Sunday, June 22, 2008

Making Do With GAFCON

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.


Jane Ellen+ said...

I have been "praying hopefully," and will continue to do so.

The thing is, I am not convinced that at least some of the leadership in that crowd are not, in fact, "a cabal of crooks and liars." When I read of the history of behavior (and not all on "liberal" websites, I assure you), that's what I see.

Anonymous said...

Funny how well over 3/4's of the world's anglicans (not just half Dan) are not listening to the Listening process any more.

Get a clue Dan. The sound you hear is the dust being shaken from the World's sandal.

Anonymous said...

Father Dan certainly has a clue! His call to quit demonizing should be heeded by all the orthodox. "More than half" versus "three fourths". Whatever.

The leaders of GAFCon are being gracious with those who disagree with them (Akinola, when asked whether Rowan Williams was an apostate, stated "No, he is a brother but that I disagree with some of the decisions he has made.")

Like it or not, there is a real possibility that emerging GAFCon Communion within the current Anglican Federation is the future. I would like Anglo-catholic voice to be heard in these forums and I believe that the organizers would be gracious and listen respectfully. Public resignations like Ephraim+'s from the ACN or +Mouneer Anis' from GAFCon don't further the anglo-catholic cause.

Mark Harris said...

Dan: Great statement, even if it smarts - don't ask for whom the paddle smarts, it smarts for all.

Cany said...


1. Well, there may not be an entire 'cabal' of liars, but there are a couple.

As Fr. Jake Points out, Akinola seems to have forgotten about his advocation of jailing gays and lesbians in HIS country of Nigeria. Mmmm. One would think one would remember that, no? Even when Akinola's supporters opined that he didn't support it, well... his signature is at the bottom of the page on two separate letters of support for the legislation. Does he, then, have a reading and comprehension problem (which might explain a lot of things, actually)?

BTW, it is interesting that in his talk, Akinola referred to gays in two separate ways... one semi-respectful, and the other in such a way as to tie them with pedophiles and child abusers. Mmm. Do you think Duncan just missed that when either editing his talk or, in fact, made a mistake when writing it?

Anonymous said...

cany: Since the charge of lying has come up, I think that some clarifications should be made.

1. Despite Fr. Jake's claim that the proposed Nigerian legislation called for the "incarceration of all gays in Nigeria", a quick glance of the actual legislation reveals that this is simply not true. While I would not agree with the proposed legislation, it most certainly did not call for the imprisonment of all gays in Nigeria. In the context of political advocacy for same-sex marriage, it prohibited public displays of same-sex affection. The obvious target of the legislation was political advocacy of the normalization of homosexuality rather than homosexuals themselves.

2. Akinola's support of this legislation is via a letter in which he states his support of the bill in that it prohibits "same sex relationships" (the context of the bill suggests that this refers to legally recognized same-sex relatinships) and because the bill preserves Nigeria's existing prohibition of homosexuality.

Any fair reading and analysis of the Nigerian legislation and Akinola's response to it, leads one to the conclusion that the legislation sought to prevent the advocacy of homosexuality and officially recognized same-sex relationships in Nigeria and the Church of Nigeria supported the legislation for this purpose. I would oppose this sort of legislation (as I oppose the sort of legal tactics employed by homosexual-rights campaigners in Canada and elsewhere to silence critics), but let's be honest about what the legislation actually says and what Akinola's response to it was.

Leonard said...

Where (oh where) do we sign in to become included in the client/blogger daily double? I'd love a ticket (round trip por favor) to Jerusalem but it appears next week might be best.

Craig G said...

From another marginalized Anglo-Catholic, Fr Dan, well put (as usual). Thanks.

Just to set the record straight: ++Anis is fully in sympathy with GAFCon, though he would have preferred it after Lambeth and somewhere other than Jerusalem. He didn't attend not because of any disapproval but because of the political situation of Christians (particularly Copts) in Egypt vis-a-vis Israel.