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Some concerns about GAFCON

13 July 2018

Not all Evangelical Anglicans support the movement’s aims, says Rachel Marszalek

jessie parks/gafcon

Delegates at GAFCON III in Jerusalem sing hymns

Delegates at GAFCON III in Jerusalem sing hymns

THE third gathering of GAFCON took place last month in Jerusalem. One morning, there was a rousing rendition of the hymn “My only hope is in you”, which I joined in with, via the Facebook stream, as part of my morning devotions. I posted the hymn’s refrain “From early in the morning, to late at night My hope is in you” on to my Facebook page, prompting a friend to ask: “Are you all right?” I see now that context is everything.

Whether Anglicans are “all right” is an apt question. There is certainly reason to rejoice that the gathering in Jerusalem attracted 1950 Anglicans (316 bishops, 669 clergy, and 965 laity) from more than 50 countries (News, 22 June). The Church of England was represented by two retired bishops, two serving suffragan bishops, and many clergy and laity. There were no diocesan bishops present.

“A Letter to the Churches” published at the end of the assembly criticised not only the Anglican Communion’s informal constitution and instruments, but also expressed concern that the gospel was not being preached with clarity or conviction (News, 29 June). There was a reaffirmation of the uniqueness of Christ, and a reminder that faith could not be built on any other gospel, be that the “prosperity gospel” or the one revised to suit modern sensibilities and current cultural mores.

The letter also called for Lambeth 2020 to be boycotted unless the Archbishop of Canterbury invites the bishops of both the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) and the new Anglican Church in Brazil to the conference, and does not invite bishops of Provinces that authorised the blessing of same-sex unions.

FULCRUM is a theological network of Evangelical Anglicans, and a member of our leadership team, Dr Andrew Goddard, was present at GAFCON III in a personal capacity. On his return from Jerusalem, we reflected as a group, and have some concerns.

First, the GAFCON letter quotes selectively from Lambeth 1.10. For example, it says that Lambeth 1.10 “affirmed the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 19 that there are only two expressions of faithful sexuality: lifelong marriage between a man and a woman or abstinence”; “rightly called for pastoral care for same-sex attracted persons”; and “described homosexual practice as ‘incompatible with Scripture’ and rejected both the authorisation of same-sex rites by the Church and the ordination of those in same sex unions”.

The letter does not, however, quote section c of Lambeth 1.10, which commits us “to listen[ing] to the experience of homosexual persons and . . . to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ”. Nor does it reaffirm, as section d of the resolution does, a call to “condemn irrational fear of homosexuals, violence within marriage and any trivialisation and commercialisation of sex”.

Second, although we appreciate, as the C of E website states, that the Communion “is not held together by a formal constitution or international church law, but rather by a shared heritage, by ways of worshipping and by the relationships — the ‘bonds of affection’ — between its members worldwide”, we are concerned that GAFCON appears to have acted unilaterally: what is the ecclesiological basis of its claim to authority? How is it able to define what constitutes a Province of the Anglican Communion?

Third, the letter is highly critical of phrases attributed to the Archbishop of Canterbury, such as “walking together” and “good disagreement”, which it says “are dangerously deceptive in seeking to persuade people to accommodate false teaching in the Communion”.

But the letter does not pay enough regard to the context that gave rise to these expressions. After the Primates’ gathering in January 2016, for example, Archbishop Welby spoke of different parts of the Communion “walking together, some at a distance”. The second part is just as significant as the first: walking “at a distance” is preferable, surely, to “walking apart”.

Fourth, we note that, at GAFCON, there were voices that emphasised the importance of remaining inside the Communion. These included the Archbishop of Kenya, the Most Revd Jackson Ole Sapit; the Bishop of Chile, the Rt Revd Héctor Zavala; and the Archbishop in Jerusalem, the Most Revd Suheil Dawani. We wonder whether these dissenting voices will be heard now that oversight of GAFCON has passed from the Primate of a Province of the Communion, the Archbishop of Nigeria, the Most Revd Nicholas Okoh, to the Primate of a Church that is not part of the Communion: Archbishop Foley Beach, Primate of ACNA.

SADLY, GAFCON appears to be intent on walking apart, preparing alternative structures such as branches and advisers comprising bishops, clergy, and lay representatives, who will form a synodical council that will bring recommendations, in a way that apes the structures and activities of the Communion.

For 150 years, the Lambeth Conference has been the primary means by which Anglicans have expressed their communion “in structures of conciliar relations and decision-making”. Does GAFCON believe that the Lambeth Conference has had its day?

There are many Evangelical Anglicans who do not believe this, and, despite the tensions in the Communion, are committed to walking together, whether more closely or at a distance.

The Revd Rachel Marszalek is the Vicar of All Saints’, Ealing, and General Secretary of Fulcrum.

Read full Fulcrum response to Gafcon 2018 here.

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