This is the Sixth of FOURTEEN THESES TOWARD REVIVING, REFORMING, AND REORDERING THE ANGLICAN COMMUNION, with Commentary.
By the Rev. Dr. Stephen Noll
Introduction to Theses 6-10
The second group of theses – “The Gafcon Response” – sketches the events that led to the calling of the Global Anglican Future Conference in 2008. It then examines the Jerusalem Statement and Declaration as a significant confession of faith, with political, theological and pastoral dimensions, addressing the current crisis in the Communion.
The focus here is on the Gafcon movement, but it does not intend to diminish the parallel and overlapping work of the Global South Anglican Fellowship (as it was then called). In particular, the development of an Anglican Communion Covenant, which was temporarily hijacked by the Communion establishment, has been revived by the Global South Fellowship in recent years.
The convening of the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) in Jerusalem in 2008 was the most significant event in recent Anglican history. The bold leadership of Archbishop Peter Akinola and six other Global South Primates upset the assumed dominance by the Communion establishment and set a precedent for the future of the Communion.
Lambeth 1998 was the last true Lambeth Conference. Its successor was the Global Anglican Future Conference, held in Jerusalem in 2008. GAFCON, as it came to be called, was a continuation of a movement of global Anglicans which had produced and passed Resolution I.10 on Human Sexuality. This movement had brought together churches and leaders from Global South Provinces and other faithful Anglicans in the West. For a decade, Global Anglicans had sought to revive biblical authority as essential to Anglican identity and to discipline those churches that had openly defied the Communion. By 2008, it had become clear that the Archbishop of Canterbury and Communion establishment were obstructing the Global South leaders and enabling the Episcopal Church USA to stay on course with its radical agenda.
The movement that coalesced in Jerusalem in 2008 was political, theological, and pastoral including bishops, theologians and concerned laity and clergy. Bishops from Asia such as Moses Tay and Yong Ping Chung, from Africa such as Emmanuel Kolini, Donald Mtetemela, and Henry Orombi, from Australia such as Peter Jensen and Glenn Davies, from South America such as Robinson Cavalcanti and Greg Venables, and from North America such as Robert Duncan and Martyn Minns, all had had a role in the contested period between Lambeth 1998 and GAFCON. The movement had also gathered a Theological Resource Team of more than twenty scholars and church leaders, convened by Vinay Samuel and chaired by Nicholas Okoh, who produced a pre-Conference book The Way the Truth and the Life, which defined “Anglican orthodoxy in a global context” as including evangelical, catholic, and charismatic streams. Finally, the Conference itself gathered more than 1,000 Anglicans worldwide in an Assembly in the land of Jesus and the Apostles. We worshipped God in great choruses of praise, attended various presentations on Scripture, Anglican identity, and current issues, and we finally approved by acclamation the Jerusalem Statement and Declaration.
The instigator of GAFCON was the Most Rev. Peter J. Akinola, Primate of Nigeria. In 2000, Peter Akinola had inherited the primatial mantle from Archbishop Adetiloye, who had spearheaded passage of Lambeth I.10. At first, Akinola took a restrained view of the consecrations of John Rodgers and Chuck Murphy as extra-provincial bishops. However, as the total resistance of the North American churches became clear, culminating in Gene Robinson’s elevation to the episcopate, Peter Akinola stepped forward as the leader of the Global South opposition.
Akinola did not limit his opposition to North America. When the English bishops agreed to apply the 2004 Civil Partnership Act to partnered gay clergy, Akinola accused them of “being double-faced” and led the Church of Nigeria to remove “communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury” from its Constitution. “No church is beyond discipline,” he said.
In the critical years leading up to GAFCON, he was Chairman of the Global South Primates and of the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa (CAPA). This is the point at which I became directly involved with the Archbishop. When in February 2006, the CAPA Primates called for a report on “The Road to Lambeth,” Peter Akinola commissioned two African bishops and myself (I was residing in Uganda at the time) to produce a document that would make clear to Canterbury the stakes for the upcoming Lambeth Conference in 2008 (now available here). The peroration of the document reads:
We in CAPA want to say clearly and unequivocally to the rest of the Communion: the time has come for the North American churches to repent or depart. We in the Global South have always made repentance the starting point for any reconciliation of fellowship in the Communion. We have sought to give time for those who have violated biblical and Communion norms to turn back. Now that time is up. We shall not accept cleverly worded excuses but rather a clear acknowledgement by these churches that they have erred and intend to “lead a new life” in the Communion (2 Corinthians 4:2). Along with this open statement of repentance must come “fruits befitting repentance” (Luke 3:8). They must reverse their policies and prune their personnel.
