GAFCON darkens the sun

Another bunch of conservative Anglicans got together (in Singapore) last week. GAFCON? FCA? “Global South”? Who can keep track of them all? I hadn’t really paid much attention, since this seems to happen every month or so. More photo ops, more threats, more dire predictions, more frequent flier miles, and more words in irascible communiqués. This time they added more quotes from Revelation 8:12.

A couple of things got my attention. First of all, the rhetoric has changed considerably. They are now saying, “The crisis moment has now passed.” That’s a big switch from the usual swagger from the likes of David “Good Fight” Anderson, Phil “Special Forces” Ashey, and Bob “Take it to hell” Duncan. This got me curious. What has changed?

It turns out they’ve decided they’re done with the Anglican Communion. Read through their statement, and you’ll see a consistent disregard for the Instruments of Communion, for the Archbishop of Canterbury, and even for the Anglican Covenant that they urged. Having been unable to bully their way to the results they wanted (a la the legislative coup from Lambeth Conference 1998), they have decided to walk away. That’s sad, but perhaps the Body of Christ can begin healing and everyone can get on with mission.

There are a few places in their final statement that are worth a closer look:

17. We uphold the courageous actions taken by Archbishops Mouneer Anis (Jerusalem and the Middle East), Henry Orombi (Uganda) and Ian Ernest (Indian Ocean) and are encouraged by their decision not to participate in meetings of the various Instruments of Communion at which representatives of The Episcopal Church USA and the Anglican Church of Canada are present.

In other words, we won’t talk with people with whom we do not agree. Any child on a schoolyard can tell you that reconciliation is not achieved by the silent treatment. To the extent that the US and Canada have things to learn, we need people to teach us. And, of course, there is the possibility that some might be converted through encounters with faithful Christians from the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada.

18. Some of our Provinces are already in a state of broken and impaired Communion with The Episcopal Church USA and the Anglican Church of Canada. Their continued refusal to honor the many requests made of them by the various meetings of the Primates throughout the Windsor Process have brought discredit to our witness and we urge the Archbishop of Canterbury to implement the recommended actions.

Yes, and many others have refused to halt jurisdictional crossings.

In light of the above, this Fourth South-to-South Encounter encourages our various Provinces to reconsider their communion relationships with The Episcopal Church USA and the Anglican Church of Canada until it becomes clear that there is genuine repentance.

This one is interesting. In a Calvinist understanding of the Eucharist, participation in Holy Communion is for the reconciled community. In that light, it would make sense to fence the altar from sinners. A more Catholic understanding sees Eucharist as a path to reconciliation, as a means of grace precisely for those in need of God’s healing love. Until fairly recently, there has been room for both views within mainstream Anglicanism. Here the Global South is innovating core doctrine by insisting on one narrow reading of Eucharistic theology.

19. We were pleased to welcome two Communion Partner bishops from The Episcopal Church USA (TEC) and acknowledge that with them there are many within TEC who do not accept their church’s innovations. We assure them of our loving and prayerful support.

Interesting. So Bishops Lawrence and Howe have chosen to associate themselves with a group which has essentially declared itself out of communion with the Episcopal Church. Is this the very definition of the abandonment of communion? I’m not sure I’d make that case, but I do wonder about it.

20. For many generations Anglicans have lived together with a shared understanding of our common faith; indeed among our great gifts has been the Book of Common Prayer that has provided a foundation for our common life. In recent years the peace of our Communion has been deeply wounded by those who continue to claim the name Anglican but who pursue an agenda of their own desire in opposition to historic norms of faith, teaching and practice.

Yes, this is a problem. I for one will agree that we Americans have not honored the interdependence we share in the Anglican Communion as fully as we might have. But it must be acknowledged that the so-called Global South is the group that has been single-minded in keeping anxiety levels high and on shattering peace through the relentless pursuit of supposed moral purity. Their part in any of this is never admitted. “If we say we have no sin…”

21. Global South leaders have been in the forefront of the development of the ‘Anglican Covenant’ that seeks to articulate the essential elements of our faith together with means by which we might exercise meaningful and loving discipline for those who depart from the ‘faith once for all delivered to the saints.’ We are currently reviewing the proposed Covenant to find ways to strengthen it in order for it to fulfill its purpose. For example, we believe that all those who adopt the Covenant must be in compliance with Lambeth 1.10.

It’s fascinating to me that they continually return to Lambeth 1.10 (1998). No one seems particularly eager to read the resolutions on human sexuality from 1978 or 1988. For three Lambeth Conferences, resolutions have called for study, reflection, and listening on the issue of human sexuality. It is precisely those shrill voices on the far right, demanding adherence to Lambeth 1.10, who have not honored the whole resolution. By my reckoning, there are only a half dozen provinces or so which might have even a claim to have honored Lambeth 1.10. If that’s the standard, you’d have to exclude not only the US and Canada, but England and most of Africa.

Meanwhile we recognize that the Primates Meeting, being responsible for Faith and Order, should be the body to oversee the Covenant in its implementation, not the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion.

