Ruth Gledhill writes:
When is a schism not a schism? When it is done by Anglicans.
This is the introduction to her post of the final statement from the GAFCON conference of conservative Anglicans, which has been held in Jerusalem this week. The 1148 participants, including 291 bishops, write the following, extracted from the statement:
We cherish our Anglican heritage and the Anglican Communion and have no intention of departing from it.
GAFCON is not just a moment in time, but a movement in the Spirit, and we hereby:
• launch the GAFCON movement as a fellowship of confessing Anglicans
• publish the Jerusalem Declaration as the basis of the fellowship
• Encourage GAFCON Primates’ Council.
While acknowledging the nature of Canterbury as an historic see, we do not accept that Anglican identity is determined necessarily through recognition by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
This leads into what they publish as “The Jerusalem Declaration”, which is “the basis of our fellowship”. Most of this is an unremarkable statement of orthodox Anglicanism. It does contain an explicit reference to “the unchangeable standard of Christian marriage between one man and one woman”. There is no mention of issues controversial among orthodox Anglicans such as the ordination of women. But the Declaration does include the following:
We recognise the orders and jurisdiction of those Anglicans who uphold orthodox faith and practice, and we encourage them to join us in this declaration. … We reject the authority of those churches and leaders who have denied the orthodox faith in word or deed.
So there is to be a continuing GAFCON movement, with no other name given to it. The leaders are encouraging other orthodox Anglicans to join them, and to reject the authority of unorthodox leaders. If this is not schism, what is it?
The next step is to be a Primates’ Council of the leaders of the GAFCON movement, which is expected to recognise as a province the Common Cause Partnership in North America. This of course implies rejection of the authority of the existing Anglican churches in the USA and Canada, whose leaders are largely unorthodox by these GAFCON standards. But it leaves entirely open the question of what might happen in provinces, such as those of the Church of England, whose leadership is much more miixed.
The statement finishes with the following:
The meeting in Jerusalem this week was called in a sense of urgency that a false gospel has so paralysed the Anglican Communion that this crisis must be addressed. The chief threat of this dispute involves the compromising of the integrity of the church’s worldwide mission. The primary reason we have come to Jerusalem and issued this declaration is to free our churches to give clear and certain witness to Jesus Christ. It is our hope that this Statement on the Global Anglican Future will be received with comfort and joy by many Anglicans around the world who have been distressed about the direction of the Communion. We believe the Anglican Communion should and will be reformed around the biblical gospel and mandate to go into all the world and present Christ to the nations.
Do I receive this with comfort and joy? Do I expect my fellow evangelical Anglicans here in England to do so? I’m not sure yet, because there is so far no way of knowing what the consequences of this may be for the Church of England. Perhaps things will become more clear at this meeting in London next Tuesday, which I am sadly not eligible to attend – I could attend the evening meeting and just might do so.
As for the final sentence of the statement, “We believe the Anglican Communion should and will be reformed …”, I can certainly agree with “should”. But we will need to wait and see about the “will”. After all, what is in all but name a declaration of schism is hardly the best way to promote reform. It may well be that the Anglican Communion can be “reformed” only in the etymological sense “re-formed”, as a new parallel Communion of orthodox Anglicans.