GAFCON is a reforming instrument of the Anglican Communion and calls all faithful Anglicans to stand firm for the teaching of Christ, explicitly recorded in Matthew 19:1-12. Yet it is not a single focus movement. The establishment of nine strategic networks last June, from theological education to ministry to children and youth, reflects the global reach of GAFCON in seeking to proclaim Christ faithfully to the nations.
GAFCON is no threat to the Anglican Communion. It is only a threat to those who consider the Bible’s teaching on sexuality is outmoded and irrelevant, or to those who want to maintain a mere façade of unity, where no real unity exists. It is for this reason that the ‘Letter to the Churches’, overwhelmingly endorsed by the whole assembly of GAFCON 2018, expressed the view that attendance at the 2020 Lambeth Conference could not be contemplated, if bishops from those provinces who had departed from the teaching of Christ were invited.
While I have a personal respect and affection for the Archbishop of Canterbury, he carries a grave responsibility upon his shoulders. If our Anglican Communion is merely defined by historical connections and heritage, rather than a doctrinally grounded commitment to Christ and the teaching of the Bible, then our koinōnia is not the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. GAFCON seeks to reform and renew the Anglican Communion by reclaiming its doctrinal foundations.
The Episcopal Church of North America, the Anglican Church of Canada and the Scottish Episcopal Church all seem so very far away, so that their endorsement in principle or in practice of the solemnisation or blessing of same-sex marriages makes little difference to our life in Australia. However, the recent events in New Zealand are much closer to home and will have a more profound effect upon us. In May this year the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia decided to allow diocesan bishops to authorise the blessing of same-sex marriages and civil unions. While ostensibly stating that they had not changed their doctrine of marriage, the General Synod has effectively allowed the blessing of a same-sex marriage, which is contrary to their doctrine.
How can the bride of Christ justify the blessing of a sexual union that is not in accord with Christ’s teaching? Just as we cannot pronounce a blessing on an adulterous relationship (notwithstanding a couple’s claim that they are deeply in love), so we cannot pronounce God’s blessing upon sexual acts that God declares to be sinful. As Bishop Donald Robinson once told me, the most important part that the minister plays in solemnising a marriage is to pronounce God’s blessing, and God does not bless sin. Regrettably, there are church leaders in Australia who see no problem with these developments in other Anglican provinces, and would even wish such innovations were made lawful in the Anglican Church of Australia.
Following the decision of their General Synod a number of clergy and their congregations decided to leave the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, while still wishing to remain Anglicans. They felt that they could no longer stay in a Church, which had abandoned the teaching of Jesus and compromised the fundamental principles of their faith. Unlike Australia, a change in the Canons in New Zealand automatically takes effect in each diocese. Prior to their General Synod’s decision, I wrote to the three Primates of the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia expressing my grave concern about the implications for Australian Anglicans if such a departure from the historic tenets of our Faith were to transpire. Following that correspondence, after their General Synod, I was invited by the Primates to come and hear the story of their journey as to how they had come to the decision they had made.
I gladly crossed the Tasman to meet with the Primates and other leaders of the Church, including some senior clergy who were already in marriages with samesex partners, as well as those who considered it intolerable to remain in a Church with such modified canons. I was warmly welcomed by the Primates and treated with respect and honour. I listened carefully to their explanation as to how they had come to the decision of the General Synod, after more than thirty years of debate about the issue.
However, what became clear to me was that of the three main groups in the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, the revisionists were not happy, as they saw it as mere breadcrumbs, to quote one of those present, to allow the blessing of same-sex unions without allowing the solemnisation of same- sex marriages.
On the other side were those who thought the General Synod had abandoned the Church’s teaching on human sexuality, forcing them to leave. Then there were those in the middle, who mistakenly thought that the measures taken would at least keep the Church together, as no one would be forced against their conscience to bless same-sex unions. In my estimation, no one group was happy with the result, as no one’s objectives had been achieved.
It became obvious to me that the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia had already embraced the normalisation of same-sex marriage, when clergy in such marriages now held senior positions as Deans and Archdeacons. There had clearly been no appetite for discipline among the bishops, despite the charge to exercise discipline, which the Ordinal declares to be one of the duties of a bishop. I soon recognised that after thirty years of debate, the pressure to change their Canons and ‘conform to the standards of the nations’ had finally come to pass, and there was no turning back.
I therefore proposed a way forward for the Primates to consider. Since the report coming to their General Synod had recognised that there would be those who would dissent from its recommendations, the Church should, therefore, deal graciously with those who could not accept any foreshadowed changes to the Canons. I suggested that the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia should, therefore, allow those clergy and churches who could not stay in the Church, to leave and start a new, parallel Anglican Church, and to do so with their property.
(extracts from Primates Address to Sydney General Synod, 2018)
Dr. Glen Davies, Archbishop of Sydney, 15 October 2018
In this extract from the Address to the 2018 General Synod of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney by its Archbishop, Glen Davies, I have included only those aspects of the address which vitally concern our Anglican Church in Aotearoa/New Zealand – because of our recent General Synod’s determination to allow for the Blessing of legally Married Same-Sex partners in our churches.
To put this matter into its proper context, I have prefaced Archbishop Davies’ comments on ACANZP’s decision on Same-Sex Marriage Blessings, by mentioning his preparatory remarks about the Sydney diocesan connection with GAFCON (the Archbishop himself is an active member of that body). From these remarks, it will clearly be seen that the Sydney Diocese has aligned itself with the group of conservative Evangelical Anglicans who have set themselves apart from the worldwide Anglican Communion centred around the See of Canterbury, by the issuing of their own ‘Jerusalem Declaration of Faith’, which, for the GAFCON Provinces, has now replaced the Lambeth Quadrilateral as guiding principle.
(n.b: a former Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen, was the first Secretary of GAFCON)
From this reference to GAFCON in his Primatial Address, it should be obvious to all that the Archbishop and Diocese of Sydney are intent – together with the other members of GAFCON – in splitting the Anglican Communion on matters of gender and sexuality – together with their ‘Sola-Scriptura’ theology, which outlaws any understanding of the Anglican genius of Tradition and Reason that conflict with their own ideas of puritanical Pharisaism. Archbishop Davies’ attempt to persuade ACANZ to accommodate the New Zealand departing schismatics within the structural boundaries of our Church (whose jurisdiction they, themselves by their spontaneous departure, have already rejected) was perhaps an attempt to justify the GAFCON/FOCA stance – rather than that of the rest of the Anglican Communion’s openness to LGBT+ people and their ministry in the Church that has now been has now been accepted by our New Zealand Anglican community.
On a previous blog thread, I have already featured the response of ACANZ Archbishops Don Tamihere (Tikanga Maori) and Philip Richardson (Tikanga Pakeha) to the proposal – outlined in the above by Sydney’s Archbishop Glen Davies – declining to accept it and explaining the reasons for our Province’s non-acceptance of a proposal that would have compromised our General Synod’s decision to go ahead with Same-Sex Marriage Blessings in New Zealand – in parishes where such Blessings are requested and found justifiable.
The New Zealand schismatics, as is now obvious from Archbishop Davies’ remarks to his own General Synod, are now to be actively supported, morally and financially by the Diocese of Sydney – a matter which ought to be noted by our Archbishops and clergy – who will shortly be discussing the availability (or not) of the properties to the departing congregations.
May God preserve us all from the deleterious effects of intentional schism!
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand
session of the General Synod in 2020.