CHURCH leaders in the global South cannot continue to focus on the faults of others while neglecting the needs of their own people, the President-Bishop of the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East, Dr. Mouneer Anis, said last week.
Addressing 16 Primates, gathered in Cairo for the sixth Global South Anglican Conference, Dr. Anis said that they had spent “almost two decades reacting to the unilateral decisions and the changes in the theology and practice made by some Churches in the West. But now it is time for us to also give needful attention to the challenges that are before us in the Global South. We cannot continue to focus on the faults of others while neglecting the needs of our own people.”
He listed the 40 million people living with HIV/AIDS, and 1.1 billion who did not have access to clean water, as evidence of the need to confront the Church: “We have to be involved in peacemaking where there is conflict, provide health where there is sickness, bring hope where there is despair.” He also listed failings in the Global South Churches, including corruption, tribalism, polygamy, poor treatment of women, and the prosperity gospel.
Teaching on sexuality remained a “major challenge”, he said. “Unilateral decisions” taken by some Churches had left him wanting to “weep as Jesus did over Jerusalem”. He warned that some Western Churches and organizations “use their wealth and influence to push their own agendas in the global South”. This was a “new form of ideological slavery”, he said, that Churches must resist. The diocese of Egypt with North of Africa & the Horn of Africa does not accept money from the Episcopal Church in the US (News, 4 March).
The final communiqué from the gathering, issued on Sunday, criticized the authorisation of liturgies, and the making of pastoral provisions for the blessing of same-sex couples, and the consecration of bishops and ordination of priests living with same-sex partners.
“We are deeply concerned that there appears to be a potential move towards the acceptance of blessing of same-sex unions by C of E,” the Primates wrote. “This would have serious implications for us should it occur.”
Noting the “inability of existing Communion instruments to discern truth and error and take binding ecclesiastical action”, the communiqué states that a task force will be formed to address this deficit.
The Episcopalian Bishop of Albany in the US, the Rt Revd William Love, also present at the gathering, described this as “the most pastorally sensitive statement on human sexuality that I have ever read”.
End the focus on faults of others: Dr Mouneer Anis
Bishop Love was one of several Anglican leaders from outside the global South who joined the Cairo meeting. They included the Bishops of Durham, Winchester, Birkenhead, and Blackburn.
A report by Anglican Mainstream says that the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, addressing the gathering, thanked the Bishop of Birkenhead, the Rt Revd Keith Sinclair, who wrote a statement dissenting from the Pilling report on sexuality: “He bore a great deal of pain and went through tough times for his stand.” According to the report, Bishop Butler said that the recently established Bishops’ reflection group on human sexuality (News, 15 September) was set up to ensure that “we are not scuppered by people bringing antagonistic things to General Synod. We are determined that this issue shall be episcopally led.”
Bishop Butler is currently on study leave, and so is unable to respond to a request for clarification.
Anglican Mainstream reports that the Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Revd Tim Dakin, said “that the Bishops were present with the full knowledge of the Archbishop of Canterbury and also that not everyone has bowed the knee in the Church of England”. It quotes him as saying: “Many of us intend to remain faithful.”
On Wednesday, Bishop Dakin clarified: “I was speaking from a context in which the Shared Conversations have encouraged us, with good grace, to remain open and committed to discussion and to understanding one another even when there are deep disagreements. In this diocese we are linked with five other Provinces across the global South, with their own profound cultural differences, but we are united by our shared mission, history, theology and our worship of God through Christ. We must make space for deep disagreement, and even mutual criticism, but we must remain faithful to the scriptural revelation of Jesus Christ, which we hold together as his worldwide Church.”
The Cairo communiqué refers to the “warm welcome” given by the President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, to the Primates, who were “encouraged by his commitment to affirm common citizenship and promote freedom of religion”.
This CHURCH TIMES Report on the recent Global South/GAFCON Conference in Cairo – held at the same time as another group of Anglican Bishops accompanied the Archbishop of Canterbury on a fraternal Visit to Pope Francis in Rome – reads something like the old story of ‘The Curate’s Egg’: Good in parts and Bad in others.
