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A Deeper Look at the Issues facing 38 Anglican Primates in Canterbury

A Deeper Look at the Issues facing 38 Anglican Primates in Canterbury
Can schism really be averted?


By David W. Virtue DD
January 7, 2016

It might be dubbed the Battle of Britain Part 2. This time though, the war is not about guns and tyranny but about a battle for the soul of the Anglican Communion, torn apart by bad theology and morals.

It is not being played out in the London blitz, over Dunkirk's beaches or the English Channel but in Canterbury, the spiritual capital not only of the Church of England but the Anglican Communion, which includes some 70 million souls.

It is about the battle for truth.

There is much speculation going about what reporters in the mainstream media think will happen when the 38 Primates meet next week in Canterbury. Most of them have it wrong. The Daily Mail in a longish piece says the Archbishop of Canterbury will propose that the Communion become a more loosely linked "federation" to keep everyone in the "family" -- which aides have compared to "moving into separate bedrooms" rather than full-scale divorce.

This is not an accurate rendition of how things will play out, according to my sources. No "federation" or "commonwealth of provinces" is envisaged or is being entertained by the GAFCON primates. They have made it clear in their latest bulletin posted this week that only repentance by Western provinces like The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada (but not solely them) is acceptable and can keep the communion together.

"Will Christ rule our life and witness through His word, or will our life and witness be conformed to the global ambitions of a secular culture? Together, by the grace of God, we are praying that the Communion will emerge from its current crisis repentant, renewed and restored for its global mission of proclaiming the gospel which is good news for all people, in all places and at all times," wrote GAFCON chairman Eliud Wabukala.

This is the hope and testimony of the GAFCON Primates as they approach this gathering. Although they represent only about one third of all the primates, they represent more than 80% of all practicing Anglicans worldwide. One should not forget that. The balance of geographic and numerical power has moved from the West (Global North) to the Global South.

So what will happen if Western Anglican provinces don't repent? This writer does not think for a moment that they will because too much water has passed under the bridge, and too many primates meetings have come and gone with the unresolved elephant in the Narthex, namely how humans should behave sexually, still unresolved. So why is this issue so central?

Unlike poverty, war, violence and climate change, which are all temporal issues, any deviance from God's moral order on how we should behave sexually has eternal consequences. This fact remains even if one chooses to ignore or parse the clear teaching of both the Old and New Testaments on the subject.

Some British writers have concluded that this is a colonial dustup now that Britain has lost its Empire and Commonwealth. I do not believe this. The issues are more simply a struggle between orthodoxy and revisionism.

If there is a colonial dynamic, it is that those who received the CofE's Gospel, are now bringing it back to the West, only for the West to change and distort it. One hopes that the African leaders will be preserved from a recurring bout of colonial-era patronization.

This puts the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby squarely in the hot seat, and some commentators believe that the role he must now play is of utmost importance. However, he has called for prayer but nothing else. He is a lightweight theologically speaking. He lacks gravitas and is not in the same league as former archbishops like William Temple, Donald Coggan, or even George Carey.

My judgment of Welby in all that he has said and done is that he is incapable of recognizing the orthodox position and therefore cannot defend it. He steadfastly refuses to be definitive about where he stands on homosexuality, and when pushed resorts to ad hominem arguments about people he knows who are gay. (I had a family member who was gay and is now dead of HIV/AIDS. It changes nothing.)

Furthermore, the argument that schism, if it occurs, will bring chaos does not hold up. A better metaphor is that of the Titanic and lifeboats. GAFCON already has ten plus life boats with ropes still tied to the Titanic. If they don't cut them they will be pulled under. Another driving metaphor is the notion that hot water can co-exist with cold water. It doesn't take an Einstein to deduce that if you mix the two you get lukewarm water--and we know what our Lord says about that!

