The GAFCON Primates have met and made their statement (if, apparently, a little delayed in publication). With it they have posted a letter from certain North American Bishops.

Early comment from the liberal wing includes: Pluralist, Mark Harris and The Three Legged Stool. Thinking Anglicans will, as always, provide the most systematic collection of links especially to media comment. (An earlier post by Mark Harris gives some of the immediate background to the letter from the North American Bishops.)

There might seem little more to add - but if bloggers worked on that principle then the whole caboodle would grind to a halt.

The overview is clear: GAFCON is an alternative structure to the Anglican Communion. Its leaders claim the right to determine who is, and who is not, an authentic, confessing Anglican.

The twofold task of the Council is ‘to authenticate and recognise confessing Anglican jurisdictions, clergy and congregations and to encourage all Anglicans to promote the gospel and defend the faith.’
There is no greater claim to power in ecclesiology than the power of the keys: to admit into and exclude from the company of the righteous, the community of the saved.

The Council will have an Advisory Board and a Secretariat and is intended to be permanent and world-wide. One of their priorities will be to claim North America:

It is expected that priority will be given to the possible formation of a province in North America for the Common Cause Partnership.
The letter appended to the communiqué is from bishops already under the jurisdiction of the signatories. It would be impolitic to include publicly Bob Duncan and others who have not yet formally annd finally departed from TEC. Yet it is probable that this fish too can be landed and the North American prize will be so much bigger.

At the same time GAFCON hopes to create a much bigger penumbra of members and supporters through the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (what Mark Harris calls a 'holding tank'):

We invite individuals, churches, dioceses, provinces and parachurch organisations who assent to the Jerusalem Declaration to signify their desire to become members of the Fellowship via the GAFCON web-site or written communication with the Secretariat. The Fellowship will develop networks, commissions and publications intended to defend and promote the biblical gospel in ways which support one another.
(Uncomfortably close to my Covenant for Pilgrims which, crucially, eschews any confessional test.)

This is unlikely to be merely an email list. I expect that it would be invaluable as a means of determining when a country or province has sufficient critical mass (and finance) to plan for and effect more GAFCON provinces in the west. It would enable the co-ordination of national groups to, for example, pay the lawyers necessary to untie the legal knots in each place - and, following the example of the US, to fight for as much property, pensions and anything else to which they can lay claim. Groups below the critical mass would remain as a fifth column in the Anglican church (the real one), their political power enhanced by their international links and the threat of sesession. Though all this will depend on just how good their management and organizational skills are.

Planning schism in the sunlight

(A thought: I wonder in which country GAFCON and FOCA will be legally registered - and therefore what they will be required to publish of their accounts.)

In the slow ripping of the Anglican net this is a significant step forwards. It will reshape the Anglican Communion in unanticipatable ways best left to historians of the twenty-second century to describe (should anyone be bothered by then).

In the short term:

  • Will the Archbishop of Canterbury recognise the schism and formalise it by refusing to invite the dissident Primates to future Primates' Meetings?
  • How will the rest of the Global South react when they find they are even fewer in the corridors of Anglican power?
  • How will FOCA members act in churches where they are a relatively small minority?
  • How will the split amongst conservatives who remain Anglican (into those who FOCA and those who don't) be played out in the western/northern provinces?
  • It is clear that each side regards the other as responsible for the split, as not playing by the rules, as ignoring calls for moratoria. How will this be translated into future legal / structural change in the Communion and in the individual Provinces in which schism occurs?
Though I am happy to hear the view of the GAFCON Primates that

The Anglican Covenant will take a long time to be widely accepted and may have no particular force when it does.
Which reflects the comment in Rowan William's Pastoral Letter that

As the proposals for an Anglican Covenant now go forward, it is still possible that some will not be able to agree; there was a clear sense that some sort of covenant will help our identity and cohesion, although the bishops wish to avoid a legalistic or juridical tone.
So why bother, I say.

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