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Gafcon meeting in Kigali rejects all existing forms of Anglican authority

21 April 2023

Gafcon

Dr Foley Beach, the Gafcon chair, presiding at a closing eucharist in Kigali on Friday

Dr Foley Beach, the Gafcon chair, presiding at a closing eucharist in Kigali on Friday

CONSERVATIVE Anglicans angered by the Church of England’s partial endorsement of same-sex unions have expressed their rejection of the structures that hold the Anglican Communion together.

Lambeth Palace has responded by restating that Anglican structures can be altered only by recognised agreement.

At the conclusion of the fourth gathering of the Global Anglican Futures Conference (Gafcon) in Kigali, Rwanda, participants released a communiqué on Friday morning dismissing the four “Instruments of Unity” of the Anglican Communion, saying that they have “failed to maintain true communion based on the Word of God and shared faith in Christ”.

It says: “We have no confidence that the Archbishop of Canterbury nor the other Instruments of Communion led by him (the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meetings) are able to provide a godly way forward that will be acceptable to those who are committed to the truthfulness, clarity, sufficiency and authority of scripture.”

The communiqué makes it clear that the dividing issue is homosexuality, about which it complains of “repeated departures from the authority of God’s Word”. It goes on: “The latest of these departures is the majority vote by the General Synod of the Church of England in February 2023 to welcome proposals by the bishops to enable same-sex couples to receive God’s blessing.

“It grieves the Holy Spirit and us that the leadership of the Church of England is determined to bless sin. Since the Lord does not bless same-sex unions, it is pastorally deceptive and blasphemous to craft prayers that invoke blessing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

At last year’s Lambeth Conference, the Archbishop of Canterbury was commended by bishops of all persuasions for his contention that the Communion contained people with honestly held, theologically argued views on homosexuality that differed in fundamental ways (News, 2 August 2022).

But this week’s Gafcon meeting, attended by 1300 people from around the world, dismissed the notion of “walking together in good disagreement”. The communiqué says: “We reject the claim that two contradictory positions can both be valid in matters affecting salvation. We cannot ‘walk together’ in good disagreement with those who have deliberately chosen to walk away from the ‘faith once for all delivered to the saints’ (Jude 3).”

The communiqué, which was read to the participants by the Primate of the Church of Nigeria, the Most Revd Henry Ndukuba, on Friday morning, adds that “successive Archbishops of Canterbury have failed to guard the faith by inviting bishops to Lambeth who have embraced or promoted practices contrary to scripture.

“This failure of church discipline has been compounded by the current Archbishop of Canterbury who has himself welcomed the provision of liturgical resources to bless these practices contrary to scripture. This renders his leadership role in the Anglican Communion entirely indefensible.”

The chair of the Gafcon statement committee, the Bishop of South Sydney, Dr Michael Stead, said: “It is clear from this conference is that most of the world’s Anglicans have lost confidence in the Archbishop of Canterbury to provide a godly way forward that will be acceptable to those who are committed to the truthfulness, clarity, sufficiency and authority of scripture.

“This grieves us, but it is they who have walked away from us.”

Another element in the Kigali meeting was the apparent endorsement of the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches (GSFA), which said in February that, after the Church of England’s move towards blessing same-sex couples (News, 9 February), they no longer considered Archbishop Welby to be the de facto leader of the Anglican Communion (News, 20 February).

Friday’s communiqué says that “both GSFA and Gafcon Primates share the view that . . . they can no longer recognise the Archbishop of Canterbury as an Instrument of Communion, the ‘first among equals’ of the Primates. The Church of England has chosen to impair her relationship with the orthodox provinces in the Communion.”

 

Increasingly close ties between Gafcon and the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches (GSFA) are envisaged in Friday’s communiqué.

“The leadership of both groups affirmed and celebrated their complementary roles in the Anglican Communion. Gafcon is a movement focused on evangelism and mission, church planting and providing support and a home for faithful Anglicans who are pressured by or alienated from revisionist dioceses and provinces. GSFA, on the other hand, is focused on establishing doctrinally based structures within the Communion,” the communiqué says.

Seven priorities for the future endorsed by the Gafcon Primates are outlined in the statement: engagement in a “decade of discipleship and mission” from 2023 to 2033; devotion to raising “the next generation of leaders in Gafcon”; prioritisation of youth and children’s ministry; affirmation of the role of “Gafcon women”, including in “leadership roles”; the promotion of “Gafcon mercy ministries”; training for bishops, and interprovincial visits by Primates.

The communiqué sets out the “united commitment” of the GSFA and Gafcon on “three fundamentals: the lordship of Jesus Christ, the authority and clarity of the Word of God; and the priority of the church’s mission to the world. . .

“Anglican identity is defined by this and not by recognition from the See of Canterbury.”

Despite references to the necessity of “resetting the Communion”, no details are given about what the next steps towards this might be in Friday’s communiqué.

In a response to the communiqué, issued on Friday afternoon, a Lambeth Palace spokesperson said that Archbishop Welby agreed that Anglican structures “are always able to change with the times — and have done so in the past”, but that “no changes to the formal structures of the Anglican Communion can be made unless they are agreed upon by the Instruments of Communion”.

This had been stated at the recent ACC-18 meeting, attended by Primates, bishops, clergy, and laity from 39 of the 42 Anglican provinces, where “there was widespread support for working together patiently and constructively to review the Instruments of Communion, so that our differences and disagreements can be held together in unity and fellowship” (News, 13 February).

The Gafcon communiqué contains the proviso: “We oppose the vilification or demeaning of any person including those who do not follow God’s ways, since all human beings are created in God’s image.”

None the less, in an Easter address, the Archbishop of Uganda, the Most Revd Stephen Kaziimba, who was present at the gathering in Kigali, endorsed a proposed anti-homosexuality law in Uganda that includes punishments of life imprisonment and the death penalty (News, 29 March).

Archbishop Kaziimba urged the President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, to sign the law. On Friday, The Guardian reported that Mr Museveni had withheld his assent, and instead asked Parliamentarians to toughen provisions of the proposed law.

 

The Gafcon communiqué can be read in full here.

 

The Lambeth Palace response in full:

 

“We note that the GAFCON IV communiqué makes many of the same points that have previously been made about the structures of the Anglican Communion. As the Archbishop of Canterbury has previously said, those structures are always able to change with the times — and have done so in the past. The Archbishop said at the recent Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Ghana (ACC-18) that no changes to the formal structures of the Anglican Communion can be made unless they are agreed upon by the Instruments of Communion.

“At the ACC-18 meeting — which was attended by Primates, bishops, clergy, and laity from 39 of the 42 Anglican provinces — there was widespread support for working together patiently and constructively to review the Instruments of Communion, so that our differences and disagreements can be held together in unity and fellowship. Archbishop Justin Welby has welcomed this decision — just as he also welcomed last year’s decision by the Church of England’s General Synod to give the Anglican Communion a greater voice on the body that nominates future Archbishops of Canterbury.

“The Archbishop continues to be in regular contact with his fellow Primates and looks forward to discussing this and many other matters with them over the coming period. Meanwhile the Archbishop continues to pray especially for Anglicans who face poverty, conflict, famine, discrimination, and persecution around the world, and Anglican churches who live and minister in these contexts. Continuing to walk together as Anglicans is not just the best way to share Christ’s love with a world in great need: it is also how the world will know that Jesus Christ is sent from the Father who calls us to love one another, even as we disagree.”

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