Changing the way the Anglican Communion communicates
07 January 2020 2:02PM
The Anglican Communion’s Director for Communications, Gavin Drake, outlines a new strategy and direction for the Communications department of the Anglican Communion Office.
What is happening in the Anglican Communion?
If you believe some reports, the Communion is about to implode and tear itself apart in a major schism. That is the message of a handful of bloggers and commentators (most of whom aren’t part of the Anglican Communion). Rather than report the truth, they campaign against the Anglican Communion.
In my role, I get to see, hear and experience the Anglican Communion first hand through visits to different parts of the Communion, and by speaking to the many primates and hundreds of bishops, clergy and laity, who pass through the Anglican Communion Office (ACO) in London each year. They – the members of the Anglican Communion – tell a different story.
Yes, there are differences; but there is also a deep desire to work and pray together; to support each other in evangelism, witness and discipleship; to campaign as one on issues such as climate change and the environment, on trafficking and modern slavery, and on education and healthcare. I am determined to reclaim the narrative of the Anglican Communion and to ensure that this truer picture of the life of our member churches emerges.
To do that, we are introducing some changes. Firstly, the Anglican Communion News Service (ACNS) – this website – will actually report less stories each week. Rather than trying to write three-or-four stories per day, we will concentrate on three or four per week. This means that we can put more effort into researching articles, especially from parts of the Communion with less developed communications strategies.
This also means that ALL of our coverage will now be translated in full into French, Spanish and Portuguese. Previously, speakers of these languages were restricted to a short weekly bulletin of news in their language. ACNS has also launched new Twitter accounts in French, Spanish and Portuguese. And our blogs will change too. Like this one, the majority of blogs in future will come from my colleagues at the ACO who will be able to report first hand on the work they are doing in partnership with Anglican Churches around the world.
Other blogs will be written by the primates of the Anglican Communion: the Anglican Cycle of Prayer lists dioceses of the Communion six days a week. On Sundays, we pray mainly for Provinces. We have asked all primates to write a brief introduction to their province and provide prayer pointers, to help us to pray together for each other with knowledge. Each blog – together with our news articles – will be published on Tuesdays in future. This is designed to help weekly Christian publications pick up on stories we publish and use them in their own publications, which are typically published on Fridays.
That is part of a new effort to work more closely with religious and secular publications and broadcasters. Through ACNS we can tell our stories, but through independent news media we can reach far more people. We have installed a radio facility in our London office – through it we can connect to radio broadcasters around the world for “down-the-line” broadcast quality contributions. But we aren’t relying solely on external media: we will publish more videos – including live interviews – to tell the story of the Anglican Communion.
This year, the 15th Lambeth Conference will take place in Canterbury, England. The Anglican Communion’s detractors will use it to step up their attacks. I pray that our improved communications activities will help reclaim the narrative so that the truth can be more clearly heard and seen
The Anglican Communion was born out of a desire to access and nurture the commonality of Anglican Churches throughout the world. The comparative success of that effort to communicate with one another bore fruit in the first Lambeth Conference which sought to live with differences and to promote the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the context of a wide variety of social, economic, ethnic and spiritual understandings of what the Gospel required of each of the partners in mission. Our commonality was the person and teaching of Jesus.
There have always been detractors of that desire for ‘unity in diversity’ that had brought many of us out of our isolationism of cultural and social division so that the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury has been generally accepted as the ‘primus-inter-pares’ model on which the Communion has striven to harmonize and strengthen our ties of mutual love and friendship. Not always, though, has the Mother Church of England been the first to embrace some of the more just and good initiatives that have helped the Anglican Communion Churches to mature into the ethos of the 20/21st centuries. Women’s ordination, for instance, had to be pioneered by other Provincial Anglican Churches before the C. of E. decided that it would be good for all of the churches to open up the path of ministry for women – who are at least half of the world’s population.
On matters of gender and sexuality, again, it took the American Province (TEC) and then the Canadian Province (The Anglican Church of Canada) to pioneer the modern understanding of the presence of a wider concept of human sexuality than the traditional binary model of female and male. Logic then demanded that, if such variations of gender and sexual identity were within the parameters of human development, then why was the Church restricting its ministry to and through the recipients of a binary sexual or gender identity only?
It is this radical (and necessary) re-appraisal of the gender and sexuality of human beings at large – as well as those of us active in the Church – that has raised up (mostly in Third-World countries but also among other conservative, Sola-Scriptura Christians) and given rise to a more fundamentalistic moral worldview that considers any variation of the binary norm to be against the Word of Scripture and, therefore, heretical. This, in turn, has led to the amalgamation of fundamentalist believers in the ‘inerrancy of Scripture’ considered as the sole basis of understanding of God’s relationship with God’s human creation – forgetting that the 16th century Reformation in the English Church was based on the 3-legged stool of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason – each of which was to be part of governing the new Church’s theological teaching and praxis.
However, over the last two decades, there has been a tendency towards cultural and theological argumentation over matters of gender and sexuality arising, largely, out of different understandings of what the scriptures have to say about such matters. Exegesis of the scriptures seems now to have descended into argumentation and disagreement on matters of sex and gender – rather than on the formerly accepted understanding of each human being as created in the ‘Image and Likeness’ of God – without respect to gender or sexual identity.
This has brought us to the situation where ‘Unity’ seems (for the more conservative Christians) to have been relegated to the necessity for a mutually identical belief about human sexuality and gender, based only around the biblical model of the male and the female of the species open to the possibility of procreation of the species. Others of us, who are more open to the reality of the presence of a minority of LGBTQ+ people in the Church and the world; believe that our unity exists in all being created as children of God – sinners all and yet redeemed by the grace of God in Jesus Christ.
Thus, we have two distinct types of belief in the validity of our common human gender and sexual identities. The conservative GAFCON Churches (mostly in the Third World but also transplanted into Western countries by its proponents) has made the decision to form their own ecclesial community, with their own ‘Primates’ Meetings’ most of its prelates refusing to attend the next Lambeth Conference this year.
The rest of us (the majority of Provinces in the Western World with some notable exceptions in the Third World – e.g. South Africa) have made the decision to stay with our connection with the archbishop of Canterbury, and are now meeting in Jordan to plan Lambeth 2020, believing that justice and peace should be at the forefront of our common relationship – based, not merely on the words of Scripture, but also (and primarily) on the Word Made Flesh in the New Testament.
The question now is, will the two fundamentally different theological understandings of Scripture force the two parties to a parting of the ways? Or will some means be found to reconcile the two parties – GAFCON and the Anglican Communion based on LAMBETH – find some way of agreement to join forces in the propagation of the Gospel?
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand