Anglicanism: GAFCON, condemnation and communication

By Savi Hensman
October 27, 2013

At the second Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON), which met in Nairobi from 21-26 October 2013, senior clergy from certain provinces firmly condemned fellow Anglicans with views different from their own.

In the opinion of this ‘Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans’ (GFCA), leaders elsewhere in the Communion with a less hardline approach are failing to follow the Bible and tradition, and deserve to be undermined.

Yet many believe that it is GAFCON which is out of step with Scripture and traditional Anglicanism. If this faction could take a break from loudly condemning fellow-Anglicans and admit that they themselves are only human and might occasionally be wrong, genuine communication would be easier.

Before the conference, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby visited Kenya to show solidarity after the shopping mall attack but also to try to strengthen relationships and deepen mutual understanding, making it harder for those present to write off whole provinces as not truly Christian. It is hard to assess to what extent he succeeded.

Probably many attendees recognised flaws in their leaders’ simplistic belief that their faction alone represented God’s faithful and that the insights of fellow-Anglicans along with non-Christians were utterly worthless. However speaking about this to other delegates would have been risky in an atmosphere where dissent was regarded as heresy or worse.

The Episcopal Church, covering the USA and some other countries, is the greatest target of hostility, but others too come in for attack. During the conference Paul Perkin, a vicar in the diocese of Southwark, verbally trashed the Church of England.

According to him, along with most of the “the church in the UK today, indeed in much of the West”, on the whole “At its heart, and in many of its central institutions, and with much of its leadership and style, it is a worldly church – a church that is of the world, that is infected by the world, that is unbelieving like the world, that is as immoral as the world, that is not very present in the world, and is running away from the world.” However it is not only western churches that have fallen foul of this movement – those like Brazil that dare to think differently have also been targeted.

While there is much that is wrong in the Church of England, not least its failings in challenging social and economic injustice, this is true also of many of the churches represented at GAFCON. But no doubt some delegates felt flattered to be part of a supposed spiritual elite.

According to the final communiqué, “In 2008, the first GAFCON was convened in order to counter a false gospel which was spreading throughout the Communion. This false gospel questioned the uniqueness of Christ and his substitutionary death, despite the Bible’s clear revelation that he is the only way to the Father (John 14:6). It undermined the authority of God’s Word written. It sought to mask sinful behaviour with the language of human rights. It promoted homosexual practice as consistent with holiness, despite the fact that the Bible clearly identifies it as sinful.”

GAFCON proudly proclaimed “Our willingness to submit to the written Word of God and our unwillingness to be in Christian fellowship with those who will not”. This may involve undermining the autonomy of other Anglican churches, including offering “orthodox oversight to churches under false leadership”.

Yet many Anglicans who seek full inclusion of their lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) brothers and sisters on Christ, or who have a different view of the atonement or people of other faiths, do so on the basis of their reading of Scripture as well as attempting to be faithful to the living Word (John 1).

Even if ‘confessing Anglicans’ are far more righteous and wise than the rest of us, if they fail to address our arguments and just keep telling us how wicked we are because we do not obey them, it is unlikely to win us over to their cause. Surely they should be trying to point out the flaws in our logic? To do this, however, they will have to move from mere condemnation to two-way communication.

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(c) Savitri Hensman is a regular Christian commentator on politics, economics, society, welfare and religion. She is an Ekklesia associate and works in the equality and care sector.

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