I had a four hour lunch with Andrew Goddard on Wednesday, the first time we’ve met for 18 months. The conversation with Andrew gave me the opportunity to float ideas about where ‘the gay debate’ and ‘the future of the Communion’ might be headed.
Some predict crisis, schism, doom and gloom, the exclusion of TEC, global domination. Others suggest that such predictions are wide of the mark. The centre will hold, the Primates, ACC and bishops of the Communion will continue to meet at assigned intervals with the majority, including TEC, staying faithful.
The review and possible moderate revision of the fourth part of the Covenant will be complete by the end of the year and it will be sent to the Provinces for consideration. At that point, Provinces that are autocratically rather than democratically governed have an advantage. They could sign the Covenant immediately, effectively hijacking it. That’s what they wanted to happen in February and why some delegates at the ACC meeting in Alexandria were so pushy and ultimately frustrated. They contributed to the chaos of the Covenant debate.
TEC has to take the Covenant through the General Convention process and the CofE through General Synod. I’m not sure whether in England it has to be sent down to Dioceses and Deanery Synods for consideration (others who know these things will advise, no doubt) before returning a year or so later to General Synod.
If a number of conservative Provinces and individual dioceses plus bodies like ACNA and FoCA sign, or try to sign, I predict that this will provoke a further crisis. There will be conflict between autocratic, centrally-governed and run Provinces and extra-Provincial bodies and those Provinces which are governed by more democratic, consultative, collegial processes – including the four UK Provinces. I predict that global arguments will intensify at that moment. Certainly, liberal, radical, traditional broad-church Anglican voices will be raised in defence of an inclusive Communion.
If the conservative coalitions sign first and try to hijack ownership and control of the Covenant, their own unstable alliances are likely to experience internal tensions and challenges. United against gay bishops and liberal trends they may be, they are also divided by attitudes towards the ordination of women as priests, let alone bishops, divorce and remarriage, anti-sacramentalism and Calvinism and Catholicism, let alone deep theological disagreements (see Warren Tanghe, New Directions http://www.anglican-mainstream.net/?p=14038).
Having gained control, what would these Provinces do next? Put their master plan into action and declare that because of their sins over homosexuality, TEC and Canada will never be allowed to sign the Covenant and other Provinces (the CofE for example) will only be allowed to sign if we impose Communion policy (Lambeth 1.10, Windsor Report) ruthlessly (by which I mean, to their total satisfaction).
I doubt this scenario will come to pass – history is never that predictable. But the Covenant will not solve anything, certainly not the issue of homosexuality. It won’t create the Church so desired by the conservative coalition. It won’t diminish the presence of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the Communion. It won’t restrict our presence to celibate LGBT priests and platonic lay gay relationships.
We will continue to have what the conservatives don’t want and are so frustrated about at the moment – more time – time for more process (something else they hate), more listening, more global encounters, more threats. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had more time for Christian patience, hope, charity, gentleness and self-giving love?
And we will STILL be here in the Communion, women priests and bishops, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, those with liberal, radical, liminal theologies. While in Africa, Asia, the Far East, South America, secular gay rights movements will evolve and gay people will become more visible and vocal – outside and inside the Church.