Canterbury responds to GAFCON plan

In black and white not princely purple

I would like to think this will be my last GAFCON-themed post. There are more pressing matters, after all. But today Archbishop Rowan Williams has responded to yesterday’s final statement from the gathering in Jerusalem. In this statement, conservative primates have appointed themselves sole guardians of the “real” Anglican faith, rejecting all previous and present Anglican authority. You might expect Williams to have other thoughts and indeed he does.

He message is gracious, noting first that most of the GAFCON statement would be agreeable to nearly all Anglicans. In my initial response to the statement, I should have noted this myself — rather than merely noting the disagreeable bits. In any case Williams asks us to assume the best of those who would subvert the authority of the Communion. But he then criticizes the statement on several fronts.

First, he urges us to renew the existing structures of the Anglican Communion rather than dismissing them wholesale. This is exactly right. The point of the Lambeth Conference is to do some of this work, and it’s a shame that many of the GAFCONites have given up on reconciliation, absenting themselves from the very process that could heal the Communion. Of course, the same with-us-or-against-us temptation has afflicted the far left, with some people urging us to get on with things without our conservative sisters and brothers. Archbishop Rowan’s call for unity and patience applies to both left and right, and it’s a sorely needed message.

Speaking of the oft-cited themes of colonialism, Williams really hits the mark: “But emerging from the legacy of colonialism must mean a new co-operation of equals, not a simple reversal of power.” In other words, the model must be South Africa, rather than some of the violent rejections of colonial authority that we have seen in other places as local people reject colonial influence. Can it be a coincidence that the church in South Africa is more moderate, while some of the most politically challenged regimes are insisting on a power-reversing solution to the crisis in the Anglican Communion? To be sure, the colonial powers must admit their error and complicity in generations of sinful conduct. But reconciliation and concord must be the goal, not the replacement of one unbalanced power structure with another.

The far right loves to accuse ECUSA and others of having created a new or false Gospel. Williams suggests this caricature is neither accurate nor helpful:

it is not the experience of millions of faithful and biblically focused Anglicans in every province. What is true is that, on all sides of our controversies, slogans, misrepresentations and caricatures abound. And they need to be challenged in the name of the respect and patience we owe to each other in Jesus Christ.

I have recently suggested here that it is tempting to caricature and ridicule those with whom we disagree. While some good-natured humor may be useful, and robust intellectual conversation is essential, there can be no place for utter disregard of the humanity and faith of others.

Having not ventured into the right side of the blogosphere yet today, I don’t know what the reaction will be. Were the GAFCONites expecting Williams to be silent or even to agree with their direction? Were they hoping for a firm response in order to justify a planned schism? I can’t and won’t speculate. What I can say is that the Archbishop of Canterubry has exercised moral leadership here — rejecting extremeism once again, but also challenging all sides to stay in conversation and in communion.

Image by SouthbankSteve via Flickr.

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