There has been some suggestion that the ABC’s Visit to Rome was arranged in order to take attention away from the G.S./GAFCON Conference in Cairo. If, indeed, that was the case, then both the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury could be credited with a brilliant coup – in that most Anglicans would have been rejoicing at the culmination of fifty years of detente with the Roman Catholics in this Visitation by a host of Anglican Bishops to the very heart of the Roman Catholic Faith.
However, what had been intended as a rebuke to Anglicans in the West (on their insistence on opening up the Church to the possibility of recognizing the faithfulness of Same-Sex Unions) turned out to be something of a damp squib. Rather than a preponderance of vituperation against what GAFCON had characterized as the faithlessness and lack of Biblical rectitude of the Western Provinces; the meetings – Chaired by Archbishop Mouneer Anis, Anglican Primate of Jerusalem and the Middle East – were steered in a direction of a more eirenic appreciation of what needed to be done in the way of mission by the Global South Primates (covering both Gafcon and non-Gafcon Provinces of the Communion in that geographical area). Here is one paragraph illustrating this:
“Addressing 16 Primates, gathered in Cairo for the sixth Global South Anglican Conference, Dr. Anis said that they had spent “almost two decades reacting to the unilateral decisions and the changes in the theology and practice made by some Churches in the West. But now it is time for us to also give needful attention to the challenges that are before us in the Global South. We cannot continue to focus on the faults of others while neglecting the needs of our own people.”
In hearing this, no doubt some of the more moralistic of the Gafcon Primates were being reminded of the reason for which the Church exists – not to criticize other workers in the mission of the Gospel in their own contexts, but to make sure that one’s own Church bodies are functioning efficiently and profitably for the coming of God’s kingdom in their area of witness..
The fact that there were Bishops from outside of the Global South region at this conference gives evidence of their spiritual alignment with the moral arguments of those provinces of the Anglican Communion – such as Kenya, Uganda and Nigeria in Africa – where homosexuality is against the civil law and the people whose sexual orientation is different from the majority heterosexual population are either imprisoned or punished for being different. Among these ‘foreign’ bishops were at least 3 from the Church of England, 2 of whom, the Bishops of Durham and Winchester are members of the House of Lords, and committed, as Bishops of the C. of E., to the examination of the rights of LGBTI people in the Church of England.
Others, like the Archbishop of Sydney, in whose diocese women are not even allowed to answer God’s call for Ordination to the priesthood, are intent on opposing with whatever means are at their disposal, any attempt in the Anglican Communion to allow homosexual Anglicans to become clergy or bishops. Most of those connected to GAFCON (and the former Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen, was one of its prime movers) are hard-liners on a literal interpretation of the Bible, which they have determined is antithetical to any openness to the ministry of LGBTI people in their Churches. Not only are they forbidding the ministry of such people in their own Churches, they are also placing an embargo on any Anglican Provincial Churches intent on ordaining such people.
Despite the seemingly eirenic paragraph highlighted above, there is evidence of the continuing determination of the Gafcon Primates, at least, to continue to battle for what they see as the ‘orthodoxy’ of their version of Anglicanism, as shown here:
‘The final communiqué from the gathering, issued on Sunday, criticized the authorisation of liturgies, and the making of pastoral provisions for the blessing of same-sex couples, and the consecration of bishops and ordination of priests living with same-sex partners. “We are deeply concerned that there appears to be a potential move towards the acceptance of blessing of same-sex unions by C of E,” the Primates wrote. “This would have serious implications for us should it occur.” Noting the ‘inability of existing Communion instruments to discern truth and error and take binding ecclesiastical action’, the communiqué states that a task force will be formed to address this deficit.’
Whatever this so-called ‘Task Force’ will consist of, there is little doubt that any attempt by the Global South Provinces to dictate to the Church of England, Canterbury, and the Anglican Provinces of the West – on matters of Faith, Order, and Doctrine pertinent to the mission context in the current Lambeth-related membership of the A.C.C. – will be strongly resisted. Will this mean two Anglican Churches? We will have to wait and see!
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand