Recently, Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was asked whether he was warning people away from this year’s Global Anglican Future Conference (Gafcon) in Jerusalem. His reply was: “where Gafcon is acting as a ginger group, a source of prayer and renewal, of spiritual life within God’s people around the world and within the Anglican Communion, within that it is a very good thing.”
What in the world is a ginger group, we clueless Yanks ask? No, it’s not a plateful of ginger cookies nor a convention of “the Redheaded League.” Rather, a ginger group, in British parlance, is a kind of special interest or pressure group.
Now for the not-so-subtle nuance. The Archbishop was not intending to flatter the upcoming Conference but to belittle it. How do I know that? Because his characterization of Gafcon as a “ginger group” cannot be further from the actual character of the movement, and he knows that.
Gafcon is not a global “friendly society,” nor is it seeking to pressure Canterbury, because Canterbury has made clear over twenty years that it pays us no regard. This was apparent ten years ago when Archbishop Rowan Williams bypassed the Global South Primates and invited to the Lambeth Conference the bishops of the Episcopal Church who had consecrated Gene Robinson. (Rest assured: they will be invited back in 2020.) As a result, the Global Anglican Future Conference was convened in Jerusalem in 2008.
Gafcon was not called as “ginger group” but as a reordering of the Anglican Communion. In its Jerusalem Statement, the Conference claimed:
- that it was founding something enduring, “not just a moment in time, but a movement in the Spirit”;
- that three facts justified this reordering: (a) the acceptance and promotion of a false gospel (heresy) in churches of the Communion; (b) the resulting breach of communion among Anglican churches; and (c) the manifest failure of the official “Instruments” to discipline the heretics;
- that the Gafcon movement is not leaving the Anglican Communion but reforming it on the basis of its classic faith and articles, amplified in a new “Jerusalem Declaration”; and
- that it was establishing a Primates’ Council that would, when necessary, authenticate new faithful Anglican jurisdictions.
The Jerusalem Statement acknowledged one other fact: the nature of Canterbury as an historic see; and in doing so, it implied a willingness to seek true reconciliation with the Archbishop, if he were to acknowledge the causes that led to this crisis. The response of the Lambeth Establishment over the past decade – from promotion of faux dialogue (“indaba”), to machinations in the Global South, to the ginger group put-down – indicates that they have no interest in genuine reconciliation or of getting to the root of the crisis, which is the truth of the biblical Gospel.
Ginger is a spice and something nice, but Jesus used two other homey words to characterize his church: salt and leaven. “You are the salt of the earth,” he told his disciples (Matthew 5:13); and “the kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened” (Matthew 13:33). Salt is essential for life, and leaven essential for growth.
The threat today is that the Anglican Church has lost the salt of the Gospel, and as Jesus goes on to say: “if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” Without the leaven of the Gospel, the church remains a lifeless lump, which pretty much describes many Anglican churches in the West, and, if we are honest, in other parts of the Communion as well.
So is Gafcon a ginger group? Certainly not in the way intended by Archbishop Welby. It’s not a club or a pressure group but rather a polity, a reordering of the structures of the Anglican Communion for the high calling of preaching Christ to the nations. Hence the theme of the 2018 Conference in Jerusalem is “Proclaiming Christ Faithfully to the Nations.”
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