GLOBAL ANGLICAN FUTURE CONFERENCE THREATENS TO SPLIT COMMUNION
Middle East Archbishop Sounds Negative Note on GAFCON. Akinola Replies
By David W. Virtue
The President Bishop of the Middle East, the Most Rev. Dr. Mouneer Anis, has written to the Primate of Nigeria, Archbishop Peter Akinola, asking him to reconsider the "timing and venue" of the announced GAFCON meeting of orthodox Anglicans in the Holy Land scheduled for June 2008, just a month before the Lambeth Conference meets in Canterbury.
In correspondence obtained by VOL, Archbishop Mouneer wrote saying he wanted to share his thoughts on the proposed GAFCON meeting.
"It will be a great joy for the Liberals if the conservatives boycott the Lambeth Conference. They will not find any resistance like the one made by the Global South Bishops in 1998. Secondly our absence will create a vacuum. I expect that at least 50% of the African Bishops will attend Lambeth Conference. Many of those do not have enough IT access and resources to fully understand the current crises. This means that 80% will attend and the strong voices from the South will be missed. The conservatives will find themselves as a minority between the Liberals and unaware African Conservatives.
"If we all attend, because Lambeth and the Anglican Communion are ours, we can change many things as in 1998. No one will force a specific agenda if we do not accept. Our presence can help those who are not aware of the problems."
Mouneer went on to cite St. Athanasius of Alexandria and his Bishop who went to Nicaea and fought the good fight against Arius. "They won. The creed that we say today was the result of this."
Mouneer said he was encouraged by the meeting in Nairobi, "where you reflected on the future of our Anglican presence. Like you, I am so disappointed in regard to the new theological direction of the churches in North America and other parts of the West. This direction undermines the authority of the Scripture, the nature of Christ, His death and resurrection. Like you, I am so disappointed because of the lack of discipline within our Communion. It is sad that we waste our time in meeting after meeting while TEC and Canada ignore all the warnings and requests of such meetings.
"I totally agree that we, the orthodox Anglican, should meet and discuss the challenges that are facing us and the ways that we go forward in the future. However, I am concerned about the timing you chose for such a meeting."
"It will be seen as an event to replace Lambeth Conference (LC). Especially after several of us have declared that we will not attend Lambeth Conference. This will prevent many orthodox Anglicans, especially from the West from attending such a meeting. Waiting for after Lambeth Conference will help us to understand what issues we need to discuss and how we can move forward. This will be mainly about the covenant. Will it be agreeable or will it be reduced to an unacceptable form? This also will help us to draft an acceptable one for the covenant which can be circulated before our meeting and signed during it. Many orthodox Anglicans will not be ready to sign any covenant before Lambeth Conference. We need to aim to be a covenantal family.
"If we met after LC, say November, will give us enough time to study and develop a structured network for the orthodox Anglicans in the world with all the needed statements of faith, mission, constitution and organizational structures. It will also give us time to agree beforehand about the possible outcome and recommendations of this meeting. A successful meeting requires very good preparation for the outcome; otherwise it will become another event like the previous Global South events. Without good preparation, possible division may occur during the meeting, especially among Global South members and those from the West who join for the first time.
"In regard to the site, 'Jerusalem', I doubt that we will get the support of the Bishop there for various reasons. Even if he agreed initially, things may change several months afterwards. This will put us in an awkward position. It is my region and I know it better than you. To say we will do a pilgrimage to attract Bishops, and yet it is not entirely a pilgrimage, is not right in my point of view.
"For the above reasons I would be grateful if you could reconsider the timing and the venue."
In a letter back to Mouneer, Akinola wrote saying how much he shared his perceptions and analyses of the situation we are in. "The new theological direction of the North American Churches and the lack of discipline are matters we both grieve about. I am also grateful that we share the same judgement that it is important that the orthodox Anglicans should meet and discuss the challenges before us. "You have again raised issues of the timing and the venue of such a meeting. I appreciate your concerns. I also agree with you that any discussion of a structured network for orthodox Anglicans with statements of faith, constitution and organisational structure needs proper preparation. We are not at that point yet and that is why we need to meet in June.
"I think it would be rather too precipitous to meet for the first time within a few months after Lambeth to try and engage in such structured realignment. What is most urgently required is an opportunity to meet and concentrate on our Lord, on the gospel, on his ministry and his mission and its implication for our obedience. We have dissipated so much energy and focused on TEC agenda for four years that we have not adequately discussed these matters of the greatest importance. We began to do so at the Africa Bishops conference at Lagos in 2004. We now wish to meet as a Global Fellowship to build on those discussions. Our meeting must not be in reaction to Lambeth. We must set the agenda of the gospel first.
"As we talked together at Nairobi, it became clear than a number of primates, leading a substantial number of bishops, feel they need to provide the spiritual care and encouragement which they would otherwise hope to receive at Lambeth, but which they cannot provide because of their principled objection to the current composition of the conference, which I believe you share. So our meeting is also necessary to provide that spiritual care.
"Be assured that we considered your important arguments carefully as we met in Nairobi. But we came to the unanimous conclusion that we needed to proceed. "I hope that you will trust the discernment of your brothers, their wish to remain in fellowship with you, and their earnest hope that you will feel most welcome to be with us in this time of gathering together and pilgrimage to lay the first steps for the future we all desire."
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