GAFCON draws a mixed reception

by
03 July 2008

by staff reporters

GAFCON participants celebrate after reading the final statement JOY GWALTNEY

GAFCON participants celebrate after reading the final statement JOY GWALTNEY

THE ARCHBISHOP of Canterbury has described the plan outlined by GAFCON for the future of the Anglican Communion as “problematic in all sorts of ways”, and warned the members of the movement to consider the “risks entailed” in their proposals.

Writing in a statement released on Monday, the Archbishop said that the “tenets of orthodoxy” spelt out in the document “will be acceptable to and shared by the vast majority of Anglicans in every province”.

He rejected the idea of the establishment of a Primates’ Council by GAFCON. “A Primates’ Council which consists only of a self-selected group from among the Primates of the Communion will not pass the test of legitimacy for all in the Communion.

“And any claim to be free to operate across provincial boundaries is fraught with difficulties, both theological and practical — theological because of our historic commitments to mutual recognition of ministries in the Communion, practical because of the obvious strain of responsibly exercising episcopal or primatial authority across enormous geographical and cultural divides.”

He rejected the idea of the establishment of a Primates’ Council by GAFCON. “A Primates’ Council which consists only of a self-selected group from among the Primates of the Communion will not pass the test of legitimacy for all in the Communion.

“And any claim to be free to operate across provincial boundaries is fraught with difficulties, both theological and practical — theological because of our historic commitments to mutual recognition of ministries in the Communion, practical because of the obvious strain of responsibly exercising episcopal or primatial authority across enormous geographical and cultural divides.”

He questioned by what authority these Primates might be deemed acceptable members of any new Primates’ Council, and how effective discipline could be maintained “in a situation of overlapping and competing jurisdictions”.

He questioned by what authority these Primates might be deemed acceptable members of any new Primates’ Council, and how effective discipline could be maintained “in a situation of overlapping and competing jurisdictions”.

It was wrong, he went on, to assume those outside the GAFCON network were “simply proclaiming another gospel”. He warned against impatience, and quoted the words of the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 11.33: “Wait for one another.”

The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori, responded that the GAFCON developments would not signal the end of Anglicanism. “Much of the Anglican world must be lamenting the latest emission from GAFCON.

“Anglicanism has always been broader than some find comfortable. This statement does not represent the end of Anglicanism, merely another chapter in a centuries-old struggle for dominance by those who consider themselves the only true believers.

“Anglicans will continue to worship God in their churches, serve the hungry and needy in their communities, and build missional relationships with others across the globe, despite the desire of a few leaders to narrow the influence of the gospel.

“We look forward to the opportunities of the Lambeth Conference for constructive conversation, inspired prayer, and relational encounters.”

He did not believe the Anglican Communion is paralyzed by a false gospel. While we recognize that our relationships are bruised and broken the gospel calls us to be reconciled, to pursue healing and to seek the counsel of the Holy Spirit. It calls all those in leadership to use their authority "not to hurt but to heal, not to destroy but to build up" and "to unite the church in a holy fellowship of truth and love".

The Bishop of Durham, Dr Tom Wright, described GAFCON as a “great celebration of the love and power of God”, but cautioned that its proposals could not be accepted without question.

Referring to the proposed Primates’ Council, he said: “What authority will it have, and how will that work? Who is to ‘police’ the boundaries of this new body? . . . Who will be able to decide which matters are ‘secondary’ and which are primary, and by what means? It is precisely because I share the officially stated aims of GAFCON that I’m extremely concerned about these proposals. . .”

He called for the issues to be addressed through the development of the Anglican Covenant and fulfilment of the Windsor Process, which could be pursued at the Lambeth Conference.

He said that many Anglicans would not feel the need to be authenticated by an alternative Primates’ Council, and warned that offering alternative oversight gave a “blank cheque” to anyone who wanted to defy his or her bishop, even if the prelate was “scrupulously orthodox”.

