The full text of the Anglican Covenant contains a brief preamble and four sections:
Section 1 affirms basic Anglican beliefs and commitments and Section 2 commits churches to shared mission and service. Section 3 establishes the authority of the four Instruments of Communion. These are the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conferences of bishops, The Anglican Consultative Council (made up of representatives of the provinces) and the Primates' Meetings. It then focuses on how to keep the Communion united. Churches must 'have regard for the common good of the Communion in the exercise of its autonomy', 'respect the constitutional autonomy of all of the Churches', 'spend time with openness and patience in matters of theological debate and reflection', 'seek a shared mind with other Churches', 'participate in mediated conversations', 'act with diligence, care and caution in respect of any action which may provoke controversy, which by its intensity, substance or extent could threaten the unity of the Communion', 'uphold the highest degree of communion possible' and 'uphold the highest degree of communion possible' at times of conflict.
It is Section 4, the process for conflict resolution, which is the controversial part. When a 'shared mind' is not attained the matter is referred to the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion. This is an international body consisting partly of primates and partly of members of the Anglican Consultative Council. About the Standing Committee.
The Standing Committee is to attempt to negotiate agreement and if this fails, request a church to defer the relevant action. If this too fails it is to recommend 'relational consequences which flow from an action incompatible with the Covenant'. A 'relational consequence' would characteristically be to exclude a province from an international function (as has already been done in anticipation of the Covenant). A province's bishops might be excluded from Lambeth Conferences. A list of possible actions was published in the 2008 Lambeth Commentary (see page 25).
In effect this would establish a two-tier Communion, with inferior status assigned to churches which either do not sign the Covenant, or do sign it but then reject a Standing Committee 'recommendation'. Such a two-tier Communion would reflect the original motive for having a Covenant. Others, however, are concerned that their own church might one day suffer the same treatment, perhaps due to a controversy which has not yet arisen.