Primates meeting: Tensions build as GAFCON hits back at ‘inaccurate and misleading’ Archbishop’s statement
Primates, or leaders of the 39 provinces around the world, will gather for six days in Canterbury in October to discuss, among other topics, their disagreements over the Church’s approach to homosexuality and transgender people.
A number of conservatives have either announced their refusal to attend or are considering doing so with the most prominent figure to snub the Archbishop of Canterbury’s invitation so far being the Archbishop of Nigeria.
Responding to the revelation the arch-conservative Nicholas Okoh will boycott the conference in protest over a perceived liberal drift on sexuality, the secretary general of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon, said he was ‘reneging’ on a promise.
‘At their [last] meeting in January 2016 the primates agreed to walk together,’ said Idowu-Fearon.
‘However, the door remains open and he would be very welcome to attend next month’s primates’ meeting.’
Now GAFCON, a worldwide traditionalist grouping of which Okoh is the chair, has hit back. A spokesman told Christian Today Idowu-Fearon’s statement was ‘not only provocative, it was also inaccurate and misleading’.
The body, which claims to represent millions of Anglicans in the poorer and more socially conservative global south, says the commitment to ‘walk together’ made at the last primates meeting in January 2016 was conditional on The Episcopal Church (TEC) in the USA being barred from representing the Anglican Church on decision-making bodies.
Conservative archbishops in Africa, South America, and South Asia insist this did not happen. In a communiqué released last week they said: ‘While we expressed a desire to walk together as a Communion, this was contingent upon our decisions regarding The Episcopal Church being respected and upheld.
‘Unfortunately, this agreement was not enforced and The Episcopal Church has been allowed to take part in decision-making regarding “matters pertaining to polity and doctrine”. They have also represented us in ecumenical meetings. This has led to a further breakdown of trust and confidence.’
Idowu-Fearon, as secretary general of the Anglican Communion, has the responsibility of holding the diverse spectrum together. He holds conservative views on sexuality himself but has not hidden his frustrations at compatriots such as Okoh who he says are ‘divisive’.
In an interview with the Church of Ireland Gazette last December, he said the prominence of sexuality as an issue among African church leaders is because of influence by American conservatives.
‘The very strong minority conservatives, not in the UK but in America, they have found a footing amongst some of the leaders in Africa,’ he said. ‘They are the ones that sort of pumped this thing into the leaders, and the leaders decided to make it an African thing. It is not an African thing. There are homosexuals everywhere — even in my diocese.’
He added: ‘There is no diocese on the continent of Africa where everybody subscribes to the same position.’
Openly criticising his fellow African leaders, he said the Church there ‘lacks what I would call effective leadership’ and bishops ‘do not see themselves as leading the way Christ leads his Church. Rather the African church leader sees himself in the light of the traditional rulers: those with absolute authority. There is no consultation.‘
He said he had told Okoh previously ‘our effectiveness is in remaining participating in all that is going on’ and is bold in his assessment that GAFCON is ‘not a movement of the Holy Spirit because it is divisive’.
The (Anglican Communion) primates will meet from October 2-6 in Canterbury.
There can be little doubt that Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon – a former leader of the Anglican Church in Nigeria and now the Secretary-General of the worldwide Anglican Communion – believes that the issues of gender and sexuality presently dividing the Global South Churches from the rest of the Communion need not lead to the culture of intentional schism that seems to preoccupy the GAFCON leaders. Commenting on a recent statement issued by the GAFCON Primates, the article – by journalist Harry Farley – has this to say:
“Conservative archbishops in Africa, South America, and South Asia insist this (The structured exclusion of The U.S.Episcopal Church from participation in the governance of the Anglican Communion) did not happen. In a communiqué released last week they said: ‘While we expressed a desire to walk together as a Communion, this was contingent upon our decisions regarding The Episcopal Church being respected and upheld. Unfortunately, this agreement was not enforced and The Episcopal Church has been allowed to take part in decision-making regarding “matters pertaining to polity and doctrine”. They have also represented us in ecumenical meetings. This has led to a further breakdown of trust and confidence”.
This stand-off, by the Primates of the GAFCON group in the Global South, has now led to their Chairman, Archbishop Nicholas Okoh, stating categorically that he will not be present at the Meeting of Anglican Primates in Canterbury, England in October. Whether this will mean the absence of the other GAFCON Primates is yet to be seen. However, if the majority of them are missing from the Primates’ Meeting, this will cause the other Primates of the Anglican Communion to re-assess what it means to be a part of the Communion’s link with Canterbury as the Founding See, and the ABC as ‘Primus-inter-pares” – the title traditionally held by the reigning Archbishop of Canterbury.
Clearly, the Communion Secretary General, himself a former Nigerian Anglican Church Leader, believes that the Statement of the GAFCON Primates risks proving to be a step too far for the health of the Anglican Communion.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand