Many of the Covenant's first supporters hoped for a document which would clearly penalise the North American provinces for their tolerance of same-sex partnerships.

There was much talk of obliging them to 'repent' or face exclusion from the Communion. Early drafts of the Covenant proposed stronger sanctions against dissident churches. However they were criticized for being too punitive, and it became clear that this approach would not gain sufficient support. The final text is therefore careful to avoid punitive language. Nevertheless critics argue that its processes would be punitive in practice.

Once the Covenant was in force, each time an objection was submitted the Standing Committee would have the task of making a recommendation. Since the process would only be invoked at times of controversy it is inevitable that one church or the other would disagree with the recommendation. It would then be faced with a choice: either it accepted the Standing Committee's judgement or it should expect to face 'relational consequences'.

Exclusion from international functions does seem like a punishment. Covenant defenders argue that the purpose of the exclusions is to ensure that the international structures are only staffed by those who themselves agree with Anglican teaching. So argues, for example, Archbishop Rowan Williams. Clearly this defence cannot convince all. Whatever the issue at stake, the disappointed would have good reason to believe that their church was being punished for the crime of believing something that other Anglicans, in other parts of the world, have suddenly decreed contrary to Anglican teaching.

One of the common temptations of the powerful is to underrate how much they are oppressing others.