Just as the Church of England General Synod was giving its backing to a mechanism to preserve unity in the Anglican Communion, conservative Anglican leaders were issuing a statement declaring that they can no longer give it their support.
In a statement issued by the Primates Council of the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) on Wednesday, they said they could no longer accept the Anglican Covenant as a means of resolving disputes within the Anglican Communion despite originally being some of the main drivers behind the measure.
“While we acknowledge that the efforts to heal our brokenness through the introduction of an Anglican Covenant were well intentioned we have come to the conclusion the current text is fatally flawed and so support for this initiative is no longer appropriate,” they said.
The statement was signed by archbishops from West Africa, North America, Rwanda, Tanzania, Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya.
In it, they also confirm that they will not attend next year’s primates’ meeting in Ireland. Instead, they plan to hold their own meeting in the latter part of 2011, followed by an international gathering dubbed GAFCON 2 sometime in 2012.
The announcement threatens to scupper the Anglican Covenant process, as the measure cannot be implemented without the approval of all 38 provinces in the global Communion.
The covenant is not a constitution, Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams, spiritual leader of the 70 million-member body, has clarified. It is also not meant to be a penal code for punishing those who don't comply. Rather, the covenant sets out a framework for dealing with conflicts among the provinces and offers a way of discerning the nature of disagreements and whether they were a "Communion-breaking issue."
During Wednesday morning’s debate, a motion in support of the covenant was overwhelmingly approved by Synod members in the Church of England although there were some reservations raised even by its supporters.
The Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt. Rev. Michael Perham, expressed concern that it could be used to take “punitive action” against certain Anglicans although he added he would vote in favor of it out of loyalty to Archbishop Williams.
The Bishop of Lincoln, the Rt. Rev. John Saxbee, said the covenant represented “factory farmed religion rather than free range faith” and would only lead to a two-tier Communion.
Ultimately, the Church of England's legislative body gave preliminary approval, agreeing to send out the draft Anglican Covenant for consideration by diocesan synods.
The measure is backed by the Archbishop of Canterbury and is due to come back to the Church of England's governing synod for a final vote in 2012.
The Anglican Covenant was first proposed in 2004 as a response to the crisis brought on by the consecration of the first openly gay bishop in the United States.
The covenant seeks to preserve unity by formalizing the process by which provinces that act in a manner contrary to Anglican tradition are dealt with.