The Global Anglican Future Conference is underway in Jerusalem. There is already so much being written about it that I hesitate to add my own drop to the bucket. It is already a controversial event, not for what it has actually done--there hasn't been time for it to actually do anything yet--but for what it is widely perceived, accurately or inaccurately, to represent--namely, the first stage in the formal schism of Anglicanism, resulting in a non-Canterburian Anglican-like ecclesial entity that will include the vast majority of those Christians who presently call themselves Anglicans. That is a scary proposition.
The leftist Episcopalian establishment is spinning, and dismissing, the event as a gathering of a bunch of cranky and power-drunk misogynist homophobes. Their media outlets and client bloggers waste no opportunity to highlight any dissension within conservative ranks, and are constantly announcing the imminent final collapse of the Rebel Alliance.
Other Anglican conservatives, along with some moderate friends, have also been critical of GAFCON--again, not for what it has actually done, but because it has seemed to be a strategically inept move from the moment of conception, and weaned on a diet deficient in patient charity. I number myself in this company of critics. I wish GAFCON weren't happening, and that they were all going to Lambeth to raise hell. As an Anglo-Catholic, I am more than a little squeamish about their emphasis on the 39 Articles and the 1662 Prayer Book. GAFCON seems pretty much by and for Evangelicals. Not that there's anything wrong with that; Anglo- Catholics are used to be merely tolerated. It's just that we don't particularly relish the prospect.
So ... guess what? I don't always get what I want! GAFCON is happening. The question then becomes, How can those of us who are not its fans make the best of undeniable reality? How can we "make do" with GAFCON?
First, we can stop demonizing. We're not talking about a cabal of crooks and liars here. It's neither the Mafia nor the AFL-CIO nor Chicago City Hall, and still less the government of Zimbabwe. The participants of GAFCON are entitled to a presumption of good faith. They deserve to be taken at their word with respect to their motives and intentions. They are not bad people.
Second, we can listen to them. We can listen carefully. We can avoid attributing to them what they were merely expected to say or do, or what they were rumored to say or do, or what others have predicted they would say or do. Instead, we can respond to them on the basis of what they actually say and do. We can do so in a generous manner, one that gives them the benefit of the doubt, and presumes honest intentions. That doesn't mean we will agree with the course they take. I probably will not. But we can behave ourselves in the process.
Third, we can avoid trivializing GAFCON. It is of immense significance. Even if only a handful of the 38 Anglican provinces are represented there, the fact that the handful includes Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, and Rwanda means that we're talking about the pastoral and synodical leadership of easily more than half of the world's Anglicans. Easily. This is not a blip. It's not a hiccup. It's an earthquake.
Fourth, whether we approve of GAFCON or not, we can be honest about our complicity in the chain of events that led to it. If a rival Anglican-like communion comes into being--a tragedy of unspeakable proportions, I would say--no one who presently identifies as an Anglican will be innocent of the sin of schism. The Global South and their northern allies may be the ones who pull the trigger, but the Episcopal Church cocked the gun in General Convention 2003 and removed the safety with the House of Bishops' and Executive Council's response to the February 2007 Primates Communique. There's plenty of blame to go around.
Finally, we can pray hopefully. The leaders of GAFCON see it as a sign of God's providential provision and the sovereign freedom of the Holy Spirit to reform and renew the Church. I and others see it as a sign of failure, and perhaps prideful arrogance. We are all probably right in some ways and wrong in more. Every time it looks to me like the answer has got to be either A or B, it turns out to be Q. I am willing to be pleasantly surprised by GAFCON. I am even more willing to be pleasantly surprised by God. We serve a God who redeems. Starting with our mistakes.