NEWS SPECIAL – C of I clergy concern at Irish presence at Jerusalem Gafcon conference
Concern has been expressed by a number of Church of Ireland clergy at the possible attendance of two of the church’s bishops, with some clergy and lay members, at a conference currently being held in Jerusalem organised by Gafcon – a conservative body which has been accused of splitting member churches and parts of the Anglican Communion.
One rector commenting on social media stated, “This is an absolute disgrace – two bishops of the Church of Ireland and a number of senior clergy are part of this subversive movement which in this article (on the Gafcom Ireland website – see below) makes it quite clear that they no longer consider the Church of Ireland to be faithful to the Gospel.
“These Bishops and clergy need to have the courage of their convictions and cease to claim their stipends from a church that they are now openly disloyal to.
“Anglicanism is a broad church and is about inclusion, not exclusion. It’s time to wake up and realize that GAFCON is not a renewal movement but a cancer in our church and one which will spread if we do not fight back for the soul of a church that always had room for diversity and a certain amount of ambiguity which reflects the complexity of life.
“There is no room for Grace in a church which is all about building walls and boundaries but Grace abounds in the messy and marginal places where Christ himself ministered and called us to follow him. In the black and white world of GAFCON there are no marginal places but only a ruthless certainty which is hard and unforgiving and leaves no room for the doubt and questioning which leads to a richer fuller faith.”
One contributor commented – “At the April launch the Most Reverend Greg Venables Archbishop of South America stated. “It is no more possible to be 99% faithful to God than it is to be 99% faithful to your wife”.
” Has this bishop read the Sermon on the Mount? Does he realize that by Christ’s standard, even looking with desire onto another woman means being unfaithful, and therefore no man (unless blind, perhaps) is really 100% faithful? Does he realize he is setting a standard impossible to meet, not to mention un-Anglican?
“With this level of knowledge of the Bible, I’m not very confident in their theological education vehicle. And this is, it seems to me, a new low. Until now, I saw the Irish Anglican conservatives as practically incompetent and picking all the wrong battles at all the wrong times, but intellectually sound, perhaps because the kooks were pulled into Paisley’s church. And now THIS – basic, completely basic theological failure. Do we even HAVE an intellectually minded contributor to these debates anymore, on any side?”
Gafcon Ireland web site
The Gafcon Ireland website carried the following: “The theme of GAFCON III meeting in Jerusalem this week is, “Proclaiming Christ Faithfully to the Nations” and the question faced by GAFCON Ireland faced was much the same, “What does faithfulness look like for Anglicans in Ireland?”.
“The island of Ireland looks back upon a very long Christian history but now GAFCON Ireland needed to look forward to the long-term future.
“It was evident that faithfulness to the gospel in Ireland had been diluted by almost a century of deteriorating theological education and so it was decided that it was in that sphere that the first steps into the future should be made.
“In 2017, with the support of theological educators from around the GAFCON world, work began on establishing “Theology Ireland” http://www.theologyireland.com/. The programme aims to make high-quality theological education available to all – lay and ordained alike. The expectation is that many will become properly Biblically trained pastor-teachers, not least to lead a new era of church-plants.
“Looking ahead to not just one but two generations of this work one of the organising committee, the Revd Trevor Johnston said, “…preparing the younger generation is really crucial for us if we are to fulfil the tasks of gospel partnership, proclamation and planting”.
“Theology Ireland has benefited from assistance from Australia, Canada and the USA. Educators of the eminence of Dr Peter Orr and Dr James White have contributed to teaching a programme that amongst other things has covered areas of Biblical Theology and Engaging with Islam. We have benefited from the advice and support of the likes of; Revd Canon Dr Ashley Null, Dr Mark Thomson, Canon David Short and Col Marshall.
“Revd Tim Anderson, chairman of GAFCON Ireland said, “We in Ireland have been so grateful for the global connections. It is great to know, learn from and support others who are faithful in Bible teaching and Evangelism”.
At the April launch of Gafcom Ireland, the Most Reverend Greg Venables Archbishop of South America stated. “It is no more possible to be 99% faithful to God than it is to be 99% faithful to your wife”. It is in humble awareness of the truth of what he said that the GAFCON Ireland branch takes its place in seeking to “Proclaim Christ faithfully to the nations”.
Leadership of Gafcon Ireland
The C of I bishops who are thought to be attending Gafcom in Jerusalem are Harold Miller of Down & Dromore and Ferran Glenfield of Kilmore.
We are the true Anglicans – claim at Gafcom
A recurring theme of the first two days of GAFCON has been “We are not leaving Anglicanism. Others have left by departing from the Anglican formularies, particularly its commitment to the authority of scripture.” The Presiding Bishop of the Southern Cone, Archbishop Greg Venables of Argentina said that “we are the true Anglican church which is made up of born-again Christians who like Anglicanism. Others have left.”
Archbishop Stanley Ntagali reported the May 30 decision of the Uganda House of Bishops on any participation in the Lambeth Anglican Communion.
1. We are not attending Lambeth 2020
2. Unless godly order is restored we will not attend other meetings invited by Canterbury
3. Unless ACNA and the new Brazil Province are invited we will not attend any meetings invited by Canterbury
This was greeted by a standing ovation followed by spontaneous singing of the East African Revival Hymn Tukutendereza Yesu (We praise you, Jesus).
The British contingent packed a hotel room to hear the experiences of Anglicans in New Zealand, Scotland, trainers from Kenya, three bishops from Myanmar and from a stirring Palestinian Christian from Bethlehem, which some participants visited on their tour, Dr Salim Munayer.
Bishop John Ellison (formerly of Paraguay) has pointed out that those with experience of relating the gospel to people in overseas countries have skills for enabling the gospel to transform English culture.
Churches from the more socially conservative global south object to the stances of the Episcopal Church in the US and the Scottish Episcopal Church, which permit gay marriages.
GAFCON has backed splinter groups such as the Anglican Church in North America, Anglican Mission in England and the new Anglican Church in Brazil, which have set themselves up as rival bodies to the official Anglican church in each country.
Archbishop of Kenya questions future
The Archbishop of Kenya, a Gafcon-aligned province makes three important statements which may not please the purists in Gafcon:
1. He values Kenya’s relationship with Canterbury and wants it to continue (contrary to much of what Gafcon has been saying recently);
2. He will be attending Lambeth 2020;
3. When asked about the US Episcopal Church, he says it is important to stay in relationship with those with whom you disagree”.
This may suggest a distinct coolness about the agenda key voices in Gafcon have been advancing.
Letter of concern by Secretary to the Anglican Communion
Rev Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, Secretary General of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC), wrote a letter to the Primates suggesting that his office alone should have a monopoly on all ministry networks in the Anglican Communion.
In a letter dated 13 June 2018, the Secretary-General criticised Gafcon for developing grassroots ministry networks, describing them as un-Anglican and suggesting that they harbour “potential for schism.”
Archbishop Peter Jensen on behalf of Gafcon made a strongly worded response:
“The attempt by Anglican Communion Office to challenge the Gafcon Primates for supporting new ministries is further evidence of how much the institutional form of Anglicanism is out of touch with spiritual reality. The launch of our networks is a sign of spiritual vitality which ought to be welcomed and applauded. Voluntary movements getting involved in much-needed ministry has a long tradition within the Anglican Communion. This anxious missive suggests a fear that people are not under the control of some central organisation. Had the institutions of the Communion been clearer in their theological stance, movements of reform and renewal like Gafcon may not have arisen. Now, however, the wisdom of God is displayed in that the work and the workers are adding to the ministry of the gospel. Thanksgiving rather than criticism is surely the appropriate response.”
Archbishop in Jerusalem stresses the need for unity and reconciliation
The Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem, Suheil Dawani, has stressed the need for reconciliation amongst Anglicans. Speaking to delegates at the Gafcon event being held in the city, Archbishop Suheil spoke of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem’s work of reconciliation in the Holy Land and emphasised the importance of the Church being one. This message featured in a homily delivered at an evensong in St George’s Cathedral on Sunday attended by some 200 of the Gafcon participants, including more than 70 bishops; and repeated in a welcome message to the Gafcon event being held in Jerusalem’s International Convention Centre.
Archbishop Suheil invited the Gafcon delegates to consider the three steps that are needed for unity and reconciliation. In a summary published by the Diocese in Jerusalem, he said: “First, in order to face the enormous challenges of our time, and to work towards unity and reconciliation, we need to be able to meet in dialogue and mutual respect. Second, the community needs to be able to celebrate the differences that it has, and accept each other through seeing Christ in each other, and not by imposing our own image of Christ on each other. The final step towards unity and reconciliation . . . is hospitality, since it is through hospitality that we can transform the exclusion of others to an embrace.”
The theme of the pre-Gafcon evensong was “Friendship and Reconciliation” which was, Archbishop Suheil said, “at the heart of our Christian faith.” He said that gatherings and meetings of Christians – like Gafcon – were “part and parcel to our ministry. Not only are we to have good relationships; but we strive to have excellent companionship and fellowship with Christians from around the world. We look for opportunities for collaborative ministries.
“In this land, our existence as Christians depends on these relationships. These are relationships that spiritually nourish us. I am told by pilgrims who pass through here that when they meet a Christian in the Holy land, and ask their denomination, the first response is ‘I am a Christian’. Our primary identity is in Christ.
“And it is this identity that enables us to reconcile with one another, even with those who we perceive to be different to us. As Christians, we are reminded this evening of what it is Jesus calls us to be. Our Scripture readings remind us that Christ is our sign of unity. Christ has called us to the ministry of unity in friendship and reconciliation. Jesus said: ‘I ask . . . also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one’ (John 17: 20-21).”
In a message of welcome to the Gafcon delegates on Monday morning, Archbishop Suheil said: “We have a duty to recognise that Christ is revealed afresh and anew in every encounter, every day. That we have a duty not to try and impose our impressions of Christ or God on another, rather; to see this afresh – to contemplate what God is revealing to us.
“Only through being open to the other, that we can begin to understand how the Kingdom is revealed – and, for the Christians, this must be ‘the longing is for a home from which no one is excluded’.
“Whatever we hear in the coming year, we must realise how precious our unity is and seek to keep our fellowship alive between each other, and remember that we are called to exclude no one from the love of God.”
He concluded his homily on Sunday evening by saying that friendship and reconciliation “begins with the understanding that the person who has caused hurt is equally loved by God just as we are.”
The tenor of the current GAFCON Conference in Jerusalem can be gauged by this statement made by the Presiding Bishop of the Southern Cone, Archbishop G. Venables of Argentina, who said that “We (in Gafcon) are the true Anglican church which is made up of born-again Christians who like Anglicanism. Others have left!”
Venables was part of the very first Gafcon meeting which – organised largely by the efforts of the then-Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen – was gathered from those Provinces of the Anglican Communion, mostly in Africa and the Global South, which protested against TEC’s (The Episcopal Church in the United States’) ordination of a same-sex-partnered gay bishop. This was the original starting point of a movement which has since majored on a severely conservative (Sola Scriptura) interpretation of certain texts in the Sacred Scriptures which appear to outlaw same-sex relationships. Venables was also a principal speaker brought in especially to address the inaugural meeting of Gafcon Ireland, which is here featured as a burgeoning conservative influence in the official Church of Ireland (Anglican).
I have included most of the Church of Ireland’s original article posted on its home website – those pieces which emphasize the extent to which the GAFCON Primates have intentionally infiltrated the Church of Ireland – as they have already set up their own rival Churches in other parts of the Anglican Communion, for instance, in North America and Canada (ACNA); in Brazil; and even in the Church of England (AMIA).
It will be noted that not all of the GAFCON Primates are in favour of an official break away from the rest of the Anglican Communion – notably, the Primates of Kenya and of the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East; whose Leaders – at the Conference – have cautioned the delegates against invoking the culture of schismatic severance from the worldwide Anglican Communion.
That this note of caution was not appreciated by the likes of Archbishop Greg Venables (Southern Cone); Archbishop Stanley Ntagali of Uganda; and former Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen, is obvious from the details given of their input into the conference, which postulates the idea that those Provinces not belonging to the Gafcon group have already signalled their departure from the Anglican Tradition, and no longer belong to the ‘majority’ claiming to carry on the orthodoxy of Anglicanism as it was established.
This nonsensical (and schismatically-inclined) view denies the fact that the Anglican Tradition has long been supportive of an ethos of ‘Unity in Diversity’ in matters of the theological breadth of cultural and ethnic understandings of the call of obedience to Christ in the gospel. This contrary view is clearly expressed in the Opening Sermon and Welcome to the Gafcon Conference delegates given by the Primate of the Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, The Most Revd. Archbp. Suheil Duwani who cautioned the delegates to have regard to the Gospel call for unity in the Church.
Another advocate for unity was the Rev Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, Secretary General of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC), who wrote a letter to the GAFCON Primates suggesting that his office alone should have a monopoly on all ministry networks in the Anglican Communion. However, on this issue, the Gafcon Primates have already formed their own ‘GAFCON Primates’ Conference’, and formulated their own conservative theological basis in their ‘Jerusalem Statement of Faith’ produced as their fundamental raison de’etre.
One cannot but wonder, in the circumstances, whether those gathered at GAFCON are really aware of the dangers of inciting schismatic severance from their Anglican roots – based on a fundamentalist and dogmatic interpretation of six verses in the Bible, which they interpret as pronouncing a complete ban on loving, committed, lifelong same-sex relationships that have now been officially recognised and legally established in many Western countries of the world.
Time alone will tell of the success or failure of their bid to more deeply entrench their ‘holier than thou’ dogmatic influence in the Anglican world in a way that will establish a narrow and fundamentally different brand of ‘being Anglican’ – based, not on the old traditional understanding of the “Great Love of God as revealed in The Son”; but, rathe;, that of a stern and patriarchal, vengeful God.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand