The Response addresses both matters of style and matters of substance It offers some revisions of specific passages, and includes a rewritten draft incorporating their suggestions. This is not the first response (for example, the Episcopal Church’s is here), nor even the first to suggest a new draft (as in the Church of Ireland’s, here). Its revisions do largely accept both the form and content of the original Draft, with some additions and a little tweaking.
What strikes me about this proposed “re-Draft” is some suggestions of ecclesiastical structure. I have written before (here and here) my opinion that Archbishop Williams is interested in revising Anglican ecclesiastical structure to look somewhat more like Roman structures. His protestations notwithstanding that he does not want to be Pope, nor does he want some sort of Magisterium, he seems to desire a structure that is more integrated and more centralized in making critical decisions. This re-Draft seems to reflect a similar goal.
There is, for example, this interesting comment:
(5) An important question that is raised by this Preamble [of the Draft Anglican Covenant] is what is meant by the phrase ‘the Churches of the Anglican Communion.’ Are the churches of the Anglican communion, properly so called, the thirty eight national bodies that belong to the Communion or are they the dioceses of the Communion gathered round their diocesan bishops? This is not just a theoretical ecclesiological question, but also a practical one since it raises the question of whether the bodies that should subscribe to the Covenant are the national bodies or the dioceses. This issue does not require a revision of the text, but it is something that needs to be addressed.
Not long ago, few would have thought this question was at issue. However, in the Archbishop’s Advent Letter, and in his private letter to Bishop John Howe of Central Florida, the Archbishop himself made it issue. It certainly makes a difference whether a diocese participates in the Communion through a national church or directly, and so arguably independent of a national church. If the diocese participates directly, and perhaps independently, then how is the diocese represented in the Instruments of Communion? What is the meaning of primacy, even in the limited extent to which it is exercised in the Anglican tradition? In any case, a direct relationship of a diocese to the Instruments of Communion, not least to the Archbishop of Canterbury, vitiates the authority of national structures, and redirects it to the Instruments
Or, consider how the Response and re-Draft speak to the authority of the Instruments of Communion. In commenting on the Draft Covenant’s description of the Primates’ Meeting, there is this comment: “(27) What is said about the Primates meeting needs to note that it is a meeting of the presiding bishops of the Communion and acts as the executive committee of the Lambeth Conference.” According to the Anglican Communion web site, “[The Lambeth Conference] is convened every ten years at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury and is the only occasion when bishops can meet for worship, study and conversation. Archbishops, bishops, assistant and suffragan bishops within the Communion are invited.” We have heard comments over the past few years about the authority of the Lambeth Conference – progressives addressing the limitations, and conservatives expressing frustration at those limitations, frustration so great that some African provinces have stated that those limitations by themselves are reasons not to attend. But if we all accept those limitations, one wonders what need there is for an “executive committee of the Lambeth Conference?” It is manifestly not needed in the sense of a planning committee. Convened at Canterbury’s invitation, Canterbury has assembled his own planning committee. If the authority of the Lambeth Conference is moral, it does not result in programs or policies. To suggest a need for an executive committee is to suggest there will or should be a program to execute.
But that is addressed later in the comments. There is a specific response to this section of the Draft:
[Each Church commits itself] to heed the counsel of our Instruments of Communion in matters which threaten the unity of the Communion and the effectiveness of our mission. While the Instruments of Communion have no juridical or executive authority in our Provinces, we recognise them as those bodies by which our common life in Christ is articulated and sustained, and which therefore carry a moral authority which commands our respect.
The Response’s comment is, “(32) The second sentence of subsection 4 should talk not just about ‘moral authority,’ but also about ‘spiritual, pastoral and doctrinal authority.’” As a result, the re-Draft recasts that section to say,
[We commit ourselves] (4) to heed the counsel of our Instruments of Communion in matters which threaten the unity of the Communion, our fellowship with other churches and the effectiveness of our mission. While the Instruments of Communion have no juridical or executive authority in our Provinces, we recognise them as those bodies by which our common life in Christ is articulated and sustained, and which therefore carry a spiritual, pastoral and doctrinal authority which commands our respect;
Thus, it is the Instruments that articulate common doctrine, and sustain common pastoral practice. That would give the Primates' Meeting something to "execute;" but it would seem problematic in maintaining the breadth across the Communion regarding such issues as interpretation of Scripture and ordination of women, and such issues within provinces as the differences within Australia regarding presidency at the Eucharist.
Or, consider the comment on the Anglican Consultative Council:
(28) The description of the Anglican Consultative Council needs re-working. It is unhelpful to imply that the ACC in particular represents the bishops, clergy and laity of the Communion in a manner than the other Instruments do not and the final clause of the description of the gives a rather limited picture of its role.
However, it is manifestly the case that in fact the ACC does represent non-bishop clergy and laity in a manner that other Instruments do not. Non-bishop clergy and laity participate in the ACC, and not in the other Instruments. I do not question that most primates and other bishops want to represent what they see as the best interests of the clergy and laity they serve. I question whether what the bishops see as the best interests are the same as those clergy and laity see themselves. Their participation in the ACC does make a difference, and does make it distinctive among the Instruments.
Moreover, this accepts largely unquestioned the Draft Covenant’s subversion in general of the role and authority of the ACC. By downplaying the important distinction of the participation of clergy and laity in the ACC, the Reponse and re-Draft exacerbates that subversion. (And all this without resolving that troublesome issue of whether the national church or the individual diocese participates in the Communion. In that case, just how is the ACC “representative?”)
Finally, the Response states, “There needs to a new sub-section that addresses the issue of intervention in the affairs of Anglican churches.” While perhaps there might be some value in establishing appropriate boundaries, the result in the Response is this new section in the re-Draft:
(6) to refrain from intervening in the life of other Anglican churches (sc provinces) except in extraordinary circumstances where such intervention has been specifically authorised by the relevant Instruments of Communion.
Thus, the Instruments of Communion are somehow empowered to authorize such interventions. Once again, authority is removed from the national churches and centralized in the Instruments. It is the Instruments that determine when circumstances are “extraordinary,” and what is appropriate for extraordinary pastoral support.
These examples speak to a more centralized understanding of primacy and authority in the Anglican Communion than we have known in the past. It certainly reflects statements Archbishop Williams has made in the past. Perhaps he is so confused as to imagine that we can return to an earlier time, when the Church of England, represented in its many and various colonies and trading stations, was still in some sense unified. This seems like that sort of effort, to return to the image and structure of the Church before we troublesome Americans separated from the Empire and from the Imperial Church. In any case, I wonder whether Archbishop Williams can really be seen as an impartial arbiter in these discussions.
The Response is important, and worthy of thorough examination. It can certainly contribute to the reflections of the Covenant Drafting Committee and to reflection at the Lambeth Conference. However, in itself it appears to represent an innovative centralization of our ecclesiology. It might well provide the means for resolving issues among members of the Communion; but it may provide those means at the cost of losing the unique ecclesiology that we used to understand as “Anglican.”