GlobalView from Bishop Bill Atwood
Last week, the church gathered for the Provincial Synod including the Finance Meeting, the Standing Committee, and the House of Bishops. There were a host of issues, both national and international. Though I’ll describe some of the findings, they are not the only things of importance. What was most remarkable was the atmosphere of the conversation among the Bishops. Kenya, like every other nation, has many divisive problems.
There was a report from the GAFCON-2 meeting last October. Some of the Bishops had been skeptical that a conference could be held with that many people without plunging into debt. In fact, every single expense was covered and there was a tiny positive balance after all the bills were paid. It was an amazing tribute to both the GAFCON leadership (especially Bishop Martin Minns), and for the huge, organized, and dedicated local team from All Saints Cathedral Diocese where there was a small army of volunteers involved.
Having experienced meetings sponsored by the Anglican Communion Office, GAFCON-2 was seen by the bishops as a dramatic shift. Little happens of spiritual substance at Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) meetings, unless one includes things which are actually destructive to the Gospel. GAFCON-2 by contrast was a revival retreat with tracks and topics that allowed for Gospel Mission and practical applications of Biblical principles to everyday ministry. Bishops also spoke about the rich offerings of resources for engaging Islam, doing development, and developing theological education (among many other things). That is exactly what GAFCON and its ongoing fellowship, the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (GFCA), is all about.
“GAFCON is the future and it’s life. The ACC is dominated by Western liberals and doesn’t have any life to offer,” offered one of the senior bishops. There were many voices of agreement and no dissent.
When the “continuing Indaba” process came up, there was an energetic and vociferous rejection of it as a fundamentally flawed and corrupt process. There was agreement to stop participating in it, though some of the younger guys wanted to try “taking over” and rejecting the liberal agenda. That happened just before a break where there was lots of conversation with them about the lies and corruption at ACC and Primates meetings.
On the positive side, the enthusiasm for GAFCON was reflected with a resolution formally partnering with GAFCON/GFCA that established a budget line-item toward financial support of GAFCON. That was approved both by the House of Bishops and then later by the Provincial Synod without dissent!
When Archbishop Eliud introduced the topic of Women as Bishops, many bishops were expecting a contentious debate. What actually happened though was a reflection of years of relationship building that Archbishop Eliud has emphasized. There have been ministry times and wonderful meetings with SOMA teams. Last year, Archbishop Foley Beach was on a SOMA team with Bishop John Guernsey where prayer and relational healing took place that caused the Bishops to emerge more unified than ever.
As the House of Bishops met to consider the topic, the conversation was spirited but all the conversation remained collegial and respectful. As the conversation proceeded, many points were brought out including the fact that this was not just something impacting Kenya, but that relationships with other Provinces would be impacted as well. Different bishops warned of taking action that would be in opposition to Nigeria’s position. Others said that a decision to include women as bishops at this time would also be damaging to the Anglican Church in North America because it is such a high priority for a significant number of leaders. I didn’t have to bring that up, others thought of it, too.
It is interesting that not one province that has women bishops has remained orthodox. While it may not be a cause and effect relationship, the situation is so unsettling that it begs inquiry to try and figure out what is going on before proceeding.
As problem solving, prayer, and conversation proceeded, a proposal was suggested to engage in a prayerful theological study and conversation with GAFCON partners to seek a theologically sound consensus. While the discussions proceed, a five year moratorium on women candidates as bishop was proposed.
In the end, that is what passed: a five year moratorium on considering women as candidates for bishop while prayerful, theological study is done in conversation with other GAFCON Provinces (and a few other provinces who are committed to orthodoxy). Also mentioned was the need to address the cultural pressures that are at play. In general, voices outside the church are pushing for removing gender from any role and trying to advance same-sex relationships.
Given the fragile nature of orthodox alliances because of organized pressures against them, it is a tremendously important development that the Kenyan bishops are attentive to other Provinces’ concerns as well as their own. Not that they are foolishly trying to reconcile things that cannot be reconciled, theological agreement will never be reached with liberals whether it be concerning sexual behavior or Christology, but they were concerned to find consensus where ever they can. It is also remarkable that they were not willing to take the bait of the Western leaders who feast on the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and jump ahead without consultation convinced that they must be right because it is they who are doing the deciding.
This does not mean that there are no issues to discuss. In fact, the question of women as bishops is not a settled one. A conservative process with a cooked and pre-determined outcome would be as corrupt as a liberal one. This is a true inquiry, and it is being done in the context of relationship with other leaders who have demonstrated their commitment to Biblical authority.
I have never been more proud of these Bishops than I was at this meeting. They faced critically important issues full on and did not back off. They did so with maturity and collegiality, each caring for the position of others. In the end, the passage of a resolution without dissent did not indicate that there are no bishops who support women as bishops. There are. They support unity with their brethren as well, and that guided the day.
Bishop Bill Atwood is an American Anglican Council contributing author and Bishop of the International Diocese of the Anglican Church in North America.