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Reactions to the news from GAFCON

by
02 July 2008

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From the Revd Jonathan Clatworthy
Sir, — While we regret GAFCON’s decision to go its own way, its departure could be an excellent opportunity for Anglicanism to reaffirm its traditional ethos of tolerance and diversity.

Since Henry VIII’s reign, the Church of England has been a national Church. As such, it seeks to include a wide range of views, so that we can all put aside our disagreements as we worship God together.

GAFCON represents those who want the opposite: a Church with no dissent because everybody accepts the Bible literally. This is impossible: they disagree with each other about which texts to focus on and what they mean. But the idea of complete agreement in loyalty to scripture generates an excessive conviction of certainty, which tends towards bigotry. The result is that sectarian spirit that responds to every disagreement by threatening schism. GAFCON’s decision is just one more in a long line of them.

Over the past generation, many narrow-minded sectarians who reject our inclusiveness have entered the Anglican ministry because they find us “a good pond to fish in”. Recently, they have attempted a takeover, trying to remould the Church in their image.

If these power games have now come to an end, this could be an excellent opportunity for Anglicanism to reaffirm its traditional ethos. We should see our diversity, with all its differences of opinion, not as a problem to be solved but as a strength to be celebrated, a sign that we stand in a lively, developing tradition, unafraid to ask new questions and suggest new answers. Christianity could once again become interesting, and even exciting.

This would mean that disagreements no longer provoke accusations of unsoundness, resignation demands, and threats of schism. Instead, they could be debated openly and reflectively, in a spirit that is secure enough to let people say what they really think, humble enough to admit that only God knows all the answers, and committed enough to seek consensus in community with each other.
JONATHAN CLATWORTHY
General Secretary
Modern Churchpeople’s Union
MCU Office
9 Westward View
Liverpool L17 7EE

From the Revd Alan Horton
Sir, — We should be grateful to those who drafted the Jerusalem Declaration for a clear and unequivocal statement of their beliefs. That they describe themselves as “confessing” Christians is, I feel, a trifle ironic, since I cannot imagine Dietrich Bonhoeffer feeling totally comfortable in their company.

Semantics are going to play a major part in the establishment of this new confession in the parishes. We should spare a thought for “confused of Carshalton” as he or she tries to seek out a spiritual home in his or her community. Given that the Anglican tradition has favoured inclusivity, tolerance, and continuing revelation, perhaps “traditional” is not the best description of those who want something else. “Continuing” is clearly not what the new Communion sees as its mission. “Fundamental”, though accurate, is not particularly attractive. “Biblical”, from a PR perspective, suffers from the same drawback.

So what is it to be? The Anglican Church of the Reformation? The Calvinist Anglican Connexion? The World-Wide Church of Nigeria?

One thing it cannot be, and should not be allowed to be, is the Church of England, in any form. The one thing on which we all agree is that that is a very different organisation indeed.
ALAN HORTON
St Thomas’s Vicarage
28 Pennington Road
Southborough TN4 0SL

From the Revd Donald Reeves
Sir, — The acronym FOCA — the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans — for the Anglican group emerging from the Jerusalem conference is unfortunate.

Foca is a town in Bosnia which experienced some of the most brutal atrocities during the Bosnian war. Up to 3000 people, mostly Muslims, were murdered.
DONALD REEVES
Director of The Soul of Europe
The Coach House, Church Street
Crediton, Devon EX172AQ

From the Revd Mark Bailey
Sir, — Those clergy and bishops who find themselves in sympathy with GAFCON and who have now formed FOCA (an unfortunate acronym) should leave the Church of England.

There comes a point in every family when the child leaves the parental home. This sometimes painful split is necessary if maturity and integrity is to be accomplished. Nothing that the Archbishop of Canterbury says will deter those who are fixed on forming their own Church from doing so.

Those of us who are content still to serve within the mother Church will do so faithfully, pursuing our vocation along the route that we believe we are called. Others with a different understanding of that calling must pursue their vocation as they see fit.

Perhaps in time we will be able to re-engage and enter into dialogue as adults, to our mutual benefit; but, for now, it seems, the child is adamant. It is determined to leave home. This will be a liberation for the child and, without question, for the parent, too.
MARK BAILEY
The Rectory, 6 Green Close
South Wonston, Winchester
Hampshire SO21 3EE

From the Revd Christopher Scargill
Sir, — Assuming the accuracy of your outline (News, 27 June), I find the theological statement produced by GAFCON, The Way, the Truth and the Life, immensely helpful.

Like many others, I have had much sympathy with those who felt that the Episcopal Church in the United States had acted improperly in consecrating a known practising homosexual as a bishop in defiance of the views of much of the Anglican Communion.

I would agree that the teaching of scripture and church tradition in matters of human sexuality cannot simply be ignored. Yet I was uneasy about many of the statements coming out of GAFCON.

The new statement now makes it clear that I was quite right to be uneasy. Its rejection of the tradition of the Church and any concept of natural theology in favour of a narrow concept of sola scriptura shows that, far from representing mainstream Anglicanism, GAFCON has espoused a narrow type of Reformed Protestantism.

I will leave it to those better-versed in the theology of the first generation of Anglicans to say whether this really represents the original doctrines set out in the Thirty-Nine Articles, the Homilies, and the Book of Common Prayer. It certainly seems to me to bear no resemblance to the theology of Hooker, the Caroline divines, or the Oxford Movement, to say nothing of Temple or Gore. Are we being told that these are not authentic expressions of Anglicanism?

I cannot say whether this particular variety of Reformed theology is mainstream Anglicanism beyond these islands. What I am sure of is that, while it represents a strand in Anglicanism, it bears little resemblance to what I or most clergy or, indeed, most of our congregations recognise as the mainstream faith of the Church of England.

I am grateful to GAFCON. We now know where we stand.

CHRISTOPHER M. SCARGILL
The Vicarage, Church Lane
Ipstones
Stoke-on-Trent ST10 2LF

From Ann Williams
Sir, — Having read your account of the GAFCON assembly, I have, in my Book of Common Prayer, consulted the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds. Nowhere can I find it stated, as an article of faith, that I must condemn the sexual relationships of other people, whether hetero- or homosexual.

As a private individual, I, like everyone else (Christian or non-Christian) may approve or disapprove of people’s conduct, sexual or otherwise, but this merely constitutes the expression of an opinion. What am I missing about the tedious public wrangle over sexual behaviour which is doing such damage to the perception of the Church of England, among believers and non-believers alike?

In an age of rising crises over food, water, and climate, not to say political turmoil, terrorism, and state repression of dissenting citizens, one would think our bishops could find something more important to occupy their attention, and leave people to sort out their private couplings according to their own consciences.
ANN WILLIAMS
77 Gordon Road
London E11 2RA

From the Revd Una Kroll
Sir, — In a world where Zimbabweans and Sudanese people are suffering appalling misery, hardship, and disease as a result of the oppressive actions of fellow human beings, it seems to me to be disastrous for Anglicans to spend time, energy, and resources on internal arguments about other Anglicans’ credentials as Christians by meetings such as GAFCON and the Lambeth Conference.

Going down the road of GAFCON and Lambeth Conference resolutions to set up restrictive covenants to try to maintain a semblance of “unity” will neccessitate the expenditure of millions of words, energies, and money that could be more usefully used in the relief of worldwide suffering peoples.

Please, will not the leaders of GAFCON and the Lambeth Conference stop in their tracks and consider what they are doing in our world today? The Church does not exist for itself, but for the people whom it serves.
UNA KROLL
6 Hamilton House
57 Hanson Street
Bury
Lancashire BL9 6LR

From the Dean of Exeter
Sir, — Last week, you reported the Bishop of Rochester speaking in two different contexts on much the same issue. In one, he speaks about the need “to be church with those who are unlike you” and the “precious” nature of unity; in the other, he explains that conscience is keeping him away from the Lambeth Conference, and that he would find it “difficult to be in a eucharistic gathering” with those who are, in effect, unlike him in their understanding of church.

It is always dangerous to comment on someone else’s summary of what a third person has said, but there does appear to be a mismatch between these two sets of comments.

I find myself in very close agreement with what Dr Nazir-Ali, my former diocesan bishop and colleague and, I hope, still a friend, is reported as saying to GAFCON: the need for the gospel to be “inculturated” locally; the need for the gospel to be recognisably the same, even in its different “inculturations”; the faithful passing on of apostolic teaching; and, above all, the need to hold together while we accept the diverse opinions of others. All these are crucially important — and much more so than the specific issue that lies under the current crisis.

I think it also true that, in some parts of the American Church, the process of inculturation seems to threaten the heart of the gospel. But, for the vast majority of American Episcopalians, in my experience of parishes there, that is not so. They feel torn in two by the extreme wings who cry, on the one hand, “The heart of the gospel is inclusivity,” and, on the other, “Your gospel is nothing but inclusivity.”

The ordinary Episcopalian understands both the need for a welcoming inclusivity and the need to have a clear faith into which others are to be welcomed.

Dr Nazir-Ali also spoke about “English good manners” as not having proved strong enough to hold together the Communion. He argues for a conciliation structure — and something more along these lines may be necessary. For the moment, however, I would urge him to give English good manners more of a chance, to reconsider his decision over Lambeth, and to support both his Archbishop (loyalty is a key part of English good manners) and the increasing number of American bishops who are aware of the need to find a balance between inculturation and the apostolic gospel.

This would also give encouragement to those hundreds of thousands of ordinary Episcopalian Christians.

The precious gift of unity will need striving for, as both John’s Gospel and Paul’s letter to the Ephesians urge passionately. There remains a constant need to turn the other cheek and to allow people on all sides to retreat gracefully. Only so will we be able to hold the unity in diversity which Dr Nazir-Ali rightly advocates.
JONATHAN MEYRICK
The Deanery
10 Cathedral Close
Exeter EX1 1EZ

From Mr Robert Ian Williams
Sir, — I find it incredible that a conference assembled in the Holy City of Jerusalem and dedicated to the restoration of biblical truth and orthodoxy makes, in both its final declaration and handbook, no reference whatsoever to our Lord’s teaching on divorce and marriage after divorce. This is all the more ironic when one considers that the handbook is entitled The Way, the Truth and the Life.

This matter undoubtedly has been ignored to conceal the divison among the conference participants over the meaning of our Lord’s words, since that would undermine the claim made at GAFCON that scripture is self-interpreting and perfectly clear on moral issues.

The Protestant tenor of the final declaration affirming the Thirty-Nine Articles in their Reformation sense is hollow indeed if the Anglo-Catholic subscribers continue to ignore its condemnation of eucharistic practices that they believe are apostolic and true.
ROBERT IAN WILLIAMS
Y Garreg Lwyd
Whitchurch Road
Bangor is y Coed
Wrexham LL13 0BB

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