Earlier this week, Bishop Foley Beach of the Anglican Diocese of the South (Anglican Church North America) published his reflections on the recent Anglican gathering in Nairobi, Kenya known as GAFCON2 (Global Anglican Future Conference). The first GAFCON met in Jerusalem in 2008, a meeting that has since largely shaped the direction of worldwide Anglicanism, especially in the “Global South”.
Though the meeting, taking place on the other side of the world, may seem irrelevant to Mississippians it does affect people living in the Jackson area. Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Madison County is a part of the Anglican Diocese of the South, and so Bishop Foley Beach was representing Mississippi Anglicans in Africa.
1. The history of the Global Anglican Future Conference
In 2008, the first GAFCON took place in Jerusalem, largely as an alternative to Lambeth Conference, a meeting convened by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Numerous orthodox bishops communicated to Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, that they would boycott Lambeth if certain high profile unorthodox bishops were invited to attend. When Rowan Williams proceeded to invite them, despite the protests of the Global South bishops, this set the stage for GAFCON.
GAFCON resulted in the publication of The Jerusalem Declaration, a statement of faith ratified by the bishops attending which recommitted the Anglican Communion to orthodox, Biblical Christian faith. As might be expected, Rowan Williams didn’t endorse GAFCON and many Anglicans in the West still considered Lambeth Conference to be the only “official” gathering of Anglican leaders in 2008.
Though GAFCON drew together only a quarter or so of the archbishops from the Anglican Communion worldwide, the archbishops that attended were mostly from the Global South and therefore represented the overwhelming majority of laypeople in the Anglican Communion. It wasn’t, therefore, a matter of just a few bishops being disgruntled with Canterbury, wanting to have their own meeting. Rather, GAFCON showed that seismic shifts within Anglicanism are taking place and the Archbishop of Canterbury is no longer being looked to by many Anglican bishops of Africa and Asia as the Church’s spiritual leader.
2. News from GAFCON2
According to Bishop Beach, GAFCON2 brought together approximately 300 bishops and 1300 delegates from 38 countries. “With an emphasis on the East African Revival from the last century, delegates were encouraged to pray for God’s revival in our own contexts,” he said.
For more than a decade, the decision of certain Global South bishops to carry on mission work in territories where there are already ordained Anglican bishops has been highly controversial. When Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini of Rwanda, along with a few others, helped establish the Anglican Mission to the Americas in 2000, he incurred the wrath of George Cary, who was Canterbury’s archbishop at the time. Kolini believed he had done right because, though North America already had Anglican bishops, they were by and large considered individuals who had so revised the faith as to make it unrecognizable. Kolini believed America needed bishops who were committed to the faith once for all delivered to the saints. If that meant crossing boundaries, so be it.
This trend was reaffirmed by GAFCON2. Bishop Beach said, “The bishops did vote unanimously to support the GAFCON Primates in their decision to be willing to go across jurisdictional lines to help parishes, clergy, and bishops if there is the need — including England.”
Many Anglicans had high hopes when Justin Wellby recently assumed the role of Archbishop of Canterbury. A self-described evangelical, many hoped Wellby could help bring the Anglican Church back to its roots. Wellby, who was in Kenya at the time of the opening of GAFCON2, did meet with archbishops who had gathered. Is this indicative that the current archbishop is giving more credence to GAFCON and to the Global South’s convictions than his predecessor? Bishop Beach said he is personally not very optimistic:
“Although we are grateful for his attention, he seems to be pushing a same-sex agenda by making a distinction between same-sex marriage and same-sex unions. He indicated his willingness to bless same-sex unions. If this comes into fruition, in many minds he will have forfeited his leadership of the Communion, and spiritual unity will be impossible.”
Historically, dictionaries have defined the word “Anglican” as someone who adheres to the Book of Common Prayer and who is communion with the See of Canterbury. The very word “Anglican” is undergoing changes, though, as the role of Canterbury in leading the Communion is being called into question by more and more.
The long-term future of the Anglican Communion in many ways is still as uncertain today as it was five years ago. One side within the Communion wants to preserve traditional Christian doctrine and traditional Christian ethics—including sexual ethics—and the other is willing to revise doctrine and ethics in ways that Global South archbishops will not concede to.
The future of the Anglican Church should be a matter of prayer and concern, not just for Anglicans, but also for Presbyterians as well. All Christians who love the gospel should care what direction Christian churches go. Schism is never an easy thing to go through. Satan tempts some Christians to capitulate on issues they should take a stand on, and he tempts others to become hard-hearted towards their brothers and sisters who may be erring. May God preserve the Anglican church, and all churches for that matter, from both errors.