Concerning the GAFCON 2018 Conference in Jerusalem, and its Letter to the Churches, we outline eight encouragements, five questions and five observations.
- GAFCON remains in the Anglican Communion.
- There was manifest: a wide international composition of attendees; heartening biblical expositions; joyful fellowship; culturally diverse worship; and a delightful sense of pilgrimage in the Holy Land.
- The tone of the ‘Letter to the Churches’ is serious and measured.
- The traditional doctrine of ‘marriage’ is set out clearly and in a wide context.
- There is a stress on prayerful, bold, mission.
- There is an emphasis on the uniqueness of Christ.
- There is a critique of the ‘prosperity gospel’ and of ‘theological revisioning’.
- There is mention of the need for discipline in the Church.
- 1. On what authority, and by what processes of discernment, does the substantial authority come, which the GAFCON Primates’ Council claims for itself, to define what is a Province of the Anglican Communion?
Comment: While recognising the pain and hurt of those in GAFCON whose provinces have rejected Communion teaching on sexuality and acted unilaterally, no ecclesiological explanation for this claim to authority is given.
- Why is there such a reaction against phrases which have been a focus of reconciliation discussions, by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the other Instruments of Communion?
Letter: ‘Slogans such as “walking together” and “good disagreement” are dangerously deceptive in seeking to persuade people to accommodate false teaching in the Communion.’
Comment: ‘Walking together, some at a distance’ (and the second part is significant) was the phrase used by the Archbishop of Canterbury in his reflections on the Primates’ Meeting of January 2016:
The meeting reached a point on Wednesday where we chose quite simply to decide on this point – do we walk together at a distance, or walk apart? And what happened next went beyond everyone’s expectations. It was Spirit-led. It was a ‘God moment’.
It may be that ‘Disagreeing Well’, also used by the Archbishop of Canterbury, is a more nuanced phrase than ‘Good Disagreement’, and this would help the concept to be better understood.
- Are the new structures within GAFCON, a preparation for an alternative Communion?
Letter: ‘We endorse the formation of Gafcon Branches where necessary and of a Panel of Advisors, comprising bishops, clergy and lay representatives from each Gafcon Province and Branch, to provide counsel and advice to the Primates Council. Together with the Primates, the Panel of Advisors form a Synodical Council to bring recommendations to the Gafcon Assembly. The Synodical Council met for the first time at this Conference...’
Comment: While presented as simply a matter of better internal governance - and such greater accountability structures are welcome - these mirror and replicate (in the case of Networks) the structure and activities of the Anglican Communion.
- Why discourage Bishops from attending the Lambeth Conference 2020, and others from meetings of the Instruments of Communion?
Letter: ‘In the event that this [inviting bishops of ACNA and of the GAFCON recognised Anglican Church of Brazil and not inviting TEC bishops] does not occur, we urge Gafcon members to decline the invitation to attend Lambeth 2020 and all other meetings of the Instruments of Communion.’
Comment: Legitimate concerns about appropriate invitations to Lambeth 2020 do need taking seriously. Not all Bishops were invited to Lambeth 2008. Since then, the Primates’ Meeting of 2016 issued ‘consequences’ against The Episcopal Church, and the Primates’ Meeting of 2017 extended these to the Scottish Episcopal Church. Also, developments in the Anglican Church of Canada and the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia are significant.
Nevertheless, the rationale of this GAFCON discouragement concerning Lambeth 2020 is unclear and unwise. There is a French proverb: ‘Les absents ont toujours tort’ – ‘those who are absent are always wrong’ implying that ‘those who absent themselves lose the power to influence discussion.’
It seems very likely that some of the Bishops present at GAFCON 2018 will indeed come to Lambeth 2020 and others in their dioceses will be involved in meetings of the other Instruments of Communion in the lead up to it. There are a series of short ‘Countdown to Lambeth’ videos on the Anglican Communion site by Primates and Bishops from the South of the Communion (including Bishop Mouneer Anis, an influential figure in the Global South Anglican movement) about the significance of attending Lambeth 2020.
- Why quote Lambeth 1.10 selectively?
Letter: ‘The resolution rightly called for pastoral care for same sex attracted persons. At the same time, it described homosexual practice as “incompatible with Scripture” and rejected both the authorisation of same sex rites by the Church and the ordination of those in same sex unions.’
Comment: Most of section (c) of Lambeth 1.10, was not included in this summary of Lambeth 1.10. Section (c):
recognises that there are among us persons who experience themselves as having a homosexual orientation. Many of these are members of the Church and are seeking the pastoral care, moral direction of the Church, and God's transforming power for the living of their lives and the ordering of relationships. We commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons and we wish to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ;
Only this part of section (d) was included:
While rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture,
and it did not continue with the sentence which includes:
and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals, violence within marriage and any trivialisation and commercialisation of sex;
So this selective quotation, which omits: ‘listening’; ‘God’s love’; ‘full members of the Body of Christ’; and the need to condemn ‘irrational fear of homosexuals’ and ‘violence’ is not helpful.
We are concerned about the failure of some GAFCON provinces to follow these parts of Lambeth 1.10 and to take seriously the abuse of sexual minorities in their cultures and legal systems.
- Presence and Absence
According to GAFCON, there were 1,950 representatives from 50 countries, including 316 bishops, 669 other clergy and 965 laity. In particular there were many bishops from Nigeria and Uganda.
We observe that there were present from the Church of England two active Suffragan Bishops (Bishop Rod Thomas of Maidstone and Bishop Keith Sinclair of Birkenhead), one retired Diocesan Bishop (Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali of Rochester) and one retired Suffagan Bishop (Bishop Wallace Benn of Lewes).
From the Church of England, we observe that all serving Diocesan Bishops and all serving Suffragan Bishops (except the two mentioned above) were absent.
From Africa, Archbishop Maimbo Mndolwa (Archbishop of Tanzania) we observe was not present. According to GAFCON, Bishop Mouneer Anis (Bishop of the Diocese of Egypt, North Africa and the Horn of Africa) and Archbishop Justin Badi Arama, (new Primate of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan) could not be present for visa reasons.
- Ordained Women
Female priests were invited and welcomed and were present on the platform during several services.
Amongst the UK group, we observe that there were only two ordained women, although others were invited: one from the Church of England and one from the Church in Wales.
- Importance of the Anglican Communion
Archbishop Jackson Ole Sapit (Archbishop of Kenya) was present and gave a nuanced interview to ‘Covenant’ about GAFCON and stressed the significance of staying in the Anglican Communion.
Bishop Tito Zavala (Bishop of Chile), in a plenary expository address on the resurrection, mentioned the significance of staying in the Anglican Communion. Before lunch members of the GAFCON Primates’ Council appeared on the platform with him as he reiterated his firm support of GAFCON.
Archbishop Suheil Dawani (Archbishop in Jerusalem, and Primate of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East) invited delegates to Evensong at St George’s Cathedral on the Sunday and also addressed the conference on the Monday, outlining the need for reconciliation amongst Anglicans.
- Leadership of GAFCON
We observe that the chairmanship of GAFCON has moved from Africa to North America. It has passed from Archbishop Nicholas Okoh (Archbishop of Nigeria, which is a Province of the Anglican Communion), to Archbishop Foley Beach, (Archbishop of the Anglican Church of North America, which is not a Province of the Anglican Communion). Archbishop Benjamin Kwashi (Archbishop of Jos, Nigeria) has succeeded Bishop Peter Jensen (former Archbishop of Sydney) as General Secretary.
- Communion Partners
'Communion Partners’, the group in both The Episcopal Church and in the Anglican Church of Canada which is conservative on issues of sexuality, has relaunched its website prior to TEC’s General Convention this month. It includes their statement, ‘The Way of Anglican Communion: Walking Together Before God’.
Bishop George Sumner, Bishop of Dallas and a Communion Partner bishop, has written a wise article for ‘Covenant‘, ‘A Reflection on GAFCON III and ACNA’.
We give thanks to God for the vibrancy of faith, delight in God’s Word, and the depth of joy shown amongst the GAFCON pilgrims to Jerusalem and echo Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians (3:18):
I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.