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Leader: Treat GAFCON with respect

02 July 2008

GAFCON was a good thing. Other complexions have, of course, been put on it, but the conference in Jerusalem transformed disaffection from the Anglican Communion into a renewed commitment to its core, which is the love of Christ. Against the expectations of many, the week was not spent fulminating against gays. Bishop Robinson’s name was not heard. Clearly, dissatisfaction with liberal developments in ethics and theology, principally in the United States, had brought many of the participants to Jerusalem. But, once settled in Jerusalem, the participants spent too much of their time worshipping God and making their pilgrimage for GAFCON to be written off as a godless mistake.

The Jerusalem Declaration, too, is a surprisingly mild-mannered document. The section on sexuality contains little that cannot already be read in the preamble to the marriage service. The criticism of false teachers can be echoed by all, once they have identified themselves as such. And there is no reason not to take the section declaring latitude over second-order matters at face value. The chief question is over the strong appeal to the Thirty-Nine Articles, which have not been adopted by some provinces, and are hardly central to the worship of others.

In the knockabout fun of trading insults, it is sometimes forgotten that this dispute is about about intimate, personal, fragile, shifting dimensions of life: sex and faith. The Church’s credibility rests on the conduct of both parties. Two miles away from the conference centre lies the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which many of the participants visited. They will have learnt there that the word “Orthodox” is not an exclusive one, and that the poor state of the church is a result of disputes between different groups who use the title. Improvements to the building can be made only when there is mutual agreement and respect. The reason why GAFCON happened, above all else, is that conservative Anglicans felt that they were not respected in the Communion — not only they, but their Lord. The worst thing that can happen now is that the movement, and its conclusions, are dismissed out of hand by the rest of the Communion. GAFCON Christians expect to be vilified as homophobic. They say they are not. There should be plenty of evidence soon one way or the other.

The sense of being beleaguered has encouraged a National Enquirer view of liberals among GAFCON Christians, as they swap anecdotes about examples of bizarre theology and practice (usually in the United States) and, fatal to truth and unity, project these on to whole dioceses and provinces. But the breach in communion, which is no wider than it was before GAFCON, will not widen further if only other Anglicans engage with the Jerusalem Declaration, demonstrate the legitimate, biblical grounds for their differing views and actions, refuse to allow their brothers and sisters to walk apart — and thus demonstrate their own right to use the term “orthodox”.

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