GAFCON, leadership and the night collects.

Bishop Nick Baines recently (on April 19th) wrote an article responding to the recent meeting of the GAFCON primates. I agree with most, perhaps even all, of  Bishop Nick’s critique for, there is something deeply worrying about the Men from GAFCON seeking to pitch their tent in ‘our’, Church of England, midst. Apparently they want to offer some form of yet to specified parallel structure for disaffected Anglicans.

The quote below is a fairly long extract from Bishop Nick’s thought-piece,The Real Church of England.’

‘For a long time I have wondered if the Church of England ought not to be a little more robust in countering the misrepresentation and manipulation (of reality) that emanates from Gafcon. I am not alone. But, I have bowed to the wisdom of those who (rightly) assert that we shouldn’t counter bad behaviour with bad behaviour, and that we should trust that one day the truth will out. I am no longer so sure about the efficacy of such an eirenic response. I think we owe it to Anglicans in England and around the Communion to fight the corner and challenge the misrepresentation that is fed to other parts of the Anglican Communion. (I was once asked in Central Africa why one has to be gay to be ordained in the Church of England. I was asked in another country why the Church of England no longer reads the Bible and denies Jesus Christ. I could go on. When asked where this stuff has come from, the answer is that this is what a bishop has told them.)

The Gafcon primates say:

We are uniting faithful Anglicans, growing in momentum, structured for the future, and committed to the Anglican Communion.

Which means what – especially when they claim ‘gospel values’ and speak and behave in ways that do not reflect values of honesty, integrity and humility? And on what basis is the bulk of the Church of England reported (within Gafcon circles) as being unfaithful? And who writes the stuff they put out? Who is directing whom – who is pulling whose strings? And what would be the response if I wrote off as “unfaithful” entire provinces of the Anglican Communion where there was evidence of corruption, love of power, financial unfaithfulness or other sins? Does the ninth Commandment still apply today, or only where convenient? Is sex the only ethical matter that matters, or does breaking the ninth Commandment get a look in?’

Bishop Nick asks a lot of questions; many of them intriguing and, demanding of further inquiry.

To draw on the Message Bible looking at GAFCON is like: ‘squinting in a fog, peering through a midst,’ (1 Corinthians 13, 12). +Nick is right, we need to know ‘who is directing whom – who is pulling the strings?’

The GAFCON bishops pitched up, with their tent, but who drove them to the campsite?

By continuing to ask these questions the hope must be that ‘the weather clears and the sun shines bright. We’ll see it all then, as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly as he knows us,’ (Message Bible 1 Corinthians 13, 12 continued).

Asking who is pulling the strings is an important question because it takes us into the world of transparency, and illumination. It also takes us away from the world of politics and back towards the ethics of Christian community, and this is a reality that Church of England worshippers pray for in the night collects each and every Sunday:

‘Lighten our darkness we beseech thee O Lord,’ and, my favourite night-time prayer:

‘Look down O Lord from thy heavenly throne, illuminate the darkness of this night with thy celestial brightness, and from the children of light banish the deeds of darkness, through Jesus Christ our Lord.’

When I look at GAFCON it’s all a bit murky. The GAFCON bishops accuse the Church of England of being far too accepting of what they believe to be ‘deeds of darkness,’  especially in relation to issues of human sexuality, but equally it seems clear, to me, that they operate under ‘the darkness of night.’ 

‘Who is directing whom – who is pulling the strings?’  That is the unanswered, unresolved, question.

What the Church of England needs is a few high profile conservative leaders to publicly state, without equivocation, that whatever the outcome of ‘our’ Church of England discussions on sexuality, aligning with, or sitting under the jurisdiction, of GAFCON is a complete and utter no-no.

We also need more bishops to speak out loudly and, dare I say so, with a little bit of righteous anger.

Unlike Bishop Nick I do want to bring this issue back to sexuality, or more precisely homosexuality, because that is one of the two issues, that GAFCON members, and traditional conservatives in the Church of England, most object to (in reality I suspect it is their biggest driving issue).

Apart from the shady politics of who is directing whom – who is pulling the strings, attitudes to homosexuality, is the reason why I would react most strongly to churches ‘getting into bed with’  GAFCON.

And my reasoning is straightforward: Michael Ramsey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, argued in the 1960’s that laws to criminalizing homosexuality, irrespective of the sinfulness (or otherwise of homosexuality) are highly unjust, or put another way antithetical to Christian legal–ethical standards. Was he wrong?

Across whole swathes of Africa laws have recently been passed making homosexuality and, in some cases, failure to report ‘known homosexuals’ a criminal offence, and it gets worse, because the sentences sanctioned by law are horrendous. Churches, and church leaders, have, tragically, endorsed and encouraged such laws. Services of thanksgiving for these laws have been hosted, hysteria has been whipped up, hatred encouraged. Blood has been spilt, lives have been lost.

Should churches in this country really be seeking to pitch their tents next to the men (but not women) of GAFCON? I  for one don’t think so.

Should conservative leaders and bishops speak out against recent GAFCON initiatives, yes.




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