The promise of the Gafcon Bishop, and C of E Synod motions
by The Rev. Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream
Last week, on Thursday 8th June, I cast my General Election vote in my local polling station just after opening time, and then set off on a two and a half hour drive to a conference centre in the English midlands. A number of Anglicans were convening for a ‘Unity Forum’ to continue discussions face to face which have been going on remotely for some time, about the Anglican future and possible ways forward with regard to realignment in the British Isles. Representatives were there from The Anglican Church in North America, partner churches from Croatia and Brazil, the Free Church of England, Anglican Mission in England and the Church of England.
Some of our number had to leave early – an Archbishop and Canon headed off to Edinburgh for a press conference, while another participant left for a Church of England Evangelical Council meeting. The significance of the date, of course, was the confirmation by the Scottish Episcopal Church to change their canons on marriage. It was just coincidence that there was also a General Election, the result of which revealed a divided country without stable government and clear direction, much like Anglicanism in Britain.
The Radio 4 early morning religion programme ‘Sunday’ gave its usual low key, “lets-hear-all-sides-of-the-argument” treatment of the SEC decision, with a interview with Primus David Chillingworth followed by a gentlemanly discussion featuring Canon Andy Lines, missionary Bishop-designate, and Bishop Graham Kings, the spokesman for the Church of England and the pro-Lambeth Anglican Communion administration. The brief exchanges did mention a newspaper article with the inflammatory title “Welby goes to war over anti-gay Bishop”.
Somehow a ‘confidential’ letter from the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Communion Primates warning them not to interfere in Scotland had been ‘leaked’ to the Mail journalist. Once this letter, which does not mention SEC’s departure from Christian orthodoxy but berates Episcopal “border-crossing”, began circulating online, criticism exploded, with a number of moderate, normally pro-Welby and pro-remain-in-the-C-of-E clergy-bloggers accusing the Archbishop of blatantly siding with the revisionists.
For example David Baker, who has been opposed to Gafcon in recent weeks, in a clever analogy says that Justin Welbyis papering over the cracks rather than standing on the Rock of Jesus and his teaching. Institutional control and avoiding confrontation with secular culture has clearly trumped faithfulness to biblical truth, says James Oakley in his blog, worth reading for its detailed and forensic analysis of the thought of the C of E leadership. Most surprising of all, Lee Gatiss, normally an advocate of the “stay with the ship” position, commends the appointment of the Gafcon Bishop, and calls Welby’s position “broad church ecclesiastical utilitarianism”. The response of Lambeth to SEC’s action shows clearly “the preferred direction of travel” of the C of E. Lee has previously been keen to stress the orthodoxy of the C of E’s historic formularies rather than its current drift towards revisionism, so although he holds out hope that Dr Welby might yet turn back from the brink, it is significant that he has been so publicly critical.
The Anglican Mainstream has gathered a number of reports and articles such as these in one list, here.
Meanwhile, the C of E is getting ready for General Synod. Today a number of papers were sent out including notices about fringe meetings. Two proposed motions at the gathering from July 8-10 are of concern to biblically faithful Anglicans: one asking the C of E to distance itself from so-called “gay conversion therapy”, a term that is only used by the LGBT lobby as a caricature, to shut down any ministry responding to people who seek help with moving away from unwanted feelings and behaviours. I will say more about this in the next couple of weeks, but there is apparently a real prospect of this motion passing, as it could receive support from orthodox believers ignorant of the real issues, and fearful about being seen as lacking in compassion. The other motion asks the Bishops to begin the process resulting in authorizing “liturgical materials to mark a person’s gender transition”. Hopefully sensible amendments will be made to these motions, such as the one proposed by Martin Davie here.
Once again after the crossing of the Rubicon by the Scottish Episcopal Church, it is clear that the C of E is not far behind. The consecration of the Gafcon missionary Bishop is one of a series of essential acts of orthodox resistance to revisionism that we will hopefully see over the next few months.
The Rev. Andrew Symes is Director of Anglican Mainstream, an Orthodox Anglican ministry in the UK.