Amidst rising tensions in the Anglican Communion over the issue of homosexuality, the Windsor Report strongly advised its member churches to adopt a worldwide Anglican Covenant in order to restore the bonds of trust and affection within the Communion. The Report also presented a detailed draft covenant for discussion. That covenant proposed a sweeping transfer of authority from individual provinces to the four central structures of the Communion, the ”˜Instruments of Unity’, two of which are composed wholly of primates and three exclusively of bishops.
Despite these ominous first steps on the way to an Anglican Covenant, subsequent documents and public statements from the Instruments of Unity gave reason to hope that the Covenant process would be an inclusive exercise resulting in an inclusive agreement. These hopes were shattered, however, by the Report of the Covenant Design Group (CDG) and by the communiquÃ© of the Primates’ Meeting at Dar es Salaam. The draft Covenant of the CDG report gives the Instruments of Unity veto power over change within the provinces on ”˜essential matters of common concern’, as well as exclusive authority to declare a member church in breach of the Covenant and therefore no longer in covenant relationship with other churches. Furthermore, instead of envisaging an unhurried, comprehensive process of consultation in provincial synods, the CDG report urges the immediate acceptance of this Anglican curia across the Communion, offering a patently question-begging argument for doing so. The primates’ communiquÃ© from Dar es Salaam exceeded the presumptuousness even of the CDG, not only crediting the primates with the authority to issue ultimatums to member churches and impose sanctions for non-compliance, but also demanding that a member church violate its own canons and constitution. Far from restoring trust throughout the Communion, the Covenant process has thoroughly undermined it.
It might be replied that, while of course the process of agreeing a Covenant must be a collaborative dialogue with neither content nor purpose of the Covenant fixed at the outset, the only way forward is a more centralised Anglican Communion, with a central tribunal for vetting change in the Communion on controversial matters. But such a tribunal would only be reasonable if it could be more reliable at ”˜tracking the truth’ than the traditional polity of the Anglican Communion””and that is not the case. Moreover, at present and in the foreseeable future, no international Anglican tribunal could begin to approach the standard of reliability required, for it would be unduly vulnerable to pressure from hardliners on the issue of homosexuality. Hence the CDG draft Covenant’s proposals for concentrating power in the Instruments of Unity violate the Covenant’s own commitment to the open, communal pursuit of truth.