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The Anglican Communion and Homosexuality

Review of the 2008-JUN Global
Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON)


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2008-JUN-22 to 29: GAFCON: a rival Anglican conference:

1,148 senior conservative leaders of the Anglican Community, including about 289 bishops from Africa, Latin America, Asia, and North America, attended the eight day Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON). Together they represent more than 35 million Anglicans -- about half of the total Anglicans in the worldwide Communion.

GAFCON was held in Jerusalem, a few weeks before the 2008 Lambeth Conference in the UK.

The bishops organized the conference because they felt that their concerns about homosexuality and biblical authority were not being properly addressed by the Episcopal Church, USA; by Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury; and presumably by the Anglican Church of Canada. Their main concern with the Episcopal Church was the consecration of what they call a "practicing homosexual:" Gene Robinson, the Bishop of New Hampshire. Their main concern with the Anglican Church of Canada is over the policy of some western dioceses who have made church rituals available to recognize loving committed same-sex relationships.

Many of the bishops indicated that they plan to boycott the 2008 Lambeth Conference scheduled for JUL-16. This is a one-per-decade gathering of Anglican bishops from around the world at Canterbury, UK.


Comments by some of the GAFCON leaders:

Among the archbishops who played a prominent role at GAFCON were:

  • Ugandan Archbishop Henry Orombi issued a statement about the consecration of Gene Robinson, bishop of New Hampshire, who is in a loving, committed same-sex relationship and recently entered into a civil union with his spouse. Orombi said that this was a:
    "... direct violation of the Bible and historic Christian teaching. ... We are not going to pretend by going to Lambeth that we are in fellowship [with the US church]. We are not. What they have done is a very serious thing, and what the Archbishop of Canterbury has done in inviting them is grievous, and we want them to know that."
    Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who was until the GAFCON conference the spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, invited a delegation of bishops from the Episcopal Church, USA to come to the Lambeth Conference. However no invitation was extended to Bishop Robinson. Archbishop Orombi told a press briefing,
    "The Western church brought its religion to us and we embraced it, and now the Western church is contradicting what it brought to us." 4
  • Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola called the western Anglican leadership "revisionist." He said:
    "Our beloved Anglican Communion must be rescued from the manipulation of those who have denied the gospel and its power to transform and save, those who have departed from the scripture and the faith."
    He also said:
    "A sizeable part of the communion is in error, and not a few are apostate. In the wisdom and strength God supplies, we must rescue what is left of the church from the error of the apostates." 4
  • Peter Jensen, Archbishop of Sydney, Australia said that GAFCON and the voluntary absence of many bishops from the Lambeth Conference should be viewed as a "button" pointing to the enormity of the problem. He said:
    "Our absence will be helpful in that it forces the issue. It will help them focus their minds, and I hope the result will be a helpful convention which will pull us all together." 4
    His comment seems to imply that the only way in which the deep divisions in the Anglican Communion can be healed is if all provinces adopt the views of the GAFCON conference attendees concerning their interpretation of the Bible and their denigration of homosexual relationships. Agreeing to disagree appears to be an option on the table.

Book release:

Conference leaders released a new book on JUN-19 titled "The Way, the Truth and the Life." It can be downloaded in PFD format at no cost from VirtueOnline.org. 8 Rev. Vinay Samuel, coordinator of the book said:
"At a time when the fabric of the communion has been torn apart, the entire drive of the book is to hold together what is meant by 'Anglican.' How can we claim this identity? This is not to exclude anyone but in a confused situation this says, 'This is where we are'." 1

Rejection of the 2007 Anglican Covenant:

The GAFCON Theological Resource Team  reviewed the St Andrews Draft Text of An Anglican Covenant which was written by the Anglican primates at their meeting in Dar es Salaam during 2007. 5 They found that the covenant was:
"... both seriously limited and severely flawed. Whether or not the tool of covenant is the right way to approach the crisis within the Communion, this document is defective and its defects cannot be corrected by piecemeal amendment because they are fundamental. The St. Andrews Draft is theologically incoherent and its proposals unworkable. It has no prospect of success since it fails to address the problems which have created the crisis and the new realities which have ensued." 2

GAFCON issues the "Jerusalem Statement"

 A GAFCON press release appears to define a formal schism in the Anglican Communion:

"Anglican leaders representing a clear majority of the world's practising Anglicans, joyously affirmed the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) Statement and the Jerusalem Declaration at the end of the conference on Sunday June 29.  The document addresses the crisis gripping the Anglican Communion over scriptural authority.  It calls for the creation of a new council of primates overseeing a volunteer fellowship committed to mission and biblical Anglicanism as well as a new structure of accountability based on the Jerusalem Declaration.  It also signals the move of most of the world's practicing Anglicans into a post-colonial reality, where the Archbishop of Canterbury is recognized for his historic role, but not as the only arbiter of what it means to be Anglican."

The primates' council will initially be formed by the six Anglican primates participating in the GAFCON from Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Southern Cone, Uganda and West Africa. Also the Anglican Church of Tanzania delegation to GAFCON is in agreement with the statement but will need the endorsement of their House of Bishops before their archbishop join [sic] the council. The primates council is tasked with recognizing and authenticating 'confessing Anglican jurisdictions, clergy and congregations and to encourage all Anglicans to promote the gospel and defend the faith.'  From the outset, the statement recognizes the 'desirability of territorial jurisdiction for provinces and dioceses of the Anglican Communion except in areas where churches and leaders have denied the orthodox faith or are preventing its spread.'  Speaking specifically to Anglican Christians in North America, the statement goes on to say that GAFCON believes 'time is now ripe for the formation of a province in North America for the federation currently known as Common Cause Partnership to be recognised by the Primates' Council'."

"The statement describes those participating in this new movement as 'A fellowship of confessing Anglicans.'  It asserts the intention of all those involved to remain Anglican.  'Our fellowship is not breaking away from the Anglican Communion. We, together with many other faithful Anglicans throughout the world, believe the doctrinal foundation of Anglicanism, which defines our core identity as Anglicans, is expressed in these words: The doctrine of the Church is grounded in the Holy Scriptures and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures. In particular, such doctrine is to be found in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal'."

"Finally, the statement makes clear that worldwide Anglicanism has now entered a post-colonial phase.  Instead of continuing to rely solely on the colonial structures that have served the Anglican Communion so poorly during the present crisis, it states the movement's intent to accept all those as Anglicans who affirm the Anglican standard of faith.  'While acknowledging the nature of Canterbury as an historic see, we do not accept that Anglican identity is determined necessarily through recognition by the Archbishop of Canterbury'."

"The GAFCON Statement concludes: 'The primary reason we have come to Jerusalem and issued this declaration is to free our churches to give clear and certain witness to Jesus Christ. It is our hope that this Statement on the Global Anglican Future will be received with comfort and joy by many Anglicans around the world who have been distressed about the direction of the Communion. We believe the Anglican Communion should and will be reformed around the biblical gospel and mandate to go into all the world and present Christ to the nations." 6,7


Response to GAFCON by Presiding Bishop Schori:

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church, USA issued a statement in response to the statement issued by the GAFCON meeting: 

"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." 5


The sources of the conflict:

It is important to realize that this group of conservative Anglicans regards themselves as representing mainline Anglicanism. One indication of this is the name chosen for of one of their newsletters: "Anglican Mainstream." 3

They regard many western provinces to be radically "revisionist." The latter is viewed as having abandoned the authority of the Bible, and the historical interpretation of the six biblical "clobber passages" that are commonly used to denigrate homosexuals.

Anglicans generally base their beliefs on the "three-legged stool" consisting of the Bible, church tradition and reason. However, conservatives and liberals in the Communion differ in the emphasis that they place on each of the legs. Conservatives tend to stress the Bible and tradition; liberals stress reason, which includes personal experience, scientific findings, etc.

Another source of the conflict is the extreme variation in culture among the 38 Anglican provinces. The provinces share the Bible, church tradition, many rituals, and centuries of cooperation. But their cultures differ greatly on matters related to human sexuality. Only a bare majority of provinces allow women to be ordained; only a handful allow women priests to be consecrated as bishops; only one -- the Episcopal Church, USA, has a female primate. The cultures of many of the southern provinces are extremely homophobic, while the cultures found in the U.S., Canada, United Kingdom and a few other provinces are beginning to accept homosexuality, bisexuality and heterosexuality as morally neutral sexual orientations.


References:

  1. Judith Sudilovsky, "Rival Anglican conference begins in Jerusalem," Anglican Journal, 2008-JUN-20, at: http://www.anglicanjournal.com/
  2. Response of GAFCON to the St Andrew's Draft Text," GAFCON, at: http://www.gafcon.org/
  3. Free subscriptions to GAFCON's two newsletters: "Anglican Mainstream" and "GAFCON" can be obtained at: http://www.anglican-mainstream.net/
  4. Judith Sudilovsky, "Akinola calls Anglican leadership 'revisionist'," Anglican Journal, 2008-JUN-20, at: http://www.anglicanjournal.com/
  5. "An Anglican Covenant," Anglican Communion, at: http://www.anglicancommunion.org/
  6.  "Jerusalem Declaration Signals New Reality for Anglican Communion," GAFCON, 2008-JUN-29, at: http://www.gafcon.org/
  7. "Statement on the Global Anglican Future," Press Release, GAFCON, 2008-JUN-29, at: http://www.gafcon.org/
  8. "The Way, The Truth and The Life: Theological resources for a pilgrimage to a Global Anglican Future," VirtueOnline.org. at: http://www.virtueonline.org/ This is a PDF file. You may require software to read it. Software can be obtained free from: 

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Copyright © 2006 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2006-MAR-11
Latest update: 2008-JUL-23
Author: B.A. Robinson

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