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GAFCON Rejects Archbishop Justin Welby’s Leadership

By Kirk Petersen

On April 21, primates representing a large majority of the Anglican Communion formally repudiated the historic leadership of the See of Canterbury.

The acceptance by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby of a General Synod resolution to permit blessings for same-sex relationships “renders his leadership role in the Anglican Communion entirely indefensible,” according to the statement released at the end of the fourth GAFCON conference in Kigali, Rwanda.

“If he calls a meeting,” said Foley Beach, Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), “we don’t recognize his authority to call the meeting.” Beach, the outgoing chairman of the Global Primates Council for GAFCON, made the statement at a news conference, and said he was speaking for the primates.

It’s difficult to overstate the enormity of the challenge posed by the Kigali Commitment, which declares: “Anglican identity is defined by [doctrine] and not by recognition from the See of Canterbury.” That stands in stark contrast to the Anglican Communion website, which defines the Anglican Communion as “provinces in communion with the See of Canterbury.”

Archbishop James Wong, primate of the Anglican Province of the Indian Ocean, declared at an earlier business session, “We are the real members of the Anglican Communion.”

Part of the potency of the Kigali Commitment is that it reflects a closer alignment of the two major, overlapping organizations of theologically conservative Anglicans: GAFCON (the Global Anglican Future Conference) and the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches, or GSFA.

This is GAFCON’s show, but most of the GSFA primates are here, and leaders of the two groups have been meeting. After years of agreeing on theology but differing on tactics, they’ve united this week in breaking ties with the Archbishop of Canterbury. Together, they claim to represent 85 percent of the world’s worshiping Anglicans.

“Both GSFA and GAFCON Primates share the view that, due to the departures from orthodoxy articulated above, they can no longer recognize the Archbishop of Canterbury as an Instrument of Communion, the ‘first among equals’ of the Primates. The Church of England has chosen to impair her relationship with the orthodox provinces in the Communion,” the statement declared.

While GAFCON and GSFA together enjoy overwhelming numerical superiority in the Anglican Communion, the See of Canterbury has substantial resources to contest a takeover. These include monetary wealth, a bureaucratic infrastructure, and 14 centuries of tradition. Welby is the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury, in a line of succession dating back to Augustine of Canterbury in A.D. 597.

Since its creation in 2008, GAFCON has worked to develop parallel jurisdictions in areas where it believes the established Anglican province has departed from Christian faith. The primates of Nigeria, Rwanda, and Uganda have boycotted major Anglican Communion events since 2008, including the Lambeth Conference that year and in 2022.

The GSFA, however, has attempted to work within the legacy structure, and was well-represented at Lambeth 2022. The GFSA signaled a change in an Ash Wednesday statement that foreshadowed the Kigali Commitment: “The GSFA is no longer able to recognize the present Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rt. Hon. & Most Revd. Justin Welby, as the ‘first among equals’ leader of the global Communion.”

At a press conference after the release of the Kigali statement, Beach and others were peppered with questions about the relationship between GAFCON and GSFA. There are many complicated details to be considered, including changes to some provincial constitutions that specify a link to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Asked if conservatives intended to establish a rival “first among equals,” Beach said that was among the details to be worked out. “I do believe there’s going to be some kind of move to elect somebody to be chair of a global Primates Council of some sort, which will not include Canterbury,” he said.

“How about TEC?” he was asked, referring to the U.S.-based Episcopal Church.

“Not unless they repent,” he replied.

Beach’s term as chairman of the Global Primates Council of GAFCON concludes at the end of the Kigali conference. He announced that Archbishop Laurent Mbanda of the Anglican Church of Rwanda has been elected as the next council chairman.

Mbanda, the host primate, greeted the conference when it began April 17, but soon had to depart for the United States because his son Edwin died in his sleep at the age of 31. The Kigali Commitment began by acknowledging the loss, and said “we continue to offer our prayers of comfort for the Mbanda family.”


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