AAC, ACNA and GAFCON, wandering astray in the fields of the Lord

In the past two weeks the American Anglican Concil (AAC), the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), and GAFCON (the leadership of the Global Anglican Future Conference) have taken to dumping on the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Scottish Episcopal Church and even the Chair of the Board of Nashota House. It has been a busy time out there in the land of the crabby righteous.

It has taken a while to attend to these small matters in Anglican-land. The strange melt down in American political life and certain personal matters (mostly quite wonderful) have drawn my attention away from the doings of organizations that thrive only when there is separation and division in the church. Now with a bit of time to reflect, here are some thoughts on the recent dumping by AAC, ACNA and GAFCON.

(1) The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church was asked by the Archbishop of Canterbury on the first evening of the Primates’ Meeting, to offer prayers for those who were murdered in Los Vegas. An ACNA spokesperson was quick to criticize the Archbishop for so asking. See the Anglican Communion News Service article, HERE.

The article reports,“This afternoon (Tuesday), the Revd Canon Andrew Gross, Canon for Communications and Media Relations for the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), speaking on behalf of Gafcon, said that the decision to invite Michael Curry to lead the congregation in prayer at the Evensong service “put the Gafcon primates in a difficult spot.” Speaking at a press conference in a hotel near Canterbury Cathedral, he said that they were “forced to look like they are walking together when they are not walking together.” The Archbishop of Canterbury, it was reported, was somewhat taken aback.

How is it that an ACNA staff officer can claim to be speaking for Gafcon? ACNA is a church. Gafcon is the abbreviation for the “Global Anglican Future Conference.” The continuation of the movement that grew from the first GAFCON meeting gave rise to a structure, which GAFCON describes on its website, HERE. Gross works for the Secretariat, under the direction of Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen. GAFCON recognizes ACNA as a member province, and not TEC. But it is interesting that a staff officer of ACNA, the newbe on the block, is somehow speaking for GAFCON. He may be speaking for GAFCON, but I suspect he is also speaking for ACNA.

Episcopal News Service, usually fairly cautious in its editorial voice, was more than taken back. It explained Gross's presence at the Primate's meeting in this way:

" The primates’ communiqué also acknowledged the pain that has been caused by cross-border interventions when a representative of one province or diocese acts in another without permission. The majority of such interventions have been orchestrated by disaffected Anglicans and former Episcopalians who’ve colluded under the umbrella of breakaway groups, such as the Anglican Church in North America or the Global Anglican Future Conference."

Later, in the article, ENS then reports on the Gross presence:

"Most of the characters who’ve attempted to influence previous meetings from the sidelines seemed to have stayed away this time. However, an ACNA representative held a media briefing earlier in the week and attempted to infiltrate the final press conference. Cathedral police escorted him off the premises."

Those in "collusion, under the umbrella of breakaway groups, such as the ACNA or GAFCON" were called "characters who've attempted to influence from the sidelines..." The memory of the ENS article reached back far enough to remember the time when at the Primates met at Dromantine in Northern Ireland from 21 to 26 February, 2005. Various “collusion” notables gatherer around the edges of the meeting and coached a number of Primates in their actions at the meeting. Conviently enough Bishop Robert Duncan found himself in the neighborhood and joined in on the hunt. At the next Primates’ Meeting in Tanzania he was also present and working the ropes.

Collusion may be all the rage in civil society and politics these days, but the level of overt efforts to influence the direction of the discussion among Primates of the Communion at the time of the formation of ACNA was amazing for its time. Many of the characters present then are retired from the field of battle, but their organizations continue. To see a list of the "characters" at that Primates Meeting, see "Follow the Money" HERE. One purpose of the collusion was to promote ACNA as the “real” Anglican presence and Province in North America, and to push for its recognition as a Province. It didn’t work. Another was to promote the notion that a resolution of the Lambeth Conference of 1998, Resolution 1.10, was binding on all Provinces. In that they came closer, but even that failed in the end.

Now the voices are fewer, and apparently no one is putting up with influence from the sidelines. But there is the hint of the old mantra raised at Dromantine, that Primates were not "walking together" but only appearing to do so. That has become the primary charge of the GAFCON / ACNA / AAC cohort, and Gross's little excess was simply an example of what happens when the image of not walking together gets overplayed.

Bishop Venables, attending the Primates’ Meeting as Primate (again) in the Province of South America (formerly known as the Province of the Southern Cone), has had a good bit to say about this "walking together" thing. See Here. The notion that people, organizations (churches or Provinces) cannot “walk together” unless they are in agreement is the core of the move to separate the clean from the unclean - in this case the GAFCON group of Provinces from Provinces that have decided to bless same sex unions and opened ministry to all the baptized. It invokes Amos 3:3 as its biblical touchstone.

Perhaps Amos 3:3, the biblical source for the phrase “walking together,” is not such a useful place to anchor the spirit of a church, since the question "do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so" is the lead in to condemnation. It is a favorite biblical quote of fundamentalists. Many fundamentalists believe that division is a sign of God directed rejection of aposticacy and heresy. Division is at its base a context for condemnation in an effort to purify. The problem is, of course, that a church whose core reason for being is separation and condemnation of others is radioactive and will have a short half-life. The long term success of ACNA, AAC or GAFCON, or for the Anglican Communion or TEC for that matter, will rest in their positive core values and Good News, not their condemnation of others.

I would contend that a better place to begin would be Luke 24:13-35, that is with conversation on the road and a meal with the Lord. It would suggest that walking with persons trying to understand and cope with the realities of engagement with this strange Messiah who died on a cross, and who were clearly confused if not wrongheaded, was an opportunity not to separate from their failed understanding and faith but to encourage further exploration. More, communion with them while they were not as yet enlightened, pure, or faithful, was a way to open their eyes. Not sharing the meal would have meant the story would have ended too soon. At least a church grounded on the encounter with the risen Lord has some chance of being more than crabby.

Well, in the midst of that moment, where pointing out that various Primates and / or their churches do or do not walk together seemed to be the preoccupation of the ACNA / AAC folk, an ACNA bishop decided to dump on the Bishop of Springfield. The Bishop of Springfield, no slouch as a conservative bishop in the Episcopal Church, is the chair of the board of trustees of Nashota House. He was slammed by the ACNA bishop of San Joaquin for welcoming the Presiding Bishop to Nashota House. Read here.

The ACNA bishop of San Joaquin in his letter to the Bishop of Springfield is a bit testy, echoing the unhappiness previously reserved for the Dean of Nashota who invited the last Presiding Bishop to visit Nashota House. That invitation occasioned quite a stink. David Virtue, of Virtueonline, reported extensively on the similarities of these two occasions HERE.

The article references several bishops who send “Anglo-Catholic” students to Nashota: “Menees (of San Joaquin), Jack Iker, Keith Ackerman, William Wantland and Juan Alberto Morales.” Quite a menagerie! Bishops Ackerman, Iker and Wantland are all ex-bishops in the Episcopal Church. Bishop Morales was elected in ACNA to succeed Bishop Ackerman. His background is odd, to say the least. The suggestion that they might not sent their students to Nashota House is less a threat than a plea. Where indeed could they go if not to Nashota House? Where else is there an Anglo-Catholic seminary that would welcome ACNA folk, some of whom act out the worse sort of fundamentalist separatism? I think the answer is “no where.” I wonder, then, if the ACNA bishop might have been better advised to couch his objection to the invitation in a more pastoral way, suggesting that he might meet with the Board to reflect on the concerns about disconnecting from the unrighteous.

The ACNA objection to the PB leading prayers at Lambeth is, well, silly and somewhat pathetic. Venible’s efforts, as a GAFCON leader, to parse the “walking” thing is a bit pedantic. The letter from the ACNA bishop of San Joaquin is at the least ill mannered.

What gives? ACNA is quite capable of really pretty good efforts to build community and do theological work. Some of its efforts seem quite sound. GAFCON is what it is, an organization whose missionary efforts consist mostly of invasion, ordaining bishops for recovery of the true faith in England, Scotland, and North America. But even GAFCON in its better moments is able to be a voice of post colonial Anglican realities. But what gives here?

The Primates’ meeting was not good news for ACNA and the American Anglican Council, or for GAFCON. The communique of the meeting had the audacity to state the truth, namely, (a) that ACNA is not part of the Anglican Communion, (b) the Primates’ Meeting was mostly successful in including all but six Primates, only three of whom were absent for reasons of conscience and (c) Scotland got sanctioned in the same way that The Episcopal Church did for moving to bless same sex marriages, but the “hot button” issue of homosexuality as sinful or not and the related items about same sex marriage and inclusion were reduced to wringing of hands and muttering of sorrow about the facts. That is: The Primates met, the GAFCON / Global South Primates who were present (and most of them were) were engaged in the full range of common life, prayer and discussion, and ACNA was a non-starter.

The peak of influence by “characters” around the edges of the meeting was at the Primates’ Meetings in Northern Ireland and Tanzania. At those meetings outside pressure and influence by the “don’t walk with them, walk with us” crowd involved cell phones, late evening strategy sessions, coaching, media briefings, and so forth. Outside players were all over the place. Both exclusion and inclusion parties were there, but the exclusive crowd (AAC, ACNA etc) were the more forceful. International religious press folk and highly charged partisan organizations sent their best and brightest to do battle. Primates had little time for unpressured conversation and reflection. Whatever had been envisioned by Archbishop Coggen, the Archbishop of Canterbury who invited Primates for the first meeting, was overtaken by meetings more regulatory meeting, and the notion of a relaxed and deep conversation became harder to achieve with the three ringed circus of media, lobbyists and partisans surrounding it.

GAFCON has run into the internal contradictions that emerge from overly zealous use of Amos 3:3. Apparently some of the Primates (and quite a few of the bishops in the member churches of GAFCON) do not see the issues of the moment to require division and separation. For whatever reason, they have come to the Primate’s meeting and have stayed in communion with the whole, even while having some distance from TEC and other flawed Provinces. GAFCON apparently is not the solid wall separating the godly from the ungodly that it purports to be.

The crabby comments from an ACNA spokesperson, from an ACNA bishop, from GAFCON about the whole meeting, are all the product, I believe, of these organizations feeling the beginning pangs of failure. Under intense pressure they may have come close to carrying the day at earlier Primates’ Meetings. But now ACNA has little justification for its claim to be part of the Anglican Communion, the AAC has to make all the greater used of the somewhat broken down image of “walking” or “not walking” together, and GAFCON may have to back off its more extreme use of the fundamentalist tactic of separation and division.

There has not been a lot of commentary on these matters outside the realm of conservative bloggers. There seems to be a growing sentiment among more liberal writers that the organizational overreach of Primates’ Meetings, and other “instruments of Communion” have called the whole structure of the Anglican Communion in to question. From that perspective the crabby comments of characters around the edges of those structures seems profoundly uninteresting. Attacks on the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council, and the Primates’ Meeting, have become non-starters. These “instruments” seem not to be viewed as servants of the desire to find ways to travel on the road to faith but rather are viewed as regulatory instruments of an expanding world wide canon law for an emerging world wide church. Interest in the whole enterprise of the Anglican Communion seems to be lessening.

Perhaps it is simpler than that. Having discovered that sanctions from “out there” in Anglican-land hurt our feelings, but little more, many of us have simply turned our attention to more pressing matters. And there are indeed more pressing matters to which we ought turn our attention.

Still, I wonder.... I want to be part of a larger whole, whose vision is not limited to our own particular takes on liberal or conservative litmus tests. I want a church whose reason for being is not to become pure, but to live out the Christian virtues in the world where the pure and impure are so wonderfully mixed together that we have no choice but to fall altogether into the fear of judgment and the joy of grace. We should be up to the task of walking with those we only partially agree with or understand, but who we love and care for. I think we Anglicans can do that. I’d like to be part of that Anglican Communion.


  1. Thank you for this post, Mark. I agree very much with your final paragraph.

  2. Peter Jensen is the FORMER archbishop of Sydney, but still keeps his hand in the GAFCON pie.


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