GAFCON conclusion and initial reactions

Yesterday, June 29th, the feast of the martyrdoms of St. Peter and St. Paul under Nero, and my birthday (hurah!), was also the final day of the GAFCON Conference in the Holy Land (see below for more info). Nearly 300 bishops and over 1100 Anglicans of all orders (so this was a very large affair) met in Jerusalem for a period of prayer, pilgrimage, and reflection together on the current crisis within the Anglican Communion. The leaders present represent a large majority of the Anglican Communion's total membership, and also its fastest-growing provinces.

On their final day, the participants issued their Final Statement on Global Anglican Future. This very interesting document lays out the development of the crisis that led to GAFCON's creation, and the proposed response by the GAFCON movement. Anyone intersted in Anglicanism in particular and, more generally, in the possible responses by the Church to the current cultural pressures and crises in which we find ourselves in this new and pluralistic age should definitely read the statement.

Some interesting (to me) highlights:

"GAFCON is not just a moment in time, but a movement in the Spirit, and we hereby:
launch the GAFCON movement as a fellowship of confessing Anglicans
publish the Jerusalem Declaration as the basis of the fellowship
encourage GAFCON Primates to form a Council."

While it starts out sounding like they are going to form something like the caucus groups we have in The United Methodist Church, perhaps similar to The Confessing Movement, the last point of action, to form a council of GAFCON Primates is significant - this is a large number of the major archbishops of Anglicanism. It has (to my ear) a very "official" edge to it, which is interestingly due to the fact that the Traditional/Apostolic Succession Churches concieve of the Church not as an institution, but as a series of relationships among bishops, and the Christians who recieve Holy Communion through those bishops (that is, the Church as Communion). If a large group of bishops form a new relationship then it is part of the Church - the divide between 'official' and 'unofficial' or between 'formal' and 'informal' gets a bit hazy (contrast this to a more constitutional or legal document-centered approach that we have in the UMC).

The "three undeniable facts" that have necessitated GAFCON, according to the statement, are:

1) the promotion of a 'new gospel' within some parts of the Communion (whether this is an 'undeniable fact' will be debatable, I tend to agree that in some of the more radical stuff I have read about, we are looking at a worldview that is a pretty significant departure from that of the New Testament and of the Early Fathers).

2) The declaration of broken Communion by certain provinces with certain other provinces in the Communion (this is an undeniable fact)

and 3) the "manifest failure" of the instruments of unity (The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consutive Council, and the Primates meeting) to take action to alleviate the crisis.

Now to be fair, the various instruments of unity HAVE addressed the crisis (the beginning of the Windsor Process is certainly a part of their work in this area). Furthermore, the Lambeth Conference hasn't met since it began. But the point is well-taken: Gene Robinson was consecrated in violation of the catholic tradition and of the previous Lambeth Conference's guidelines in 2003. That was 5 years ago, and many orthodox Anglicans in the US are STILL waiting to discover what will become of the Church (this is especially difficult for many of my friends from seminary who are Anglicans in Texas and would certainly align themselves with the orthodox majority over against the actions of the Episcopal Church's leadership).

Very disturbing also is the accusation that the schedule of the Lambeth Conference has been orchestrated to prevent that body from addressing these issues in any decisive way (this is one reason why some bishops are boycotting). This accusation I have heard from other bloggers, but I do not know nearly enough about Lambeth to comment on its accuracy.

The statement concludes with "The Jerusalem Declaration" laying out 14 tenents of historic Anglican Christianity. Based on my limited knowledge (I have only taken one formal seminary class on Anglican history and theology, but have done much reading besides) I would concur that these points do represent the classical mainstream of Anglican theology, although I should expect that the Catholic wing of the Church might want to add to or expand a couple of these brief statements.

The Jerusalem declaration calls for the establishment of an on-going GAFCON movement that will, very explicitly, remain within Anglicanism. Provinces, Primates, bishops, dioceses, churches, and individual Anglicans are called to allign themselves with the GAFCON movement in support of Anglican orthodoxy. This movement will presumably develop its own structure of councils or other meetings that may - if they hold the sort of numerical superiority that everyone thinks they do - come to be a powerful influence over the official instruments of communion (I am thinking in particular of the sort of coordinated voting and caucusing that we see in my own Church, though I suspect it will go far beyond that).

I am very interested to see how this movement will grow or fizzle out in the comming years, and how it will be greeted by other Churches - the Vatican, the Orthodox, and the United Methodists in particular. I'm also interested to see how it will be greeted by other moderate, orthodox, and evangelical Anglicans, who did not attend GAFCON.

The GAFCON site also has Q&A from the final press release and some final interviews.



Blogger Stephen said...

Part of me wonders if maybe there needs to be a schism. Sometimes schisms are healthy movements. We have had schisms in Methodist history only to reform later.

Time apart is biblical.

The other thing I was wondering is are the "conservative" (I hate labels) African Bishops more in line with a Paleo-Orthodox understanding of the faith (As I would assume most of the Anglican Communion is: influences like Rowan and N.T.) or more in line with a Fundamentalist understanding of the faith. I fear the latter because of their unique identity, location, and influences. So can we truly say that even these so-called "conservatives" have a more authentic (whatever that means) view of the faith?

If their faith view really is Fundamentalist, the faith views of the leaders of the Anglican Communion are Paleo-Orthodox, and the faith views of the Episcopal church are liberal-protestant and others depending on the churches location...then you have A LOT more divisions in the church than just homosexuality.

11:03 AM, July 16, 2008  
Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

I think, as I'll probably tell you when we have coffee in a few minutes, that what the (lost in the shuffle) Windsor Process is supposed to be all about is to provide an answer - or at least a structure for answering - the question "what are the minimum agreements needed for us to walk together." This is an approach to ecclesiology that I rather like, if it is done in a clear fashion (note: the Nicene Creed, for example), and building unity and a core of commonality is, I suppose very different from building division based upon a few differences. But determining what is or isn't "core" will be part of the whole exercise.

2:22 PM, July 17, 2008  

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