News Analysis: Global South Anglicans Launch New Covenant

By Mark Michael

A group of over 100 senior Anglican leaders from across the Global South “adopted in principle” a “covenantal structure” for their mutual relationships at a meeting October 8-11 in Cairo. Similar in many ways to the stalled 2009 Anglican Covenant, the 34-page proposal would create a body called the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches. Those who opt into the body would commit to orthodox teaching and common discipline, adjudicated by a series of councils similar to the Anglican Communion’s instruments of communion.

The proposal was the work of the Global South Anglicans’ Study Group on Enhancing Ecclesial Responsibility, which was commissioned at the sixth Global South Conference in 2016. The study group, chaired by Bishop Rennis Ponniah of Singapore, includes the Rev. Canon Michael Poon, a former member of the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order (IASCUFO). Poon was a primary author of “Towards a Symphony of Instruments,” a 2012 IASCUFO working paper that critiqued the ineffectiveness of the instruments of communion in responding to Communion-wide divisions over sexuality.

The Global South Anglicans (GSA) has been gathering in a largely ad-hoc fashion every few years since 1994, issuing a series of public statements called “trumpets,” a usage borrowed from the Book of Revelation. The official record of the Cairo gathering, the seventh in the series, is entitled, “The Seventh Trumpet.”

The GSA is a big tent group, and the proposal acknowledges that the group “speaks by and large with a moderate tone.” 25 of the Anglican Communion’s 39 provinces are officially members, and delegates from 16 of them attended this conference.

While the group’s communiques have consistently taken conservative positions, some member provinces like the West Indies, Southern Africa, and the Churches of North and South India are considered moderate. Archbishop Mouneer Anis of Egypt and the Middle East, outgoing chair of the Global South Primates’ Steering Committee, has been an important leader in communion-wide reconciliation.

The Rt. Rev. Graham Kings, who served as the Archbishop of Canterbury’s representative at the conference, told TLC “The Global South Anglican movement is significant because its leaders are both orthodox on issues of sexuality and keen to keep the Anglican Communion together. Its origins date back to the South-South mission initiative of the ACC (Anglican Consultative Council), which held its first meeting in Limuru, Kenya, in 1994.” The ACC is one of the four instruments of communion.

Most of the group’s prominent leaders, including all seven members of the newly elected Primates’ Steering Committee, are involved in GAFCON, a traditionalist renewal movement largely based in the Global South, which initially emerged out of the GSA. Some of GAFCON’s member churches view it as an alternative to the Canterbury-oriented instruments of communion, and some have decided not to participate in next summer’s Lambeth Conference.  Kings said that Archbishop Justin Badi of Southern Sudan, the new chair of the GSA Primates’ Steering Committee, “is attending Lambeth 2020 and encouraging other bishops to do so too. Most of the primates on the Steering Committee are also attending.”

The Anglican Church in North America, headquartered in Pittsburgh, is also a member province of the Global South Anglicans, and has been involved with GSA since shortly after the ACNA’s own founding in 2010. Archbishop Foley Beach of the ACNA was elected as the secretary of the Primates’ Steering Committee at the Cairo conference. The ACNA’s founding archbishop, Robert Duncan, was a member of the study group tasked with preparing the proposal for new ecclesial structures for the GSA, as was Canon Phil Ashey, president and CEO of the American Anglican Council, an Atlanta-based network that played a central role in founding the ACNA. The Global South Anglicans also recognize the Anglican Church of Brazil, a church that developed out of a 2005 decision of the Diocese of Recife to separate from the Episcopal Church of Brazil, which remains a province of the Anglican Communion.

The proposed covenantal structure for the GSA outlines a series of doctrinal commitments, as requisite for “full communion” between churches, dioceses, and even congregations. It also states that “our churches are out of communion with those churches that allow the blessing of same-sex relationships or purport to solemnize same-sex marriages in their doctrine and practice.”

Like GAFCON’s founding Jerusalem Declaration, the GSA covenantal structure depends upon texts beloved of Anglican evangelicals, especially the 39 Articles and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. It quotes as authorities numerous English Reformation texts, and asserts that “Anglican Churches need to rediscover afresh the authentic basis of their bonds of affection, that is, the faith of their Anglican forebears, which sets the doctrinal framework within which Anglicans can discern the limits of diversity and comprehensiveness in their common life.” The text also reaffirms Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference as the official teaching of the Anglican Communion on marriage and sexuality.

The document pointedly critiques the focus on provincial autonomy that has been prominent in discussions of inter-Anglican relations since the mid-nineteenth century, when autonomy originated as a necessary concession to the Church of England’s established structure. The text reiterates the conclusion of the Windsor Continuation Group and IASCUFO that the Anglican Communion suffers from an “ecclesial deficit” in being unable to marshal sufficient authority to make binding decisions about crucial matters. Even if the Anglican Covenant from 2009 had been adopted, by retaining the principle of autonomy “the Anglican Communion would still be left without the necessary structure to teach and speak with one voice on matters of faith, order, and unity.”

This new proposal envisions instead a set of authoritative structures for “establishing the limits of diversity, holding each other accountable to a common dogmatic and liturgical tradition, and making decisions which carry force.” The Assembly or “Trumpet,” a mixed body of clerical and lay delegates, would serve as the GSA’s “comprehensive and authoritative voice.” A board elected of its members continues its work when the assembly is in recess. The proposal also envisions a gathering of all bishops every eight to ten years, and a primates’ council. The structure closely resembles the Anglican Communion’s existing instruments of communion, with shadow versions of the Anglican Consultative Council and its Standing Committee, the Lambeth Conference, and the Primates’ Meeting.

The proposed structure suggests no single representative leader and mentions the Archbishop of Canterbury only in passing. The structure also includes a Faith and Order Commission, as the “operational means … for guarding the faith and order of the GSA.”

“The proposed formation of the GSA,” the writers say, “has in mind the well-being of the Anglican Communion. We are resolved in Christ’s love to be a faithful witness within the Communion to the faith once for all delivered, and to conserve all that is true and good in Anglican faith and practice. … The leadership of the GS Churches is also keenly aware of the failure of the Instruments of the Communion in dealing with the besetting problems of faith and order in parts of the Communion that are contrary to Scripture and orthodox Anglican practice.”

Bishop Kings described the proposal as loyal to the Canterbury-based Anglican Communion. “This significant document, in its final version,” he said, “does not mention GAFCON nor the Jerusalem Statement. It has rigour without rancour, is set in a Catholic and Reformed framework, the influence of Canon Dr. Michael Nai-Chiu Poon, and is orthodox on sexuality.”

The proposal’s historical appendix, however, voices serious concerns about potential changes in marriage doctrine by the Church of England, noting that “the decisions it makes on faith, order, and morals impact other Churches and the well-being of the Communion more deeply than those made elsewhere. … This leads us to ask what would be the basis of the Anglican Communion should the CoE depart from the orthodox and historic teaching of the Church on marriage and sexual ethics?” It continues: “While it is true that the worldwide Communion grew out of the mission and ministry of the CoE, we need to dig deeper to find the basis of why the Communion exists as a distinct part of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.”

The GSA covenantal structure requires that member churches respect the provincial boundaries of other member churches, while also allowing “orthodox” dioceses and “networks” in other provinces to apply for membership. The GSA has already recognized among its members two churches, in Brazil and the United States, as alternatives to more progressive counterparts.

Living in Love and Faith, an extensive Church of England teaching document about “human identity, sexuality and marriage,” is expected to be released early in 2020. The General Synod has committed to reflecting on its work at its February and July meetings. Were the Church of England to move in a liberalizing direction, the GAFCON-affiliated Anglican Mission in England, led by recently consecrated ACNA bishop Andy Lines, or an organized network of conservative Church of England parishes, might apply for admission to the GSA’s covenantal structure. The GSA’s decision about such a step could significantly alter its relationship with the existing Anglican Communion.

The conference delegates adopted the covenantal structure in principle at the close of their meeting, and referred it back to their provinces for consideration. The body also charged the existing primates’ steering committee to oversee the process of establishing the covenantal structure and approving applications for membership. They hope to have the new structure fully operational before June 30, 2021.


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