Canterbury Responds to GAFCON

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has responded to the new "traditionalist" Anglican network set up by bishops meeting last week in Jerusalem at the so-called Global Anglican Future conference, or GAFCON. He urges the GAFCON bishops to stop and think about what they are doing. "A ’Primates’ Council’ which consists only of a self-selected group from among the Primates of the Communion will not pass the test of legitimacy for all in the Communion", he points out, perhaps a little obviously, before warning that "any claim to be free to operate across provincial boundaries is fraught with difficulties, both theological and practical." Theological, because Anglican provinces have traditionally recognized the validity of each other; practical, because once the new parallel communion gets under way, reserving the right to exercise oversight over parishes in other jurisdictions, the idea that the bishop is the head of his diocese will be undermined. Dr Williams raises the spectre of chaos. "How is effective discipline to be maintained in a situation of overlapping and competing jurisdictions?" he asks. He never actually names the new network, the self-styled Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FOCA), preferring to refer to it as "the GAFCON proposals" – no doubt out of reluctance to recognise that the network is at this stage more than just a plan. But he takes it seriously. "It is not enough to dismiss the existing structures of the Communion," he says. "If they are not working effectively, the challenge is to renew them rather than to improvise solutions that may seem to be effective for some in the short term but will continue to create more problems than they solve." Dr Williams also suggests that the focus of the Lambeth Conference, which begins in two weeks’ time, is precisely to tackle this question. "One of its major stated aims is to restore and deepen confidence in our Anglican identity," he says. And indeed, in a previous statement on the Conference, he notes that its outcome "depends on our willingness to work hard and to be ready to move closer to each other instead of staying in our own familiar territory." But it will be hard to see how this will happen now, when most of GAFCON bishops – representing possibly a third of all Anglicans -- are boycotting Lambeth in protest at the gay-friendly North Americans. They, in turn, have shown no regret for their consecration of an actively gay bishop in 2003 – the event which sparked the current crisis. One of the curiosities of this evangelical Anglican rebellion is the way that the FOCA bishops – who are mostly from developing countries which were formerly under British rule – have charged Canterbury with "colonialism", imposing a liberalising, secularist agenda on "Bible-believing" former colonials. The charge is neatly dismissed by Dr Williams. "Emerging from the legacy of colonialism must mean a new co-operation of equals, not a simple reversal of power," he says, simply but devastatingly. He also rejects the charge made at the GAFCON meeting in Jerusalem that those outside that network are proclaiming a different Gospel – or a false Gospel. "This is not the case," says Dr Williams; "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." It is clear that Dr Williams believes that the Communion is threatened equally by both the North-American liberals and the developing-world evangelicals – and for the same reason: an inability to be patient and to listen to each other. "I have in the past quoted to some in the Communion who would call themselves radical the words of the Apostle in I Cor.11.33: ’wait for one another’", he writes. "I would say the same to those in whose name this statement has been issued." He ends by warning against "an impatience at all costs to clear the Lord’s field of the weeds that may appear among the shoots of true life (Matt.13.29)". This impatience "will put at risk our clarity and effectiveness in communicating just those evangelical and catholic truths which the GAFCON statement presents". In other words: GAFCON’s frustration with the failures of the Anglican Communion is understandable, and its desire for evangelical clarity admirable. But forming a separate communion-within-a-communion will only make unity even less attainable – and in the meantime will only serve to confuse still further the Gospel message. Austen Ivereigh
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10 years ago
How can the Archbishop speak about discipline in the Anglican Communion when he does not understand the word and has been unable himself to discipline the errant North Americans.


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