From time to time in conversations about the proposed Anglican Covenant someone suggests that perhaps we should just drop Section 4, the disputed dispute-settling mechanism, and just adopt sections 1-3, which more or less set out agreed - and mostly agreeable - parameters of Anglican faith.
The idea is well-meant. After all, no-one wants to be seen to be obstructive, or to be anti-Anglican Communion. And adopting the Covenant, or at least part of it, seems to be test of our loyalty to the Communion (not to mention the Archbishop of Canterbury). Dropping section 4 would seem to be a way of making the exercise less unpalatable. We might not have to hold our noses quite so tightly to adopt the rest of the Covenant, and it would seem that opposition to the Covenant might be reduced in the process. And then we'd look like we were playing nice and being co-operative.
So, why not? In fact, there are several reasons not to take this approach.
First, the suggestion to drop Section 4 really intends a desire to drop section 4.2. We would still need sections 4.1, 4.3 and 4.4, or something like them, to provide for adoption of, withdrawal from, and amendment to the Covenant. But that said, the Covenant process has now reached a point at which no-one is permitted to offer any further amendments to the text, and dropping section 4.2 would be a significant amendment to the text. So, it’s a matter of all or nothing.
But even if we could drop section 4.2 and adopt the rest, there are still reasons not to do so. At first blush, the first three sections look relatively innocuous. After all, they mostly say things that we could all agree to say. Who, after all, could argue against the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, or the Five Marks of Mission, which are both quoted in the first three sections? Certainly not I!
But dig deeper. Most of us in saying these things are likely to mean slightly different things by them, depending on our various contexts. And the one context that is vital to account for in reading these sections of the proposed Covenant is the context of the document itself. I suggest that sections 1-3 need to be read through the lens of section 4. And when you do that and begin to ask yourself how these sections can be used as a basis on which to decide whether or not a proposed action would be
"compatible with the Covenant", then these three sections begin to look much less attractive.
What makes them attractive on their own is that they allow for a variety of interpretation in a variety of contexts. But the Covenant itself is designed to limit the variety of interpretation, and to allow for cross-contextual questioning of each others' actions. That being the case, the polysemous nature of sections 1-3 becomes, in light of section 4, yet another aspect of ambiguity or fuzziness which becomes unhelpful when used as a measuring stick in a quasi-judicial proceeding which will lead inevitably to relational consequences.
And, anyway, do we need another document which just quotes documents that already play a significant role in the life of the Communion? Wouldn’t that just be redundant?
And even if sections 1-3 are mostly innocuous, they are not without their difficulties. I’ve begun an analysis of these sections and will continue in the days and weeks ahead.
But the bottom line is that we are in a position now where the document is fixed. We do not have the liberty to amend the text or to adopt parts of it piecemeal.
Take it or leave it? Leave it!