by Lyn Bannerman
Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON): Reflections and Comments
by Lyn Bannerman
The GAFCON Movement's stated aim is to 'to retain and restore the Bible to the heart of the Anglican Communion'... and further: 'Our mission is to guard the unchanging, transforming Gospel of Jesus Christ and to proclaim Him to the world. We are founded on the Bible...and led by a Primates Council, which represents the majority of the world's Anglicans'.*
GAFCON's formation in 2008 was triggered by the consecration of an openly gay Bishop, Gene Robinson, in the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire, USA, in contravention of Resolution 1.10 on Human Sexuality, made at Lambeth, 1998. In summary, this Resolution upholds that marriage is a life-long union between man and woman and abstinence is the correct path for those not so married. GAFCON denies that it is a 'single issue' movement, presenting its concerns in the broader context of adherence to all Biblical truths. GAFCON was born at a Conference in Jerusalem in 2008, just before the Lambeth Conference of that year. Some Bishops in the Movement refused to attend 2008 Lambeth, seeking repentance first by those in breach of Resolution 1.10. Sydney Diocese has been closely involved from the outset; indeed, Sydney's former Archbishop, Peter Jensen, played a significant formative role.
Some existing Dioceses around the world (such as Sydney) have wholesale signed up to GAFCON (noting that Sydney Synod's opinion on the matter has been assumed, never sought); other new 'GAFCON' specific Dioceses have formed as coalitions of break-away parishes wishing to align with GAFCON, such as the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). The newest such grouping is 12 parishes from across the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia. At the time of writing, it is understood that Archbishop Glenn Davies will be involved at the consecration of their elected Bishop, Rev'd. Jay Behan, Vicar of St Stephen's Anglican Church, Christchurch.
GAFCON public meeting in Sydney at Moore College, 4 May 2019
This gathering followed a four-day Conference of the GAFCON Primates' Council in Sydney. The Communique from that Conference is at https://www.gafcon.org/news/a-communique-from-the-gafcon-primates-council.
The public meeting was chaired by Archbishop Davies and approximately150 people were present; 90% of whom were male. There were three speakers; Archbishop Foley Beach (Primate, Anglican Church in North America (ACNA)), recently elected Chair of the GAFCON Primates' Council; Archbishop Ben Kwashi (Primate, Nigeria), now General Secretary of GAFCON; and Rev'd Cameron Jones, an Australian priest (ex Sydney) who is currently working in the Church of Ireland, and is a leader in the GAFCON Movement there. These speakers gave stirring personal testimonies and updated us on the Anglican Church, especially GAFCON support, in their home dioceses.
The dominant theme was that the Anglican Communion has lost its way because of its departure from the clear teachings of the scriptures. Comments on this included: 'A virus spreading throughout the Communion'; 'The real issue is the authority of Scripture—who chooses what is in and what is out? Is Jesus Christ the Son or a son; is He the Way or a way?'. But we were never far from the theme of sexual practice and Resolution 1.10. 'Sexual permissiveness is like a tsunami wave and those who disagree feel excluded from society'.
GAFCON claims that it now represents 50 of the 70 million 'active' Anglicans world-wide. I do not know how that statistic is derived. At Sydney Synod 2019, I heard it said that GAFCON intended to be the New Reformation. This would lead, unless Lambeth returns faithfully to Resolution 1.10, to GAFCON breaking off and forming a new Reformed Anglican Communion. I either misheard or there has been a change. The stated intention now is to reform the Anglican Communion from within. After all, they seem to believe they have the numbers.
As in 2008, GAFCON is saying many (if not all) GAFCON affiliated Bishops, will boycott (my word) Lambeth 2020. There is still ongoing correspondence with the Archbishop of Canterbury, but prospects look dim. The Archbishop of Canterbury has advised that he will reopen dialogue at Lambeth on that very contentious 1998 Resolution 1.10, and he is encouraging GAFCON aligned members to come and join in that attempt to find a way forward together. This is unacceptable to GAFCON—a decision was made; nothing has changed except for sinful departure from the scriptures. There is nothing to dialogue about—as was said at this Sydney meeting, 'our voice is louder by not attending'. A Conference of GAFCON Bishops is being planned for a couple of months before Lambeth. It is said to be not an alternative to Lambeth, but it is hard to see it otherwise.
Women and GAFCON
In question time at this public meeting, I asked Archbishop Foley Beach (knowing there are female priests in his Diocese) how GAFCON could be so clear about what are correct interpretations of scripture when, within GAFCON itself, there is no agreement on a matter that affects 50% of the world's population—i.e. women and the Headship 'theology' (called 'Complementarianism'), which Sydney teaches. He answered that this is a complex area of scriptural interpretation and GAFCON is still working on it, writing piles of documents, but meanwhile there is an agreed moratorium on appointing female bishops. During a tea break, he kindly asked me if he had answered my question satisfactorily. I replied that he had failed to respond to the irony that one issue is so black and white (homosexuality) and yet the role and place of women is too difficult and complex for GAFCON affiliates to discern what the scriptures are saying.
This determination by GAFCON to not engage in dialogue will never lead to unity in the Communion, something Bishops, at their consecration, promise to work towards and to maintain. Dogged 'I am right and you're wrong' is sadly the stuff of playgrounds, not long term, loving conflict resolution. How will GAFCON achieve reformation from within the Communion when it refuses dialogue?
Refusing to dialogue is alien to the way the Anglican Communion has traditionally worked, which should be marked by the spirit of ongoing loving engagement with each other where there are disputes. For example, it took 100 or so years to reach an agreement on how to understand the Bible in relation to slavery. Why reject that model now?
The 12 parishes breaking off from the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia have done so despite the fact that no parish is required to implement blessings of same sex marriages. Yet Sydney Diocese is throwing strong support into this group—a very divisive action, causing offence to our friends across the Tasman by meddling in their affairs. Why? To what end?
Further, the expected involvement of Sydney's Archbishop in the consecration of the 'Bishop' in this breakaway group of parishes would be a breach of canonical law. Some irony here given GAFCON was formed because of breaches by others of a Lambeth Resolution?
More irony in that it has not taken long for GAFCON itself to discover that their assuredness, in believing they are united around a clear understanding of the straight meaning of all the scriptures, is without foundation? If they cannot agree (and they admit to debating this since 2008!) on what the scriptures say about 50% of the world's population, what is their authority on other scriptural matters?
Why are so many 'allegedly' being drawn into the GAFCON fold? A significant proportion are from developing countries, many having strong cultural antipathy to homosexuality including draconian laws—floggings, imprisonment, even death. GACON provides strong theological support to the belief in God's wrath. Add this to the horrors of cultural attitudes to the 'submission' of women in many developing countries, many of whom are reaching out to Moore College for on-line and correspondence theological training, and I fear.
A final observation: this whole GAFCON strategy speaks of power; the use of 'power politics' to win the day. Writing as a woman in Sydney Diocese...sigh. Why does it feel so familiar?
*From GAFCON's website at https://www.gafcon.org/about