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Archbishop Justin Welby’s Global Anglican Strategy: Neutralize GAFCON

Archbishop Justin Welby’s Global Anglican Strategy: Neutralize GAFCON

By David W. Virtue, DD
April 3, 2017

It is now apparent that the Archbishop of Canterbury’s strategy leading up to the next Lambeth Conference in 2020 is to get as many African Primates on board over the next three years and thus neutralize the growing vibrant Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) which stands as the biggest thorn in the flesh to his ambitions to keep the Anglican Communion together at any cost.

But will it work? That is the $64,000 question.

Consider the following.

Justin Welby recently appointed the former Archbishop of Burundi, Archbishop Bernard Ntahoturi as the new Director for the Anglican Centre, Rome. He succeeds New Zealand born Archbishop David Moxon, a liberal appointee by Rowan Williams. Moxon retires in June. He did everything to boycott ecumenism between Rome and the Anglican realignment provinces.

A press report said Ntahoturi, 68, served as Primate of the Anglican Church of Burundi from 2005 until 2016, and was active in seeking peace in war-torn Burundi and the Great Lakes region of Africa and represented the protestant churches of Burundi during the peace and reconciliation negotiations in Tanzania, which were instrumental in bringing peace to Burundi. He is Chair of the Inter-Anglican Standing Committee on Unity, Faith and Order (IASCUFO).

“I am personally delighted that Archbishop Bernard Ntahoturi has agreed to take up the joint post of Archbishop’s Representative to the Holy See and Director of the Anglican Centre in Rome. The appointment of a former Primate to this post for the second time running demonstrates the importance I attach to developing the increasingly close relationship between the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church,” said Welby.

In January 2015 VOL reported that five GAFCON Primates wrote a blistering letter to Ntahoturi accusing him of betraying the faith by attending a "Transformation Through Friendship" gathering put on by The Episcopal Church in October 2014.

It should be noted however that Ntahoturi did attend GAFCON II in October 2013. He seems to have changed his mind after TEC approved same-sex marriage and he voted for their suspension from the Anglican Communion in January 2016. He attended the Global South meeting in Cairo, Egypt, in October 2016 and he was one of the 12 signants on the occasion, with several GAFCON Primates, including ACNA Archbishop Foley Beach.

They told the African archbishop in no uncertain terms that he was playing with fire in accepting any invitation from the leaders of The Episcopal Church. Such actions lead only to further alienation from the Global South, they said.

"The New York Communique does not speak for the Anglican Provinces of Africa and it is a matter of very great regret that the 'Continuing Indaba' strategy has led to the division of African Anglicans," the Primates of Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Congo, Sudan wrote.

The GAFCON Primates said it was nothing more than manipulation, as these Primates had rejected the process of Indaba that sought alliances to capitalize on economic vulnerability to advance a Western liberal agenda. Ntahoturi never replied.

Earlier in October 2016 Welby, in a move designed to draw more Africans into his orb, invited Sudanese bishop the Rt. Rev. Anthony Poggo, from South Sudan to England as his new “adviser for communion affairs.” He joined the team at Lambeth Palace.

Poggo’s Primate is none other than Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul, a GAFCON primate who is shortly to step down. Recently Sudan became a separate province from South Sudan, but VOL was told that it is as orthodox as South Sudan and is in no immediate danger of Welby swallowing it up or manipulating it. We shall see. On the other hand, the new primate could join GAFCON, a move that would not please Welby.

Recently Welby made a whirlwind tour to Africa to shore up his base among new Primates and one old Primate. The purpose was to deflect GAFCON expansion. Welby met with primates from Burundi, Congo, Rwanda and Kenya, updating them on various developments in the Anglican Communion.

The trip was also 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 and the home of GAFCON’s chairman, the Most. Rev. Nicholas Okoh.

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.

Welby’s hope (and prayer) is that he can break the back of GAFCON and diminish its standing and growing place in the Anglican Communion.

It is no wonder that a sitting GAFCON 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..." And this was an evangelical archbishop speaking of the evangelical Welby!

Welby co-opted the Rt. Rev. Nick Baines of Leeds to invite seven archbishops including prelates from Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Pakistan and the Sudan to visit him in his diocesan home in northern England for a first-time visit. Their visit also included a visit to Canterbury for a pow-wow with Welby.

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 found an echo chamber in the Secretary General of the Anglican Consultative Council, the Rt. Rev. Josiah Idowu-Fearon.

Welby’s biggest backer is, of course, Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon a Nigerian Anglican bishop and now the London-based Secretary General of the Anglican Consultative Council. He has been an unfailing supporter of Welby and castigated fellow African leaders for their homophobia. He even ripped his friendship with Dr. Peter Jensen, the General Secretary of GAFCON who was forced to issue a point-by-point rebuttal of comments made by Fearon in an exclusive interview he had with the Irish Gazette.