The Bishop of Southwark, Dr Tom Butler, described GAFCON as a gathering of “militant, fundamentalist, Evangelical Anglicans”. Writing in The Guardian on Wednesday, he said that the GAFCON manifesto reads “precisely like a student-union document from earlier times”.

“It maintains that there is a north/south division. This is nonsense. The African Primates attending GAFCON came from a narrow tropical belt. The majority of African Primates were not there, and the language of the manifesto would be anathema to other influential African church figures such as Desmond Tutu.

“Reading the manifesto, you would form the impression that the other Anglicans had moved away from the core beliefs of the Church, grounded in scripture. This, too, is nonsense.”

“Reading the manifesto, you would form the impression that the other Anglicans had moved away from the core beliefs of the Church, grounded in scripture. This, too, is nonsense.”

The Bishop of Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia, Dr Brian Farran, expressed reservations about his diocese’s continued relationship with the diocese of Sydney and its Archbishop, Dr Peter Jensen.

  Speaking to The Sydney Morning Herald, he said: “It is difficult to see how someone setting [up] a movement within the Communion can function as a leader of the Anglican Communion in Australia and maintain the kind of relationships that are functional in the Anglican Church.”

Canon Giles Goddard, who chairs the Inclusive Church movement, said that the GAFCON statement “misunderstood the nature and spirit of Anglicanism, . . . which takes its authority from scripture, reason and tradition.

“We welcome the response of the Archbishop of Canterbury to the GAFCON statement. The arbitrary creation of a ‘Primates’ Council’ without legitimacy or authority cuts directly across the Anglican Instruments of Communion — the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council, and the Primates’ Meeting.

“The statement represents, in sum and despite its denials, a schismatic document which seeks to re-form Anglicanism in a way which is without justification historically and ecclesiologically.”

The Revd Paul Dawson of the conservative Evangelical group Reform welcomed what had taken place in Jerusalem and the event at All Souls’ (News). “We were encouraged to see a strong affirmation of the Anglican identity in the Scriptures under Canon A5 which the Jerusalem declaration is very stong on. We would encourage people to look at that and consider it, and we feel a very strong sense of communion with other Anglicans around the world.

“It’s also an encouragement for faithful Anglicans around the world who are in difficulties or in dispute, and to see Primates taking steps to see how they can help and provide Anglican oversight is to be welcomed.

“What that will look like on the ground in the UK is yet to be seen. If we can get an English solution to English problems, that would be good, but we welcome the offer of help.”

Canon Dr Chris Sugden, executive secretary of Anglican Mainstream, said that many participants had described GAFCON as “one of the most amazing weeks of their lives”.

“I’ve been thrilled by reactions like these. It was the most incredible listening process: the chairman, the Revd Chuck Murphy, insisted that nothing was written down beforehand. The declaration came about through the listening process.”

Writing on the Guardian website, Canon Sugden said that GAFCON had been necessary “following the persistent failure of the current authorities in the Anglican Communion to do anything about . . . deliberate flouting of Christian teaching”.

He called on the Archbishop of Canterbury to meet with the Primates’ Council on neutral territory rather than at the Lambeth Conference, which is “already a compromised gathering, since those who initiated this crisis, the consecrators of Gene Robinson, will be present”.

He called on the Archbishop of Canterbury to meet with the Primates’ Council on neutral territory rather than at the Lambeth Conference, which is “already a compromised gathering, since those who initiated this crisis, the consecrators of Gene Robinson, will be present”.

The Revd George Curry, a member of the Church Society’s Council, attended the Jerusalem conference and welcomed the GAFCON proposals, which he described as an “international response to the crisis of apostasy in the Church”.

Has GAFCON changed the Communion for the better? Vote here.

Leader comment

Full statement

Jerusalem Declaration

Dr Williams's response

Giles Fraser

Paul Vallely 

Letters

Leader comment

Full statement

Jerusalem Declaration

Dr Williams's response

Giles Fraser

Paul Vallely 

Letters

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