Possible ‘parallel Anglican church’ set to highlight divisions
Conservative evangelical archbishops, bishops and other church leaders from around the world are meeting in the UK this week to discuss whether to back a parallel Anglican church in this country.
The meeting is expected to highlight continuing divisions in the worldwide communion over women’s ordination and homosexuality. It comes as a Nigerian bishop who believes homosexuality should remain illegal in his country has been appointed to the key post of secretary general of the worldwide Anglican Communion. Bishop of Kaduna Josiah Idowu-Fearon is known for his skilled dialogue with Muslims in Nigeria.
Any parallel structure would exist to support Anglican clergy and congregations that are opposed to women’s ordination on the basis of St Paul’s assertion that the man is the head of the woman. The alternative Anglican church would also take a conservative stance on the gay issue and oppose gay marriage.
The plan will be debated by the leadership of the Global Anglican Futures Conference, or Gafcon, when they meet in London this week. Gafcon was launched at a meeting in Jerusalem in 2008 as part of the long-running struggle by conservatives to cater to those opposed to the more liberal direction the western Anglican church was headed in.
In an Easter pastoral letter to supporters, Archbishop Eliud Wabukala, primate of Kenya and chairman of the Gafcon primates’ council, said: “We shall take counsel together so that our movement can grow strongly and be equipped to fulfil the vision of restoring the Anglican Communion’s commitment to biblical truth.”
He called for Christians to remain strong.
“If we look just on the surface of things, it is easy to be discouraged. While in Africa and the Middle East Christian communities are being destroyed and intimidated by Islamic radicalism, in the West we are seeing the faith for which these believers are dying being betrayed by compromise with an increasingly intolerant secular culture.”
Two of the greatest challenges to world Christianity and Gafcon itself are Islamic radicalism and the re-evangelisation of the West, he added.
“At the heart of our response to both must be faithful and costly witness to the gospel by people who are deeply convinced that, in season or out of season, their work will not be useless or wasted because it is done for Christ and in the hope of the resurrection.”
He singled out for particular criticism the process set up by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, at the 2008 Lambeth Conference as part of his attempt to maintain Anglican unity. “We need an outward looking unity in diversity that serves the truth of the gospel, not the inward looking unity in diversity of projects like ‘Continuing Indaba’ that open the doors of the Church to a false gospel.”
A parallel structure, the Anglican Church in North America, already exists in the US. Influential US commentator George Conger has reported that this church’s Archbishop Foley Beach will be among those conservative Anglicans in London at the meeting this week.
Archbishop Wabukala has previously written: “It is becoming clear that we must see the once missionary nations of the West as now themselves mission fields.”
The Gafcon primates have already told the Anglican Mission in England to operate outside the structures of the Church of England as a missionary society, where necessary.
In his Kiwianglo blog, Father Ron Smith of Christchurch New Zealand, an Anglo-Catholic priest, warns: “If the Church of England stands by and allows this ‘parallel jurisdiction’ to happen, this will surely be the next step in the dissolution of the world-wide family of churches of the Anglican Communion! This can only serve to cause confusion among Britain’s Anglicans – never mind the rest of the provinces that are not aligned with the institutional homophobia of the GAFCON Provinces. The Anglican World watches – and waits – for the Archbishop of Canterbury’s response to this act of piracy in his own jurisdiction.”
It was surprising for me to log in to a recent article by Ruth Gledhill, Contributing Editor of ‘Christian Today’ – on the situation where GAFCON Primates and others affiliated with them in the conservative Provinces of the Anglican Communion are meeting in London to consolidate their church-plant (Anglican Mission in england) on the doorstep of the Mother Church of England – and find my own New Zealand commentary on this important matter being quoted.
However, such is the overseas interest in this move by the GAFON Primates, to set up their own separate jurisdiction under the noses of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, that members of other Anglican provincial Churches – like ours in Aotearoa/New Zealand and the Pacific (ACANZP) – are bound to take notice.
Having set themselves up as a separate jurisdiction within the Anglican Communion – by their separatist Confessional ‘Jerusalem Statement’ – the GAFCON Primates seem set on a take-over bid for the soul of the Communion, based on a Sola-Scriptura theology, that takes no account of the reality of modern understanding of gender and sexuality that has given rise to the Ordination of Women and Gay people within more liberal Churches of the world-wide Anglican Communion.
The other jurisdictions of the Communion that have been the subject of ‘Border-Crossing’ by GAFCON conservatives are the Episcopal Church of the United States (T.E.C.) and the Anglican Church of Canada; both of which Provincial Anglican Churches have moved ahead with the ordination of Women and the Blessing of Same-Sex Unions.
Now that the Church of England has ordained Women Bishops, and has embarked on discussions about Human Sexuality; it seems that the GAFCON Primates are descending on London, with the stated objective of ‘putting right’ the Church of England’s liberal initiatives by setting up their own local and Communion-wide jurisdictional Churches.
However, as the Anglican Communion is not actually a ‘Church’ – in the same sense as the Roman Catholic Church is centrally governed from Rome – these Primates may be mistaken in thinking that their high-handed behaviour will in some way influence other Provinces of the Communion (mainly in the West) to follow their conservative and – some might say, outdated – doctrinal objection to women’s leadership and the acceptance of LGBT people within the Family of the Church.
Each Province of the Anglican Communion is independently founded, with its own synodical government processes and episcopal oversight. Although there is a long-standing relationship with the Church of England, as Founding Church, each Province is responsible for itself, with no legal relationship binding it to either the Province of Canterbury or other Provinces. Therefore, although there are ‘Ties of Friendship’ with both the Archbishop of Canterbury – who is still ‘Primus inter pares’ with Communion Partners – there is nothing compelling the different Provinces to adopt the rules of other Provinces.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand