Substance and Shadow:
Lambeth Conference and GAFCON
Fulcrum Newsletter, January 2008
by Graham Kings
vicar of St Mary Islington and theological secretary of Fulcrum
Dear Fulcrum friends,
The Letter to the Hebrews warns against the temptation to withdraw and separate. Chapter ten opens with a contrast between ‘true form’ and ‘shadow’ and verse 25 advises, ‘We should not stay away from our meetings, as some do, but rather encourage one another.’ While the contexts are different, may we, perhaps, discern some contemporary echoes as the Anglican Communion approaches Lambeth 2008?
On 17 February 2004, the executive secretary of Anglican Mainstream, Chris Sugden, gave an address at the London Diocesan Evangelical Fellowship, at All Souls’ Church Langham Place. I remember his statement that the Lambeth Conference 2008 would never take place.
On 23 November 2007, he gave an address at the Anglican Network in Canada conference, Burlington, Ontario, ‘An International Overview of the Anglican Communion’. According to the Anglican Mainstream site, the claim was made, ‘At least half the Anglicans in the world will not be represented at Lambeth.’ The assumption was, it seems, that no bishops from Nigeria, Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda would attend and that many other bishops in the Global South Anglican movement would also absent themselves.
Then, on 21 January 2008, came the encouraging announcement from the Archbishop of Canterbury that ‘about 70% of bishops worldwide have already formally registered for the Conference’ and ‘a number of others have signalled that they will attend’. Significantly, Ian Ernest, Primate of the Indian Ocean, who took over as chair of the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa (CAPA) in October 2007 from Peter Akinola, was present at the press conference as the vice chair of the Lambeth Design Group.
So, in spite of efforts to dissuade African bishops and others from attending Lambeth 2008, there will be a substantial presence of bishops, and discussions of substance concerning the Anglican Covenant will take place.
Shadowy discouragement has now focused on a shadow conference: the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) to be held in Jerusalem in June 2008. ‘Preparatory’ conferences, eg in Kuala Lumpur 18 months before Lambeth 1998, are valuable: ‘diverting’ conferences, in a volatile context four weeks beforehand, are divisive.
GAFCON was set up after a meeting in Nairobi in December 2007. Peter Akinola, the Archbishop of Nigeria, ignored other leading Primates of the Global South: Drexel Gomez (West Indies), John Chew (South East Asia) and Mouneer Anis, (Jerusalem and the Middle East).
At the end of December, Mouneer Anis wrote to Peter Akinola asking him to reconsider the timing and the venue of GAFCON, ‘It is my region and I know it better than you.’ The reply was negative. J I Packer, whose paper at the Anglican Network in Canada conference in November 2007 is on the GAFCON website, backed Mouneer Anis in an interview on 25 January 2008:
There is legitimate disagreement whether it is better to go to GAFCON or have GAFCON after Lambeth and encourage everyone to go to Lambeth. Archbishop Mouneer Anis is much wiser by saying we should go to Lambeth and constitute an evangelical phalanx.
The Global South Anglican movement has developed a strong and impressive identity, and it, quite rightly, does not include the UK, Australia or North America. The ‘Global Anglican Future’ group does include these three regions, with Chris Sugden, Peter Jensen and Martyn Minns in key leadership roles. It seems to have deliberately chosen a similar name to echo the original. In organizing GAFCON without wider consultation, it has caused ructions in the wider movement.
Michael Poon, the leading theologian on the Global South Anglican site, objected strongly from Singapore with questions to the organisers of GAFCON and specifically to Peter Jensen, Archbishop of Sydney. He was told off peremptorily in a letter from a Primate which had been drafted by a conservative American bishop of an African province. Key commentators on the conservative American web site, Stand Firm, expressed dismay at this treatment.
There was also no consultation with the local bishop Suheil Dawani, the Bishop in Jerusalem, who later expressed objections to GAFCON being planned in Jerusalem. In January, three of the conference planners flew in to visit him. The minutes of the two meetings – first with Peter Jensen and Chris Sugden and then with Peter Akinola and Chris Sugden - show that he stood his ground. Peter Jensen said he would take his concerns to the other GAFCON leaders. Peter Akinola and Chris Sugden implied that the conference would still go ahead as planned.
Will GAFCON be changed to another place? Following a recent reconnaissance visit to Jerusalem and the Middle East, there seem to be organisational worries. It was announced last week, ‘We would encourage those who are planning visits to the Holy Land to coincide with GAFCON to await the announcement of the venue and the exact start and finish dates before making final plans’. This advice may be related more to logistical arrangements in Jerusalem than to ecclesial diplomacy or inter-faith concerns.
What is being planned to happen at GAFCON? No mention is made of the background documents of the Lambeth Conference: The Windsor Report, the Covenant Process and the Advent Letter of the Archbishop of Canterbury. At the Ontario conference mentioned above, Chris Sugden described a group of Anglicans (and implied he was included in the definition) who are made up of:
those who disagree with The Episcopal Church in its teaching on doctrines and ethics, and no longer trust the Archbishop of Canterbury to deal adequately with the problem.
This ‘no longer trusting in the Archbishop of Canterbury’ matches his earlier article, ‘Not Schism but Revolution’, in Evangelicals Now (September 2007), where he stated, after a quotation from Bishop Bob Duncan of Pittsburgh:
In other words, since the Archbishop of Canterbury has not provided for the safe oversight of the orthodox in the United States, he has forfeited his role as the one who gathers the Communion.
Some of the planners of GAFCON have a tendency to be militant. They are intent on the setting up a ‘shadow Communion’ not centred on Canterbury. This ‘non-Canterbury Communion’ is openly being discussed on conservative American web sites. The insistence that there are now ‘two branches’ of the Anglican Communion is a crucial part of the deposited legal defence of the churches of the Anglican District of Virginia, part of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) led by Martyn Minns, against The Episcopal Church. The ‘Post-Trial Briefs’ of CANA describe the two branches explicitly:
those that relate to all provinces that relate to the See of Canterbury, and those that relate only to those who are understood as adhering to the historic faith, doctrine, and discipline of the Anglican Communion… The Church of Nigeria, with which the CANA Congregations have affiliated, is the principal leader of this new branch.
The setting up of GAFCON has been fractious and factious. Francis Bacon (1561-1626), in his essay ‘Of Faction’, wrote:
And therefore, those who are seconds in factions, do many times, when the faction subdivideth, prove principals: but many times also they prove cyphers and cashiered; for many a man’s strength is in opposition, and when that faileth he groweth out of use.
For the passing of a substantial Anglican Covenant, which is vital for the health of the Communion, it is important for bishops in the Global South to come to Lambeth. The movement of shadows should not distract them.
Yours in Christ,
Canon Dr Graham Kings is vicar of St Mary Islington and theological secretary of Fulcrum. See also Tom Wright, 'Evangelicals are not About to Jump Ship'.
The Rt Revd Dr Graham Kings is Honorary Assistant Bishop in the Diocese of Ely and Research Associate at the Cambridge Centre for Christianity Worldwide.