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GSFA Discusses Wartime Suffering, Sexuality

Delegates to the First Assembly of the Global South Fellowship of Anglicans (GSFA) heard from the Episcopal Church of Sudan’s primate about the devastation of his country’s civil war and from an Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) rector on responding pastorally to the needs of LGBT people on June 13, the second full day of business. They also approved changes to their Canonical Structure making it easier for smaller Anglican bodies to affiliate with the GSFA.

“It has been 15 months since the war began,” Archbishop Ezekiel Kondo told the assembly in a videotaped message. “Many people have been killed or have left the country; many have been displaced. Many atrocities have happened because of what armed groups have done to the people.”

Kondo added that many churches have been destroyed or looted, including the Church of the Saviour in Omdurman, a historic church and one of the province’s largest, which was destroyed by a bomb.

“People are suffering because of hunger, and for a whole year, our schools and universities have been closed,” he said.

“The Lord is able to intervene,” he added. “I want to encourage you to continue to pray and to advocate for the people of Sudan, and to give to those who are suffering.”

After the message, Archbishop Miguel Uchoa of the Anglican Church in Brazil, who was chairing the session, invited representatives from Sudan who were present at the assembly to come forward, and the whole body prayed for the church’s witness and for peace in their country.

Clarity and Compassion

The Rev. Sam Ferguson, rector of the Falls Church Anglican in Virginia, one of the ACNA’s largest congregations, spoke about the LGBT movement, Biblical anthropology, and pastoral care during the morning’s plenary session.

Sexuality is primarily a divisive issue for church life in the West, but Ferguson suggested that many in his predominantly Global South audience would soon be wrestling with pastoral care of LGBT people.

“No matter where you live in the world, if you possess a smartphone, the Western world’s revisioning and reimagining of what it means to be human being in terms of sexual identity and gender identity — it’s coming to your shores or it’s already there,” he said.

Ferguson said the LGBT movement arises from “a modern understanding of being human” with core commitments to human identity as self-made, a prioritization of feelings over embodiment, and a hope for “a pathway out of their pain to wholeness.”

“This topic requires compassion because when you are dealing with questions of human sexuality or gender confusion, you’re dealing with people and it’s often very painful,” Ferguson said.

“If we watch Jesus through the gospels, when he interacts with an individual person who’s hurting, he often has a remarkable amount of compassion. But Christians are called to more than compassion,” he said. “We must believe there’s the possibility of clarity. We can actually know what a man or a woman is. We can actually know what the purpose of sex is.”

Appealing to Genesis 1 and 2, Ferguson pushed back against a distinction between human sex and gender identity that he said has become increasingly popular since the 1960s. Human identity, he said, is given by God in creation. “You can do a better or worse job of stewarding your identity, but you cannot create it. Whatever I am is not mine to determine. It is God’s.”

Genesis 2, Ferguson said, teaches that gender and sexual identity are located in the body, not in feelings. “I think we all will have feelings about our maleness or femaleness, feelings about our sex drives, our sexual orientation. But to root this in psychology is to run the risk of an early Christian heresy called Gnosticism.”

He added: “If we look carefully in Genesis 2, we see the emphasis on God creating a man and a woman. It’s not just the generic human being. It’s very clear that he forms the man and then he forms the woman, and the emphasis is on the physical material.

“The fact that embodiment is underscored in gender is reemphasized in the culmination of the passage in marriage. The one-flesh union in Genesis 2:24 is sensible and predicated upon the anatomical complementarity of the male and female body.”

Ferguson said that Christians should challenge the modern notion that sexual fulfillment is central to happiness in life.

“In the West, with modern medicine, we have really good lives, and what a really good life will do, with a lot of options, is to make heaven really dim. And so, the notion that you would live life with unmet sexual longings is anathema. We should look at the New Testament. It’s par for the course. In fact, things could go from bad to worse if you follow Jesus.”

The LGBT movement’s hope is transitioning. Ours is transformation,” he said. “Biblically, transformation culminates when God resurrects and perfects our bodies, not when we remake them.”

Ferguson urged church leaders to take up the challenge of countercultural catechesis on these issues, “not just articulating the doctrine, but articulating it in such a way that it counters the false belief.”

“We need a catechesis around identity, embodiment, and hope that counters false assumptions. There’s a saying in the U.S., ‘You only live once.’ You have to counter that — if you’re a Christian, relax. You live forever. In the twinkling of an eye, Paul says, you’re going to be happier than you and your most happy friend has ever imagined being. These momentary afflictions, your unmet sexual longings — Paul would say, they’re not even worth comparing to the glories of heaven.”

Clarifying GSFA Membership

At an evening session on June 12, members of the Assembly’s three houses approved criteria for associate membership and mission partnership, for smaller networks of Anglican churches and parachurch organizations that desire to formally affiliate with the GSFA.

The group that drafted the Covenantal Structure originally expected that only Anglican provinces would apply for membership, Archbishop Justin Badi, the GSFA chairman said, adding: “We did not think that additional categories of membership would be necessary.”

After receiving requests for affiliation from a variety of groups that shared a commitment to the GSFA’s vision of Anglican orthodoxy, the Covenant Review Committee determined that Anglican provinces that ratified the Covenantal Structure would be “ordinary members” with an assurance of full communion with one another, and eligibility to serve as officers and board members.

A 2022 revision of the Covenantal Structure included the additional categories and opened a process for applications. At the conference’s opening, it was announced that three GAFCON-founded dioceses in Europe and Australasia had been approved as associate members and 14 mission societies, theological schools, and ministry training centers had become official mission partners. The draft criteria under which these groups had been included were presented for formal approval and inclusion into the Covenantal Structure.

Associate membership, the new criteria state, is for churches that are in full agreement with the GSFA’s doctrinal commitments but are smaller than four dioceses and “do not yet demonstrate the character of ecclesial density.”

Criteria for assessing ecclesial density include increasing average Sunday attendance over five to 10 years, the establishment of formational documents, administrative complexity, financial stability, geographical (as opposed to affinity-based) scope, and a clear Anglican identity. The GSFA’s leadership, Badi said, would evaluate associate members on periodically, and hoped that they would eventually become ordinary members.

Mission partnership status, the new criteria state, is for “duly constituted Anglican organizations that do not have ecclesial jurisdiction.” Candidates for mission partnership also must certify their full agreement with the GSFA’s doctrinal commitments, and should identify one of the group’s “tracks” or affinity networks to which they can make a meaningful contribution. The GSFA’s current tracks focus on evangelism, economic empowerment, and theological education.

Badi said that the Covenant Review Committee had also identified some conflicts within the Covenantal Structure in the allocation of responsibilities to the Primates’ Council and the Board of the Assembly, a body elected by the Assembly that oversees the GSFA’s day-to-day operations.

Over the next several years, he said, the Covenant Review Committee would prepare a series of revisions that would more clearly vest final authority in matters of faith and order with the Primates’ Council. These revisions would be considered for approval by the second Assembly, which is expected to meet in the next four to five years.

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