NAIROBI: Understanding Global South Anglicanism and why Global North Anglicans hate them
By David W. Virtue
October 22, 2013
It is important to understand what is going in Nairobi at the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) and why Western Pan-Anglican provinces that are liberal in ethos and theology despise and hate them.
There is a profound simplicity to all that is being said here. It is gospel affirmation at its finest. There is nothing really new. The sermons and hymns, both ancient and modern, are as old as Luther and Wesley, Havergal and Crosby, Newton and Sanky to name but a few. Billy Graham would be completely at home here as would Rick Warren, Tim Keller and Al Mohler. GAFCON is a continuation of the East African Revival that these African leaders want to see continue into the future for themselves and for their children. They are afraid that a large number of western Anglican provinces have departed from "the faith once for all delivered to the saints" and have imbibed "another gospel" - (See Gal 1: 6-7).
Furthermore, they see the intrusion of Western pansexual Anglicanism as a serious threat to their faith and morals that they don't want their children to imbibe.
It is an understandable fear, one that makes perfect sense when one sees one's own children -- now called "Nones" -- depart the faith for a vapid secularism with an easy belief of just about anything (or nothing) that takes their fancy. A lot of it is laziness, a lot more is "the spirit of age", moral relativism and much more.
This frightens these ardent evangelical African Anglicans. They both fear what the West is doing and what they will ultimately do to them, if they let it go unchallenged. It is more than just about homosexuality. That is a besetting issue but not the only one. It is the genuine fear that if the gospel is not upheld in the face of its cultured despisers, they will leave nothing for their children. A virulent evangelistic Islam also poses a major threat to the historic Christian Faith, though not to its liberal version. This was forcefully explained by Pakistani-born Bishop Michael Nazir Ali who pounced on secularism, Islam and syncretism as the three forces facing the church that unless confronted could seriously compromise the church's primary message.
Western Anglicans view the church and the world through different lenses. They want to be sure that faith is not relegated to the dustbin of history by modern advancements in science and medicine. Why pray to God for healing when we really depend on drugs and surgeons to cure us. Our understanding of sexuality cannot be left in the hands of a 2,000 year old apostle (St. Paul) who spoke for another time and age in the church and therefore cannot speak with any authority in today's fast-paced world where sex is first and foremost for recreation not procreation. What could he possibly know about permanent, loving same sex marriages? Is it any wonder that homosexual behavior and marriage is now a fait accompli at a political, social and spiritual level? It is only a handful of homophobes living in an ancient time warp holding out against it.
It is why a Jack Spong and a Gene Robinson are so au courant and acceptable to the modern episcopal mind. They have had the "courage" to leap out of the "narrow" confines of the Bible and into the modern world, taking only those vestiges of faith with them that they can tolerate in what they see in a fast changing world made so by new technologies, Apples, drones, iPads and trips to the moon. Does one really think one will see God from 50 miles up in the stratosphere?
Is it any wonder that Katharine Jefferts Schori, a former scientist, cannot accept the bodily resurrection of Jesus? Instead she opts for a more spiritualized version, a mental specter, because she believes that dead bodies cannot rise and walk through walls, even though there are dozens of Christian scientists who have no problem believing that Jesus rose bodily from the grave.
Liberals fear being left behind in the mad rush towards modernity in an ever-changing world. They want to modernize the church to keep it from being irrelevant. It's an understandable fear at one level but fatal at another.
It is easy to look down on evangelicals as fundamentalist, "happy clappy", insincere, simplistic, out of touch with the modern world and ultimately irrelevant. It makes for good headlines. A lot of Anglo-Catholics I have met feel that way about evangelicals as well. That caricature, however, is both unfair and inaccurate when it comes to Anglicans, but might be true when thinking of the thousands of truly fundamentalist sects and denominations that litter the American landscape. No one could possibly accuse evangelical archbishops like Donald Coggan, George Carey and Justin Welby of being simplistic happy clappy evangelicals. All of them graduated from major world class universities and seminaries.
At the core of the dilemma for liberals is a total loss of nerve when it comes to talking about Jesus, sin and salvation, the need for New Birth and pressing such ancient doctrines as justification and sanctification. Liberals would sooner talk about the need for anti-racism training, eco-evangelism, poverty issues, women's issues and almost any issue that takes someone's fancy about inclusion and diversity.
