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A Reflection on GAFCON III and ACNA

By George Sumner

I did not attend GAFCON, and so I can only comment on what I read and hear by word of mouth. At the very least we can say it was an impressive gathering, one that included many representatives of the largest Anglican Churches, as well as our most evangelistic. It needs to be taken seriously. Moreover, their choice of the primate of ACNA as chair of their Primates’ Council forces us here in North America to reckon with these developments.

1. We in the Communion Partners agree with its doctrinal commitments, including the importance of the doctrines of the atonement and sin as well as the traditional teaching on marriage. I dare say most of us sympathize with the GAFCON communiqué’s critique of modern culture, as well as their frustration with the Instruments of Communion over the past 15 years. But this leads naturally to a question.

2. What are we to make of the lack of any acknowledgment that we are part of this complicated North American scene? We represent a group of dioceses, including several in Latin America, which haven’t left, but dissent from some of our own church’s decisions. We are, demographically speaking, a sodality comparable in size to ACNA itself.

3. This leads to another conundrum. What kind of a body does GAFCON imagine itself to be? At times it has spoken of itself as a renewal movement; I myself have heard the retired head of GAFCON, the then Archbishop of Kenya, Eliud Wabukala, compare it to the East African Revival. It also has the quality of being a goad to the Communion: fair enough! But at this most recent meeting it turned more deliberately toward thinking of itself as an alternative structure. GAFCON seems at present to be standing somewhere in the middle. It says that it is not leaving, and yet it creates its own synodical structure. How are we to assess all of this? The answer to this question in turn has an implication for what GAFCON makes of the Communion Partners in TEC, now joined in a single organization with the Gracious Restraint bishops in the Anglican Church of Canada.

4. There are other features of this unacknowledged complexity in the North American situation. TEC and ACNA are still suing one another. The day, now foreseeable, when the suits are over, one way or another, is the day when a serious conversation between them could occur. As an Episcopalian, I would challenge my own church with this question: If we can consider full communion with Methodists, why could we not, on that post-litigious day, open ecumenical talks with our own fellow Anglicans? Perhaps the offer would be refused. But then again, a day finally came, for example, when combatants in Northern Ireland were willing to talk with one another. Could such a day come for us? Would the Archbishop of Canterbury not be an appropriate convener of such a meeting, someday, given his own evangelical commitments and his interest in reconciliation?

5. On the subject of Canterbury, surely we can say this much. The current archbishop, like those before him, is not (nor does he aspire to be) the king of the Anglican Communion. He does not alone adjudicate its disputes. But on the other hand, there can be no Anglican structure, nor resolution, that ignores him. He is the heir of the see of Augustine, Becket, Anselm, Cranmer, Temple, and Ramsey. He alone has a share in the counsels of all the Instruments. Furthermore, part of the critique of modernity is the accompanying affirmation of cultures with a more robust sense of tradition. I doubt that ignoring Canterbury as the embodiment of this lineage of our ancestors in the “faith once delivered” could really work long-term among Anglican Churches in Africa.

6. Perhaps what everyone can agree on is this: North America continues to be a problem for Anglicanism. The primates have officially said as much. Sooner or later this will require all the relevant parties talking. It may be that ACNA will come to this conclusion at some point. If such a conversation were to take place, I believe that concepts like “walking together or apart” or “degrees of communion” will come back into play. Anglicans from various perches can criticize the Windsor process and the Anglican Covenant as they wish, but sooner or later we may come to see that its conceptual pathways are unavoidable, if perhaps under different names.

7. At the end of the day what we all need most are humility and hope. Is there a way forward amid all these conundra? “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Mark 10:27). To continue in a conflicted and awkward communion is not to be dismissed as mere temporizing, but can, when done with integrity, be an act of hope that something may change, or open up, that we cannot anticipate. At the very least it means that if communion does break down finally, we have done all that we possibly could. For such humility and hope we ought all to pray.



  1. Thank you Bishop Sumner. Good challenge to all of us. I think all of us in The Episcopal Church need to begin thinking in new ways of Anglican unity in a world-wide context. The Anglican Covenant is not, in my mind, the answer, but it poses some of the important questions that do have to be part of the discussion in reframing Anglican unity. Your paper likewise provides some clear pointers for a way forward. I look forward to seeing more of your thoughts on all of this.

  2. #4 “TEC and ACNA are still suing one another.” Give me a break — hardly an equivilence. The only lawsuit of any significance by the ACNA was the Dio of SC pre-emptive strike after the travesty of TEC removing Bishop Mark Lawrence. TEC has spent at least $60 million suing ACNA parishes and dioceses and have defrocked or removed 700 clergy. How many TEC clergy has the ACNA removed?

  3. As far as lawsuits go, at last count I think the Episcopal Church has initiated 83 lawsuits against congregations and Dioceses wanting to align with a province besides TEC. I mean no disrespect to The Rt. Rev. Dr. George Sumner. I appreciate his perspective, but I would be curious how many lawsuits ACNA congregations have filed against TEC? I would also be curious what his perspective is on the Denis Canon, as in my mind, it seems like the worst possible way to try and hold any Christian organization together in bonds of affections is to threaten lawsuits if they move to break those bonds. The Denis Canon seems very contrary to a Kingdom minded, let alone an ecumenically minded Jesus Movement. Am I missing something?

  4. I have left ECUSA around 2000 when the apostasy was pervasive and to my mind not reversible. (To my mind ECUSA is not THE Episcopal Church regardless of its rebranding effort). There was much “talk” and “dialogue” before my departure but it soon was crystal clear that the apostates used that “dialogue” merely as a tactic to wear down and divide those who sought to keep the “faith once delivered”. That talk had been going on for fifteen years before I left. Now we are eighteen years since I left and yet we see no repentance from ECUSA. Two generations is enough time to see what sort of fruit these dialogue efforts have borne.

    In talking to my Bishop in the mid 1990’s, the Rt. Rev. Peter Lee of Virginia, (as I had started the discernment process for ordination), I discovered that he had a deliberate goal of keeping his views obscured until the pro-homosexual position was locked in place in order to keep the conservatives in the pews and writing checks.

    It was not long after that discovery and my departure that I saw the seven most dynamic, faithful church congregations driven from the churches they had built in Northern Virginia (along with some smaller mission churches).

    The Rt. Rev. Dr. George Sumner decries GAFCON as “ignoring Canterbury as the embodiment of this lineage of our ancestors in the ‘faith once delivered’” but he ignores the fact that Canterbury itself has increasingly ignored the very “faith once delivered” and so has forfeited its lineage.

    Canterbury has also ignored the mind of the majority of the of the global Anglican communion that ECUSA should be restricted from participation in the instruments of communion or other public leadership in the communion until they repented from and returned from their apostasy. The most recent violation of this mind of the communion was the Archbishop of Canterbury’s invitation to the leader of ECUSA to preach in globally televised royal wedding. Guarding the pulpit of this most public event was the duty of the Archbishop.

    ECUSA is only entrenching in its blessing of sexual perversion and works year by year to replace faithful clergy with solidly “progressive” culture warriors from seminaries that reek of the new Gospel. As 1 Corinthians 15:33 says “do not be deceived, bad company destroys good morals.” This whole matter also brings to mind 1 Corinthians 6:9, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality.” Unfortunately, the Church of England seems to be following the path that ECUSA has trod.

    I regularly pray for those faithful still within the structure of ECUSA and I know that if the faithful do not soon leave, they will eventually be silenced, driven out, or corrupted. Scripture is true – bad company destroys good morals.

    Deacon Jim


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