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‘GAFCON Is Meeting at the Cross, Lambeth Met in London’

By Joseph Wandera

The Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) will meet at the Kigali Convention Center in Rwanda from April 17 to April 21. The meeting will be GAFCON’s fourth, following meetings in Jerusalem in 2008 and 2018, and one in Nairobi in 2013.

GAFCON describes itself as “steadfastly orthodox” and “standing by the founding principles and doctrines of the church.” It argues that “revisionists within the Communion would have the church move away from its Bible-based orthodox roots.”

It is not coincidental that GAFCON’s theme (“To Whom Shall We Go?”) follows the Lambeth Conference’s theme of “God’s Church in God’s World.”

My prayer is that GAFCON will use the time as an opportunity for confession of sin, forgiveness, and the search for a common renewal, rather than for casting stones at the sins of others.

Of course, Rwanda is another story. In the 1990s, some of the most horrific violence in world history occurred there, perpetrated mostly by Christians. The genocide pitted majority Hutus and minority Tutsi against each other. Over 1 million people perished, and thousands sought refuge in neighboring states. Some of those killed had sought refuge inside church buildings. But the killers followed them in and butchered them.

There are continuing concerns about political repression in Rwanda, but there has also been remarkable reconciliation between ethnic groups. This is embodied in the Kigali Genocide Memorial and multiple related initiatives that speak to honest reckoning with sin and violence.

Might GAFCON also spearhead an engagement with sin while seeking real reconciliation in the Anglican Communion?

While a significant number of bishops and faithful in Kenya remain deeply committed to the Anglican Communion, as reflected by their participation in Lambeth, significant perceptions set GAFCON over against Lambeth. This essay’s title, borrowed from a conservation with a Kenyan Anglican bishop, provides an example. Organizers of the conference present it as the last bulwark against the strong winds of secular culture emerging from a corrupted West.

These dynamics can be illuminated by seeing them through the lens of the East African Revival. The choice of Kigali for the GAFCON meeting is significant, as Rwanda was the birthplace of the East African Revival. In 1929, Joe Church, a British missionary serving at Gahini in eastern Rwanda, met Simeoni Nzimbambi while visiting Namirembe, Uganda. They shared a disillusionment with the worldly state of the Church. The two spent two days studying the Bible, praying, and repenting together.

Both men experienced transformation. Church went back to Gahini a new person. Thereafter, the East African Revival spread like a wildfire in the harmattan into Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, and neighboring countries. There were widespread conversions, with Christians confessing their faults to each other and experiencing forgiveness and restoration of broken relationships.

From the 1930s to now, the East African revival has influenced Christian expression in East and Central Africa. Its presence is still ubiquitous on the religious landscape east of Africa. The East African Revival is seen by many Anglican faithful, including bishops, as the core of Christian faith and is often invoked when people feel the faith is under attack. Their testimonials, songs, sermons, and calls to repentance and holy living are influential.

Revivals were not absent on the African scene in the early part of the 20th century, but almost as a rule, they tended to lead to schism and harbored strong anti-colonial feelings. The East African Revival sought to avoid schism in the Church and society. Even when the members disagreed with some sinful practices within the Church, they strongly resisted formations that would be seen as undermining ecclesial authority. Instead, they strived to establish fellowship across ethnic, class, colonial, and denominational lines.

Critics view GAFCON as rather too Western-led and in need of greater participation by the Global South. The East African Revival led by people like Simeoni Nzimbambi sought to demonstrate that “we too have the gifts of the Spirit, and God has called us to lead.”

The revival sought to dismantle the spirit of superiority that had characterized much Western missionary work up till then. The revival granted a platform for African leaders to speak with power and to evangelize in full confidence of the Holy Spirit.

GAFCON will meet against the backdrop of the now longstanding disagreement in the Anglican family. To many in the Global South, something has gone awry in the wider Anglican Communion in its teachings on sexuality and marriage. For them, therefore, GAFCON is a fellowship of refuge from doctrinal adulteration.

As the East African Revival did, the Kigali GAFCON meeting could be an opportunity to focus more on the things that bring us together as a Church in order to seek genuine reconciliation in fresh ways.

While GAFCON has a legitimate concern about renewing the Church and safeguarding the apostolic faith, Africa’s problems are numerous. The deep intersectional inequalities across gender, class, region and ethnicity is a disturbing phenomenon in Africa. They all undermine the dignity that Christ’s coming heralded (John 10:10). Discipleship of prophetic courage in the face of indignity is a call GAFCON might consider for African Church leaders, including bishops. Our forebearers in the African episcopacy, some greatly influenced by the East African Revival — including Festo Kivengere and Janani Luwum in Uganda and David Gitari and Henry Okullu in Kenya — lived the way of the cross in the face of genocidal tendencies.

While commonly seen as deeply orthodox, Africa has serious moral issues that need faithful articulation.  As GAFCON prepares to meet in Rwanda, it may be an opportunity to go beyond the well-heard controversies and confront our other numerous common challenges. International and national political and economic issues aid those in power and exploit those on the margins. These include gender-based violence, electoral violence, bad governance, runaway corruption, and ethnic profiling.The Lambeth Conference attempted to speak to these issues, albeit faintly.

To illustrate, Uganda’s 2021 elections were marred by widespread violence and repression. President Yoweri Museveni — who gives new cars to some Anglican bishops when they are consecrated — abolished term limits, and since 1986 he has been one of Africa’s longest-serving presidents. My country, Kenya, has chronic challenges of corruption in government and negative ethnicity, which often is tied to positions of power and allocation of public resources. We can hope that GAFCON will speak to these challenges that bring indignity upon God’s people. So far, not many prophetic voices are heard on these issues.

The conservative provinces of Rwanda, Burundi, Nigeria, and the Democratic Republic of Congo face significant challenges, including gender-based violence, poverty, and plunder of public resources.

The other troubling question worthy of attention in the GAFCON meeting would be the place of women in ministry. Recent statistics in my Diocese of Mumias, Kenya, point to a church that has many more female than male adherents. The East Africa Revival Movement embraced a Spirit-led egalitarianism in which all were brothers and sisters called to the Lord’s service (Gal. 3:28). In our highly patriarchal contexts of Africa, there is good reason in exploring more opportunities for women in the Lord’s service.

While GAFCON will use the debate on sexuality and marriage as the defining factor for orthodoxy, there are more problems within heterosexual relations. As a bishop serving in a largely conservative context, I have found the number of conflicts in heterosexual marriages, including infidelity among clergy families, heartbreaking. It should call for prayer and reflection among us all.

John the Baptist’s cry of repentance is the call to turn away from our indifference and engage the kingdom of God at a life-changing level.

God confronts evil head-on through the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

To name the arena and ways of our indifference is the beginning of repentance at the cross, where Jesus is present as our judge and Savior, and the healer of our divisions.


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