With the release of their ‘Sixth Trumpet,’ Anglicans from the Global South announced their discontent with the state of the worldwide communion. Meeting in Cairo, Egypt from October 3-8, delegates from 16 provinces discussed issues of both unity and mission, addressing the Anglican Church worldwide. This question and answer format highlights the key developments, as well as a primer for essential Anglican terminology.
We know there is a divide in the Anglican Church over issues of homosexuality. What happened in Cairo that is worthy to note?
Among the 34 points of the official communique, three developments are most substantial.
- A commitment to work together with GAFCON
- A working group to address the need for an enhanced ecclesial responsibility in the Global South
- A concern for the revisionist directions which the Church of England could be taking and the impact that could have on other provinces
Thank you, but for non-Anglicans much here needs explanation. What is GAFCON? And similarly, what is the Global South?
The Anglican Communion includes 38 provinces around the world, comprising 85 million people in over 165 nations. It is the third largest Christian denomination after the Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox.
The Global South is a grouping of 24 of the 38 Anglican provinces which are largely non-Western in character, but includes also the breakaway Anglican Church in North America. It first met in 1994 and has 61.8 million members, constituting 72 percent of the worldwide Anglican Communion. It is provincially-based and primate led, though clergy and laity have significant input in the general conferences.
By contrast, GAFCON is a reform movement in the Anglican Church as a whole, though also led by a council of primates. It stands for Global Anglican Future Conference, and began in 2008 in Jerusalem, boycotting the traditional worldwide gathering of Anglican bishops in England.
What is, or was, the core disagreement between the Global South and GAFCON?
Both the Global South and GAFCON emphasize the authority of the Bible as the word of God, and in application reject the validity of same-sex unions. They jointly find fault with the Anglican instruments of communion for failing to hold accountable member churches which deviate from this standard.
The 2008 decision to boycott the worldwide gathering, however, was a divisive issue. Though membership in both groups is overlapping, GAFCON includes Western voices. Cultural differences and strategic approaches both contributed to each group developing along its own path, rather than in unity.
In recognition, paragraph 22 of the Global South communique repents of failings in the Global South to hold this unity among themselves. Furthermore it affirms and cherishes the witness of GAFCON, including the statement it issued from Jerusalem in 2008. Paragraph 26, meanwhile, demonstrates this newfound unity in acceptance of a joint Global South-GAFCON statement on human sexuality.
Thank you, this is helpful, but you used Anglican terminology again. What are the instruments of communion?
The instruments of communion are the four internal mechanisms by which Anglicans in all their diversity maintain worldwide fellowship. They include the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the spiritual and symbolic leader of the church. To be in the Anglican Communion means to be in fellowship with Canterbury, though he has no authority to discipline or interfere in the administration of sister provinces.
The three other instruments of communion are represented in regularly held gatherings. Convened first in 1867, the Lambeth Conference brings together the Anglican bishops every ten years. The Anglican Consultative Council consists of clergy and laity from each province and meets every three years, first held in 1971. The Primates Meeting is an irregular gathering of province leaders for deep consultation and prayer, begun in 1979.
None of these instruments have legal force among member churches, and are primarily avenues for persuasion. Its official statements, however, represent the voice of the worldwide communion.
So how did the instruments of communion fail?
In 1998 the Lambeth Conference passed Resolution 1.10, upholding the scriptural teaching of marriage between a man and a woman, and declining to advise the blessing of same sex unions or the ordination of homosexual clergy.
Paragraph 25 of the communique notes the actions of some churches violate this resolution, as well as the subsequent 2004 Windsor Report, recommending a moratorium on the appointment of new homosexual clergy. Other statements from primate meetings have urged violating provinces to voluntarily withdraw from participation in the gatherings of communion.
Not only has such appointment continued, but paragraph 30 notes with sadness that the provinces of Scotland, Wales, and Canada have changed canon law to recognize same sex unions.
What does the Global South propose to do about this?
Paragraph 29 states clearly that the instruments of communion are unable to sustain the common life and unity of Anglican Churches worldwide. Paragraph 32 emphasizes the need for enhanced ecclesial responsibility.
The communique did not delineate a new governing structure nor a formal covenant. But in paragraph 33 it expressed the collective will of the Global South provinces to convene a task force for this purpose.
So it recommends a committee? This means the real news is still to come.
Yes, but not entirely. Paragraph 31 recognizes the unique role played by the Church of England in the life of the communion, but then proceeds to issue a stern warning.
Recognizing a potential movement to imitate the churches of Scotland, Wales, and Canada in affirming same sex unions, the Global South stated there would be “serious implications” if it were to occur.
That sounds like a threat for schism. Is it on the agenda?
The implications are unspecified, but it is understandable one might hear a warning shot toward the most foundational Anglican instrument of communion, embodied in the Archbishop of Canterbury. And among many in the Global South there is certainly frustration with the current officeholder.
Understood and appreciated as an evangelical, the archbishop’s recent statement admitting that he knowingly consecrated a celibate but homosexual bishop, amongst other developments, felt like a betrayal of the adopted resolutions and issued statements listed above. The Global South recognizes the great pressure he is under, but prays for him to uphold biblical leadership.
Paragraph 23, however, states clearly that the Anglican heritage is not merely of nostalgic interest to the Global South. Doctrinally and liturgically, it binds the churches together so as to communally discern the movement of the Holy Spirit.
Paragraph 24 then clarifies that modern clear departures from this heritage are causing offending provinces to “sever themselves” from their spiritual roots. It is not the Global South that seeks schism, but others are diverging from communion through unilateral actions.
The general framework of Global South understanding is that new ecclesial structures are needed. Whether this entails a new governing structure or covenant, the idea is for member provinces to adopt this together, and then invite all provinces to join.
It is not meant to create a parallel Anglican Communion. But representing a majority in provinces and population, including substantial support outside the Global South through GAFCON, it would be a clear demonstration of what the Anglican Church stands for. The question of schism would then be put to provinces which fail to uphold the Anglican heritage of biblical and apostolic fidelity.
Was the communique unanimously adopted by the Global South?
Yes, and please click here for a list of reflections by several of the participants.