INVITATIONS last week by the Archbishop of Canterbury to a Primates’ Meeting in Rome in April 2024 will be “boycotted” by most primates. Only an invitation by the leaders of GAFCON and the GSFA (endorsed by Archbishop Justin Welby), to a ‘Global Anglican Council’ can now deal with the ‘crisis in Anglican identity’, and start urgent work on shared theology – particularly in relation to homosexuality and marriage.
So say three Anglican theologians and strategists who have each spent decades serving at diocesan, national and Communion levels. They have sent a Paper, Kigali trumpet’s uncertain sound’ to Lambeth Palace, outlining how the historic and biblical ‘Councils of the Church’ offer a precedent for the way global and national churches can deal with the conflicts between culture, and the Bible today.
With the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury publicly rejected by both the Global Anglican Futures Conference (GAFCON) and the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches (GSFA) which represent 85% of all Anglicans globally, Archbishop Welby’s proposed 2024 Primates meeting will “fall on deaf ears”, the three say. They claim only a ‘Global Anglican Council’, comprised of the ‘Fathers and Mothers of the Church’, and with Archbishop Welby recusing himself from chairing any meetings, will take the Communion forward. The Council would include bishops, theologians, church historians, pastoral counsellors, academics and on-the-ground clergy dealing with these issues in different cultures.
The frank Paper was written by Canon Dr Vinay Samuel, former General Secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship in the Anglican Churches and a member of the Founding Leadership Team of GAFCON 2008, Canon Dr Chris Sugden, co-founder of the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies, a Canon in the Church of Nigeria and also a member of the Founding Leadership Team of GAFCON 2008, and the Revd Paul Eddy, a former member of the Church of England’s General Synod, and the Public Relations Consultant to the Primates of the GSFA at the 2022 Lambeth Conference 2022, and widely credited for giving the GSFA a ‘global voice’.
Following the Church of England’s decision to introduce ‘Prayers of Blessing’ for couples in Same Sex Unions, the three say orthodox clergy in the CofE are seeking ‘alternative episcopal oversight’. However, only four bishops on General Synod voted against the prayers, and at the GAFCON Kigali conference last month, the then Chairman, Archbishop Foley Beech, said GAFCON would not intervene and provide ‘flying bishops’. Rather, any clergy/parishes wanting alternative episcopal oversight should approach the Anglican Network in Europe (ANiE). This effectively means leaving church buildings, vicarages and the CofE, and joining a ‘parallel’ Anglican body – which is impractical for the vast majority of clergy/parishes.
Canon Samuel said many orthodox clergy in the CofE find themselves in something of a cul-de-sac, without a clear direction for the CofE, and the Anglican Communion. They are “stuck in the middle of decades of theological issues not being dealt with properly, just swept under the carpet for the sake of tradition and history”, he said. “Today, there is an ‘Anglican Communion’ and a ‘Church of England’ in name only, but not in any way united by theology, or true Christian fellowship”. He said clergy are asking whether GAFCON and the GSFA have any concrete plans, or in GAFCON’s case, even believe in the Anglican Communion as it is known?
He explained: “At a global level, GAFCON is calling for a ‘new communion’. But if so, who will do it and how will it be done? The GSFA say they will remain as a ‘holy remnant’ to reform it. But what is the theological basis of both actions and, if a new communion is to be formed, of a new communion? Without such clarity you cannot rally people to move in these uncharted waters.
“Twenty five years after ‘Lambeth 1.10’, we are yet to have a strategy and plan that the Orthodox can buy into, and unite over. Why is this? It is, we believe, because we have not done theological work on ecclesiology that will help us to make judgments, unite and act together. No strategy appears to have emerged in spite of so many meetings and so much change.”
The paper says that throughout the history of Christian mission, people have been encouraged to give up certain cultural practices. There was discontinuity with some cultural markers of identity, but continuity in their Christian identity with all other Christians. If the paper is challenging reading for Archbishop Welby, it will also be for Primates of Anglican provinces – some of whom have been asked to support governments wishing to criminalise homosexuality.
Canon Chris Sugden, who has served amongst churches and cultures of the Global South since 1977 says he senses a ‘Kairos moment’ for the Global South. An opportunity to tackle the issue which has become so culturally ingrained. He said: “For many in the Global South, their culture and identity is based on family and tribe. They [wrongly] see homosexuality as a ‘disease’ which would prevent human flourishing and thereby, the cessation of their family line, inheritance and status. They need gracious help, education and understanding as they work through the science and demographic proportions of homosexuality, which is rarely over 3% in any country, and more importantly, theology.”
In the Paper, the Revd Paul Eddy says the Kigali GAFCON conference may have unwittingly brought a merger between the GSFA and GAFCON from bottom up. He said: “Provinces such as Nigeria and Uganda have already left the Anglican Communion and see no point in continuing it. But thanks to an intervention by clergy and laity at the Kigali conference, asking that all future major decisions regarding the communion be’ jointly made and published’ by GAFCON and the GSFA, this tied the hands of GAFCON leaders to the broader ‘holy remnant’ GSFA position. GAFCON, for the first time, used the GSFA language of ‘re-setting’ the Anglian Communion.”
But, he says, a ‘Theology of Culture and Cultures’ needs to shape the global family’s accountability.
“We need a strategy that enables global multicultural communions to develop theologies and strategies drawing on the Bible and cross-cultural mission experiences.”
The paper concludes with many searching questions for Global South leaders, including:-
● When does a tradition go beyond acceptable limits?
● When does it become illegitimate?
● If acceptance of same-sex behaviour (rather than orientation) is beyond the limits of the tradition, why is not the acceptance of the death penalty for homosexual behaviour, or even orientation, not also ultra vires?
● Are GAFCON/GFSA really interested in helping their orthodox colleagues in the Church of England to have episcopal ministry? If so, what are they planning to do about it?
● What is GAFCON/GSFA’s consistent biblical analysis of cultures and of how to engage with them?
● What is GAFCON/GSFA’s own understanding of how to engage theologically and pastorally with the experience of those with same-sex attraction?
● What is GAFCON/GSFA’s understanding of where the authority lies to discern and decide the meaning of the Bible?
Canon Samuel concludes: “The Anglican Communion today faces a similar issue to that addressed at the first Jerusalem Council. What are the limits of diversity? Who can ‘walk together’, and on what basis? The purpose of ‘walking together’ is not just to show unity as some very dysfunctional families attempt to do, but to demonstrate the unity the Lord gifts to his global body. This means not just mutual burden-bearing but mutual accountability and correction. We need strategies that enable this to be not just an ideal but practice on the ground.”