Conservatives plan alternative meeting before Lambeth

03 January 2008

by Pat Ashworth

Place of pilgrimage: Jerusalem's Old City AP

Place of pilgrimage: Jerusalem's Old City AP

THE BISHOPS of Rochester and Lewes have joined a coalition of conservative archbishops and bishops, including those of Nigeria, Sydney, and the Southern Cone, who will mount a meeting, the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) 2008, in the run-up to the Lambeth Conference.

The event will take place in the Holy Land from 15 to 22 June, it was announced last week. Canon Chris Sugden of Anglican Mainstream is a key player, along with the Rt Revd Martyn Minns, a Bishop in the conservative Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), whom the Archbishop of Canterbury has not invited to Lambeth. The Bishop of Pittsburgh, the Rt Revd Bob Duncan, moderator of the Anglican Communion Network, is also involved.

Five of the Primates are African: Nigeria, Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, and Tanzania. The coalition, or their representatives, met in Nairobi before Christmas, although the Bishop of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, and the Bishop of Lewes, the Rt Revd Wallace Benn, were consulted by phone.

In a press release issued on Boxing Day, Canon Sugden said: “While this conference is not a specific challenge to the Lambeth Conference, it will provide opportunities for fellowship and care for those who have decided not to attend Lambeth.”

In the words of the Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Peter Jensen, the conference is for “biblical Anglican Christians”. Those invited will be “bishops and their wives, senior clergy, church planters and lay people, including the next generation of young leaders”, says the GAFCON press release.

It says that the coalition leaders represent 30 million Anglicans worldwide: “The notional total of the Communion is 77 million. The active membership is nearer 55 million, since, of the 26 million notional members in C of E, 3.7 million attend Christmas services.”

The statement concedes that the initiative is “not quite” of the Global South. There are firm denials that the conference is “all over a gay bishop”, or that it will split the Church. The organisers insist: “The pilgrimage is to strengthen bishops at a crucial time in the Anglican Communion. Many bishops will not be able to accept the invitation to the Lambeth Conference as their consciences will not allow it. Some will attend both gatherings.”


The choice of the Holy Land as a venue is because: “It is a pilgrimage to the places of the Biblical story to renew our faith and commitment. It is to envision the Global Anglican Future. The Lambeth Conference has a different agenda.”

A storm is brewing over the apparent lack of consultation with conservative Anglican leaders in South East Asia and other parts of the Global South. Dr Michael Poon, convener of the Global South Anglican (GSA) theological formation and education task force, and director of the Centre of the Study of Christianity in Asia, expressed himself “saddened and shocked” by the GAFCON statement.

In a response on the GSA website, he reminded the Primates that the Global South represented a broad spectrum of Anglican churches, and “does not answer to the dictates of the radical Evangelical wing within the Communion”. He suggested it would be helpful if “the Primates and bishops are able to have their statement ratified through due process by their provincial/national/ diocesan Synods.”

Dr Poon cited as “glaring omissions” Asia, the West Indies, and the Middle East: “In their place, we find names of colleagues (with due respect) from a particular strand in the Northern churches.”

Dr Jensen wrote to Anglicans in Sydney after the statement was issued, telling them that the meeting was to be “a moving on together of those who wish to retain biblical standards especially in the area of sexual ethics”.

Dr Poon also wrote to Dr Jensen, seeking detailed clarification on several “crucial points” of theology. It was a warm letter, supportive of the “upholding of orthodoxy”, and expressing a desire to work together for the good of the Communion. It attempted to pin Dr Jensen down on the exact interpretation in his statement of expressions such as “biblical standards”.

It asked whether Dr Jensen intended to support the processes that were part of Lambeth 2008, such as the Covenant. It continued: “Do you think the ‘orthodox’ Anglicans on their own can carry the Communion forward without the blessing of Canterbury?”

Dr Poon revealed on Monday that, after what he considered to be his “mere comments” on the Global South website, he had received a confidential email from “an esteemed primate. . . The metadata of his Word document reveals that it was in fact drafted by another person — by an equally esteemed new bishop in America.”

The implication is that the email was mainly written by Bishop Minns, in a similar way to the letter purportedly from Archbishop Akinola to Nigerian synods in the summer (News, 24 August). The earlier document turned out to have been substantially altered by Bishop Minns.


In the most recent email, the unnamed Primate berated Dr Poon: “How could you possibly believe it to be God’s will to make such a public scandal against your brethren without first consulting with us? Common courtesy and politeness alone would have insisted on that and the scripture clearly teaches us to exhaust private attempts at reconciliation before doing something public.

“You assume authority and superiority (neither of which are yours to assume) and assault not only the entire enterprise but the integrity of those involved. . .

“Please seek God over this and recognise the great wrong you have done to those who trusted you and never imagined you might behave in this way.”

Dr Poon’s revelations about this letter of rebuke were rapidly removed from the GSA website on Monday.

The Bishop in Jerusalem, the Rt Revd Suheil Dawani, issued a statement on Wednesday, expressing his regret that he had not been consulted over the conference to be held in his diocese: “We Anglicans who minister here have been left out in the cold.”

He described himself as “deeply troubled” that the conference “will import inter-Anglican conflict into our diocese”. He also feared for the Church’s wider work of reconciliation. “Indeed, it could further inflame tensions here. We who minister here know only too well what happens when two sides cease talking to each other. We do not want to see any further dividing walls!”

While all this has reinforced unease among moderate Evangelicals that the Communion debate is being hijacked by conservatives, other issues around GAFCON were also surfacing this week. The Jerusalem Post said that Anglican and Jewish supporters of the gathering hoped that “the presence of conservative Anglican bishops from every continent will present an opportunity to broaden Israel’s support in the developing world.”

A news story written by the Revd George Conger, an Anglican from Florida, states: “The rising African voice in the Anglican Communion. . . has witnessed a challenge to the anti-Israeli agenda of many European-led Christian groups.”

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