Archbishop of Canterbury calls conservative Anglicans’ proposals ‘problematic’

Published July 1, 2008

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams

Describing their proposals as “problematic in all sorts of ways,” Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams responded June 30 to a statement released by a group of conservative Anglicans that announced a new movement to uphold traditional Anglicanism within the Communion’s structures rather than to break away from it.

The announcement that the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans had been launched came in a statement released at the conclusion of the June 22-29 Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) meeting in Jerusalem, where more than 1,100 conservative Anglicans, including some 280 bishops, gathered to discuss the future shape of Anglicanism.

Also on June 30, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said “much of the Anglican world must be lamenting the latest emission from GAFCON.”

“Anglicanism has always been broader than some find comfortable,” her statement continued. “This [GAFCON] statement does not represent the end of Anglicanism, merely another chapter in a centuries-old struggle for dominance by those who consider themselves the only true believers. Anglicans will continue to worship God in their churches, serve the hungry, and needy in their communities, and build missional relationships with others across the globe, despite the desire of a few leaders to narrow the influence of the gospel.

“We look forward to the opportunities of the Lambeth Conference for constructive conversation, inspired prayer, and relational encounters.”

While some have described GAFCON as a divisive event and a rival to the 2008 Lambeth Conference, the final statement says the meeting was called “in a sense of urgency that a false gospel has so paralysed the Anglican Communion that this crisis must be addressed.”

The statement announces the formation of a Primates Council to continue the controversial practice of crossing jurisdictional boundaries and “to put in place structures to lead and support the church.”

The new council is expected to include six of the Anglican Communion’s 38 primates, namely those of Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, the Southern Cone, Uganda, and West Africa.

Archbishop Williams raised concerns that a Primates Council “which consists only of a self-selected group from among the Primates of the Communion will not pass the test of legitimacy for all in the Communion.”

He also acknowledged that “any claim to be free to operate across provincial boundaries is fraught with difficulties, both theological and practical – theological because of our historic commitments to mutual recognition of ministries in the Communion, practical because of the obvious strain of responsibly exercising episcopal or primatial authority across enormous geographical and cultural divides.”

Archbishop Williams said that most interventions stem from “pastoral and spiritual concern” but added that a question which “has repeatedly been raised which is now becoming very serious” is “how is a bishop or primate in another continent able to discriminate effectively between a genuine crisis of pastoral relationship and theological integrity, and a situation where there are underlying non-theological motivations at work?”

Archbishop Williams said that there have been interventions in dioceses “whose leadership is unquestionably orthodox simply because of local difficulties of a personal and administrative nature.” There have been instances of clergy who were disciplined for “scandalous behaviour in one jurisdiction accepted in another, apparently without due process.”

“Some other Christian churches have unhappy experience of this problem and it needs to be addressed honestly,” Archbishop Williams said.

Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, one of the Communion’s leading critics of the Episcopal Church, said at a June 28 news conference: “It’s quite clear we have been in turmoil. With this decision we have a fresh beginning.”

Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem Suheil Dawani, who had previously called for the GAFCON conference to be moved, expressed his disappointment at the statement which, he says, “totally ignores a living Christian and interfaith community in the very city in which they met and kept at a distance.”

Bishop Dawani, who has repeatedly said that he did not want GAFCON “to import conflicts such as issues concerning human sexuality into this diocese,” said he applauds Archbishop Williams’ “thoughtful and reasoned response which reflects much of the Communion’s understanding of the Anglican ethos.”

In the GAFCON statement, a 14-point Jerusalem Declaration emphasizes the group’s principles and beliefs, saying that it “celebrate[s] the God-given diversity among us which enriches our global fellowship” while “reject[ing] the authority of those churches and leaders who have denied the orthodox faith in word or deed.” The declaration also says that the participants view “God’s creation of humankind as male and female and the unchangeable standard of Christian marriage between one man and one woman as the proper place for sexual intimacy and the basis of the family.”

Other points of the declaration uphold both “the 1662 Book of Common Prayer as a true and authoritative standard of worship and prayer, to be translated and locally adapted for each culture” and “the classic Anglican Ordinal as an authoritative standard of clerical orders.”

While the statement recognizes “the nature of Canterbury as an historic see,” it does “not accept that Anglican identity is determined necessarily through recognition by the Archbishop of Canterbury,” suggesting it favors a diminished role for the Communion’s spiritual leader.