Episcopal Church bishops have, from to time, slammed Global South bishops as being irrelevant for their failure to address the myriad social problems their nations face, a charge that has been constantly refuted by such Anglican leaders as Nigerian Archbishop Nicholas Okoh who regularly berates his government over corruption, Boko Haran rebels who kill his flocks, a poor education system and systemic poverty.
One cannot ignore the fact that liberal archbishops have not made churches grow in England, the US or Canada which begs the question that liberals refuse to face why the Church of England continues to flounder in primeval waters when electing its leaders: why they don't elect a liberal more in tune with the times. Ironically, that was tried with Rowan Williams with disastrous consequences for the communion.
So we return to GAFCON with a Bible written hundreds of years ago, sing ancient and modern hymns, worship from a 1662 Book of Common Prayer, insist on dressing up in medieval finery while Duck Dynasty and SpongeBob, NCIS and Law and Order, the Kardashians and Games with titles like The Walking Dead Returns and a dozen sports channels make for better Sunday morning television viewing.
I would posit the following.
African, Asian and Latin Evangelical Christians know they are made for eternity not merely for time. The East African revival is a profound recognition and understanding of the nature of man and his terrible attraction to sin in all its forms. They look at the West and say if you are so possessed by stuff and change, why are so many of you so desperately lonely, lost and unhappy, have the highest suicide rates in the world, the highest divorce rates, the highest usage of prescription (and non-prescription) drugs to cope with depression and despair, none of which has made you any happier than when you lived in simpler times or by embracing the revisionist theologies you now embrace.
Global North Anglicans accuse African Christians of accepting polygamy and want to make it a moral equivalence issue with homosexuality. That is not entirely true. Polygamy is a rural and cultural issue in Africa. It is not an issue in the cities. I have never met an African priest or bishop who openly practiced polygamy. It would be totally unacceptable to an archbishop like Nicholas Okoh who demands his bishops and archbishops hold to the highest standards of Christian marriage -- one man, one woman. The African churches will not turn a polygamist away from the church, but they will not be given leadership roles either. A divorced bishop loses his job. Ironically, I have known a number of Episcopal homosexuals who have had multiple partners, an issue no one addresses in Episcopal Church leadership.
At another level is the realization by African Anglicans looking at the West is that the church's accommodation to the prevailing culture has not made their churches grow. Preaching an exclusive gospel of God's love and salvation has seen millions come to Christ with changed lives, morally and spiritually uplifted people bringing an end to addictive behaviors, cult religions, animist worship as well as spiritual despair and much more.
In the end there is nothing Western Anglicanism has to offer the Global South that is remotely life giving, life changing or church growing, so, we must ask, what is in it for them to emulate or imbibe anything the West has to offer.
Then there is worship. There is no joy in watching general conventions times of worship. The gay Eucharist is nothing but a hotbed of homosexual affirmation and whine (called inclusion) of a behavior that changes no one and nothing. There is not even any hint of joy in regular convention Eucharists. The event is so politicized and socialized it is hard to find Jesus at all.
Here the contrast could not be greater. There is a palpable joy and expectation when one comes to worship with more than 1000 African Anglicans. They "let loose". They genuinely praise God; examine scripture carefully for what God is saying to them now and use the ancient Prayer Book liturgy. Then they go out and share the Good News to anyone who will listen.
Is it any wonder that ACNA Archbishop Robert Duncan and bishops like Julian Dobbs find their spiritual home in Nigeria and not in the Diocese of Virginia which recently saw its bishop Shannon Johnston invite Spong to speak on Easter at his cathedral where he denied the Easter story. Who would want to imbibe that?
The Anglican Communion is permanently polarized and divided. Realignment is underway and will not be stopped. We have a de facto schism if not a de jure schism. Archbishop Welby will soon have to make a choice as to what side of the great divide he is on. He cannot claim the high middle ground because there isn't one. The Global South is committed to an apostolic gospel and they won't let him live in this twilight zone indefinitely. A fish or cut bait time approaches. One can only hope and pray the Cantaur of Canterbury makes the right decision.
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