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Welby's African Tour Designed to Shore up Base Among New Primates

Welby's African Tour Designed to Shore up Base Among New Primates
Was trip intended to deflect GAFCON expansion?

By David W. Virtue, DD
March 1, 2017

Archbishop Justin Welby recently toured Africa, meeting with recently enthroned primates from Burundi, Congo, Rwanda and Kenya, updating them on various developments in the Anglican Communion.

Sources tell VOL that the trip was first of all designed to woo these younger and more vulnerable primates away from GAFCON. He did not visit Nigeria, the largest province in the Anglican communion and the most solidly evangelical. Had he gone there, he would undoubtedly have gotten an earful from Archbishop Nicholas Okoh about the recent synod vote on homosexuality in the Church of England. Welby spared himself that conversation or chastisement.

The tour was billed "to hear about and see the work of the Church in each Province; to discuss future opportunities for the Anglican Communion in the world; and to pray together," and to make sure that they are onboard when he calls for another meeting of the Primates in October (2 - 6) of this year, again in Canterbury Cathedral, following the lackluster meeting of the same primates last January in Canterbury.

But VOL has been told that it is most unlikely that the GAFCON Primates will be attending this meeting, leaving it to moderates and liberals to hear what the ABC has to say. "The general mood is no," a Primate told VOL.

But Welby needs to be sure that these new primates will show up, and to do that he made this trip in an effort to shore up his position as primus inter pares.

If he can get the newly minted archbishops of Kenya and Congo to come in October, he could effectively break the back of GAFCON and diminish its standing and growing place in the Anglican Communion. It would be a coup of the first order. Rwaje has not yet retired and is still the sitting archbishop of Rwanda.

Is it any wonder that a sitting archbishop said of Welby, following the debacle of the vote and his call for 'radical inclusion', "he is always dissembling - deceitful - hiding his real position for political gain..."

He has, apparently, coopted the Rt. Rev. Nick Baines of Leeds to invite seven archbishops to visit him in his diocesan home in northern England for a first-time visit, which included prelates from Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Pakistan and the Sudan.

The timing couldn't be better. After visiting with him, they will all descend on Canterbury for a pow-wow with Welby.

Said Bishop Nick, "It will be a unique international conference - I'm not aware that any other diocese has done this before. We'll be celebrating the strength of global Christianity -- a hugely positive message that runs counter to the current narrative of anti-globalization."

A Church of England source told VOL that there does seem to be a deliberate and growing effort by Lambeth to draw in the Global South and so to neutralize it.

Behind all the sweet talk of diversity and inclusion is the subtext of 'we must stay together as a communion and not let our differences separate us,' a view that has found an echo chamber from the Secretary General of the Anglican Consultative Council, the Rt. Rev. Josiah Idowu-Fearon.

A Church of England insider to the politics of the Church told VOL that while Baines has billed himself as an evangelical, he has, of late, moved to the center and this visitation is a way of neutralizing the Africans and turning them into useful idiots for the ABC, all the while allowing the Church of England to proceed down the rocky slope of pansexuality following its American and Canadian provincial counterparts.

Welby watchers say he does nothing without a political subtext and his biggest fear is that GAFCON will take hold in the U.K. along with the AMIE, with backing from movements like REFORM, Church Society and the small, but unmovable, Anglo Catholics, and a divided church over homosexuality. Welby, despite his genius for management, cannot parse this one. He is in deep trouble.

Thus, the deeper truth is GAFCON chairman Nicholas Okoh is Welby's worst nightmare. He is increasingly vocal and critical of Welby as he was of Welby's predecessor, Dr. Rowan Williams. He is relentless and unyielding. He recently said that the decision by the Church of England synod's decision over homosexuality had set it on the same path as the Episcopal Church of the United States (TEC) and other Provinces that have taken it upon themselves to reinvent fundamental Christian doctrine.

The Archbishop of Canterbury's call for "a radical new Christian inclusion" has provided a watershed moment with the Church of England and a red rag to an African bull. Okoh and GAFCON will have none of it.

In a communique from Nigeria this week, Archbishop Okoh said of the Anglican Communion that the Standing Committee resolves to uphold, support and further extend the principles and mission of GAFCON and hereby renews commitment to its vision.

GAFCON-UK commented that "The confusion created by the General Synod vote on 15th February makes it abundantly clear that a new vision is now needed of what Anglican Christianity in England can and should be."

Could GAFCON-UK be any clearer than that?!

Even as Welby remains "first among equals" and the de facto head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, GAFCON leaders say that Canterbury can no longer consider itself the center of the Anglican Communion.

"Canterbury can no longer be the defining center, but through the GAFCON movement, a growing number of faithful Anglicans are now recovering their true identity in the gospel itself as the Bible is restored to its rightful place at the heart of the Communion."

Them's fightin' words.

They are not arguing for a new geographic center; rather the gospel itself as the Bible is restored to its rightful place, which should be at the heart of the Communion.

The actions of Synod signaled a permissive approach in practice to homosexuality and opened a door to a de facto acceptance of a sexual behavior explicitly proscribed by Scripture.

This is a watershed moment with the Church of England, now set on the same downward spiral as the Episcopal Church of the United States and other Provinces that have taken it upon themselves to reinvent fundamental Christian doctrine.

While in Nairobi, Archbishop Justin attended a meeting of the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa (CAPA) to discuss the ongoing hunger crisis in South Sudan. The meeting was convened by the Chair of CAPA, the Primate of Central Africa, Archbishop Albert Chama. A smart political move indeed, but will it change anything?

Can Welby drive a wedge into GAFCON by meeting with these new Primates and thus persuade them to turn up in October, or will the feisty take-no-prisoners GAFCON leader keep Welby from poking his English brolly into the African bums of these vulnerable primates prodding them to come along, all expenses paid. We shall know in time.


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