This is absurd. The Primates Meeting is a consultative gathering except in the minds of a few neo-papal archbishops who want to claim infallibility and invincibility. If any group could claim responsibility for “Faith” it would be the Lambeth Conference. And if any group has a claim on “Order” it would be the Anglican Consultative Council.

22. Over the last 20 years we have been distracted by conflicts and controversies that have kept us from effectively fulfilling the Great Commission.

Hear, hear. On this point we are agreed.

While we have been so distracted, Christian heritage, identity and influence has continued to decline in the West. We believe that there is a need to review the entire Anglican Communion structure; especially the Instruments of Communion and the Anglican Communion office; in order to achieve an authentic expression of the current reality of our Anglican Communion.

And here’s the punchline. “We want it our way, or the highway. The Archbishop of Canterbury and the fount of Anglican Christianity can no longer be trusted.”

To understand this mindset completely, let me share with you this little gem from Archbishop Peter Jensen, always a charmer.

It occurred in my small group meeting. In this group were representatives from Madagascar, Kenya, the Solomons, South Africa, India, Myanmar, and Burundi – a fair range representing the modern Anglican Communion and the very ones who value their membership of the Communion so highly. We were discussing covenants, and the issue of the Anglican covenant emerged. Very gently but firmly the group let me into a secret. It was all very well to have a covenant, but what if the people have different ideas as to what a covenant may mean? What if you were in covenanting with westerners, whose word could not be relied on? Of what use is a covenant then? Look at the state of marriage in the west. Consider the western capacity to use slippery words. What would a covenant be worth?

Got that? The entire West must not be trusted. Westerners get divorced. Westerners are too clever. Of course, the West is indeed a hotbed of sin. The state of marriage in this country is lousy. (It should be noted that the lowest divorce rate in the US of A is in Massachusetts, home of “gay marriage”.) But perhaps someone should tell the good people of the so-called Global South that they too are sinners. Trust is broken south of the equator as much as it is shattered north of the equator.

If we are going to begin passing judgment on others and declaring them unworthy of our shared humanity, then we have passed outside the bounds of 2,000 years of Christian witness and thousands of years of Jewish faith before that. It’s one thing to be frustrated with the actions of others. It’s one thing to name sin when we see it — and even to debate what constitutes sin. It is quite another to dismiss an entire category of people for who they are, whether that is Western, African, gay, straight, woman, or man.

If there is one consistent teaching about human nature in Christianity, it’s that we’re all sinners. We’re called to share the Good News with one another, so that all might be saved through Jesus Christ. If we’ve given up on that, then I’m afraid we may have given up on the bedrock of our faith.

I end with the title of this post. The final statement from the recent gathering refers to itself as the Fourth Trumpet. Peter Jensen seems to love this turn of phrase. As you will recall, this comes from the eighth chapter of the Revelation to St. John. “The fourth angel blew his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, and a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of their light was darkened; a third of the day was kept from shining, and likewise the night.”

That is just bizarre to me. The so-called Global South apparently understand themselves to be harbingers of doom. As I pray for them and beg their intercessions for me and the church I serve, I cling to a faith that uses very different language. My prayer is that we might be heralds of hope in a world of fear and hatred. Kyrie eleison.

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3 Responses

  1. Scott,
    Peter Jensen said some time ago that the best outcome for the communion would be to let things down gently. No great explosion, no expulsions, but a realignment.
    And that is what seems to be happening at present.
    The global south is not pulling out of the communion, but believes that some of the “instruments of communion” are ineffective.
    Across the anglican blogosphere people are talking less and less to those who disagree. The accounts you comment on would indicate this applies to those above our pay grade as well.
    Perhaps it is healthy to meet less often for a time at least. Nobody appears to have a new Elizabethan settlement in their pocket. Are we all sinners? Yes. Do we see through a glass darkly? Yes. have we worked out a way to be tightly yoked together and disagree? No. So lets loosen the bonds a little, and stop shouting at each other.

  2. Fr. Craig says:

    I wonder if they are preaching on Acts this weekend. Peter’s vision might make them wonder…

  3. Eric Gregory says:

    Just a quick note to point out that the Catholic/Orthodox view of the Eucharist is that it is for true/reconciled members of the Body of Christ only. The Eucharist is the Body of Christ and should not have division – if we are divided, yet participating in Eucharist with one another, are we not, as St. Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 11, doing a disservice to (if not a “sinning against”) Christ Himself?

    Excommunication was the main tool of reconciliation in the ancient church (recognizable in Paul’s comments to many churches in the Scriptures, admonishing them to throw out some individuals who are unrepentant of sin). It was significant for the community to know who was a part of the “true faith”, and still is. (Again, Paul in 1 Cor. 11 mentions that “divisions” and “factions” are “necessary” – though his seriousness is debatable on this phrase – for this very reason).

    There’s my two copper pieces.

    (Also, excited to hear that you are a Yale alumnus according to Bob Chapman. I was accepted and start an MDiv track in the Fall!)