As I mentioned last Friday on my way home from Sydney, the Communique from the GAFCON Primates meeting has now been published. Others have noted that it is exceptionally clear—without the ambiguity and “parsing” that so many official Anglican Communion documents demand. There is an abundance of concrete actions, good news of leadership transitions, new Primates on the GAFCON Primates Council, and positive developments among the GAFCON Networks and new “Branches” forming throughout the Communion.
But there is one development I wish to comment on: the announcement of a GAFCON Bishops Conference June 8-14, 2020 in Kigali Rwanda (prior to the July 2020 Lambeth Conference).
Of the Lambeth 2020 Conference of Bishops, the GAFCON Primates wrote:
“We were reminded of the words of Jeremiah 6:14, “They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” Last year in Jerusalem our delegates urged us not to attend Lambeth 2020 if godly order in the Communion had not been restored. They respectfully called upon the Archbishop of Canterbury to effect the necessary changes that fell within his power and responsibility.
We have not yet received a response from the Archbishop of Canterbury. We note that, as it currently stands, the conference is to include provinces who continue to violate Lambeth Resolution I.10 thereby putting the conference itself in violation of its own resolution: failing to uphold faithfulness in marriage and legitimising practices incompatible with Scripture. This incoherence further tears the fabric of the Anglican Communion and undermines the foundations for reconciliation.”
Let’s not forget the context. The 1998 Lambeth Conference of Bishops passed Resolution I.10 upholding faithfulness in marriage between one man and one woman for life, abstinence in all other cases, and rejected as incompatible with the Bible homosexual “practice,” the legitimizing or blessing of same sex unions and the ordination to Holy Orders of those in same-gender unions. This Resolution was passed by a vote of the overwhelming majority of bishops of the Anglican Communion (526-70).
Ten years later at the 2008 Lambeth Conference of Bishops, the Archbishop of Canterbury decided to suspend the practice of Anglican bishops declaring the official teaching of the Church through resolutions. For the first time, the Lambeth Conference engaged in small group Indaba discussions that resolved nothing. The 2002 institution of rites for the blessing of same sex unions in the Diocese of New Westminster (Canada) and the 2003 consecration of a Bishop in a same gender union in New Hampshire USA (TEC), in defiance of Lambeth Resolution 1.10 (1998) were allowed to stand unchallenged by the 2008 Lambeth Conference. Over 300 bishops boycotted this meeting in protest of that advance decision by Canterbury, published the Jerusalem Declaration and formed Gafcon instead.
It has taken twelve years for the Archbishop of Canterbury to summon another Lambeth Conference of Bishops. But it is “déjà vu all over again!” Since 2008, violations of Lambeth Resolution 1.10 have proliferated throughout the secularizing Anglican churches of the west. The definition of marriage has been changed in the Churches of Scotland and New Zealand, and is expected to change in Wales and Canada shortly. After inviting bishops of the Anglican Communion in same gender unions to attend the Lambeth Conference 2020, the Archbishop of Canterbury himself is now in defiance of Lambeth Resolution 1.10.
What can we expect out of the Lambeth Conference of Bishops 2020? The report of the recent meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC-17, Hong Kong) tells us what will happen in bold letters. The Episcopal New Service reported that the meeting of ACC-17 almost broke down when a representative of TEC moved a resolution for those marginalized in their human sexuality to be “fully included” in the Anglican Communion. The breakdown was averted at the last minute when, at the suggestion of the Archbishop of Canterbury, all members agreed to further implementation of ONLY the listening process recommended in Lambeth Resolution 1.10 (1998) (emphasis added). The standards for human sexuality so clearly articulated in Resolution 1.10, and the repeated violations of those Biblical standards, were utterly ignored.
In other words, we may expect from the Lambeth Conference of Bishops 2020 the nullification of Lambeth Resolution 1.10, the last official teaching of the Anglican Communion on human sexuality (with the exception of the “listening process.”)
By contrast, here is what we can expect from the GAFCON Bishops Conference June 2020:
“On the one hand, we have no interest in attempting to rival Lambeth 2020. On the other hand, we do not want our bishops to be deprived of faithful fellowship while we wait for order in the Communion to be restored. Therefore, we have decided to call together a meeting of bishops of the Anglican Communion in June of 2020. The conference will be primarily designed for those who will not be attending Lambeth, but all bishops of the Anglican Communion who subscribe to the Jerusalem Declaration and Lambeth Resolution I.10 are invited to join in this time of teaching, worship, and fellowship. We shall meet June 8-14 in Kigali, Rwanda, and be hosted by Archbishop Laurent Mbanda and the Anglican Church of Rwanda.”
“Faithful fellowship of those Anglican bishops who subscribe to both the Jerusalem Declaration AND Lambeth Resolution 1.10 (1998).” Why mention subscription to Lambeth Resolution 1.10 if there is not the intent at this meeting of bishops to boldly reaffirm the 1998 Anglican Communion standard for teaching on human sexuality, marriage and Holy Orders? This meeting of Anglican bishops will precede the Lambeth Conference. It provides an opportunity for GAFCON bishops representing 50 of the 70 million Anglicans worldwide to articulate a compelling, biblical and winsome vision for human flourishing! The vision that the GAFCON bishops could articulate in Kigali in June 2020 would be in contrast to the secularizing vision of human flourishing that is likely to emerge at Lambeth 2020 as its bishops continue to compromise with western culture under the spiritual leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Anglican bishops have an ancient, catholic and unique responsibility in guarding and proclaiming the faith of the Church. The GAFCON Bishops have the opportunity to recover this responsibility within the Anglican Communion that was lost at Lambeth 2008. Could this be a prophetic moment in the fulfillment of Jesus’ parable in Chapter 5 of Luke’s Gospel?
“And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins.” (Luke 5:37-38)
The Rev. Canon Phil Ashey is President & CEO of the American Anglican Council.