It started as a split over gay clergy. But now the Anglican Communion is dead
While yet another evangelical rebellion over gay clergy was gaining zero publicity, a more significant schism has occuredl
What, you gave a schism and nobody came? When six people hold a press briefing and three journalists attend, you know the story is over, and on Tuesday morning that is what happened when the evangelical wing of the Church of England announced – yet again – its plans to rebel against any open accommodation with gay people.
There were two retired bishops. There were three vicars and one of their wives. They talked to three journalists for an hour about their experiences at a conference of conservative Anglicans, called Gafcon, which met in Nairobi last week. This was set up as a protest against the reluctance of the official Anglican Communion to expel the Americans (who pay for it) as a punishment for their enthusiasm for openly gay clergy.
Once upon a time, this would have been a story. We heard threats to withhold money from the central bodies of the Church of England, threats to ignore the authority of other bishops, threats of defections to their grouping from the mainstream of opinion here. All these things will no doubt happen, as they have been happening in a small way for the past 20 years. What’s new is that no one any longer cares. The split has happened, and it turns out not to matter at all.
This is in part because the movement of public opinion on sexuality has completely overwhelmed that of church politicians. Congregations by and large have moved on, too. They are part of the public, too. But until very recently the conservative evangelicals in the Church of England lived in a bubble of self-importance, whose boundaries were respected by Rowan Williams. And from within the bubble, the outside world could not be clearly seen. Only, the fight about gay marriage made it apparent to the main body of the church – and to Justin Welby – that their attitudes were repulsive and immoral to the majority of people in this country.
The conservatives still don’t really see this. To them, anyone who disagrees with them is wrong about God. They dress up their lack of influence here in wonderful titles from abroad – the two retired bishops were respectively “an adviser to the Primates’ Council” and the other – I love this – was representing “The Anglican Mission in England“, which is an organisation founded in Rwanda.
They feel they are part of the global, “orthodox” mainstream of Christianity. But almost the only decisive act of Rowan Williams’ time in office was the rejection, by a clear majority of committed churchgoers, of his “covenant” – a plan to bind the Church of England into the structures of the rest of the Anglican Communion. No one here wants to be told what to do by the Church of Nigeria, however many Anglicans there are there and however sincerely they seem to hate gay people.
Welby understands this very well, though I think it came as a shock to him. He turned up before the Gafcon meeting in Nairobi and praised the courage of the Christians there. But he did not tell them they were right, and he was not officially present for the gathering. Instead, he went to Iceland, to talk about credit unions.
So what we learned yesterday, which was news, was that the Anglican Communion is now quite dead. There will not be another Lambeth Conference. The next act of the schism will be played out in this country, but we still don’t know whether anyone will care.
Unpalatable though this article may be to convinced Con/Evos in the Church of England and in the world-wide Anglican Communion – who really think of Gay people as the ‘spawn of Satan’ – there is more than a grain of truth in what the reporter in the Guardian’s CIF ‘Andrew Brown’s blog’ has to say about the response to a ‘press conference’ held in England by Gafcon-friendly commentators on the recent FCA Conference in Nairobi.
The ‘Damp Squib’ would appear to have been the lack-lustre response by the English Press to the six members of the ‘press briefing’ on the activities and declarations made at the recent meeting of conservative, mainly-Evangelical, (some Anglican and some ex-Anglican) people at the Kenya Conference. This meeting, ‘GAFCON II” – the second of its kind hosted by mainly African Prelates from the Global South of the Anglican Communion – was called by the group calling itself ‘FCA’, the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, raised up in various countries of the Communion to protest against those provinces of the Communion that have intentionally included Gay people as part of their life and ministry.
Of the six individuals who set up this press conference, Andrew Brown has this to say:
“To them, anyone who disagrees with them is wrong about God. They dress up their lack of influence here in wonderful titles from abroad – the two retired bishops were respectively ‘an adviser to the Primates’ Council’ and the other – I love this – was representing ‘The Anglican Mission in England’, which is an organisation founded in Rwanda.”
To a certain degree, Andrew Brown might seem dismissive of the importance of the two Bishops speaking on their experience of GAFCON II. However, when one realises that they are both advocates of the Gafcon Primates who have promoted GAFCON II, and NOT the official Primates of the world-wide Anglican Communion; one of them in fact being, not a Bishop of the Church of England at all, but a schismatic former clergy-person of another Anglican Province, who had thrown in his lot with the Gafcon Primates.
Make no mistake, GAFCON II, has been set up – not as an outreach of the official Anglican Communion Office, but as a group of Bishops who have resiled from the polity and theology of the broader Anglican Communion Provinces – on the basis of an oppositional stance to issues of gender and sexuality that has arisen because of the open acceptance by some Western Provinces of Gay people in the life and ministry of the Church.
My only regret about this article by Andrew Brown is that, I think, he over-dramatises the situation of the obvious split in the Anglican Communion, between those who accept Gay people as part of the human race; with a different sexual-orientation, but not necessarily any more sinful than anyone else – and those conservatives who really believe that homo-sexuality is and evil, and contrary to the will of God for human beings (although, it seems that animal behaviour in this particular biological preference is permissible). Most Church people do not believe that sexual-orientation is that big an issue – as long as the people who are thusly ‘different’ do not try to disciple other people into their sexual preference.
What cannot be denied by the Gafcon community, is that countries like Nigeria and Uganda have the backing of their local Anglican Churches in their punitive attitude towards LGBT people in their own territories. Persecution and imprisonment are a constant threat to such people in many parts of Africa – excepting, interestingly, in South Africa, the homeland of former Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who has helped his fellow countrymen to accept the fact that LGBT people are children of God, made in the Divine Image and Likeness like everyone else, and therefore deserving of the respect due to all human beings.
When the excitement (or lack of it) of the Gafcon II has settled, it may have helped Anglicans around the world to realise their need of one another in tackling far more urgent matters than those of gender and sexual differences, to ‘win the world for God’.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand