Many of you will have read the statement of the Global South Primates Steering Committee from their meeting in Cairo this past weekend. In the swirl of the weekly news cycle, it’s easy to look at this statement as just another murmur from the background of Anglican geopolitics. I’d like to offer a few thoughts about why their statement should be considered newsworthy.
First, let’s remember that the Global South Primates include the Archbishops or principal Bishop-leaders of the largest Anglican Churches in the world - Nigeria (in terms of real average Sunday attendance in church), Kenya, and Uganda for starters. They include those leaders of the Gafcon movement - which plants the future of a renewed Anglicanism around a common confession of faith, the Jerusalem Declaration.
But the Global South movement existed before Gafcon, and includes those provinces in that part of the world that have not yet joined Gafcon, like Southeast Asia, but have for many years stood firmly on the authority and clarity of the Bible as the ultimate authority within the councils of the Church. That’s a big deal. It was the Global South, meeting together in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) in 1997 that stood up to the secularization and sexualization of Anglicans in the West who were weakening and ignoring the Bible. The Kuala Lumpur Statement (1997) reaffirmed the classical Anglican supremacy of Scripture while applying it to matters of human sexuality, and did so with both clarity and compassion. In so very many ways, the Global South movement paved the way for Gafcon and the Jerusalem Declaration.
Secondly, this meeting of the Global South (including Gafcon) Primates occurs well before the scheduled October Primates Meeting in Canterbury. The Global South Primates review the October 2016 meeting to which they were invited by the Archbishop of Canterbury. They recite their agreement at that meeting to impose discipline on The Episcopal Church, and the specifics of that discipline. They recite the Archbishop of Canterbury’s failure to enforce that agreement. They speak in terms of a “further betrayal of trust.” Is that any way for the Archbishop of Canterbury to assume leadership of a meeting of those same Primates just one year later?
Thirdly, the Global South Primates speak about coming together to follow up the recommendations of the 2016 Global South Conference. Those recommendations included paragraphs 27-33 of the Communique on “Ecclesial Responsibility,” which addressed the “ecclesial deficit” or lack of authority within the existing structures of the Anglican Communion to “discern truth and error” and to “discipline those leaders who have abandoned the biblical and historic faith.” In fact, in paragraph 32, the Global South Primates went so far as to pledge themselves to create structures that would address and cure this dysfunctional deficit of authority:
“32. The present and potentially escalating crisis poses challenges to the Global South in the shepherding of her people. We recognize the need for our enhanced ecclesial responsibility. We need to strengthen our doctrinal teaching, our ecclesiastical ordering of our collective life as a global fellowship and the flourishing of our gifts in the one another-ness of our mission.”
Less than a year later, hear what the Global South Primates have to say about their progress:
“As faithful members of the Anglican Communion, we are working on a new structure for the Global South to ensure fellowship in the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ and the advancement of the kingdom of God, with emphasis on Ministry Formation, Economic Empowerment, Mission Partnerships, Discipleship and Youth Ministry. Under the chairmanship of Bishop Rennis Ponniah the Structure Committee will convene its work in Singapore at the end of October 2017.”
The Global South Primates are meeting their promise. It is a promise, not a threat. But as faithful members of the Anglican Communion, they can no longer wait for the Archbishop of Canterbury or the status quo structures to cure themselves. In fact, at least three of the four Communion structures or “instruments” are at war with each other! Consider the Anglican Consultative Council’s repudiation of the authority of the Primates over matters of doctrine and order at their April 2016 meeting in Lusaka (Zambia), and Canterbury’s deafening silence.
Since the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Anglican status quo cannot heal the wound, the Global South will apply healing balm through a recovery of “enhanced ecclesial responsibility.” What will these new structures look like in keeping with “faithful Anglican membership”? How will the intensification of relationships around these new structures impact relationships around the current broken Instruments? What charm offensive will we see from Canterbury to disrupt this work by the Global South?
Finally, the Global South Primates comments about the Church of England are also pointed. They rightly praise Bishop Julian Henderson of the Diocese of Blackburn for coming over and reporting on “the challenges facing orthodox Anglicans in the Church of England.” But it is noteworthy that they not only call upon faithful Anglicans to stand firm, but also to “speak up” for the central place of Scripture in the life of the Church. Bishop Henderson came over and did so - but where are the other Bishops in the Church of England? What does it mean to be an “evangelical” bishop in the Church of England these days if not to boldly speak up for the clarity, authority and centrality of the Scriptures in the life of the Church? What challenge have the Global South Primates laid down to the Bishops of the Church of England in these carefully chosen words?
Oh, and by the way, who is “failing to walk together” when, as the Global South Primates note, the conditions for “walking together” were nullified by the Archbishop of Canterbury himself, in his failure to see that the restrictions on The Episcopal Church were observed and respected?
As the Canterbury Primates meeting October 2017 draws near, how many more Primates will say, in the same spirit as Nehemiah did when facing dilatory meetings, “My work is too important to stop now and go there. I can’t afford to slow down the work just to visit with you.” (Nehemiah 6:2-3)
The Rev. Canon Phil Ashey is President & CEO of the American Anglican Council.