The image of the trumpet blast seems to be an over-dramatic description of the communiqué issued from the latest Global South Encounter. In fact, the response to it has been somewhat muted. But as a guest at the conference, I believe that it fully deserves the title ‘trumpet’ and will in time be regarded as an historic statement.
One reason why it fails to create a strong reaction is that it simply confirms the obvious. The crisis moment has now passed. Many of the Global South provinces have given up on the official North American Anglicans (TEC and the Canadian Church) and regard themselves as being out of communion with them. They renew the call for repentance but can see that, failing something like the Great Awakening, it will not occur. The positive side to this is that they are committed to achieving self-sufficiency so that they will cease to rely on the Western churches for aid. That is something the Global South has been working on for some time, with success.
In my judgment, the assembly was unresponsive to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s video greetings. I don’t think that what he said was obscure. It just seemed to be from another age, another world. His plea for patience misjudged the situation by several years and his talk of the Anglican covenant was not where the actual conference was at. He seemed to suggest that the consecration of a partnered lesbian Bishop will create a crisis. In fact the crisis itself has passed. We are now on the further side of the critical moment; the decisions have all been made; we are already living with the consequences. And it was in working out the consequences that the communiqué may eventually be seen to be historic.
The Global South Encounter could not in itself recognize the authenticity of churches. But the communiqué goes as far as is possible to recognizing the authenticity of the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) and declaring this body to be the true heirs of the Anglican tradition on that continent. This is precisely what the GAFCON/FCA Primates Council did in 2009, and it really means that the leadership of the vast majority of the Anglican Communion regards itself as being in communion with ACNA and out of fellowship with the other North Americans. This was symbolized by the part played by Archbishop Bob Duncan at the conference, especially when he presided at Holy Communion. Furthermore the welcome accorded to the two bishops from the Communion Partners demonstrated the Global South commitment to Biblical standards as a test of fellowship.
In the meantime, of course, there are those, notably in the West, who want to play by the old institutional rules. They would argue that ACNA cannot be part of the Anglican Communion because it has not passed the tests of admission via the Anglican Consultative Council. This is so artificial as to be risible. As the last paragraph of the communiqué observes, the unreformed ‘instruments of communion’ (who invented such an inelegant phrase?) are archaic remnants of a system which has failed. The Global South is vibrant with spiritual reality. It has taken a time for them to break the courteous habit of deference, but they have now chosen reality, not the artificial constructs dominated by the money and politics of western churches.
Which brings us to the covenant. The word ‘covenant’ was prominent in the lead up to the conference. Given that the Anglican covenant reached something like a final form in December it could reasonably be supposed that the Global South Encounter would regard this as its chief agenda and issue a statement urging all provinces to sign. In fact, the consideration of the covenant theme took a strictly biblical turn from Archbishops Akinola and Chew onwards, and it was scarcely if at all addressed from the platform during the Encounter. The paragraph on the covenant in the communiqué still endorses the idea of such a development, but it is also perfectly clear that work still needs to be done to produce a covenant which the Global South would be happy with. The two defects mentioned are that it lacks disciplinary teeth and that it gives monitoring power to the Standing Committee when it should belong to the Primates.
I suspect that a great deal more lies behind these criticisms. The very appearance of the body called ‘The Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion’ was the cause of much private comment, for example. Even if it is a totally innocent development, it seems to fit with the frequent experience of the Global South that they are neither consulted nor listened to and that the deck is always stacked against them. The paragraph is consistent with the view that there is now a very considerable breakdown in trust and that new ways of being Anglican are being found. The praise for Archbishops Mouneer, Orombi and Ernest in their determination no longer to attend meetings with representatives of the North Americans is a further indication that the crisis point has been passed and that we are now in the era of consequences. It seems strange for anyone to be counseling delay and patience under such circumstances.
I am not attempting here to give a record of the Encounter itself, and these observations have no other status than that of an outside observer and one not privy to various of the key meetings between Primates and others. The conference contained a great deal else worthy of remark, including a high quality of presentations. I was especially impressed by the manifest desire to listen to scripture and to be obedient to scripture. But I conclude with a particular moment which had special significance for me and ties in with my comments on the communiqué.
It occurred in my small group meeting. In this group were representatives from Madagascar, Kenya, the Solomons, South Africa, India, Myanmar, and Burundi – a fair range representing the modern Anglican Communion and the very ones who value their membership of the Communion so highly. We were discussing covenants, and the issue of the Anglican covenant emerged. Very gently but firmly the group let me into a secret. It was all very well to have a covenant, but what if the people have different ideas as to what a covenant may mean? What if you were in covenanting with westerners, whose word could not be relied on? Of what use is a covenant then? Look at the state of marriage in the west. Consider the western capacity to use slippery words. What would a covenant be worth?
Right action demands that we understand our own times accurately. If I am correct, that we now belong to the post-crisis phase, we need to know what such a moment requires. Action in this phase is no less demanding. One thing is for sure: those who wait and do nothing will be playing into the hands of ideologues who have had such a triumph in the west. This is especially so for the orthodox in those churches in the west which have yet to come into their moment of truth. For them there can no longer be, ‘A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest…’ (Proverbs 24:33). Instead they must wield, ‘The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God’ (Ephesians 6:17), if they wish to survive. This is at the heart of what I observed in Singapore, and it is in this, as in the communiqué, that I believe that Global South, like GAFCON/FCA, is pointing to the Anglican future.
General Secretary, GAFCON/FCA