GAFCON

I'm genuinely sad about the seeming formal break in the Anglican Communion, though not particularly surprised at this point. There's lots of commentary here if you're interested.

For outsiders (and in response to Wes' question), here's an explanation of my understanding of some of the significance of what's happened at GAFCON:

Essentially, in the past the Archbishop of Canterbury has been an iconic leader of the Anglican Communion. He holds a "first among equals" kind of position, and doesn't have formal authority greater than any other bishop, other than that he is the one who extends invitations to the Lambeth Conference--a 10-yearly gathering of all of the bishops of the Anglican Communion which is considered a formal, again iconic, "instrument of unity" in the Anglican Communion. However, this has been an important power, as a Lambeth invitation has historically symbolized a recognition of ones' status as an Anglican bishop, and hence a recognition of your diocese's membership in the worldwide communion. There have been previous controversies when female bishops were invited to Lambeth, but this year's conference has been particularly contentious because of the controversy surrounding Gay Bishop Gene Robinson. He hasn't been invited to the first Lambeth for which he is eligible, which has generally made the liberals mad and the conservatives dissatisfied but encouraged. People in the middle are happy or disengaged, as they tend to be.

Despite the seeming concession from +++Williams, ahead of Lambeth (two weeks from now) the GAFCON conference essentially rejected this former role for the See of Canterbury to suggest that a Lambeth invitation does not one an Anglican make. That's an important post-colonial political statement, and symbolically some will read it as a power grab (though there wasn't really any formal power to be grabbed) and an assertion of the autonomy of the Global South and Conservative North (two use two not-quite-accurate designations). Pragmatically, what it says is that GAFCON Anglicans will no longer define Anglican identity according to Communion Membership, or the invitation to Lambeth, but according to a doctrinal statement:

"The doctrine of the Church is grounded in the Holy Scriptures and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures. In particular, such doctrine is to be found in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal."

You can see that this is a significant departure from a liberal catholic ethos where Anglicanism is defined by membership in a community towards a Protestant Ethos where Anglicanism is defined according to adherence to dogma. (It's also, I think, a rejection of much of the post-modern ethos as reflected in the emerging church movement, but I'm not entirely sure on that.) A good argument can be made that conservatives are in fact a majority in the Anglican Communion, so this isn't something that can be brushed off as irrelevant. That is, Anglicans can't just dismiss GAFCON participants and allow them to depart--they have to face up to the idea that Anglicanism proper may indeed be in the process of redefinition along more conservative lines. What I can see happening here is (another) mini-protestant reformation, and the formation of two or more churches, with each claiming Apostolic Authority or some other divine mandate. As the GAFCON folks assert, they aren't leaving the Anglican Communion, they're just redefining it and asserting their will, currently within it's structures (whatever that means). In effect they might be in the early stages of creating a new "one true" Communion that doesn't recognize the valididity of certain parts of the old Communion (i.e., the North American and other predominantly liberal churches). You already hear language here which suggests that GAFCON Anglicans should be evangelizing other Anglicans, and setting up shop where (illegitimate) churches/dioceses already exist. That's been happening in the US for quite some time, under the monikers Anglican Mission in America and CANA.

It remains to be seen what this will mean pragmatically, and how many will actually side with the GAFCON folks. The Communion is a very mixed bag already, and it isn't clear how many people and dioceses GAFCON actually represents--though it is probably clear that they don't represent as many as they claim. That said, it's a significant (and growing?) group of people who are disillusioned with traditional Anglican structures. At the least it represents a significant swipe at the inclusive Anglican ethos that I've appreciated, and at the worst it's the beginning stage of a formal schism.

Comments

wes said…
reading as an outsider, the decision seems fairly innocuous. is this a definite break or is it just another expression within the communion? and is this a conservative minority?
wes said…
So, what you're saying is that the traditional latitudinarian attitude towards membership in the communion is being defenestrated in favor of stricter dogma?
Tim Mathis said…
Umm...yeah, but only by some people. "Defenestrated" is a good word: "The act of throwing someone or something out of a window".

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