“The frank expression of his views on the Anglican Communion and the sexuality debate, and his sweeping dismissal of GAFCON has alienated him from African Church leaders, causing considerable dismay. However, they reveal the thinking of the Anglican Communion Office and presumably those who endorse its leadership," wrote Jensen. Fearon has not only isolated himself further from his former province but from orthodox archbishops in the Global South.

Welby’s refusal to discipline or come to the defense of the Global South speaks volumes, and further demonstrates that Fearon’s blast is where his heart is.

Fearon's view that African antagonism to homosexuality had been taught by American conservatives was "simply endorsing the narrative of Western LGBT activists who themselves have been campaigning to introduce their views into Africa with the powerful support of Western governments and even the UN", said Jensen.

By Welby’s silence regarding Fearon's comments that African Church leaders are unChristlike, despotic and corrupt, only further alienated himself from GAFCON.

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.

To cement the direction Welby wants to take the 2020 Lambeth Conference, he picked the most liberal Primate on the African continent the Most Rev. Thabo Makgoba, Primate of the Anglican Church in Southern Africa, to chair the Design group.

Welby said the group represents the "diversity in the Church." Well, that's a diversity way too far for the GAFCON primates, a third of whom were no-shows at the last Lambeth Conference.

The deeper truth is that 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" (the language of former TEC PB Frank Griswold) might prove to be a watershed moment with the Church of England and a red rag to an African bull. Okoh and GAFCON will have none of it. The much ballyhooed “mutual flourishing” touted by the Church of England didn’t work for Philip North and it won’t work for GAFCON.

Serious disagreement over core doctrines is not good diversity which can be managed by institutional control and re-organization, but a sign of serious sickness in the body. The spiritual cancer permeating The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada is unstoppable.

Welby also has a new problem with the recent addition to GAFCON of the English-born new Primate of South America, Gregory Venables, a staunch supporter of GAFCON. Welby can no longer blow off GAFCON as a mostly African constituency. Venables understands only too well the situation in the Church of England and he can face down Welby if called upon to do so.

For sheer persistence Welby is pulling out all the stops to make Lambeth 2020 a reconciling moment.

His Mission Theologian in the Anglican Communion, one Bishop Graham Kings (an appointment Welby made (there was no such position before then) held a conference on “Reconciliation and Mission” which was hosted in Jerusalem with links up to theologians from around the globe via the internet.

The intercontinental webinar of theologians from the global south was hosted from St George’s College and funded by the Saint Augustine's Foundation. Note the language, ‘reconciliation and mission’. Was there a theology of mission based solely on scripture with reconciliation as the result or something else? The three-day conference of international theologians all prepared papers on reconciliation and mission which will go towards a book on that theme ahead of the next Lambeth Conference in 2020.

The idea here is to get a jump on GAFCON to skew away any who might defect to GAFCON’s camp.

Some of the characters in this gabfest make for interesting reading. The co-chair for this gabfest was Dr. Muthuraj Swamy, Associate Professor in Theology & Religion in Pune, India. When I enquired from a legitimate Anglican theologian in India about this man, this is what he wrote; “Muthuraj Swamy comes from a strict congregational background in south India. There is not an iota of Anglicanism in him. Because of the membership of the Church of South India (CSI), people like him pretend to be Anglicans. He is definitely not orthodox. He has no church connection but [he is] very ambitious to climb the ladder and shows very little scope for scholarship.”

Then there is Revd. Dr. Naim Ateek, Founder of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem, 'Reconciliation and Justice in Palestine-Israel', a highly controversial group which advocates "morally responsible investment," but has been described by its critics as promoting an anti-Israel agenda, including divestment from Israel. It has also been accused of using anti-semitic rhetoric. Sabeel also supports a “one state solution, two nations and three religions,” meaning that it advocates the dismantling of Israel as a Jewish state.

Rev. Dr. Gustavo Gilson Oliveira, Vicar of the Anglican parish of Bom Samaritano, Recife, and professor at the Federal University of Pernambuco, is as liberal as the day is long. Recife Bishop Miguel Uchoa wrote VOL and said, “He is liberal...very liberal. There are no orthodox in the episcopal Diocese of Recife.”

Oliveira’s paper on 'Reconciliation, Conflict and Renewal: Dilemmas and Paths of Missionary Action in the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil, is spin on how the Brazilian church dealt with orthodox and faithful Anglicans because they wouldn’t succumb to homosexual marriage; forcing them out, taking their properties, behaving just like the Episcopal Church did and continues to do to those who flee their revisionist grip. A source told VOL that Oliveira now occupies one of the parishes the diocese took back from the orthodox.

If this sampling of theologians is anything to go by then ‘reconciliation and mission’ talk is skewed from the get-go and Bishop Kings is acting as little more than a shill for Welby to get as many primates and bishops to attend Lambeth 2020.

In light of these revelations, it is most unlikely that any GAFCON primate will attend the next Lambeth Conference, and Welby will get a taste of what Rowan Williams received, which in the end left him powerless and an early exit from Lambeth Palace.

CORRECTION: I have updated the information regarding Archbishop Ntahoturi to this story.

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