To Whom Shall We Go: Conservative Anglicans Discuss Divorce from Church of England

To Whom Shall We Go: Conservative Anglicans Discuss Divorce from Church of England
Apr 2023

A "revived, renewed, and reordered" Anglican Communion will be the core message delivered tomorrow to 1,300 conservative Anglicans from 53 countries meeting this week in Kigali, Rwanda to discuss "to whom shall we go?"

The final statement of the fourth Global Anglican Futures Conference (Gafcon) will outline an extremely critical response by the conservative majority of the Anglican Communion to the recent moves by Church of England bishops to adopt prayers to bless same-sex marriages.

Gafcon is the network that welcomed the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) into the Anglican family, if not the official Anglican Communion, in 2008.

"We owe our existence to Gafcon," said ACNA archbishop Foley Beach. "The first Gafcon called for the formation of a new province in North America."

Chair of the Gafcon primates council, Beach called for the liberal provinces of the Anglican Communion to repent. He added, "Unless the Archbishop of Canterbury repents, we cannot regard him as the first among equals."

Then pointing out that "sexual sins are not the only sins in the Bible," Beach called for Gafcon churches to be repenting churches also.

Archbishop Stephen Samuel Kaziimba Mugalu, leader of the eight-million-strong Church of Uganda, also called archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby to repent.

"I am disappointed because, in Uganda, the message of the gospel came from the Church of England in 1877," he toldThe Pastor's Heart, a livestream podcast produced by Sydney Anglicans. "The first missions came, and we had polygamy as a normal way of marriage, and every man had three, four, five women. And they ceased having [that number of] wives because of the gospel. And now, we hear a message that a man can have another man's wife or same-sex marriage is also marriage.

"We get disappointed that those who brought the gospel to us are turning away from what they brought to us," said Kaziimba. "So we call upon Archbishop Justin to repent, and they should reverse their decision, which is destroying the Anglican Communion."

Bishop Keith Sinclair from England finished his morning plenary speech in tears. He detailed the Church of England's habit of making contradictory statements.

"Rather than face this fundamental disagreement and the implications for fellowship, mission, discipline, and so on," he said, "the differences are simply described as if both are possible in some hope that we can keep together in an institution that has got some shared history but no common mind."

This was a speech from a man holding on to the hope that evangelicals could maintain a place in the Church of England. Nevertheless, Sinclair expressed sadness that "the church which God used to bring the gospel to so many parts of the world because of her faith in that scriptural revelation now seems to have succumbed to the very cultural captivity it appealed to so many to renounce."

He did express the caveat that the official process in England is still ongoing. "Formally it remains to be seen how the [English] bishops will respond to what has been said globally and in England."

In 2000, as the American evangelical breakaway from The Episcopal Church (TEC) began, archbishops from the national churches of Rwanda and Southeast Asia sprang into action, offering to be temporary bishops for American and Canadian dissidents. Today, the provinces feature in the two major wings of the conservative movement in the Anglican Communion.

Rwanda is hosting this week's Gafcon. Many Gafcon members have a history of boycotting Anglican Communion meetings in Kigali, and the group has taken a militant stance against the liberal movement in the communion.

Attending the Gafcon gathering is retired Singapore bishop Rennis Ponniah, general secretary of the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches (GSFA). Until now, the GSFA has maintained relationships with liberal provinces such as the US and Canada, serving alongside them on communion bodies.

But in Kigali, there are signals this will change. Some insiders say the GSFA, rocked by the Church of England's shifting stance, is now much less inclined to walk alongside the liberal provinces.

There is already significant overlap between the two groups.

"The Bible stands at the heart of the faith that all Anglican Churches have inherited from the Church of England," said Benjamin Kwashi, general secretary of Gafcon. "That the Church of England has now decided to depart from the Bible's teaching is troubling for many Anglicans.

"Some have accused Gafcon of creating division in the Anglican Church, but I must disagree. There have been deep disagreements over the authority of the Bible among members of the Anglican Communion for quite some time," said Kwashi, a Church of Nigeria archbishop based in Jos. "We do not seek division, but rather we want to move with the mission of God in the world. The gospel of our Lord Jesus calls us to guard the unchanging, transforming Gospel of Jesus Christ and to proclaim Him to the world."

The newest breakaway movement in the Gafcon movement, Australia's Diocese of the Southern Cross, received a new congregation as delegates traveled to Kigali.

Faith Church on the Sunshine Coast is pastored by Hedley Fihaki, who led the Assembly of Confessing Congregations, an evangelical movement in the Uniting Church in Australia that will cease operations this weekend. His is only the first ex-Uniting Church congregation expected to become Anglican.

"It was eight months ago that we decided we could no longer follow the archbishop and the decisions of the Diocese [of Southern Queensland] for the blessing of same-sex marriage," said Peter Palmer, the first minister to join the self-described "Anglican lifeboat." Even as he founded the first church of the new diocese, he hoped his would be the only one--in other words, that his diocese would repent and he could rejoin it. However, his region now has four Southern Cross churches.

The delegates from the UK are the most diverse, ranging from church planters who have left the Church of England to those who believe that its process has only just begun and that strong resistance could make a space for evangelicals to remain. In many ways, the process that occurred in the US is being repeated in the UK.

Gafcon has provided the beginnings of an "Anglican lifeboat" in the fledgling Anglican Network in Europe (ANiE), led by Andy Lines, a missionary bishop to Europe from ACNA. Also in attendance at Gafcon is the new bishop of Ebbsfleet, Rob Munro, a "flying bishop" in the Church of England serving complementarian churches. They have differing opinions about the strength of the pushback against the British bishops' proposed prayers for same-sex blessings.

But the message of the Kigali gathering will be to say even louder than before that the Church of England is not at the center of the Anglican Communion.

A second central theme of the conference is the desire for the two conservative movements to merge or walk more closely together. In a dramatic moment during a session seeking input into the eventual conference statement, a delegate from Uganda suggested that Gafcon and GSFA should "speak one language."

The room, full of clergy and lay delegates, erupted in loud applause and cheers.

After a break, a suggested summary list was on the big screens around the Kigali Conference Center. But, unfortunately, the Gafcon-GSFA issue was not on it.

But then the chair, Tasmania's Bishop Richard Condie, assured delegates that he would undertake the message to the primates and ensure it would be heard.

In effect, there are parallel meetings in the mix at Kigali. There are public gatherings of Bible study, worship, and drafting a conference statement, and a myriad of smaller ones. This includes GSFA and Gafcon primates meeting together.

"As most of you know, some of--actually most of--the Global South primates are also Gafcon primates, but we did have a meeting with the leaders of both groups...," Beach told a press conference. "So we'll be gathering together later this week. And we'll just see where that goes."

Due to the Church of England developments, the GSFA and Gafcon have drawn together in tone. The GSFA has concentrated on building up the ecclesial links between provinces as a remnant within the Anglican Communion, while Gafcon has been more inclined to boycott communion structures and seek to replace them. The distance between these approaches has shrunk as GSFA wishes to distance itself more decisively from liberal provinces like TEC, Canada, and now the Church of England.

To elect a single leader for the combined conservative forces in the Anglican communion-one possible move-means ironing out differences, such as the chair of GSFA rotating annually and Gafcon selecting a chair for a five-year term. Having a new "first among equals" would mean the Archbishop of Canterbury would have a rival. And the expected strong language in the final conference statement would mean that one of these leaders will be respected and the other will be ignored in the wider Anglican world.

A unique feature of both movements is the unity between majority world evangelicals and the Anglosphere. Confessing movements in denominations that have seen progressive-conservative splits could learn from the Anglican example. For example, unlike the United Methodists, it is clear that African and Asian churches are leaders in the conservative movement. And unlike the Presbyterians, the majority world is in the majority.

"Gafcon and Global South are two institutions that overlap in what they do," GSFA chair Justin Badi Arama, archbishop of South Sudan, toldThe Pastor's Heart. "In the future, it is my hope and prayer that the two might become one."

Editor's note: This dispatch will be updated.

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