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Evangelicals are not about to jump ship

23 January 2008

Despite rumours to the contrary, plenty of ‘orthodox’ bishops will be at the Lambeth Conference, says Tom Wright

ST PAUL, facing shipwreck off Malta, spotted the soldiers getting into a small boat to rescue themselves. “Unless these men stay in the ship,” he said to the centurion, “you cannot be saved.”

A similar urgent plea must now be addressed to those who, envisaging the imminent break-up of the good ship Anglican, are getting into a lifeboat called GAFCON, leaving the rest of us to face the future without them.

I have shared the frustration of the past five years, both in the United States and around the world. I have often wished that the Windsor report could have provided a more solid and speedy resolution. But the ship hasn’t sunk yet.

The rationale of GAFCON (the Global Anglican Future Conference) is: “The Communion is finished; nothing new can happen; it’s time to split.” No mention is made of the Windsor report, the proposed Anglican Covenant, or, indeed, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Advent letter, insisting as it does on scriptural authority, which GAFCON seems to regard as its monopoly.

That last point is crucial. To say “scripture is our authority” does not commit anyone to joining the small group represented by Chris Sugden, Martyn Minns, and Peter Jensen. It is clear that they are the prime movers and drafters, making a mockery of Canon Sugden’s claim (Comment, 11 January) that GAFCON is about rescuing the Churches from Western culture. But they have marshalled impressive support, particularly from great leaders like Henry Orombi of Uganda.

But where are Archbishops Mouneer Anis, John Chew, and Drexel Gomez, not to mention the Windsor and Camp Allen bishops in the States, and the great majority of traditionalist Anglicans, including most Evangelicals, in the UK? The rhetoric of “We are the Bible-believing orthodox; so this is what we must do” simply isn’t good enough. Many others share the belief, but draw different practical conclusions.

DESPITE official denials, GAFCON will appear to many to be an alternative to the Lambeth Conference. Some who want to go to Lambeth are under primatial pressure not to do so, and to go to GAFCON instead. Even those free to choose may find two trips beyond their limited means.

Going to the Holy Land shows an alarming lack of awareness of Christian realities in the Middle East, including what looks dangerously like a casual disregard for the local bishop and Primate, who were informed at the last minute.

The Jerusalem Post article about the conference, proudly displayed on the GAFCON website, highlights different Anglican attitudes to the Israel/Palestine question. Do the organisers really want to raise those matters? Do they know what will happen if they do?

THE DANGER of GAFCON is that the rhetoric — “the Communion’s finished” — could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Some of the organisers actually seem to want a Lambeth Conference robbed of lively, orthodox bishops from around the world, so that they can point to the results and say: “There you are: told you so.”

If, instead, such bishops come, bringing their cheerful worship, their deep understanding of scripture, and their wide experience of mission among the world’s poorest, this could be a great moment of renewal. Dr Williams has made it clear that Windsor and the Covenant are the tools with which to forge our future. “Orthodox” bishops should celebrate that, and join in the task.

Our Communion has for the past five years been living through 2 Corinthians: the challenge to re-establish an authority based on the gospel alone and embodied in human weakness. Inevitably, “super-apostles” then emerge, declaring that such theology is for wimps.

To them I would say: Are they Evangelicals? So am I. Are they orthodox? So am I. Do they believe in the authority of scripture? So do I (including the bits they regularly downplay). Are they keen on mission? So am I, and on the full mission of God’s kingdom which an older Evangelicalism often ignores.

Those who want to be biblical should ponder what the Bible itself says about such things. There are many in the GAFCON movement whom I admire and long to see at Lambeth, but the movement itself is deeply flawed. It does not hold the moral, biblical, or Evangelical high ground.

To say no to GAFCON is not to say yes to the revisionist agendas prevailing in much of the Episcopal Church in the US. It is to say yes to a Lambeth Conference based on and taking forward the Archbishop’s agenda of Windsor and the Covenant, in pursuit of what Dr Williams refers to in his recent letter as “an authoritative common voice”.

It is, in other words, to say yes to a future Anglican Communion rooted in the full authority of scripture. The Archbishop has spoken of the Lambeth invitation in terms of facing the suffering of the cross together, in order to share the glory of the resurrection. When Jesus said that to his followers, James and John immediately started to think about their own chances of power and prestige.

Thomas, however, had the right idea: “Let’s go with him, so that we may die with him.” And, before they even arrived, they saw Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead.

Dr Tom Wright is Bishop of Durham.

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