementation of Covenant.
Section Four of the RCD is therefore constructed on the fundamental principle of the constitutional autonomy of each Church. The Covenant of itself cannot amend or override the Constitution and Canons of any Province. The Instruments of Communion cannot intervene in any jurisdictional way in the internal life of any of the Anglican Churches. The Covenant can only speak to the relationship between the Churches, and of the relational consequences of internal autonomous actions by a Church.
The draft text of Section Four therefore explicitly reaffirms that the Covenant and the Instruments of Communion of themselves do not impose or have any jurisdiction or authority to alter the internal governance of any Church of the Communion. Such a limitation on the Covenant undertakings is repeated in the latter parts of 4.1.1, 4.1.3 and 4.1.4. The Covenant is not intended to alter the Constitution and Canons of any of the Churches; it does not give any power to any Communion body to intervene in a Church's life.
However, the RCD also acknowledges that if any Church of the Communion chooses to exercise its autonomy in a way which lessens the basis on which communion is built - mutual recognition of faith and order, of vocation and a readiness to live in interdependence - then other Churches may wish to respond in a way which demonstrates how the bonds of affection and communion have been diminished by that action.
Section Four seeks to provide a way in which the response of the Communion may be evaluated, harmonised and regulated. It does not provide a system which undermines the autonomy of the Churches. There is no power to direct, either on the matter which may be causing offence, nor the nature of the response - that is left firmly within the sphere of a Church's autonomy. It does however provide a mechanism by which the response of the Communion to a controversial action may be considered, moderated, co-ordinated and handled with patience and care. Since there were objections to the Primates' Meeting and the ACC exercising this sort of role independently, the RCD gives it to them both, with the Joint Standing Committee acting in the role of co-ordinator, and as the body which is charged with overseeing the maintenance of covenanted life.
The concept of "relinquishment" has been replaced with the possibility of a determination that a controverted action is "incompatible with the Covenant". Both this determination and the recommendation of how this action may impair or limit the expression of communion and entail relational consequences is referred back to the Churches, or to any Instrument, so that it can make its own decision.
By offering this Section, the CDG seeks to address the responses which wished to preserve the autonomy of the Churches, and yet give real substance to the nature of the commitments made in the Covenant. Section Four explicitly leaves the Constitutions and Canons of the Provinces untouched, and acknowledges the autonomy of the Churches to govern the internal affairs of the Province. But while it respects the juridical category of "autonomy", it also emphasises the relational and theological category of "communion". It provides a robust system by which an action can be determined to have a destructive impact on the common life and witness of the Communion, and an ordered way to assess the relational consequences which such an action may have.
The CDG notes that there is a potential problem as the life of covenanting Churches develops, as more Churches adopt the Covenant. There may be members of the Instruments of Communion who represent a Church that has not adopted the Covenant, and there would be an increasingly anomalous situation as the Covenant becomes active and forceful in the life of the Churches which have adopted it. A short clause (4.2.7) limits participation in the arbitration processes of the Covenant to representatives of Churches who have either adopted or who are in the process of adopting the Covenant, but there will in time be a question of how both covenanting and non-covenanting Churches participate together in the life of the Instruments of Communion. At the moment, the Covenant text provides that these matters are uncoupled (see 4.1.5 and 4.3.1), but the CDG note that such matters may become the subject of agreed conventions alongside the Covenant.
Finally, the section also makes provision for the amendment of the Covenant. We felt that a fairly high threshold (the consent of three quarters of covenanting Churches) was required for any change, given the profoundly important nature of the affirmations and commitments involved.