Third Gafcon conference underway in Jerusalem
The third international conference organised by the Gafcon movement has begun in Jerusalem. Organisers say that 2,000 people are taking part – media reports suggest that 230 are from Uganda. The ecumenical gathering attracts a large number of Anglicans. Many in Jerusalem are now members of independent churches set up in opposition to official Anglican Churches and Provinces.
This week’s conference began last night with an Evensong and reception. It was originally billed as taking place in the Russian Orthodox Holy Trinity Cathedral but was moved to St George’s Anglican Cathedral.
The event includes Bible studies, group work and plenary sessions. The list of speakers includes a number of Anglican Primates: Archbishop Laurent Mbanda from Rwanda, Archbishop Stanley Ntagali from Uganda and Archbishop Nicholas Okoh from Nigeria as well as Bishop Héctor Zavala from the Anglican Church of South America’s Diocese of Chile.
For many of the delegates, Gafcon is a renewal conference for Anglicans who seek to uphold conservative biblical conviction within the Anglican Communion. For others, it is a movement that seeks to supplant official Anglican structures. In an interview last week with the “Anglicans Unscripted” vlog, a member of the group writing the Gafcon conference statement, Stephen Noll, said that Gafcon was “the true continuation of the Lambeth Conferences” – even though the Lambeth Conferences are an invitation-only event for the bishops in the Anglican Communion. The next one will take place in Canterbury in July 2020.
The Anglican Communion News Service applied for media accreditation to cover the Gafcon conference, but organisers declined.
The very fact that the GAFCON organisers refused accreditation to the ACNS (the UK-based Anglican Communion News Service) sets the scene for what is reputed by GAFCON to be the largest Anglican gathering ever. However, someone I know in the U.K. has said that this is not the truth; there have been much larger gatherings at the ‘New Wine’ Festivals in England.
Here is the tenor of the agenda of the Gafcon gathering:
“For many of the delegates, Gafcon is a renewal conference for Anglicans who seek to uphold conservative biblical conviction within the Anglican Communion. For others, it is a movement that seeks to supplant official Anglican structures.”
That both of these assertions by ACNS are a true statement of the underlying motive for this conference cannot be gainsaid. Despite the underlying theme of the conference as an opportunity for ‘Mission’ – with the implication that it is for the sole purpose of the upbuilding of the Kingdom of God – its main ‘mission’ is really to gather together like-minded ultra-conservative Sola-Scriptura ‘Anglicans’ whose main objective is to turn back the clock on any advances made by the Anglican Communion Churches in the West to bring justice to the LGBTI+ people, whose right to be heard and accepted as fellow Christians has become a pro-active part of the Church’s reaching out to an underclass of society.
The mentality of assumed moral perfectionism that is being fostered by the GAFCON Provinces of the Anglican Communion – initiated by people like Peter Jensen, Secretary of GAFCON and a former Archbishop of Sydney, whose backing of, and association with, the mostly African Evangelical Churches initially involved has spawned this movement of fundamentalists from every part of the Communion – has effectively divided the Communion on issues of gender and sexuality, subjects which were once the taboos of polite society and largely kept in the background by the Church.
The real tragedy in all of this is that the very African countries which are presently heavily involved in the persecution and imprisonment of homosexuals were once missionised by the sort of fervent Protestant Anglicans for whom patriarchalism and homophobia were the very attributes that formed the basis of their mission to ‘improve’ the lot of the native peoples who were considered savages needing to be rescued from perceived sexual immorality connected with their heathen way of life.
Since then, of course, much has been learned about the reality of the human condition – including the need to consider women as equal in the sight of God and worthy of trust as leaders in society. The very patriarchalism that was practised and encouraged by the early Church missionaries was also responsible for a tightening up of moral standards. One of the aspects of this teaching was that women should cover their naked breasts with the ‘Mother Hubbard’ garments that disguised this aspect of their femininity, thus rendering them less of a temptation to the predations of their male counterparts.
Also, any expression of homosexual relationships was quickly and effectively suppressed in the native communities – as being contrary to the will of God encountered in the few verses of Scripture that might have been harnessed in order to support this thesis. The Sola Scriptura exegesis of the Scriptures at the time – as espoused by the Protestant missionaries – was based on a severe fundamentalistic view of gender and sexuality, whereas already in the more catholic-minded missionary societies – such as UMCA (Universities Mission to Central Africa) and SPG (the Society for the Propagation of The Gospel) – concentrated more on the positive and salvific universality of the Gospel.
One explanation of this marked difference between the world-views of the Protestant and Anglo-Catholic missionary societies is that many of the A.C. missionaries were themselves single men and women – some of whom, undoubtedly, would have been what would now become known as ‘closet homosexuals’ – living out their faith as celibate clergy or laity, but with valuable insights into the etiology of homosexuality and its limited application as a normal variant in the human condition.
South Africa is a case in point – largely missionised by Anglo-Catholic clergy, whose own personal experience of the homosexual condition would have prevented them from doing what today’s GAFCON Primates seem hellbent on doing, which is to marginalise those in society whose sexual orientation is ‘different from the norm’ – as sinful and worthy of hell-fire and damnation. Notably, in support of this thesis, South Africa is one of the Churches on the African Continent that has declined to join the ranks of GAFCON.
Of course, there are supporters of sexism and homophobic reaction in every part of the civilised world – some even living in relatively civilised Aotearoa/New Zealand. In fact, some of them are now present at the Gafcon conference in Jerusalem – the site of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ himself, who was put to death for his love for sinners and his obvious disregard for the harshness of the religious leaders of his day. The rich irony of this situation has obviously been quite lost on the assembled Gafconites.
There has already been talk of the possibility of one of these dissident Kiwis returning – freshly-bishopped by the assembled prelates at the Gafcon – to lead a Church-in-exile in this country, fostered by a newly-opened branch of Gafcon’s offspring FOCANZ. Though this may sound a little outlandish, it is completely in accord with what has happened in other Western Provinces of the Anglican Communion: to TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada – (with the rise of ACNA) and even in the Mother Church of England – with the recent ordination of a bishop by Gafcon for AMIE, the ‘Anglican Mission in England’ – set to rival the mission and work of the Founding Province of the Anglican Communion!
Whatever else GAFCON may stand for – sadly, it is not the Unity of The Church. Its mission of schismatic severance – on the grounds of ritual purity – can never overcome the grace and mercy of Almighty God as revealed to the world in the liberating Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer.
Jesu, Mercy; Mary, Pray!
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand