A Challenge to the Church: How to be Church in a post-democratic America.

This is a challenge to the leadership of The Episcopal Church, concerning how to be Church when the assumptions about the State prove inadequate or untrue.

The preface to the Episcopal Church Book of Common Prayer states, “…when in the course of Divine Providence, these American States became independent with respect to civil government, their ecclesiastical independence was necessarily included; and the different religious denominations of Christians in these States were left at full and equal liberty to model and organize their respective Churches, and forms of worship, and discipline, in such manner as they might judge most convenient for their future prosperity; consistently with the constitution and laws of their country.”  

The Episcopal Church ordered its liturgy and its structures on the assumption that the “constitution and laws” of a representative democracy were established as an enduring order. 

While the Church has been often willing, and indeed obliged by the Gospel, to be critical of the ways that the constitution and laws were observed in practice, the Church has prayed and worked for the success of the general welfare of the United States of America and the institutions that are at the heart of the Republic. Ours is an “establishment” if not an established religion. We pray for the Nation and for the leadership of its government. 

We are now in a time of considerable flux, where it is not at all clear that this experiment in representative democracy will continue to thrive.  A combination of forces that lean towards oligarchy, corporate control, information management, and personality politics have all combined to place strains on any semblance of representative democracy.  Some would argue that political power has already become completely reset, and that only the semblance of democratic processes remains, giving the appearance of a government of, by and for the people. 

It is time for the Episcopal Church to turn its attention to how it ought to understand itself in relation to the State when the State becomes something other than a government of constitution and laws in which representative democracy can flourish.

What is our ministry in relation to the state, for example, if the form of the State is no longer representative, but autocratic, oligarchical, and based in power not delegated by the people, but held by other means?  

There is considerable weight given in our polity to praying for those in authority, no matter how that authority is obtained or exercised. Caesar needs as much prayer for the exercise of good judgment and justice as does the President. The Dictator may be repulsive to our political sensibilities, but we might well pray that he exercises his power with mercy and justice. 

But there is also weight given to resistance. A number of our colonial era parishes have a Parish owned Book of Common Prayer with the prayer for the monarch scratched through with a prayer for all in authority.  That correction may be only to acknowledge that authority may change in its form. But sometimes the correction was in the hope that such authority would indeed change. 

I believe that the American experiment with representative democracy is unraveling.  If that is true, or even if it is only a strong possibility that such unraveling might take place, we as Episcopalians would do well to begin to think through how to be Church when the State, by way of its institutions, becomes less responsive and responsible to the general citizenry.

The Episcopal Church, through its General Convention and the Office of the Presiding Bishop, ought consider and hopefully inaugurate a series of conversations at every level of the Church’s life, to consider the Church’s relation to the government of the United States of America should that government turn further away from the hope of representative democracy. Issues to be considered by such conversations might well include:

  •  At what point does the church determine that the State is now antithetical to its own vision and that therefore the church ought to be resistant to authority as it is present in the political system?

  • How are we to pray for those in authority, which such authority is anti-democratic, that is impervious to the just demands of the people?

  • How does the Church, in its own life, witness to the possibility of a common life formed and informed by compassion rather than power? 

  • How do we prepare our people for life beyond the edges of representative democracy, where the quest for justice and respect for human dignity might require a level of resistance or resilience not part of our current way of being church? At what point do our baptismal promises diverge from our national allegences? 

  • How do we prepare ourselves to be a church no longer establishment oriented?

I call on those who can do so to make resolution to the General Convention for the establishment of a General Convention Standing Committee on the Church and State, to assist the church at all levels to consider its mission in a post democratic society.  

Mark Harris, 2023





GAFCON IV, a conference of “1,302 delegates from 52 countries, including 315 bishops, 456 other clergy and 531 laity” adopted a “Commitment” statement supported byu the GSFA (the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches). This “Committment” proposes to renounce the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury as “an instrument of unity,”  and to “reset” the Anglican Communion. 

The writers: The drafting committee for the Kilgali Statement consists of ten people, six of whom are from the west/ north (Australian, UK, Irish or US)  and white. Three are African (Nigeria and Uganda) and one from South America.  One was a woman. For an organization touting itself to be speaking the majority of the world’s anglicans, this seems an odd way to show it.  We are assured by the press release about the Kilgali Statement (https://anglican.ink/2023/04/21/kigali-gafcon-closing-press-statement/ ) that everyone at the conference was asked for feedback. 

I doubt it. It smacks of the same leadership and agendas of the discontented west and north that has driven much of the effort to halt the move to inclusion of women and gay people in the sacramental ministries of the church. GAFCON has been hustled once again by discontent in the west and north.

The Statement:

Here is what the “Kigali Commitment” says:

“We were delighted to be joined in Kigali by leaders of the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches (GSFA) and to host a combined Gafcon-GSFA Primates meeting. Together, these Primates represent the overwhelming majority (estimated at 85%) of Anglicans worldwide.

The leadership of both groups affirmed and celebrated their complementary roles in the Anglican Communion. Gafcon is a movement focused on evangelism and mission, church planting and providing support and a home for faithful Anglicans who are pressured by or alienated from revisionist dioceses and provinces. GSFA, on the other hand, is focused on establishing doctrinally based structures within the Communion. 

We rejoice in the united commitment of both groups on three fundamentals: the lordship of Jesus Christ; the authority and clarity of the Word of God; and the priority of the church’s mission to the world. We acknowledge their agreement that ‘communion’ between churches and Christians must be based on doctrine (Jerusalem Declaration #13; GSFA Covenant 2.1.6). Anglican identity is defined by this and not by recognition from the See of Canterbury.

Both GSFA and Gafcon Primates share the view that, due to the departures from orthodoxy articulated above, they can no longer recognise the Archbishop of Canterbury as an Instrument of Communion, the ‘first among equals’ of the Primates. The Church of England has chosen to impair her relationship with the orthodox provinces in the Communion. 

We welcome the GSFA’s Ash Wednesday Statement of 20 February 2023, calling for a resetting and reordering of the Communion. We applaud the invitation of the GSFA Primates to collaborate with Gafcon and other orthodox Anglican groupings to work out the shape and nature of our common life together and how we are to maintain the priority of proclaiming the gospel and making disciples of all nations.

Resetting the Communion is an urgent matter.  It needs an adequate and robust foundation that addresses the legal and constitutional complexities in various Provinces. The goal is that orthodox Anglicans worldwide will have a clear identity, a global ‘spiritual home’ of which they can be proud, and a strong leadership structure that gives them stability and direction as Global Anglicans. We therefore commit to pray that God will guide this process of resetting, and that Gafcon and GSFA will keep in step with the Spirit.”


So there it is. Gafcon and GSFA are no longer in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury and therefore the Church of England.

The intemperate, angry and devious letter from the GAFCON/ GSFA meeting seems to seal the deal. A  number of churches formerly in the Anglican Communion are not playing nicely any more. They have formally stated that “they can no longer recognise the Archbishop of Canterbury as an Instrument of Communion, the ‘first among equals’ of the Primates.”  

Given that several of these churches have also refused to attend the Lambeth Conference and meetings of the Primates, and a number of these churches are not recognized as churches in the communion anyway, and are therefore not part of the Anglican Consultative Council, it would appear that these churches are backing away from any of the instruments of communion.

There is no possibility for them, if they have so distanced themselves from the “instruments of Communion” to change the structures of the Anglican Communion from within.  The “resetting” that they propose is not a resetting at all. That would be an interior matter for the councils of the Communion. 

Rather, it is an attempt to take the brand “Anglican”, divorce it from anything English, and reapply it to something other than the Anglican Communion.  The GAFCON/ GSFA proposal is really an attempt to dismantle or disregard the Anglican Communion as a communion of churches and replace it with a new thing: A World Wide Anglican Church.

The Reformers would have been appalled. For that matter I suspect many in the various Provinces who have leaders who have joined in this “Commitment” will also be appalled. 

The Polite Response:

There has been a response from Lambeth Palace. It states in part, ““We note that The Kigali Commitment issued by GAFCON IV today makes many of the same points that have previously been made about the structures of the Anglican Communion. As the Archbishop of Canterbury has previously said, those structures are always able to change with the times – and have done so in the past. The Archbishop said at the recent Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Ghana (ACC-18) that no changes to the formal structures of the Anglican Communion can be made unless they are agreed upon by the Instruments of Communion.

