GAFCON is no instrument of unity

The Living Church last week published the communique of the GAFCON Primate's Council which met in April in its entirety, but with the odd headline, "GAFCON: Instrument of Unity?" TLC was either exercising whimsy, throwing out a challenge for response, or simply wondering.

Is GAFCON an instrument of unity? The answer is easy:  NO. 

GAFCON (the Global Anglican Future Conference) has become the core of something called the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans. In practice GAFCON has become an alternative way of drawing together a world wide Anglican community on confessional rather than ecclesial grounds.

In the communique, the primates state "we believe that the GAFCON movement is emerging as a faithful instrument of unity capable of gathering the majority of faithful Anglicans in communion globally."

In the communique GAFCON makes its claim to be "a faithful instrument of unity" on several grounds:  

(i) it represents "the faith once delivered to the saints."  The communique praises Bob Duncan, deposed bishop of Pittsburgh, as a model for those contending for "the faith, etc."

(ii) it represents "the majority of faithful Anglicans" in the Anglican Communion.

(iii) it expresses the true level of concern for Anglicans worldwide - compassion for those who suffer persecution or from strife, and prayerful call for repentance from those who stray from "the whole of the truth Anglicans are called to proclaim." 

That is, GAFCON represents itself as being true to the core of the faith of the early church, representing the views of a majority of the world's Anglicans, and able to determine when to call for correction or support of churches and peoples.

GAFCON is not what it seems. 

As a rallying cry, "the faith once delivered to the saints" is shamefully insufficient and I don't know why the GAFCONites continue to use it, except of course that their American friends do so. Their American friends drew the short straw regarding Anglican understandings of the faith, instead taking their lead from an early form of Christian polemic which has claimed purity for its proponents and damnation for all others. These American friends are puritans following the same line that led their predecessors away from sacramental Christianity which mostly welcomes others to a personal and private pure faith, which mostly shuns others.

The expression of faith that was given to the "saints," meaning by that the faith of first century Christians, was as full of flotsam and jetsam as the faith of any age. The notion that women should keep their heads covered and not speak in church is a bit of culture that floated with the boat of Christianity and has yet to have been thrown overboard in many parts of the Christian world. The rather confusing first Christian century sensibilities regarding orders of ministry and prevailing marriage practices resulted in a decree that a deacon should have only one wife (making it clear that other Christians might well have more). There is some confusion as to what the orders of ordained ministry ought to include. Marriage as an option for those who otherwise might "burn" with passion makes it not a standard for faith, but an exception for those of lesser spiritual strength. And so on.

The "faith once delivered to the saints" is a rallying cry with that sounds really great, except that when applied falls short of the faith actually delivered. That faith, the one we really adhere to, is about the experience of resurrection - something that is given not by good morals as defined by any organization, but by the Spirit of God working in us, both collectively and individually. 

As to representing the faith of the majority of the world's Anglicans, GAFCON puts its argument on body count as represented by those leaders (Primates) who sign off on documents. There is nothing to support the claim that the majority of the world's Anglicans either hold to particular stances as taken by the Primates or that those stances have anything much to do with enduring Christian values.  The GAFCON Primates have made the "missionary position" the standard for moral behavior such that marriage between one man and one woman is the only context for sexual activity that is worthy of Christians. 

We who sent missionaries out to civilize and Christianize the world put them up to this and in an odd way we deserve what we have gotten as a result. When it blew back in our faces at Lambeth 1998, we ended up with the only resolution of a Lambeth Conference to be declared normative for the communion as a kind of litmus test of orthodoxy. 

The GAFCON Primates learned their lessons well, too well. Someone forgot to mention that the moral floor for human relationships is the love between God and all of us, between the Creator and the created, or more suscintly, the love that exists as an extension of God's self revelation in the Incarnation. Self giving love is the core, and all else is relative to that. But there is no reference by the Primates to any of that.

GAFCON Primates short change all of us by taking the paltry sexual ethics of England and America in the 19th and 20th Century and making it their own.  People everywhere are subject to the same self-centeredness in sexual behavior and its high time there is some real Christian conversation about the possibilities of love, including sexual manifestations of that love,  between and among people as self emptying for the good of the other. Meanwhile the GAFCON Primates, and for that matter the whole of the Anglican episcopate, needs to deal more with where people are and less with where they think people ought to be regarding sexuality. 

And then there is the matter of "the whole of the Truth Anglicans are called to proclaim."  GAFCON Primates tell us that part of that truth worth proclaiming is that physical love between two people of the same sex is on the face of it wrong and evil. The GAFCON Primates think that this is a central part of the moral stance of those who participate in the truth of the faith as Anglicans understand it. 

There is little to say about this except that the truth we are called to proclaim is about a more central set of propositions from which our moral actions grow. These central propositions of the faith are sometimes referred to as "core" Christian beliefs. The belief that homosexual behavior is inherently immoral can be argued, but it is not a necessary core value of Christian belief and arguments to that effect are, well, stupid.

So in the end GAFCON's reason for claiming to be an instrument for unity ends up being circular:  It is an instrument for unity for those who already agree with its claims to be such an instrument and who, by so agreeing, limit the future of Anglicanism to their particular reading. GAFCON Primates would maintain Anglican unity by excluding all those who would challenge a particular understanding about a particular moral and cultural issue, thereby guaranteeing that the only ones left standing are those who agree with them.

That is not producing unity, but successful division.

The GAFCON movement may very well put in place an alternative "fellowship" and proclaim that fellowship to be the "real" Anglican community, proclaiming the truth etc, but it will do so at the cost of giving up fellowship with regular followers of Christ.

GAFCON is no instrument of unity, it is an instrument of division. GAFCON Primates must know this, and surely their American coaches and handlers know this. The end of all this will be a great distraction and disunity.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Mark, for an excellent analysis.

    When I first read the communiqué, I was particularly struck by the phrase “a faithful instrument of unity capable of gathering the majority of faithful Anglicans in communion globally.” I took this as a declaration of the intention to make the FCA the “real” Anglican Communion, i.e., to expel the liberal West. At one level, this is a split to be desired, but, as you imply, it would be unfortunate for the many Anglicans who have been badly led by their power-hungry bishops.


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.