The statement says it believes “the time is now ripe for the formation of a province in North America for the federation currently known as Common Cause Partnership to be recognized by the Primates’ Council.”

Common Cause was formed in an attempt to unite some dissident Episcopal bishops with other self-identified Anglican groups in the U.S.

In his statement, Archbishop Williams said, “It is not enough to dismiss the existing structures of the Communion.”

“If they are not working effectively, the challenge is to renew them rather than to improvise solutions that may seem to be effective for some in the short term but will continue to create more problems than they solve,” he added.

This challenge, he said, “is one of the most significant focuses for the forthcoming Lambeth Conference,” which some bishops and primates attending GAFCON have said they will boycott. “One of [the Lambeth Conference’s] major stated aims is to restore and deepen confidence in our Anglican identity. And this task will require all who care as deeply as the authors of the statement say they do about the future of Anglicanism to play their part.”

Saying that “the authority of the Primates’ Meeting has been undermined and the Lambeth Conference has been structured so as to avoid any hard decisions,” the GAFCON statement said: “We can only come to the devastating conclusion that ‘we are a global Communion with a colonial structure’.”

In response, Archbishop Williams noted that “the language of ‘colonialism’ has been freely used of existing patterns. No one is likely to look back with complacency to the colonial legacy. But emerging from the legacy of colonialism must mean a new co-operation of equals, not a simple reversal of power.

“If those who speak for GAFCON are willing to share in a genuine renewal of all our patterns of reflection and decision-making in the Communion, they are welcome, especially in the shaping of an effective Covenant for our future together.”

The proposed Anglican covenant to which Williams refers is not mentioned in the GAFCON statement, but is currently being developed as a proposed set of principles intended to bind the Anglican Communion.

“I believe that it is wrong to assume we are now so far apart that all those outside the GAFCON network are simply proclaiming another gospel,” Archbishop Williams said. “This is not the case; it is not the experience of millions of faithful and biblically focused Anglicans in every province. What is true is that, on all sides of our controversies, slogans, misrepresentations and caricatures abound. And they need to be challenged in the name of the respect and patience we owe to each other in Jesus Christ.”

Dawani, who June 22 welcomed the GAFCON leadership to St. George’s Anglican Cathedral in Jerusalem, said that the group’s statement brought “little joy and comfort” for the Christian community in the Holy Land.

“In this diocese, and as Christian community, we have worked with humility and in a spirit of servanthood to build and strengthen relationships among Christians, Moslems, and Jews and to work together with other Christian bodies here,” he said. “As a Christian community, we are a voice of moderation in a region of turmoil. We do not need new divisive issues particular to the Anglican family to be brought into the complexities within our own interreligious society.”

Bishop Dawani acknowledged that at times many issues – “such as war and peace, industrialization and ecumenism, poverty and disease, the faith and order of the Church, and how to overcome the injustices of the world” – have appeared as though they might divide the Anglican Communion, “but they did not because we persevered in prayer and fellowship, together, with respect and patience.”

The Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem regards its relationships across the Anglican Communion as a vital network, Bishop Dawani added.

“We are of an orthodox heritage, biblically rooted, and we do not agree with recent developments in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada concerning human sexuality, but that is not going to divide us,” he said. “Unity is at the heart of the gospel and we as indigenous Christians in this Holy Land are committed to the work of peace, justice and reconciliation, welcoming all who come to Jerusalem in the spirit and humility of pilgrims. We have the utmost respect for the Archbishop of Canterbury in his role as our spiritual leader.”

It is not yet clear how the proposals set forth in the GAFCON statement will shake out, but the document announces plans “to expand participation in this fellowship beyond those who have come to Jerusalem, including cooperation with the Global South and the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa.”

Earlier in the meeting, it appeared that GAFCON participants were struggling to find a united voice as a diversity of opinions revealed that the current divide in the Anglican Communion is more than simply a conflict between liberals and conservatives.

While some participants said they are committed to remaining in the Episcopal Church, others are already leading breakaway groups in the U.S.

In his June 30 statement, Archbishop Williams concludes: “An impatience at all costs to clear the Lord’s field of the weeds that may appear among the shoots of true life (Matt.13.29) will put at risk our clarity and effectiveness in communicating just those evangelical and catholic truths which the GAFCON statement presents.”


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