GlobalView from Bishop Bill Atwood
Most people will remember the GAFCON meeting in Jerusalem in 2008. It produced the Jerusalem Declaration which clearly restated Anglican formularies and norms. In the context of an Anglican Communion that has continued to descend further and further into doctrinal chaos, the Jerusalem Declaration provides refreshing clarity. The importance of that clarity has only increased as additional Provinces in the Communion pursue teaching and practices that depart from Biblical faith.
Following the Jerusalem meeting there was a GAFCON Leaders’ meeting in London in 2012 and then in 2013, GAFCON-2 met in Nairobi. The GAFCON Primates Council meets annually to steer the movement. The latest meeting was just held on the outskirts of London. Unlike many meetings that have escaped notice, there was considerable press interest in this meeting, fueled by speculation that the Primates were meeting to effect a break from the Anglican Communion. That, of course, is not true. In fact, rather than “threatening to leave” (which would thrill liberals), GAFCON leaders have been “threatening to stay.” In other words, they are not interested in leaving the Communion. They are interested in renewing it so that it is faithful to its theological heritage. There are lots of reasons why, but here is one compelling one.
Current estimates are that the Anglican Communion is about 80 million people. Of that, the suggestion is that GAFCON represents about half of that number. As usual, however, he who stripes the field, determines the victor. Let’s look at the striping. The number of 80 million Anglicans includes 26 million in England. The theory there with the established State Church is that it is really hard not to be Anglican. The best number I have is that on a given Sunday, there are between 800,000 and 900,000 people in the Church of England. Normally, one can get a pretty good idea of the active membership by doubling the average Sunday attendance. Let’s say then that maybe 2,000,000 people are active in the Church of England. That seems to be a reasonable, perhaps even generous estimate. In that case, if the number that is reported reflects the Active Anglicans the number looks more like this:
26,000,000 “estimated Anglicans” in England
– 24,000,000 net “NOT active” Anglicans
2,000,000 active Anglicans in England
To find the “active Anglicans” in the world then, lets deduct the “non-active” Anglicans from the total.
56,000,000 actual active Anglicans
Active Anglicans in GAFCON Provinces:
Nigeria 23,000,000 Yes, that’s the latest number!
Uganda 13,000,000 Also an updated number
D.R. Congo 2,000,000
South Amer 90,000
North America 112,000
48,202,000 Anglicans in GAFCON Provinces
Keep in mind, there are also many dioceses that are fully on board with GAFCON even though their whole Province has not joined. Without even counting them, GAFCON’s presence in the Communion is:
48,202,000 ÷ 56,000,000= 86 % of the Active Communion
In addition to that, most of the members of the Global South are in complete agreement with GAFCON in terms of Biblical faith and theology. The solidly orthodox Provinces of the Global South add many more millions. In fact, a reasonable guess of the orthodox majority in the Anglican Communion is about 95% of the active Anglican in the world, or perhaps as many as 53 million out of the 56 million active Anglicans.
Of course, people will point out that there are many more Provinces not in GAFCON than are in GAFCON, but many of them are very small.
For example, exact numbers are difficult to get to, but my best estimates are that:
- There are more people in the Youth Group of All Saints Cathedral in Nairobi than there are in the Province of Mexico.
- On an average Sunday there are more people in each of the Cathedrals of more than fifty Dioceses in Nigeria than there are in the Province of Scotland or Wales.
- The Anglican Church in North America has more people in Church on a Sunday than the Church in Canada, Brazil, Hong Kong, Japan, or Korea.
The point is that the presence of GAFCON in the Communion is huge. There is no need for GAFCON Provinces to leave the Communion; they are the Communion. This is certainly true when viewed together with most of the Global South Provinces. Their numbers and influence just aren’t reflected in the old structures of the Communion. Hence the need for GAFCON and its structures!
The GAFCON leaders are moving forward. The first announcement is that there is going to be another GAFCON Conference. It will be in 2018, with the location to be disclosed later. The plan is to have a large gathering that includes bishops, clergy, and lay Christians. Plans are underway, and there is space in the design to respond to world events as well as providing encouragement, nurture, networking, and resources for spiritual renewal that much of the Communion desperately needs.
Archbishop Foley Beach was enthusiastically and unanimously added to the GAFCON Primates Council, and the accomplishments of the Anglican Church in North America were celebrated.
There were also reports from around the world where new chapters are forming and others are growing. The growth is encouraging. Structural growth within the organization is being put in place to properly organize to have a positive impact in spiritual renewal.
GAFCON is incredibly broad across the globe, but the leaders desire to have greater breadth of churchmanship. In the Communiqué, the Primates wrote:
“There is much room for variety within the boundaries of Christian orthodoxy, but when the Gospel is at stake there can never be a middle way.”
That statement reflects, I believe, the Primates’ desire to welcome and incorporate more Anglo-Catholic Anglicans into the movement. Several outreach points are being made along those lines and should bear fruit in the coming months. It also signals that there is no intention to “roll over” on Gospel doctrine. They are secure in their understanding of the faith.
Many people live in challenging areas. Some must contend with violent assault from radicals. Others live in the midst of cultures bent on self-destruction, embracing radical secularism, materialism, or Paganism. Where orthodox believers find themselves in conflict with their surrounding culture, or in conflict with the liberal church, the suggestion is to form a chapter of the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans. We are going to see that happen in a number of countries over the next months.
Those who live literally “under the gun” have captured the hearts of the GAFCON Primates. There will be more and more outreach to them, with tools, communication, and conferences to help encourage their faithful and costly witness.
Is there hope for Anglicans who remain committed to “the faith once delivered”? Indeed there is. Its name is GAFCON.
The Rt. Rev. Bill Atwood is Bishop of the International Diocese and an American Anglican Council contributing author.