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NEAC5 closes in acrimony after claims of ‘set-up’

19 November 2008

by Pat Ashworth

Not universally approved: participants at GAFCON celebrate the Jerusalem Declaration in the summer JOY GWALTNEY

Not universally approved: participants at GAFCON celebrate the Jerusalem Declaration in the summer JOY GWALTNEY

A MEETING billed as the National Evangelical Anglican Consultation (NEAC5) ended in acri­mony on Saturday, amid accusa­tions of a hijack by hard-line con­servatives and of bullying and manipulation by the chairman of the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC), the Revd Dr Richard Turnbull, Principal of Wycliffe Hall (Comment, 14 November).

Delegates rebelled when they found on their chairs at the start of the afternoon session a resolution from the CEEC executive calling for NEAC to support the Global Angli­can Future Conference (GAFCON) Jerusalem Declaration. There had been no mention of it in the morning session, and it was not on the agenda. An accompanying note said that no amendments would be allowed.

Rodney Curtis, a management con­sultant who worships at St Ebbe’s, Oxford, likened attending the meeting to “watching a car crash in slow mo­tion”, as Dr Turnbull ignored advice from Dr Philip Giddings, the con­vener of Anglican Mainstream, and Canon Michael Saward to withdraw the resolution. “The management of the day was so amateur that I felt embarrassed,” he said. “We were being bounced into supporting GAFCON at the say-so of Richard Turnbull.”

He described Dr Turnbull as having been “publicly humiliated”, and GAFCON as having been made to look like “a bullying, manipu­lative movement”. A procedural motion brought by Philip Love­grove, a veteran of the General Synod, called for a move to next business. That motion was carried by 123 votes to 104.

The meeting has reinforced con­cerns about who speaks for Evan­gelicals. Dr Christina Baxter, who chairs the House of Laity of the General Synod, expressed her concern that the meeting had been, in the main, elderly, male, and white. Speaking on Tuesday, she said: “I am concerned that when Evangelicals come together, they represent the broad spectrum in terms of people groups.

“I don’t know how people came to be there, but, in one sense, we weren’t representative of anything. I felt uneasy that we might make a resolution that could be interpreted as the Evangelical Anglican speaking, but actually we wouldn’t know if it represented the whole of Evangelical Anglicanism, or a haphazard group of people willing to turn out on a Saturday in London.”

The morning is almost univer­sally agreed to have gone well. Particular gratitude was expressed for what was felt to be a profound reflection by the Bishop of Birken­head, the Rt Revd Keith Sinclair, on his experience at both GAFCON and Lambeth. In the after­noon, four speakers had been asked to give a ten-minute address on the way for­ward: Dr Baxter; the Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Pete Broad­bent; Canon Chris Sugden, Execu­tive Secretary of Anglican Main­stream; and the Revd Dr Mike Ovey, Principal of Oak Hill College.

Bishop Broadbent told the meeting: “GAFCON is asking the right questions — about what holds us together — but the theological and ecclesial answers it provides are not adequate to secure acceptance on the part of all Evangelical Angli­cans.”

He urged: “Can we hold off from associating CEEC with one parti­cu­lar strand in the continuing Angli­can Communion debate? I per­sonally don’t want us to do anything that ties us in to one approach to these matters, which is what voting in favour of the Jerusalem Dec­la­ration would do.”

Canon Sugden said that GAFCON was guarding the Evan­gelical heri­tage in the wider Communion. “GAFCON is our connection to the Global Anglican Communion. The GAFCON Pri­mates and bishops are the true successors to John Stott. The Canterbury network is unsure and even confused about what Global Anglicanism means.”

Dr Baxter — who did not know about the GAFCON resolution, either, until she arrived on Saturday — expressed to the meeting her firm belief that Evangelicals must continue to work hard with the Anglican Covenant process, needed by both the C of E and the Com­munion as a framework for debates in the next 20 to 30 years.

She regretted that there had been no chance to discuss in small groups any resolution that might have come from the meeting. “We missed an opportunity to say things we could all have said together. There was a lot said in Jerusalem that we would want to support, but I didn’t want to find myself bounced into action without having thought through seriously what the conse­quences of making such a resolution would be.”

Parallels have been drawn with Dr Turnbull’s behaviour as Prin­cipal of Wycliffe Hall, where some staff took him to an employment tribunal (News, 11 January). The Revd Dr Ian Paul, Dean of Studies at St John’s College, Nottingham, and a former member of the CEEC council, described the procedural vote as “the only way many of us felt we could say, ‘Please stop bullying us, stop pushing us around, and stop telling us what we must believe, without debate, to avoid being label­led unsound by you.’”

The CEEC should now be re-named the CECEC [Church of England Conservative Evangelical Council], he said on Monday, sug­gesting that the most important three words Dr Turnbull had said on Saturday had been: “I cannot understand.” “That’s the problem. Richard Turnbull cannot under­stand people who think dif­ferently from him. It’s a sad day. He will go on bullying and cajoling: he showed no signs of changing that, and, if anything, his resolution is strengthened.”

Canon Graham Kings, theo­logical secretary of Fulcrum, has called for the CEEC to reflect on the consultation, and to “work for a solution which unifies the Evan­gelical constituency”. Failure to do so, he warns, “would provide more evidence that CEEC needs to be reformed, to prevent it becoming a ‘Rump Parliament’ and the word ‘Evangelical’ from being further besmirched.”

The meeting echoes concerns raised about the narrow focus of the NEAC4 conference in Blackpool in September 2003. Notes from the steering committee after the event included recommendations that the organising committee for the next conference should consist “only of conservatives”. Future gatherings must “blow out of the water the view that Evangelicalism is made up of three strands: open, main­stream, and Charismatic. Open must be excluded” (News, 9 January 2004).

Mr Curtis called for Dr Turnbull to “do the decent thing and step down”. He described his own position on Tuesday as someone “both conservative and Charis­matic”, “a friend of Wycliffe Hall”, and someone who respects the Revd Vaughan Roberts, Rector of St Ebbe’s, Oxford, whose gentle ac­count of the GAFCON meeting he had warmed to.

He said: “We were expected to act like clones. When I read ‘no amend­ments’, I thought: ‘This is a set-up job.’” He had shouted out at one point: “You can’t do this.”

When Dr Turnbull told the meeting that the CEEC council would take the decision on its behalf, since it had refused to vote, Mr Curtis said he had wondered: “Which planet are you on?”

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