“At the ACC-18 meeting – which was attended by primates, bishops, clergy and laity from 39 of the 42 Anglican provinces – there was widespread support for working together patiently and constructively to review the Instruments of Communion, so that our differences and disagreements can be held together in unity and fellowship. Archbishop Justin Welby has welcomed this decision – just as he also welcomed last year’s decision by the Church of England’s General Synod to give the Anglican Communion a greater voice on the body that nominates future Archbishops of Canterbury.

“The Archbishop continues to be in regular contact with his fellow Primates and looks forward to discussing this and many other matters with them over the coming period. Meanwhile the Archbishop continues to pray especially for Anglicans who face poverty, conflict, famine, discrimination and persecution around the world, and Anglican churches who live and minister in these contexts. Continuing to walk together as Anglicans is not just the best way to share Christ’s love with a world in great need: it is also how the world will know that Jesus Christ is sent from the Father who calls us to love one another, even as we disagree.”

The Lambeth response suggests there is nothing new here. But there is. It is just not polite to say so. 


I’ve been wondering why there has not been any sort of statement of regret, befuddlement, acknowledgement or even outrage about this letter from any of the usual authorities in the Anglican Communion. A statement from Lambeth Palace” is pretty tame. It doesn’t come out under the Archbishop of Canterbury’s signature.  And I see no whisper of any response from any other church leaders. GAFCON may have spoken, but it doesn’t seem to kick up much dust.

I think GAFCON / GSFA need to be at least told, politely, that various powers understand quite well what they are up to. They are trying to capture the flag… to take “Anglican” and make it about some world wide church thing, and not a communion of churches.  What they will have if they do this is yet another church pretending to be THE TRUE CHURCH. It will be, as all such churches, defective at the core. 

I am not at all worried that the Anglican Communion is or is not alive or dead.  I wrote long ago that my sense is that the Anglican Communion will not endure. In “The Challenge of Change” I wrote,

“There will be no enduring Anglican Communion, not if we can help it. But that is not the point. Being Anglican is simply the way some Christians have tried to work out the implications of baptism in specific times and locations. What we have been will be of value to those who come after, and they will count us as among their ancestors. In doing so we have been greatly blessed by God. Often we have been under judgment by God, and yet most often led by God to what it is we are called to next. The vocation of the Anglican Communion is to be a force for greater koinonia, for overcoming the fragmentation of life in a vision of the whole people of God, in a time when fragmentation is what seems to be the rule of the day. It remains only for us to take heart in our “looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Heb. 12: 1b–2a).” ( The Challenge of Change: The Anglican Communion in the Post-Modern Era by Mark Harris)

The Anglican Communion will not endure. But I believe it still has work to do and that there is no reason in the world to have it taken over, “reset” by those who have no sense at all of what it means to have “The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of His Church.”  (That being part of the Lambeth Quadrilateral.)  

The notion that the Anglican Communion should be reset on the basis of a “doctrine” pushed through Lambeth 1998 by western/ northern malcontents playing on and using the energy of anti-colonialist feelings (often justified) in the Global South, is absurd.   

It is yet another example of the need to be clear about division.  Any member church of the Anglican Communion is free to leave the table of this communion at any point, and we should wish those who leave well. But they cannot take the table, or the silver, with them. 

And, not to put too fine a point on it: those who are post colonialist (and I hope many are) must find it odd to be battling for the future use of the word “Anglican.”  Why, if there is a desire to have a Global Church, would any post colonial church based on English occupation want to be called “Anglican”?  

This whole thing reeks of western/ northern needs by the discontented who left the Episcopal Church, The Anglican Church of Canada, the Church of England, the Anglican Church of Australia,  etc., to “capture the flag.”  My hope is that the Global South Primates will see this, and see that they are being misled by the West into an ecclesiastical mess of pottage.


GAFCON and Global South Fellowship want to take over: NUTS.

After the Lambeth Conference in 2022 I wrote an article titled, GAFCON and the Global South Fellowship wants to capture the flag. Let’s not play the game.” 

It is a long and Anglican nerd sort of title, but the point was clear. GAFCON and the Global South Fellowship wanted then to take leadership of the Anglican Communion out of the hands of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Anglican Primates (four very different elements of what was thought of as “unity” within the Anglican Communion) and instead have a different sort of leadership determined by the litmus test provided by GAFCON and Global South Primates.  

The idea was straightforwardly to “capture” the Anglican Communion flag. I believed we need not play that game.

This past week the Church of England in its synod passed on a proposal to allow the blessing of same sex civil marriages. This has ignited a firestorm out in GAFCON and Global South Fellowship land. They wrote a scathing denunciation of the CofE’s actions and distanced themselves from the Archbishop of Canterbury. Now they make the claim - the capture the flag claim - to be the rightful owners of the Anglican Communion.  

It is time to put the matter straight. 

The leadership of the Global Anglican Futures Conference and the Global South Fellowship can indeed withdraw from connection or communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury. They can indeed form a different sort of world wide church body. They can indeed call themselves Anglican.

But they have no business, no right, and certainly no legal standing to take over the  “The Anglican Communion” name, holdings, or structures. 

There will continue to be national and regional churches throughout the world who are in communion with the Church of England, and more particularly, in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury, and these churches will constitute the Anglican Communion.  Churches can decide to be in communion with one another in a wide variety of configurations, and GAFCON and Global South Fellowship churches already have such arrangements. But the “Anglican” in “Anglican Communion” refers to communion with the CofE, and more particularly the Archbishop of Canterbury. 

The Primates meetings are called by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lambeth Conference is called by the ABC. The most interesting group, the Anglican Consultative Council, exists under British law, and its constitution clearly states, “ (7.1) The Archbishop of Canterbury shall always be the President of the Council ex officio, and shall not be subject to retirement under the provisions of Articles 8 and 15 of these Articles. When present he shall inaugurate each meeting of the Council. He shall be ex officio a member of all its committees.”

So the upshot is that all the instruments of unity derive from the Archbishop inviting, calling and charing. To be in the Anglican Communion is to be in communion with the See of Canterbury.

Not to be in communion with Canterbury is perfectly alright. But it is not the Anglican Communion.

There has been some report that the Archbishop of Canterbury might step back from some or all of his role as chair , thereby allowing leadership of the Communion to pass on to the supposed majority who do not favor any sort of blessing of same sex marriages, and prior to that, no ordination of women. We can only hope that the Archbishop is not about to do that. This is no time for him to surrender the flag. I’m not even sure he can do that.

Better the GAFCON and Global South Fellowship organize as they will and withdraw from the Anglican Communion.  Better the Archbishop fo Canterbury continue to invite, organize and chair gatherings of church in communion with the CofE as a worldwide fellowship of churches.  

We don’t have to play capture the flag for one more minute.


HeGetsUs…bait for what?

“He gets us” is a campaign of ads, stories, aphorisms, etc., all related to the proposition that Jesus (the ‘he” of “he gets us”) knows us in all the confusions and difficulties of these times.  It is an evangelical campaign, in that it challenges the listener to relate to Jesus as the campaign presents him. (www.hegetsus.com) One of their ads was shown during the Super Bowl.

To some extent it is a rebranding effort. Elizabeth Kaeton has an important take on all this on her blog, here; http://telling-secrets.blogspot.com/2023/02/he-gets-us.html 

The “He gets us” branding of Jesus is one of several efforts now going on to bring us a fresh sense of who Jesus is and why he is important for all people.  “The Chosen,” attempts to tell the story of Jesus “through the eyes of those who knew him. https://new.thechosen.tv/  A new film, “The Jesus Revolution” tries to tell the story of the encounter with Jesus in the 1960-70’s in a way that speaks to young people now. https://jesusrevolution.movie/  So whether you are binging on a streamed video series, a stand alone movie, or a series of quick take ad like video pieces, you can get your Jesus right here, right now. 

And let us not forget the Episcopal Church’s very own rebranding of the Episcopal Church as “The Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement.” 

What is put forward in the rebranding “HeGetsUs”  is most easily seen in the gear (hats and t-shirts) that one can get from the HeGetsUs website.https://hegetsusfans.com/gear  

These proclaim that Jesus didn’t want us to act like adults, that Hate is loud (and/but) Jesus loved louder, that Jesus was wrongly judged, Jesus was an immigrant, Jesus was a refugee.  The people wearing them on the website page are not in any way identified as refugees, immigrants, wrongly judged, loudly loving (however defined) or non-adults. The target group, at least as the visuals present it,  are all young adults who get “gear” - t-shirts and caps - that connect them  with this Jesus who was an immigrant, homeless, a refugee, persecuted, loving loudly, etc.  

So the campaign is inviting young adults to an attractive, almost seductive, place of identification with Jesus and all  those who suffer injustice without actually having to do anything at all. The gear is free for the asking. 

The earliest missionary and evangelical motif was to fish for people. And casting nets and setting bait is essential to catching fish.. And people.  So the gear is bait. The videos and ads are bait. The invitation to look at the “biography” of Jesus that is presented by the HeGetsUS folk is bait. Or maybe all parts of the same net. But the idea is these are all to catch people…young people apparently.

Rebranding is setting bait.  And the agenda is not the bait - not the invitation to nibble or to put on the t-shirt and cap. The agenda is bigger than that.

The HeGetsUs campaign presents itself as an attractive way to invite people to take another look at Jesus. But the purpose is to make a catch.

And at that point it becomes important to understand just what the second level agenda is. And that is hidden from view.  To be fair this criticism can be made of many campaigns, crusades, revivals, rebrandings.  And I quite understand that the bait used by institutional religion is every bit as suspect as these ads are. 

But that does not mean we should stop asking the question about the hidden agenda. After all, from the standpoint of the fish,  it is not catching the fish that is the final agenda. The final agenda is lunch.  So if the bait of the ad or the t-shirt is to catch the interest of some young adults, what’s next?

Who sets the agenda for those pulled into the boat? When do the actual immigrants, homeless, persecuted, and generally beat upon show up? When does the “Us” who get the hats and t-shirts begin to look old, beat up, smacked down?   

HeGetsUs is apparently directed to media adept young adults. They know a lot about being hooked into schemes whose real agendas are hidden. 

Hopefully they get the next level of the catch… the bait changes. The viewer is invited to check out the next level of engagement with this supposedly open exploration of just who Jesus is, and the links take you to Life.Church, and suddenly there is a community of faith that is glad to take you in. And, lo and behold, the whole thing is there - a full blown evangelical church experience.  

Fair enough.  

But the original bait was “let’s look further into who this Jesus was.” Now the bait is, “there is a community that loves you and will help you get further into life in Christ.”  Remember all those t-shirts and hats? Keep them. But now the fish is being hooked on a full meal of evangelical Christian belief.

The HeGetsUs campaign is just that… the first bait to draw people into a conversation.  And then the bait changes… to catch them up in church that pretends not to be one of those institutional churches, but somehow open to loving them just as they are. But the story is not finished. The new community becomes also the “way” of Jesus as interpreted by those doing the fishing. Never mind that the first bait was that small tasty morsel…a hat, a t-shirt, a simple invite to see an ad. And how could one possibly object to that? 

Well, here is the objection: this campaign is fishing for us, and when we are caught, what next?  Only those doing the fishing know. And they aren’t at all up front about their agenda.

This HeGetsUs thingy is deceptive and dangerous. Don’t take the bait. Jesus draws all to himself not by a good ad campaign and great gear, but by being so present as God’s justice and mercy that WeGetHim. 


GAFCON and the Global South Fellowship wants to capture the flag. Let’s not play the game.

The Lambeth Conference is over with all its occasions to dance the two-step, each bishop moving laterally with alternate wringing hands of guilt and waving hands of praise, and thankfully having plenty of time to simply be with one another. In 10 years they can get together and do it again. I sense that the Lambeth Conference is a really good thing for a community of churches that come together because they want to, not because they have to. 

But now begins the Anglican version of Capture the Flag, in which contending parties vie for ownership of the Anglican Communion flag. 

The one party, the Lambeth Conference of Bishops in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury and mostly OK with one another, will continue to think that flying the flag of the Anglican Communion is about finding reasons to talk to one another, work together when possible, and give thanks for the treasure they have received from Anglican spiritual and liturgical life - gifts first received from the Church’s experience in England. These are churches that work to find ways to be a community of mutuality.

The other party desiring to capture the Flag consists of self proclaimed orthodox bishops who believe they should only get together with other bishops who share either the ancient faith, “once delivered of the Saints” or the faith as expressed as “biblical” faith, conforming to the Word of God given in the bible, plainly written. 

This second party is made up primarily of bishops from two organizations: The GAFCON bishops and the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches. In two separate statements, the Global South Fellowship and GAFCON have made it clear that they are out to capture the flag..to own the “real” rights to be the Anglican Communion. 

This crowd believes that Anglican Identity (for which they are glad to provide determining definition) is central to the question about what the Anglican Communion is and who is part of it.  

In this they are wrong. “Anglican identity” is about who thinks of themselves as Anglicans. “The Anglican Communion” is about particular churches who are in communion with the See of Canterbury and who gather from time to time for mutual support and encouragement and have an institutional structure for the sharing of this encouragement and support.

The second party wants capturing the flag to be about joining their proclamation about Anglican Identity to the rights to use the phrase “Anglican Communion.”  

To this end the GAFCON part of this party has begun speaking of the current (and they believe false) Anglican Communion as the “Canterbury Communion” rather than the Anglican Communion. They believe “The Anglican Establishment” has failed.  

GAFCON proposes that “Through the Global Anglian Future Conference (Gafcon) and the Global South Fellowship of Anglicans, led by the power of the Holy Spirit, new courageous leaders are filling this gap (in true leadership) with authentic community and communion, seeking to make up for the Gospel deficit and the Ecclesial deficit (Windsor Report).” (Archbishop Beach, August 9, Chairman’s Letter). 

What this second crowd contends is that the Lambeth Conference has no claim on being an “instrument” of communion and flying the “Anglican Communion” flag. Rather it is the gatherings growing out of the combination of energies from GAFCON and the Global South Fellowship of Anglicans, that should get the flag.  Their end is to replace an Anglican Communion, as a community of churches linked by way of communion with Canterbury, with a community of churches linked by shared doctrinal commitments to a peculiar way of engaging scripture and doctrinal purity.

They have the numbers… a number of the largest national/ regional churches (Nigeria and Uganda) in the Anglican Communion are part of this group.  But that doesn’t keep them from stacking the deck. Archbishop Beach includes in the list  of primates not attending Lambeth because of conscience, the primates of North America and Brazil - by which he means the Archbishops of the Anglican Church of North America and the breakaway Anglican Church of Brazil. Neither of which is a part of the Anglican Communion - that is, they are not in communion with Canterbury or recognized by the Anglican Consultative Council.  

All of this is about this second group making the case that it is IT that really represents the Anglican Churches in the world, and not the Anglican Communion as currently constituted. All of this is part of its effort to capture the flag.

I find myself thinking of Rhett Butler, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Apparently some provinces of the Anglican Communion and some other churches want to be a “real” multinational church, with its own peculiar doctrines. That is, a church like the Roman Catholic Church, or even perhaps the Orthodox Churches with a well formed hierarchy. Go for it. 

But I don’t believe there is any need for another world-wide church. The ones that exist are full of promise but are profoundly disappointing. If this gang wants to go for that, go for it.

I’m for the Anglican Communion that is Incarnational, lives as a provisional conciliar body, is a fellowship (koinonia) and not a power, is concerned for mutuality and is willing to die to itself, and united in prayer and action for the health of the world. 

I don’t give a damn about starting another worldwide church with a peculiar and unchanging doctrine. But let’s be clear:

They have no right to the name “Anglican Communion” and we are under no obligation to play this Capture the Flag game.  

Let’s tell them to go, do what they want, but they don’t get to take the family silver, or claim the family name

For some reason, owning that flag, and the rights to speak of your particular party as the “real” Anglican Communion has become an important objective.