TWO bishops from the Evangelical wing of the Church of Ireland have been criticised by clergy for their attendance at GAFCON in Jerusalem last week (News, 22 June).
The Bishop of Down & Dromore, the Rt Revd Harold Miller, and the Bishop of Kilmore, the Rt Revd Ferran Glenfield, have variously been described as schismatic, out of touch with the laity, and disgraceful, for supporting GAFCON, which was formed after the election of the openly gay Bishop Gene Robinson to the see of New Hampshire in 2003, and opened a branch in Ireland last April.
Both clergy and laity in the Irish Anglican Church have rejected the final statement of GAFCON at its closing session, which called on the Archbishop of Canterbury to exclude from the next Lambeth Conference, in 2020, bishops who supported sexual activities that it considered contrary to scripture.
The former Archbishop of Dublin, Dr John Neill, said of Bishop Miller: “I never thought a former colleague would applaud a schismatic, unloving organisation. Did he agree to that horrible final statement which seeks to exclude bishops from Churches of the Anglican Communion with which GAFCON disagrees? Also note [that] the leadership of this organisation is from a Church not in communion with Canterbury.
“Bishops supporting all this need to think carefully about their vows to maintain the unity of the Church.”
The Dean of Waterford, the Very Revd Maria Jansson, told The Irish Times on Sunday that the Bishops’ attendance at GAFCON had undermined unity within the Church. “How can Bishops Harold Miller and Ferran Glenfield reconcile the vows they made at their consecrations as bishops ‘to maintain and further the unity of the Church’ with their support of GAFCON, which stridently endeavours to undermine that very unity?”, she asked.
Dean Jansson said they had both demonstrated, by their attendance, how some senior clerics in the Church were out of touch with the average member of the Church of Ireland. GAFCON’s agenda was a tactical use of homophobic and mysoginistic rallying calls, she said, “to gain a base from which they can access [Church of Ireland] governance, resources, parishes, schools, and [the] young. This has to be called out for what it is: religious extremism.”
The Rector of Celbridge, Co. Kildare, the Revd Stephen Neill, said that the attendance of the two bishops at GAFCON was “an absolute disgrace”.
“In the GAFCON black-and-white world, there is only a ruthless certainty which is hard and unforgiving, and leaves no room for the doubt and questioning which leaves for a richer, fuller faith,” he said.
On his return to Down & Dromore, Bishop Miller said that he came home nourished and enriched. He described GAFCON as “a very important resource and fellowship by individuals and Churches who have stood for conservative Christian teaching and values in parts of the world where provinces have changed their doctrine and ethics. This has been largely, but not uniquely, in terms of marriage.”
A spokesman for the Church of Ireland said on Tuesday that neither bishop had attended as a representative of the Church of Ireland, but presumably in a personal capacity.
GAFCON does not have a large following in Irish Anglicanism.