By Robyn Douglass
The headlines in the Australian papers this week were blunt: Anglican Church splits.
At GAFCON’s Australasia Conference in Canberra on August 17, the conservative movement announced retired archbishop Glenn Davies of Sydney as the first bishop of its new Diocese of the Southern Cross. The shell entity had already been set up in July 2021.
“There are now two Anglican jurisdictions in Australia,” the organization declared on its website.
GAFCON – named after the 2008 Global Anglican Future Conference, where it was founded – is a movement opposing what it sees as false teaching on sexuality and other matters in parts of the Anglican Communion. Many large provinces in Africa and the Global South are part of GAFCON, as is the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA).
Bishop Richard Condie of Tasmania, chairman of GAFCON Australia, told TLC that Australia’s General Synod in May was a catalyst for the move, as was the recent Lambeth Conference – which was not, incidentally, attended by the bishops of Sydney or Tasmania.
“The decisions at the recent General Synod, the 2020 Appellate Tribunal opinion that opens the way to blessings for same-sex marriages, and the watering down of standards of behavior in changes to Faithfulness in Service [a national code of conduct] are examples of this. The Diocese of the Southern Cross is responding to that division, by providing an Anglican home for those who feel they need to leave,” he said.
Condie said no existing parishes or dioceses are part of the new diocese, but one new parish in Queensland had been formed. The new church’s website says if any parishes join, existing parish property will not transfer to the new church. Disputes between the Episcopal Church and departing ACNA parishes have led to years of litigation in the United States.
Archbishop of Adelaide Geoffrey Smith, the Australian primate, noted that while a new “company” has been established by members of the Anglican Church, it has “no formal or informal relationship or connection with the Anglican Church of Australia.”
“The meeting of the General Synod held in May this year clearly affirmed the view that marriage is between a man and a woman, and declined to affirm same-sex marriage,” Smith said. (The Houses of Clergy and Laity voted strongly for a motion declaring that marriage is between a man and a woman, but the measure failed narrowly in the House of Bishops. Some bishops argued the motion was unnecessary because it was affirming what already is the teaching of the church.)
“It is perplexing therefore that the leaders of this breakaway movement cite the reason for this new denomination as the failure of General Synod to explicitly express an opinion against the blessing of same-sex marriages.
“It is always easier to gather with those we agree with. But in a tragically divided world, God’s call and therefore the church’s role includes showing how to live together with difference. Not merely showing tolerance but receiving the other as a gift from God.”
The conservative Archbishop of Sydney, Kanishka Raffel, was adamant that the Diocese of Sydney would not be leaving the Anglican Church of Australia, saying the diocese was committed to reforming the Australian church from “within our ecclesial structures.”
He said he was sad that the Diocese of the Southern Cross “had become necessary, but I extend the hand of fellowship” and asked for God’s blessings on Bishop Davies.
The Sydney archbishop is having his cake and eating it too, according to the Rev. Dr. Matthew Anstey, associate professor at Charles Sturt University.
He said the Sydney diocese has participated in irregular ordinations of bishops before, but these have always been outside the country.
Anstey says the hardest part of this action is that “they are supporting a group within Australia – the rationale is that people may not trust their bishops or do not believe their bishops are Christians.”
Sydney’s determination to remain within the Australian Anglican Church is demonstrated by its holding a majority in the houses of laity and clergy in General Synod, and having won most of the elected positions on General Synod’s standing committee.
Anstey pointed out that in Australia, the autonomy of dioceses is high – it is very difficult for the General Synod to pass canons which apply in all dioceses. While this can mean a messy union, it also allows dioceses live out different expressions of the Anglican faith, as the primate said, staying together “with differences held sincerely.”
Those differences have shifted in the past two generations. Conservatives opposed remarriage of divorced people and the ordination of women. Sydney still refuses to have female priests. But it’s the matter of same-sex unions which has been the deal breaker.
Anstey said conservatives argue the blessing of same sex unions is “is a first order issue, a matter of salvation… and [they] will have nothing to do with Christians who support them.”
And yet, in May General Synod voted 40 percent in support of his motion welcoming civil same-sex marriages in Australia and giving thanks for the public witness of Christian same-sex couples.
Anstey cites surveys which indicate a rising number of churchgoers also support same-sex relationships.
“We are pretty confident to say 60 percent of Australian Anglicans support same-sex marriage and longitudinal studies show that trend is continually upward,” he told TLC.
In a sharply worded article in the Sydney Morning Herald, he wrote: “We must speak up and say: No, we are not unfaithful, we have not reached our views on human sexuality and other matters lightly. We have not abandoned Scripture or the Creeds. We reject all such claims, and we reject your judgment upon the authenticity and integrity of our Christian faith.”