Breakaway Anglicans’ ‘narrow way’
A breakaway international Anglican grouping intends to keep spreading its views across the world, including holding a conference in 2018. After meeting in London from 13-17 April, Gafcon Primates’ Council set out its plans in a communiqué.
Gafcon (the Global Anglican Future Conference) brings together some of the Anglican member churches and rebels from other provinces. Its leaders are strongly opposed to greater inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, seeing this as contrary to their own version of biblical truth.
Eliud Wabukala, the Archbishop of Kenya, is the Chairman of Gafcon Primates’ Council. Other members include Archbishops Nicholas Okoh of Nigeria and Stanley Ntagali of Uganda. Retired Church of England bishops Michael Nazir-Ali and Wallace Benn are among the advisors.
Throughout the Anglican Communion’s history, the Church of England and Archbishop of Canterbury have played a key role in holding it together, though member churches make their own decisions. Organising the gathering in London, and announcing a conference in the year when the Lambeth Conference would ordinarily have met, sent a clear message about Gafcon’s belief that it should be in charge everywhere in the world.
This was made explicit in the communiqué, which celebrated the work of the ‘Anglican Church in North America’ (set up in opposition to the Episcopal Church) and Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans Australia, as well as “FCA UK & Ireland,” which “continues to welcome and provide support for faithful Anglicans in the British Isles.”
It stated, “We are particularly concerned about the Church of England and the drift of many from the Biblical faith. We do not regard the recent use of a Church of England building for a Muslim service as a minor aberration. These actions betray the gospel and discourage Christians who live among Muslims, especially those experiencing persecution.”
However it failed to mention the context. Whether or not it was right for St John’s Waterloo to have been used for non-Christian worship, the Muslims taking part were opponents within their own communities of anti-Christian bias and extremism in general.
There is a case to be made for extending hospitality and encouragement to those Muslims across the world who foster fellowship and defend vulnerable Christians, sometimes at great personal risk. Yet Gafcon leaders, whether consciously or otherwise, have chosen to exploit the fact that many readers outside the UK will know nothing of the background.
The communiqué stated that “we authenticate and support the work of those Anglicans who are boldly spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ and whose circumstances require operating outside the old, institutional structures.” Leaders anywhere who fail to comply with Gafcon demands can come under heavy pressure.
In 2014 five African Anglican primates and Episcopal church leaders met to discuss partnerships in mission. Gafcon publicly scolded one of the participants, Archbishop Bernard Ntahoturi of Burundi, chair of the Council of the Anglican Provinces in Africa, informing him, “If you are to be able to continue in your position with integrity, we would need both an explanation and an apology. If you are not able to do so, we would ask you to step down as Chairman.”
The April 2015 communiqué stated that “when the Gospel is at stake there can never be a middle way. As followers of Jesus we know that it is the narrow way that leads to life.” This is a reference to Jesus’ saying in Matthew 7.13-14: “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”
But a narrow approach is not in itself a gateway to holiness. The same chapter also advises, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgement you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get;” and “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.”
Yet Gafcon leaders in Nigeria and Uganda have encouraged governments to pass laws intensifying repression against LGBT people, though not all in the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans share such attitudes. Senior clergy have also sometimes made inflammatory statements likely to intensify hatred and violence, such as Archbishop Okoh’s 2010 claim that Nigeria is at risk from an “invading army of homosexuality, lesbianism and bisexual lifestyle.”
Taking the Bible seriously is not the same as accepting a grouping’s claim that its own interpretation is infallible. Anglicanism at its best has allowed scope for prayerful study and dialogue while seeking truth and trying to act lovingly. Gafcon’s stance may attract people looking for certainty but is ultimately deeply unhelpful.
© Savitri Hensman is a widely published Christian commentator on politics, welfare, religion and more. An Ekklesia associate, she works in the equalities and care sector.
I have met and spent time with Savi Hensman, who, apart from being a contributor to the web-site ‘Ekklesia’, is also a member of the congregation of Anglican Church of St.Mary’s, at Stoke Newington, in the Diocese of London, where my priest brother in law and his wife are involved as parishioners.
The final paragraph of Savi’s article makes a very important point – about the need to deal lovingly with our fellow debaters, es[pecially where our own experience of the gender-sexuality issue – presently at the heart of Gafcon’s disaffection with Western Anglican Churches – may be based only on a moralistic or academic understanding of the real life situation of the people involved.
Any overview of the biblical arguments on gender and sexuality needs to take into account the cultural and social milieu in which its ethical propositions were written – and must bear in mind the indisputable fact that there are legitimate grounds to question the understanding of the complexity of human sexuality in the earliest days of Christianity, when the Books of the New Testament were written.
Furthermore, regarding the ‘sins of the flesh’, Jesus seems often to have resisted the legal requirement for drastic punishment of sexual sins (being stoned to death), in favour of offering forgiveness – to the concern of the Pharisees! Indeed, it may be said that this ‘liberality’ of Jesus was one of the reasons for his being crucified at their instigation!
However, the overall theological impetus of the New Testament Writings is the overall preponderance of the influence of Love over Law. This is where the knowledge of the ‘God and Father of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ’ differs from any other representation of God as solely Judge, rather than compassionate Redeemer.
In the wake of the ISIS Fundamentalists, who proclaim belief in the ‘God of Vengeance’; a belief that leads them to kill anyone they deem to be ‘unrighteous’ in their eyes; there can be little doubt of our need, as Christians, to promote belief in the God of Love, who “so loved the world, that He gave His Only-Begotten Son, so that all who believe in Him may not perish but have eternal life”.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand