LAMBETH and GAFCON Will Face Off as Future of Anglican Communion is Decided --- Lambeth Conference is Finished
By David W. Virtue
The absence of some 270 Anglican bishops from the Lambeth Conference was noted with sadness on more than one occasion by liberal Episcopal and Anglican bishops, including the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The tone of their no show "anguish" was one of condescension that they were missing the Main Event as the Anglican Communion is now moving forward, at the beckoning of the Holy Spirit, into new uncharted and untested spiritual waters.
While GAFCON was not on the lips of liberal bishops throughout the three week event, it was the elephant in the sacristy that nobody could ignore.
And so it was, that in his closing message to the Lambeth Conference of bishops, the Archbishop of Canterbury said this, "Where will the work be done? Before the ACC meeting next year - which will be a significant element in implementing our vision - I intend to convene a Primates' Meeting as early as possible in 2009. I shall look within the next two months for a clear and detailed specification for the task and composition of a Pastoral Forum, and I shall ensure that the perspectives of various groups looking at the Covenant and the Windsor process, as well as the Design Group for this Conference help to shape the implementation of the agenda outlined in the Reflections document, and are fed into the special meeting in November of the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates and the ACC. We may not have put an end to all our problems - but the pieces are on the board. And in the months ahead it will be important to invite those absent from Lambeth to be involved in these next stages. Much in the GAFCON documents is consonant with much of what we have sought to say and do, and we need to look for the best ways of building bridges here." So there you have it.
Cruising like a torpedo just beneath the surface of the water, GAFCON's orthodox bishops made it clear that they would not attend Lambeth because of its failure to uphold orthodox biblical standards on sexual behavior and much more. They did not back down.
Statements from at least two archbishops, Benjamin Nzimbi (Kenya) and Henry Luke Orombi (Uganda) who continue to cross diocesan boundaries and make charges of British colonialism against Rowan Williams, indicated that the GAFCON leaders were watching, listening and maintaining pressure on the ABC, even as their absence was duly noted.
Orombi's rip was particularly stunning. He questioned the legitimacy of Williams' appointment as Archbishop by secular authorities since he was not elected by his peers, unlike the pope. (Actually the Archbishop's name was put forward by an electoral college made up of Church members. It is consulted widely, and was endorsed by a meeting of all the Anglican primates in the Communion before the Queen and No. 10 Downing Street sign off on it.)
It was Orombi's statement that the Episcopal Church, is acting contrary to God's word and the consensus of the communion that was the most damning. "Who in the Anglican Communion has the authority to discipline that erring province?", he asked. Who indeed?
It was made abundantly clear by Williams himself that he has no legal authority to rein in an erring diocese and that moral suasion is lackluster at best. Episcopal church leaders like Mrs. Jefferts Schori made it equally clear that she and her province won't be told what to do or how to behave by anybody, including the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The tail is clearly wagging the dog.
What Dr. Williams doesn't get, or perhaps chooses not to get, is that GAFCON doesn't need Lambeth, Lambeth needs GAFCON!
GAFCON's 300 plus bishops own 75% or more of the Anglican Communion. The 600 or so bishops present at Lambeth speak for only 25% or less of the Anglican Communion. So who is really calling the shots?
Williams said that much of what GAFCON wants is consonant with what Lambeth documents are asking and doing which are what he wants in order to build bridges. What specifically is consonant, he did not say, nor could he.
The question is: why would or should GAFCON primates want to build bridges, if the theological, ecclesiological, doctrinal and moral gap is still unbridgeable, and that nothing concrete came out of Lambeth offering even a sliver of hope to GAFCON leaders?
Already the Bishop of Massachusetts, M. Thomas Shaw, said, in an interview upon his return from London, that he will continue to ordain gay clergy, which he called "pastorally important." It should be noted that it was his diocese that flaunted the transgendered priest at Lambeth, an in-your-face act that was met with some revulsion in the Global South.
If Orombi is prepared to challenge the legitimacy of the See of Canterbury, Archbishops Peter Akinola, (Nigeria) Emmanuel Kolini (Rwanda) and others are with him, how can any bridge be built that won't collapse with the first storm?
The newly consecrated Bishop of South Carolina, Mark Lawrence noted, rather insightfully, that GAFCON is the heir apparent to assume leadership of the Anglican Communion. Quincy Bishop Keith Ackerman and Chilean Bishop Hector Zavala joined him in that opinion.
Bishop Lawrence criticized the existing Instruments of Communion as being too slow to adapt. He told TLC, "I witnessed a new birth last month [at GAFCON]. The Global South has come to its place of maturity. I don't know how the two structures will work together in the future. Those who adapt the quickest will be the ones who win the day."
Southern Cone Archbishop Gregory Venables told VOL that he sees no change of direction for GAFCON. It is up to Dr. Williams to exercise leadership and bring to heel provinces like Canada and TEC, if any change of heart is to come from GAFCON leaders.
That is most unlikely.
Some orthodox bishops believe that there are actually two different religions at work in the Anglican Communion - one is orthodox, faithful to Scripture, the creeds and the Book of Common Prayer, while the other is post-modern, Gnostic, Arian, Donatist and Pelagian - updated heresies from the first three centuries of the Early Church. The two are seemingly irreconcilable.
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori is being challenged to state clearly to the rest of the Communion the intentions of The Episcopal Church's House of Bishops. Based on past performances by her predecessor Frank Griswold, that is a recipe for disaster. He flat out lied when he told the Primates in London (2003) that he would never consecrate an openly homoerotic bishop. Three weeks later, he went right ahead and did it anyway! Who will believe anything Mrs. Jefferts Schori has to say?
GAFCON leaders will not be fooled twice. They have her number and they see what she is doing to orthodox bishops in The Episcopal Church. Despite all the talk of reconciliation by the ABC, she gave the cold shoulder to Pittsburgh Bishop Bob Duncan in Canterbury. Does anybody really believe for a moment that she and her attorney David Booth Beers will suddenly back down from going after him in the "spirit of Lambeth"?
The Episcopal Church's flagrant disregard for the 1998 Lambeth Resolution 1.10, the consecration of a partnered homosexual in the person of Gene Robinson, and the continual marriage of same sex persons using made up rites will continue unabated. There is no evidence to counter that. The moratorium that the bishops agreed upon at Lambeth will soon be broken. If that should become the case, the Communion will split.
Bishop Ackerman encouraged media in Canterbury to pay careful attention to the words chosen in the final reflections document. He said he is concerned that people on both sides will be unwilling to wait 10 years for the approval of a proposed covenant and that individual bishops will attempt creative interpretations of the language used in the final reflections document. He is right.
The language on the fourth draft of the moratorium remained unchanged. It stated there was "widespread support for moratoria across the Communion," but no final decision was made. What we will see now is a battle among the bishops for control of the Communion. The future of the Church of England, and its sister churches in the worldwide Anglican Communion, depends on who wins this unprecedented struggle for power.
But it is not just about power. It is about theology. It is about the nature and pursuit of truth. It is about how we are reconciled to God.
GAFCON leaders, already chaffing at the bit over the intransigence of homosexual acceptance in The Episcopal Church, will get no joy or relief from the indecision by these Lambeth bishops. Archbishop Gregory Venables of the Southern Cone held out little hope that the Communion will now hold together.
If a split is forthcoming, it won't be the end of the Anglican Communion, just the four instruments of unity. GAFCON leaders will pay no future heed to them.
The question will be: who owns the Communion, who speaks for Anglicanism?
A whole new day is dawning. The truly faithful are no longer the remnant; they are the show. They will no longer be told what to do or believe by a Western white male dominated church led by a bearded academic whose theological and moral fuzziness frustrates them.
When the Primates' Council of GAFCON gets together at the end of August to study the outcome of the Lambeth Conference, you can be sure that whatever they decide, it won't be good news for Rowan Williams.
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