Anglicanism: Nigeria versus Canterbury?

A question that is much on the minds of Anglican leaders is this: who is an Anglican? Dr. Peter Jensen, GAFCON General Secretary, claims that breakaway Anglican provinces are part of the Anglican Communion even if they are not “recognized” by the See of Canterbury and the Anglican Communion Office. He says that the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) which left the US Episcopal Church over its departure from “sound teaching” and a rival Anglican province in Brazil — the 41st province in the Communion are both legitimate Anglican provinces.

However, the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) has refused to recognize either breakaway body. In the Church Times, general secretary Bishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon claimed GAFCON had been inaccurate in its description. “To be part of the Anglican Communion requires being in communion with the see of Canterbury, which this Church is not,” he said.

Jensen responded saying; “Here lies the difference between mere institutionalism and spiritual reality. The basic reason why there is a division amongst the Anglicans of Brazil is because the Episcopal Church of Brazil has departed from the teaching of Scripture, and hence from Anglican teaching, concerning sex and marriage… It is a matter of the fundamentals of the faith, of what makes a true church, of the authority of God’s word.”

He sharply criticized the Church of England’s leadership, saying: “Communion with the see of Canterbury used to be a welcome, useful and easily understood way of describing the Anglican Communion. But with leadership comes responsibility. So far, the recent Archbishops of Canterbury have not used the power of their office either to discipline those who have created disorder and threatened the basis of our faith, or to reach out the right hand of fellowship to those who have stood firm.”

Jensen claimed the Anglican Church in Brazil was “of course” an authentic part of the Anglican Communion and invited Canterbury to “recognize spiritual reality, and to use its influence to help align the old instrument of the Anglican Communion with the spiritual reality and new growth of the Communion”.

Canon Andy Gross, ACNA communications director and GAFCON press officer, said that recent numbers from the Global Center for Christianity revealed that the communion had 90 million “soft” members, but that included 25 million in the Church of England. However, that number is false. The C of E has only about one million practicing Anglicans, so the real figure is closer to 70 million, of which 50 million are recognized by GAFCON, a “renewal movement” that includes only a handful in the C of E.

The greatest and largest proportion of Anglicans in the communion recognize the Primate and Archbishop of Nigeria, Nicholas Okoh as their leader.

David Virtue – “Virtue On Line” (NorthAmerican blog site)

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The most vocal promoter of the mainly African Provinces that have formed the radical conservative quasi-Anglican group that calls itself  ‘GAFCON’ – outside of the actual Gafcon website itself – is probably newly-minted-Doctor David Virtue, whose blog ‘Virtueonline’ comes up with regular insults against the majority of the provinces of the Anglican Communion that are not engaged in border-crossing to recruit disaffected Anglicans who are unhappy with the efforts of most Provinces of the Communion to make the Church truly inclusive, by welcoming LGBTI people as fellow children of God.

This item, from the latest ‘news’ section of Virtueonline, gives evidence of Mr Virtue’s understanding that ‘True Anglicanism’ is currently resident only in Provinces of the worldwide Anglican Communion that subscribe to the ethos of sexism and homophobia that characterises those who have signed up to the GAFCON  ‘Jerusalem Statement of Faith’ – that sets these Provinces apart from the rest of the Communion allied with the original See of Canterbury and its Archbishop as ‘Primus Inter Pares’ and linked with its Canterbury-based Lambeth Conference.

The fact that GAFCON has set up its own ‘Primates’ Conference’ – apart from the Communion’s own ‘Primates’ Meeting’ – should have been a warning some time ago of the group’s disaffection from the rest of our Provincial Communion Churches. Not only this, the fact that various GAFCON bishops and Archbishops have withdrawn themselves from attendance at both the Lambeth and ACC Conferences; should have signalled the erection of a quasi-Anglican group – mainly in the Global South – that no longer consider itself ‘in communion’ with the rest of us, who consider ourselves to be part of an ongoing Communion of traditionally diverse but collegially connected Anglican Church Provinces in other parts of the world – through the Lambeth Conference of Bishops.

If Mr Virtue’s statement here is true, that“The greatest and largest proportion of Anglicans in the communion recognize the Primate and Archbishop of Nigeria, Nicholas Okoh as their leader.” – then this clearly and sadly reflects what has become known of in this day and age as a reflection of the ‘Numbers Game’ – wherein those Anglican Churches with the most adherents  – when there is a conflict of interest – regard themselves as the only ‘Orthodox Anglicans’ at war with the rest of us who only want the Church to become part of the modern age – in welcome of all who want to belong – without prejudice or judgement on the basis of their given gender or sexual difference.

Sadly, there are small groups of dissident Anglicans in every community – not least here in Aotearoa/ New Zealand, where a group of like-minded people have formed a local branch of  what their originators are pleased to call the ‘Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans’ (FCANZ), representatives of whom are already girding up their loins to join in with other dissident Anglicans from around the Anglican world at the GAFCON Conference in Jerusalem.

No doubt their putative Leader Archbishop Okoh with be glad to welcome them into his plan of a takeover bid from the Archbishop of Canterbury for the soul of the Anglican Communion – on the basis of a sectarian puritanism that has already been rejected by the world at large. In the meantime, the rest of us who account ourselves to be part of the Body of Christ – made up of diverse Sinners who have been Redeemed by Jesus Christ – will do our best to welcome the outcast and the stranger into the fellowship of our Churches. 

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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