The current situation is a twofold crisis for the Anglican Communion: a crisis of doctrine and a crisis of leadership, in which the failure of the “Instruments” of the Communion to exercise discipline, has called into question the viability of the Anglican Communion as a united Christian body under a common foundation of faith, as is supposed by the Lambeth Quadrilateral. Due to this breakdown of discipline, we are not sure that we can in good conscience continue to spend our time, our money and our prayers on behalf of a body that proclaims two Gospels, the Gospel of Christ and the Gospel of Sexuality….
We Anglicans stand at a crossroad. One road, the road of compromise of biblical truth, leads to destruction and disunity. The other road has its own obstacles because it requires changes in the way the Communion has been governed and it challenges our churches to live up to and into their full maturity in Christ. But surely the second road is God’s way forward. It is our sincere hope that this road may pass through Lambeth, our historical mother. But above all it must be the road that leads to life through our Saviour Jesus Christ.
“The Road to Lambeth” was never approved, and the way this happened is significant in itself. The document was presented to the joint Global South and CAPA Primates at a meeting in Kigali, Rwanda, in September 2006, to which I was invited as advisor. There was nearly unanimous support for it, except for Archbishop Ndungane of South Africa, who dallied, stating he would need approval by his House of Bishops (South Africa was sharply divided over homosexuality). In delaying the vote, he nullified its official enaactment. Nevertheless, the document was forwarded to Canterbury, noting the fact that the vast majority of Global South bishops were prepared to avoid Lambeth unless he were to take action.
The conflict between Peter Akinola and Rowan Williams became more pointed in 2007 at the Primates Meeting in Dar es Salaam. When Williams ignored the unanimous Resolutions of that conference and excused the Episcopal Church and invited its bishops (minus Gene Robinson) to Lambeth, the die was cast, and GAFCON was under way.
There is one other outcome of the Global South meeting in Kigali that became significant in the unfolding conflict within the Communion: Canterbury’s coopting of the Anglican Covenant. The idea of an Anglican Covenant had been proposed by the Windsor Report, and the Global South Primates responded positively to the idea and appointed a drafting group to prepare their own Covenant. Shortly before the Kigali meeting, Rowan Williams established a Lambeth Covenant Team, to be headed up by two Global South Primates, John Chew of South East Asia and Drexel Gomez of the Caribbean. This was a classic divide-and-conquer maneuver. Archbishop Chew was known to be more deferential to Canterbury than the Africans and yet was Vice Chairman of the Global South Primates. It was suddenly announced at the Kigali meeting that the Global South team was disbanding – and from that point on, I was excluded as an advisor. Rowan Williams, of course, appointed additional “diverse” members to the new team, and the process was now administered by the Anglican Communion Office. This coup was significant because it divided the Global South movement, with the majority following Peter Akinola on the Road to Gafcon, while important Global South leaders did not attend GAFCON and went on to Lambeth in 2008.
(I note that the Lambeth bureaucracy is trying this tactic once again. At the recent Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Accra, Justin Welby intimated that he might relinquish Canterbury’s role as “Instrument of unity,” and a study was announced to “explore theological questions regarding structure and decision-making [in the Anglican Communion] to help address our differences.” The study is to be conducted by the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order” (IASCUFO), a wholly owned subsidiary of Canterbury and the Anglican Communion Office. Rest assured that any reordering of the Canterbury Communion will be firmly in the hands of Lambeth henchmen.)
Returning now to the Covenant process from 2006, after three drafts and a preemptive rewrite of the disciplinary section by Rowan Williams himself to assure its ineffectiveness, the Anglican Communion Covenant was published. When the major churches in Africa, North America, and England failed to sign on, the Canterbury Covenant became something of a beached whale.
A decade later, the idea of a Covenant has been revived by the Global South Fellowship of Anglicans. I shall argue that elements of this Covenant proposal overlap with the founding document of Gafcon, the Jerusalem Statement and Declaration.
It is my hope that these two roads that were diverted in 2008 may converge again in the near future.