An Anglican Communion “revived, renewed and rearranged” will be the core message sent tomorrow to the 1,300 conservative Anglicans from 53 countries meeting this week in Kigali, Rwanda.
The final statement of the fourth Global Anglican Futures Conference (Gafcon) will outline a critically important response by the conservative majority in the Anglican Communion to the bishops’ recent moves The Church of England aims to accept prayers to bless same-sex marriages.
Gafcon is the network that has welcomed the Anglican Church in North America into the Anglican family, if not the official Anglican Community. “We owe Gafcon our existence,” said Foley Beach, president of the Gafcon Primate Council. “The first Gafcon called for a new province in North America.”
He called on the Anglican Free Provinces to repent. And he added, “Unless the Archbishop of Canterbury repents, we cannot consider him first among equals.” Later, pointing out that “sexual sin is not the only sin in the Bible,” he called for Gafcon churches to also be repentant churches.
Archbishop Stephen Samuel Kaziimba Mugalu, leader of the Uganda Church of eight million people, also called on Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby to repent.
“I am disappointed that in Uganda the gospel message came from the Church of England in 1877,” I said Pastor’s Heart, a live streaming podcast. “The first missions came, and we had polygamy like a normal marriage, and each man had three, four, five women. And they stopped having [that number of] wives for the gospel. And now, we hear a message that a man can marry another man or same-sex marriage is also marriage.
“We are disappointed that those who brought the gospel to us are turning their backs on what they have brought us,” said Mugalu. “So we call on Archbishop Justin to repent, and they should reverse their decision which is destroying the Anglican Communion.”
Bishop Keith Sinclair from the UK ended his morning plenary address in tears. He detailed the Church of England’s habit of making contradictory statements. “Instead of confronting this fundamental disagreement and its implications for friendship, mission, discipline, etc., the difference is simply described as if both are possible with hope. that we can stay together in an organization that has some history in common but not a common mind,” he said.
This was the speech of a man who raised hopes that Protestants could maintain a place in the Church of England. However, he expressed sadness that “the church that God used to bring the gospel to so many parts of the world through their faith in that biblical revelation now seems to have cannot withstand the very cultural confinement that has called for so many to give up.”
He expressed the caveat that the formal process in the UK is still ongoing. “In terms of form, it remains to be seen how [English] the bishops will respond to what has been said globally and in the UK,” he said.
In 2000, as the American secession from the Episcopal Church began, archbishops from the national churches of Rwanda and Southeast Asia took action, offering to serve as interim bishops to those dissent in the US and Canada. Today, the provinces have two main wings of the conservative movement in the Anglican Communion.
Rwanda will host Gafcon this week. Many Gafcon members have a history of boycotting Anglican Communion meetings in Kigali, and the group has taken a military stance against the liberal movement in the Anglican Communion.
From Singapore, retired bishop Rennis Ponniah is in Kigali as secretary general of the Global Southern Anglican Association (GSFA). To date, the GSFA has maintained relationships with liberal provinces such as the United States and Canada, serving with them on the communion bodies.
But in Kigali, there are signals that can change. Some insiders say that the GSFA, rocked by the Church of England’s shifting stance, is less inclined to side with the liberal provinces.
There was significant overlap between the two groups.
“The Bible is at the heart of the faith that all Anglican Churches have inherited from the Church of England,” said Benjamin Kwashi, general secretary of Gafcon and archbishop of the Anglican Church of Nigeria. “The fact that the Church of England has now decided to leave the teaching of the Bible is troubling many Anglicans.”
“Some have accused Gafcon of creating divisions within the Anglican Church, but I have to disagree. There have been profound disagreements over the authority of the Bible among members of the Anglican Communion for a long time,” said the Jos rabbi. “We are not looking for division, but we want to move forward with God’s mission in the world. The gospel of Jesus calls us to defend the unchanging, transformative Gospel of Jesus Christ and proclaim Him to the world.”
The latest secessionist in the Gafcon movement, Australia’s Southern Cross Diocese, took over a former Unification Church congregation when delegates arrived in Kigali. The Sunshine Coast Church of Faith is run by Hedley Fihaki, who has led the Confession of Confessions, an evangelistic movement within the Unification Church that will be shutting down this weekend. He is just the former congregation of the first Unification Church slated to become Anglican.
“Eight months ago we decided we could no longer follow the archbishop and the decisions of the Diocese. [of Southern Queensland] Peter Palmer, the first pastor to join the “Anglican lifeboat,” describes himself as an “Anglican lifeboat.” Even in founding the first church of the new diocese, he had hoped he would be the only one – that his diocese would repent and he could rejoin it. But his area now has four Southern Cross churches.
Delegates from the UK are the most diverse, from church builders who have left the Church of England to those who believe that the process in England has only just begun and strong resistance could generate space for conservative Protestants and Catholics to stay. In many ways, the process that happened in the US is being repeated in the UK. Gafcon provided the start of an Anglican lifeboat in the fledgling Anglican Network in Europe (ANiE).
Andy Lines, head of ANiE, was a missionary bishop to Europe from ACNA and attended. So does the new bishop of Ebbsfleet, Rob Munro, a “flying bishop” in the Church of England to additional churches. They have differing opinions on the strength of the objection against the Church of England’s proposed prayers for same-sex blessings.
But the message of the Kigali gathering will speak louder than before that the Church of England is not the center of the Anglican Communion.
The second central theme of the conference was the desire for the two conservative movements to merge or draw closer together. In a dramatic moment during the session asking for comments on the conference’s final statement, a delegate from Uganda suggested that Gafcon and GSFA should “speak one language”.
The room, filled with clergy and lay delegates, erupted into loud applause and cheers.
After a break, a list of suggested summaries appeared on the large screens around the Kigali Convention Center. But unfortunately, the Gafcon-GSFA problem is not in it.
But then the chair, Bishop Richard Condie of Tasmania, assured the meeting that he would get the message across to the primates and make sure it was heard.
In fact, there are parallel meetings in the mix at Kigali. There are public gatherings for Bible study, worship, and drafting a conference statement, and numerous smaller meetings. This includes the GSFA and Gafcon primates that meet.
“As most of you know, some—actually most—of Southern Hemisphere primates are also Gafcon primates, but we did meet with leaders from both groups, mainly president and vice president, and the secretaries general had a very good meeting to sort out some of the groundwork for what we’re going to discuss this weekend,” Beach said at a news conference. “Then we will gather together this weekend. And we’ll see where that goes.”
Due to the growth of the Church of England, GSFA and Gafcon were in tune with each other. The GSFA has focused on building ecclesiastical links between the provinces as remnants of the Anglican Communion, and Gafcon has tended to boycott Community structures and seek to replace them. The gap between these approaches has been narrowed as the GSFA aspires to distance itself more decisively from the liberal provinces such as TEC, Canada, and now the Church of England.
To elect a single leader for the combined conservative forces in the Anglican community – a possible move – would mean resolving differences, such as the GSFA seats rotating annually and Gafcon choosing one seat for a five-year term. Having a new “first among equals” means that the Archbishop of Canterbury has a rival. And the strong language expected in the conference statement means that one of these leaders will be respected and the other ignored in the wider Anglican world.
A unique feature of both these movements is the unification between the majority of the world’s Protestants and the Anglosphere. Confession movements within denominations that have seen progressive-conservative divisions can learn from the Anglican example. Unlike in the United Methodist division, it is clear that the African and Asian churches are at the forefront of the conservative movement. And unlike the Presbyterians, the majority of the world is also majority there.
Editor’s Note: This dispatch will be updated.