A major step to promote harmony within the worldwide Anglican Communion has been rejected by leaders of a global grouping set up to fight against what its members call breaches of traditional biblical Anglicanism.
On Nov. 24, the Church of England's general synod voted to adopt the draft version of a covenant, a document that the Anglican Communion's 38 provinces, or areas, will be invited to endorse. If ratified it would offer a mechanism for managing differences arising originally from the consecration of an openly homosexual bishop in the United States.
Parties to the covenant would commit their national churches "to act with due diligence, care and caution in respect of any act that may provoke controversy".
However, while the Church of England's "parliament" voted by 331 to 57 with 20 abstentions to endorse the draft, the Global Anglican Future Conference said that Anglican leaders who belong to the grouping will not attend a meeting of the heads of the communion's provinces, taking place in Dublin in January.
"For the sake of Christ and of his gospel we can no longer maintain the illusion of normalcy and so we join with other primates from the Global South in declaring that we will not be present at the next primates' meeting to he held in Ireland," GAFCON stated.
"While we acknowledge that the efforts to our heal our brokenness through the introduction of an Anglican covenant were well intentioned, we have come to the conclusion the current text is fatally flawed and so support for this initiative is no longer appropriate," said GAFCON, set up in 2008 to campaign for what its organizers called traditional biblical Anglicanism.
The action is seen as a challenge to the leadership of Archbishop Rowan Williams and the structure of the Anglican Communion.
During a speech to the synod as part of his presidential address, Williams said, "For God's sake, don't let us waste time and energy talking or behaving as if there is a competition going on here. I don't think we are doing the job for which God has called us here if we reproduce the worse aspects of secular partisanship."
Referring to the "bitterly divisive" issue of same-sex unions he said the debate has not moved much from entrenched positions.
"The need for some thoughtful engagement that will help us to understand how people who read the same Bible and share the same baptism can come to strongly diverse conclusions is getting more urgent, because I sense that in the last few years the debate on sexuality has not really moved much," said Williams.
Earlier at an inaugural service attended by the British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, in Westminster Abbey, Dame Mary Tanner, a president of the World Council of Churches, drew parallels in her sermon between the current need for synodical reform and the first Council of Jerusalem called by the Apostles around A.D. 50. This dealt with the religious obligations of Gentile converts to Christianity.
Tanner said a church that engages courageously in mission must expect to wrestle with new questions that evoke opposing responses and this is a sign of the church's vitality.
"Be careful how you speak about synod - don't rubbish it," Tanner advised. "Many in other churches envy us this expression of laity and clergy meeting together with bishops and even disagreeing in public."