Anglican Perspectives

God’s Grace: Never late, rarely early

GlobalView from Bishop Bill Atwood



Last week, more than one hundred and fifty people met with sixteen Archbishops and many other Bishops from the Global South. The meeting had to be rescheduled from October 2015 because there was a terrorist attack in front of the hotel where we were supposed to meet last year in Tunis.


In God’s providence, some things transpired that made it much more clear what needed to happen. First of all, in January all but a couple of the Anglican Primates gathered in Canterbury to deal with the fact that the Episcopal Church in the USA changed its Canons in order to pursue same-sex marriages. That move created distress, ranging from those who were irritated at TEC’s lack of consultation, to those who were outraged at the departure from Biblical faith. Overwhelmingly, the Primates voted to impose discipline on TEC—though the Archbishop of Canterbury insisted that it was not discipline but merely “consequences.” If anyone can tell me the difference, I would appreciate it.


Immediately following the April meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in Lusaka, Zambia, the Archbishop of Canterbury announced that TEC had completely complied with the decision of the Primates, despite the fact that they participated fully in discussion, moving resolutions, seconding resolutions, and voting. Not only that, but they even boasted at how they had been able to participate despite what the Primates had said. While I can appreciate how the Archbishop of Canterbury does not want the Communion to fall apart, the disconnect from the obvious reality that the Primates had been ignored flies in the face of his spin. The result is that many Global South leaders went into last week’s meetings not just irritated, but some were using language like, “We have been betrayed.”


On arriving in Cairo, the conference received news that the Presiding Bishop of TEC had headed off to the Vatican to participate in a celebration of the anniversary of the Anglican House in Rome. After that meeting, it surfaced that the appointed ecumenical representative for the Anglican Communion is the TEC Bishop of Tennessee, a slap in the face to the Primates’ discipline.


While these were the latest facts impacting the Communion, the conflict is long-standing. For decades there have been meetings after meetings, and literally millions of dollars spent on travel and discussion on how to address the conflicts caused by TEC (and now being mirrored in other Provinces like Canada, Wales, Scotland, and Brazil. To make matters worse, many in the Church of England want to go down the same road.


The orthodox majority in the Communion (by like 90%) has been unable to effectively settle the conflict for two main reasons. First of all, the structures of the Communion are corrupt. Decisions have been made again and again, only to be undone by liberal friendly people inside the structure.


The second weakness with addressing the crisis is the fact that strategy differences (and some personality conflicts) between the Global South and the GAFCON movement have kept the orthodox from speaking with a united voice.


The growing level of the crisis prompted many leaders to want to get the orthodox unified. One of the most vocal of those leaders calling for unity has been President Bishop Mouneer Anis, Bishop of Egypt and Northern Africa, and Primate of the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East. He has been burning the mid-night oil reaching out to other leaders, mending fences, and building bridges. By the time the meeting opened in Cairo, there was a new spirit of cooperation, and, despite the resolve to pursue a Scriptural future for the Anglican Church, there was also a newly articulated gentle strength that has a pastoral dimension.


Time and again, speakers would affirm both GAFCON and the Global South leadership. By the time the Communiqué was being prepared, any rifts between the two groups had been healed and mended. People met in small groups and plenary sessions to pray and discern, and talk late into the night. Every night the Primates met for long hours of discussion and issue resolution.


Remarkable this time in a way that was very different from previous Global South meetings was the resolve to go ahead and act. In many previous meetings, very vocal revisionist delegates from South Africa would insist on removing any tough language or decisions from the Communiqué.


In the week before the Cairo meeting, revisionists in South Africa introduced a measure for same-sex marriage in their Province. It failed in all three houses, bishops, clergy, and lay. In addition, the representatives from South Africa to the Global South meeting included one conservative bishop and one liberal one who had been sent by the Primate to represent him. While the liberal representative was able to speak to the situation and was able to vote “No” to the Communiqué, for everyone else it was a love-fest of agreement. Not only was GAFCON’s Jerusalem Declaration (and the longer Jerusalem Statement) affirmed, most of the positions on the Global South Primates Steering Committee are GAFCON Archbishops. They even insisted that Archbishop Foley Beach be on the Steering Committee, with the Anglican Church in North America having been given seat, voice, and vote by the Primates last year.


In addition to clearly unifying GAFCON and the Global South, there was another major passage as well. The gathering overwhelmingly approved “Enhanced Ecclesial Structures” for the Global South. Those who are tired of conflict and who wanted a complete break will no doubt be disappointed, but the fact is that the establishment of ecclesial structures in the Global South provide a powerful way forward. With the instruments of Unity in the Communion being so compromised, gatherings of the whole Communion will either not happen, or they will be so weakened by the absence of the orthodox majority, their meetings will not have credibility or moral authority. Because they do not have life, those structures will continue to atrophy. At the same time, theologically robust Global South structures aided by the powerful renewal emphasis of GAFCON will provide life-giving opportunities to collaborate in mission and evangelism. I expect over this next season, GAFCON and Global South efforts to pursue evangelism and mission will prosper while the liberal institutional counterparts will wither until they die. GAFCON/Global South will pursue real missions. The part that will last at the end of the day is the Biblical life of the Global South, not the failing revisionism of industrial nations. There does not have to be a break. Part of the Anglican Communion will move ahead with Gospel life and the other bits will shrivel and fade away.


What makes this meeting particularly important, is that (in my assessment), it was the absolute last chance for the orthodox to get together and be on the same page. That happened! Had this meeting not worked to bring reconciliation about, and differing strategies continued, there simply would not have been a way to address things in any meaningful way. As it is, the post-Cairo world is not without problems, but it is a hopeful one that is full of Gospel promise for the vast majority of Anglicans. Now, not only watch for the Global South to be empowered more as GAFCON Provinces are fully engaged, but watch as more and more Provinces move into GAFCON as well.


The world has a lot of problems, but there is only one solution: The Gospel. Now, there is a coalition of something like 90% of the world’s active Anglicans who are pursuing that Gospel together. It is the broadest, and most hopeful thing I have seen in Anglicanism in the last thirty years.


Bishop Bill Atwood


The Rt. Rev. Bill Atwood is Bishop of the ACNA International Diocese and an American Anglican Council contributing author. 

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