Addressing the General Synod of the Church of England yesterday, Rowan Williams made a clever argument for why his proposed Anglican Covenant could help in the battle against anti-gay legislation such as has been proposed in Uganda. The Covenant would establish a measure of doctrinal control over individual Anglican national churches (provinces), and has raised the ire of Episcopalians who correctly see it as a way for the Anglican Communion to discipline it for ordaining partnered gay men and lesbians as bishops. What the Archbishop of Canterbury did was argue a parallel case for gay rights.
Here’s the play. First, Williams established his own Christian opposition to the Uganda bill:
The rights and dignities of gay and lesbian people are a matter of proper concern for all of us, and we assume with good reason, even, I should say, with good Christian reason, that the securing of these rights is obviously a mark of civilised and human society. When those rights are threatened–as in the infamous legislation that was being discussed in Uganda–we quite rightly express repugnance.
Then comes this:
There is an undoubted good in the independence of local provinces, and there is an undoubted good in the fact that some provinces are increasingly patient, compassionate and thankful in respect of the experience and ministry of gay and lesbian people–entirely in accord with what the Lambeth Conferences and Primates’ statements have said. But when the affirmation of that good takes the form of pre-empting the discernment of the wider Anglican (and a lot of the non-Anglican) fellowship, and of acting in ways that negate the general understanding of the limits set by Bible and tradition, there is a conflict with another undoubted good, which is the capacity of the Anglican familty to affirm and support one another in diverse contexts. The freedom claimed, for example, by the Episcopal Church to ordain a partnered homosexual bishop is, simply as a matter of fact, something that has a devastating impact on the freedom of, say, the Malaysian Christian to proclaim the faith without being cast as an enemy of public morality and risking both credibility and personal safety. It hardly needs to be added that the freedom that might be claimed by an African Anglican to support anti-gay legislation likewise has a serious impact on the credibility of the gospel in our setting.
So Williams’ claim is that the Covenant, by establishing Communion-wide norms, would enable the Malaysian Anglican to safely and credibly proclaim his faith while precluding the African Anglican from supporting draconian anti-gay legislation. The Covenant would presumably do this in one of two ways. Either the Episcopal Church and the relevant Anglican church in Africa would, respectively, stop allowing partnered gays and lesbians to become bishops and cease supporting anti-homosexuality legislation, in order to remain first-class members of the Communion; or both would be relegated to second-class status, thereby enabling Malaysian Anglicans and those “in our setting” to say that well, those eccentrics in the U.S. and Africa don’t hew to true Anglican teaching.
This seems like a long shot, on all fronts.
P.S. Yesterday, the Anglican Church of Uganda took its first public position on the anti-homosexuality legislation, in a way that was not crystal clear to all. But it is clear that the Ugandan church is foursquare in favor of “ensuring that sexual orientation is excluded as a protected human right.” Presumably the ABC is not down with that. Will a little more direct jawboning regarding the impact of the Covenant be forthcoming?