“Punitive, controlling and completely un-Anglican” – that’s how Dr Tony Fitchett sees Section 4 of the proposed Covenant.
But even if General Synod were of a mind to toss that section out, holus bolus, now is not the time to do that, he suggested.
While there’s a feeling that the Covenant has been “done to death” and General Synod had the power, making that decision was important enough to warrant using the same mechanisms used for changing the constitution, for example.
He said there’d long been pressure for an instant decision.
At the last ACC meeting, for example, “much was said about the need for this to happen immediately: that even delay in adoption, let alone rejection of it would lead to the breakup of the Communion.
“Well,” said Dr Fitchett, “somehow the Communion seems to have survived for another year, in a way no more broken than in the previous five years…”
Dr Fitchett said the first three sections of the Covenant were not at all controversial, and could be affirmed as “mother’s milk – good for us all.”
Section 3, he suggested, was particularly important. It not only acknowledged the autonomy of each province, it committed the provinces to respectful listening, praying and study when confronted by issues that threaten that unity.
Section 4, on the other hand, was a different matter.
“Though the language used has been moderated, and has become fuzzier in successive drafts, the general thrust of Section 4.2 remains as it began: that a Communion-wide body – now the Standing Committee rather than the Primates – can discipline a Province and recommend its exclusion from Communion structures.
“It can also recommend suspension while those disciplinary processes are being worked through.
“Further, a new Clause 4.2.8 excludes all provinces which have not adopted the Covenant from decision-making about exclusion of provinces.
“This means that in the ACC, the only constitutional Instrument of Communion, the proposed Covenant purports to over-ride the ACC’s constitutional provisions about decision making – so that only those Provinces that have adopted the proposed Covenant are involved in the decisions regarding exclusion.
“My belief is that this Clause, which has not been previously put forward for discussion, is ultra vires, as well as being completely unjust, and is enough on its own to justify rejecting the proposed Covenant.”
Dr Fitchett said that while his motion proposed a two-year discussion process, he should declare his own personal view.
He felt that Sections 1, 2 and 3 “are a useful description” of what it is to be Anglican, and in Communion, and “a useful way for Provinces to make… commitments about ways to maintain communion.
“Section 4.2, on the other hand, contains provisions that are punitive, controlling, and completely un-Anglican, and reflect the movement towards centralized, Curia-like control that was rejected by the Lambeth conference… over a century ago…”
“That sort of control, leading to the exclusion not just of thoughts and actions which some find difficult, but of the people who think and, in conscience act in ways perceived as radical, is not just unChristian.
“It is also, as Bishop Selby has pointed out, no way to discern the truth about matters in dispute.”
Dr Fitchett said people had repeatedly been told that a Covenant without disciplinary powers was worthless.
That, he said, is strange logic. His own marriage had prospered for 42 years without external disciplinary powers.
“I think Section 4 should be rejected, preferably on its own, while adopting Sections 1 to 3 but, if necessary, rejecting the whole document.
“But that decision should be for the future – not for this session of General Synod/Te Hinota Whanui.
“This motion’s primary aim is to initiate a responsible mechanism by which to consider, and eventually make a decision about the proposed Covenant.”