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GAFCON and the Puzzle Pieces of Anglicanism

Analysis by Kirk Petersen

Is the Anglican Communion going to break apart?

The name “Anglican Communion” has enough brand equity that it will survive. The remaining questions include: Which faction will have custody of the name? And within the revised Anglican Communion, what will be the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury?

Archbishop Foley Beach — who leads both GAFCON and the Anglican Church in North America — put a stake in the ground in his remarks at the opening ceremony Monday evening.

“Sadly, and with broken hearts, we must say that until the Archbishop of Canterbury repents, we can no longer recognize him as the first among equals, spiritually. It’s time for the whole Anglican Establishment to be reformed anyway. I mean, why does a secular government of only one of the nations represented in the Anglican Communion still get to pick the spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion? This makes no sense in today’s post-colonial world.”

There’s a lot to unpack in those brief sentences. Anglicanism was spread throughout the world by colonial England and the Church of England, and the Archbishop of Canterbury is both head of the Church of England and first among equals among the primates of the provinces of the Anglican Communion.

One by one, Foley called on eight provinces of the Anglican Communion to “repent” of their various levels of acceptance of same-sex relationships. In addition to the Church of England, they were the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Church in Wales, the Episcopal Church of Brazil, the Anglican Church in New Zealand, the Church of Australia, the Anglican Church of Canada, and, of course, the U.S.-based Episcopal Church, which has dioceses in a dozen other countries.

From the perspective of the dominant ethos in the Episcopal Church, the very idea of repentance in this context is a non-starter. One does not repent of what one believes is an important advancement of social justice and civil rights.

Most of the rest of Beach’s remarks concentrated on spiritual themes rather than on church politics. The political discussion resumed in earnest the following morning, in the first plenary business session.

The first keynote speaker was Glenn Davies, who retired in 2021 as Archbishop of Sydney, the most conservative diocese of the Anglican Church of Australia. In 2022 he was named Bishop of the Diocese of the Southern Cross, a GAFCON entity that currently has only a handful of churches, but which is envisioned as an alternative province for conservatives who leave the fracturing Anglican Church of Australia.

Davies traced the milestone events that gave birth to GAFCON, beginning with the sexual revolution of the 1960s, including “the invention of the contraceptive pill, so that sex had no responsibility.”

Davies’s narrative of many other changes regarding human sexuality led to 2022, when the provinces of Nigeria, Rwanda, and Uganda boycotted the delayed Lambeth Conference, as they had done in 2008. But the other major conservative Anglican entity, the Global South Fellowship of Anglicans (GSFA), sent leaders and delegates to Lambeth to try to revive the spirit of Lambeth Resolution I.10, which declared in 1998 that homosexuality is “incompatible with Scripture.”

“But they were thwarted,” Davies said.

That was in August 2022. Davies said Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby urged the provinces to “keep walking together.” But then, in October, Queen Elizabeth II appointed (and Archbishop Welby commended) a man in a same-sex relationship to be the dean of Canterbury Cathedral — “the mother diocese of the mother church of the Anglican Communion,” Davies said. “The mother has abandoned her children.”

Then in February 2023, the Church of England’s General Synod, “with the support of 80 percent of the bishops, approved same-sex blessings,” he said. In so doing, “the Church of England, from which we learnt the gospel,” had “abandoned the faith.”

Primates from GSFA and GAFCON are consulting together in Kigali, and a lay delegate at a later session drew fierce applause by urging a merger of the two groups. In terms of doctrine, GSFA and GAFCON are indistinguishable, but their tactics have differed.

GSFA’s effort may now be over. GSFA declared on Ash Wednesday that “we believe it is no longer possible to continue in the way the Communion is. We do not accept the view that we can still ‘walk together’ with the revisionist provinces.” That declaration has been cited with approval by multiple GAFCON speakers and official statements.

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