Tuesday, April 24, 2012

GAFCON leaders look to the future; media still stuck in the past

The GAFCON meeting in London this week is about charting a course for the future of global Anglicanism. The British media, predictably, remains hung up on a peripheral issue, as this report from The Telegraph illustrates.
A coalition of bishops and leaders from Africa, the Americas and Australasia said it was time for a “radical shift” in how the church is structured away from models of the “British Empire”.

They criticised what they called “revisionist attempts” to abandon basic doctrines on issues such as homosexuality and “turn Christianity merely into a movement for social betterment” during Dr Williams’s tenure.

And they said it was now clear that the leadership in England had failed to hold the 77 million-strong worldwide Anglican Communion together, leaving it in “crisis”.

They spoke out as 200 clergy and laity from 30 countries gathered in London to discuss what they called the “present crisis moment” in the church.

The meeting of leaders of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans comes amid growing warnings of a split over issues such as homosexuality.

It is the first such meeting since 2008 when more than 200 bishops boycotted the official Lambeth Conference in protest at the presence of bishops from the US Episcopal Church, which had consecrated the first openly gay Anglican bishop.

This week’s meeting takes place as the search for a successor to Dr Williams gets under way. It emerged yesterday that the Ugandan-born Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu – who is popular with traditional evangelicals – had entered the race by standing aside from the body which will make the appointment.

They also announced plans for larger international gathering next year, in what is likely to be seen as an alternative to the 10-yearly Lambeth Conference, hosted by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

In a joint communiqué they said next year's gathering should be “a dynamic force for restating the gospel of Jesus Christ in the face of revisionist attempts to change basic doctrines and turn Christianity merely into a movement for social betterment”.

They also outlined plans for an overhaul of church structures, replacing the Archbishop of Canterbury as chairman of the worldwide Anglican primates with an elected chair.

Archbishop Eliud Wabukala, leader of Kenya’s 13 million Anglicans, said there needed to be a “radical shift” in how the church is run.

Archbishop Nicholas Okoh, the leader of 23 million Anglicans in Nigeria, said that while the historic position of the Archbishop of Canterbury would always be respected he should be seen as “one of” many primates.

Likening the overhaul to the way in which the Commonwealth now elects its leadership, he said: “It is the same thing, the church of independent countries – no longer the British Empire – must make some changes.”

He went on: “It is not something that should remain permanent that the Archbishop of Canterbury – whether he understands the dynamics in Africa or not – remains the chair and whatever he says, whether it works or not, is an order.

“No I think if we are to move forward we have to reconsider that position.”

He added: “At the moment it seems that the Church in England isn’t carrying along everybody in the Communion and that is why of course you can see that there is a crisis, so if we must solve the problem we must change our system.”

Announcing plans for a major international gathering next year, The Most Revd Peter Jensen, Archbishop of Sydney, said: “That itself to my mind reflects something of the new communion, or the new state of the communion.

“It always strikes me that the Lambeth Conference is premised on the 19th Century sailing ships bringing together, once every 10 years, just bishops.”

Speaking at the weekend Archbishop Jensen said it would be wrong to consider the Archbishop of Canterbury as “leader” of the Anglican church, something he said represented an “Anglocentric view of the world”.
No one will dispute that the aggressive attempts within the Anglican Communion to normalize same sex relationships was the pivotal issue which forced the traditionalist provinces, particularly in the Global South, to reassert the essentials of the faith. It is misleading, however, to portray the whole GAFCON movement as being rooted in a disdain for liberalized sexual ethics. As the failure of the Anglican Covenant makes painfully clear, attempts to paper over the irreconcilable differences between traditionalist and revisionist provinces will, like the tenure of Rowan Williams, soon be a thing of the past. The future belongs to those provinces which share the vision of GAFCON for a Gospel initiative that is truly global in its focus and reach.