In my recent test-drive of the proposed Anglican Covenant, I explored what might happen if a specific resolution of the Canadian General Synod were to be challenged under the terms of the Covenant. The resolution, A186, adopted in 2007 reads:
That this General Synod resolves that the blessing of same-sex unions is not in conflict with the core doctrine (in the sense of being creedal) of The Anglican Church of Canada.
I suggested that this resolution constitutes the General Synod's definition of doctrine on the question of same-sex blessings pursuant to its jurisdiction over the definition of doctrine under its Declaration of Principles, section 6(i).
The Declaration of Principles is part of the constitutional framework of the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada. (The other parts are the Constitution and the Rules of Order and Procedure). Among other things, it sets out the areas of jurisdiction held by the General Synod and the Synods of the four internal Provinces in Canada. (Canada, Rupert's Land, Ontario and British Columbia and Yukon. Yes, “Canada” is also the name of an internal Province. We like to get good mileage out of names.)
In my test-drive, I suggested that if the Standing Committee were to declare Resolution A186 incompatible with the Covenant, that would create a constitutional crisis for Canada:
If we've got this far the General Synod will have adopted the Covenant, and the Covenant states repeatedly (e.g., sections 3.2.2, 4.1.3) that it respects the constitutional autonomy of the signatory Churches. So now you have two processes, both recognized by the General Synod, which have come to opposite conclusions on the same issue. How is the General Synod to resolve the matter? Either it will have to revisit Resolution A186 and rescind it, or live with whatever “relational consequences” befall it - or withdraw from the Covenant, pursuant to section 4.3.1 and live with whatever consequences that would trigger. And as for the Covenant's assurance of respect for constitutional autonomy, it's empty. Because true respect for the constitutional autonomy of the Anglican Church of Canada would mean that the Standing Committee would have to decline to rule on any question about Resolution A186, or any constitutionally similar resolution.
Simply accepting whatever relational consequences ensue and carrying on is really not an option, if that includes being suspended from participation in the Instruments of Communion or otherwise breaking communion. For one thing, section 1 of the Declaration of Principles, also known as the Solemn Declaration, states that “We declare this Church to be, and desire that it shall continue, in full communion with the Church of England throughout the world....” (The language is from 1893 and may not be altered.) And that declaration is not merely the sentiment of our Victorian forebears, it also reflects the ongoing commitment of the Canadian Church to be an active member of the Anglican Communion. So there would be little choice but to revisit the resolution.
In effect, then, the freedom to exercise its power to define doctrine would be denied the General Synod by its participation in the Covenant. This would constitute a de facto ceding of that jurisdiction to the Standing Committee, for the Standing Committee would hold effective veto power.
The imposition of relational consequences would also have other constitutional implications for Canada. Section 6(d) gives the General Synod jurisdiction over “the relations of the [Anglican] Church [of Canada] to other Churches of the Anglican Communion.” If the relational consequences were sufficiently severe as to constitute shunning of the Anglican Church of Canada, there might be no way for the General Synod to exercise that power.
Not every power of the General Synod would realistically be at risk under the proposed Covenant. For example, it's hard to imagine anyone raising a question concerning the General Synod's exercise of its jurisdiction over “the establishment, operation and maintenance of a general pension fund.” (Section 6(m)). But in addition to definition of doctrine, it is not inconceivable that questions from other Churches could at some point be raised concerning issues such as the contents of the Canadian Book of Common Prayer (Section 6(j)) or the “qualifications ... of candidates for the ministry of the Church.” (Section 6(l)) (Here I have in mind particularly moral qualifications for clergy, such as marital status, and even sexual orientation or gender.) And there is nothing in the proposed Covenant that limits such questions to future actions. Indeed, its whole purpose is to address actions that have already been taken.
The proposed Covenant tries to reassure us that “[n]othing in this Covenant of itself shall be deemed to alter any provision of the Constitution and Canons of any Church of the Communion, or to limit its autonomy of governance.” And furthermore that “[t]he Covenant does not grant to any one Church or agency of the Communion control or direction over any Church of the Anglican Communion.” (Section 4.1.3) It also commits signatories “to respect the constitutional autonomy of all of the Churches of the Anglican Communion.” (Section 3.2.2) But these assurances are empty if the Standing Committee has effective veto power over decisions and actions of a Church. (See also my previous comments on this point.)
And even if, as suggested by Chancellor Ron Stevenson, a Church in adopting the Covenant were to include a clause in its Act of Synod to the effect that the adoption of the Covenant does not imply any constitutional change or limitation of jurisdiction, the whole point of the proposed Covenant is to restrain the exercise of autonomy.
I have written specifically from the perspective of the Anglican Church of Canada, because that's the constitution I know best, but I suggest that the same issue applies to all churches of the Anglican Communion. And being a Church of a different status won't make any difference. Whether established, disestablished, quasi-established or unestablished, adoption of the proposed Covenant will have constitutional implications for any Church that takes that step.
Adopting the proposed Covenant, in effect, would imply ceding jurisdiction.