Only by setting the lifeboats free from the doomed mother ship, beleaguered by holes beneath the water line and set to sink inexorably beneath the waters, can the travelers be saved. I disagree with the call for "Canterbury" to play the role others are asking of him. Welby is too linked by his White privileged, Etonian background to understand how unimportant he really is from a global perspective. The very fact that a third of the Primates were no-shows in Dublin when Archbishop Rowan Williams was archbishop goes to show how little they thought of him and the office he holds. The deeper truth is that the Global South holds the keys to the future of the Anglican kingdom, and they now call the shots.

Western liberal provinces will not repent. The central issue then becomes what Welby is going to do and say to ACNA Archbishop Foley Beach, who comes hand-held by GAFCON chairman and Kenyan Archbishop Eliud Wabukala. ACNA is now a recognized force in North American Anglicanism, unlike the Anglican Mission in England (AMiE), which is still in its embryonic stages.

Here are Welby's options.

1. He does not recognize Archbishop Beach as a legitimate Anglican archbishop and sends him on his way (but not rejoicing). ACNA is not recognized, but it continues to grow. If Welby does that, he risks alienating the GAFCON chairman and eight other GAFCON primates. Is he prepared to take that risk?
2. He recognizes Archbishop Beach and thus alienates both the US Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and Canadian Archbishop Fred Hiltz. Hiltz is already on record as saying that Beach should appear at the beginning of the meeting but then be dismissed and not be allowed to stay on. If Welby insists that Beach stay and he recognizes him as a legitimate Anglican Archbishop in North America, how will the two integrities (TEC and ACNA) live alongside each other but never recognize one another? Will Presiding Bishop Michael Curry accept that proposal? Will his "Don't worry be happy" mantra sustain such an innovation?
3. All sides dig in. Welby fails to find a "third way" and the eight GAFCON primates and any other Global South primates walk out and form a more perfect communion faithful to the gospel. The orthodox primates see the West as a mission field to evangelize. That mission field would include those post-Christian Anglican provinces in need of salvation.

There is, however, another hidden template in all this.

If schism occurs, what will happen to the orthodox in the CofE who do not have an ACNA equivalent to go to? They are in a weak position. There is the Anglican Mission in England (AMiE), but it is tiny with a dozen congregations and no money.

Unless there is a seismic moment such as the consecration of an openly gay or practicing Muslim bishop or a vote at Synod to allow gay marriage (and liberals will make sure this doesn't happen soon), there is little chance the majority of orthodox clergy will walk out of their nice CofE livings and join GAFCON unless they have a large wealthy congregation behind them - and I am told there are not many of those.

A knowledgeable insider said that if GAFCON walked away from the Communion, maybe 5% of the English orthodox would follow. The rest would be very vulnerable. Furthermore there is a growing evidence that evangelical churches are growing, planting new congregations, opening new buildings, revitalizing old buildings. It's organic -- the CofE is busy shedding one skin and growing a new one.

Said the source, "That's why I'm arguing that GAFCON needs to push for a recognized new Anglican Province in the British Isles. Welby might buy that as it is 'good disagreement.'"

What Welby won't do is tell the revisionists to repent and accept orthodoxy for the sake of the Communion. For that reason nothing will change in Canterbury except the possibility of schism.

Presiding Bishop Curry released a statement saying that he looks forward to being with his fellow primates next week, but he signaled no understanding of the issues or the ecclesiastical tsunami facing him.

The crozier of Pope Gregory, who sent Augustine to England to begin the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons, will be on display at Canterbury Cathedral during the Primates' Meeting as a symbol of ecumenical encouragement. The cathedral will display the ancient carved ivory-headed crozier during the weekends before and after the Primates' Meeting.

Truth is they will need more than Pope Gregory's crozier to keep the communion together.

One hopes that the Lambeth event will show the courage and faithfulness of the Global South triumphing over Western compromise, cowardice, and trust in unbiblical forms of reconciliation. The future of the Anglican Communion is at stake.


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