CT talks sense on GAFCON

CanterburyleftIf you think back to the beginning of this Global Anglican Future Conference in Jerusalem, the assumption was that a pack of fundamentalist rebels was getting together to plan and then announce a schism in the global Anglican Communion.

Remember that horrific Telegraph headline?

Anglican church schism declared over homosexuality

There were all kinds of assumptions built into that early coverage, including a very sketchy notion that all of these different kinds of traditionalists, charismatics and low-church evangelicals from around the world were all on the same page.

Try to imagine that. Are Anglican liberals all the same? Of course not. Via media is a road to compromise, but not to any one particular place in the middle of the Anglican spectrum. When it comes to answers, the Anglican voices are legion.

Anyway, not the template seems to be that GAFCON — key documents are coming out in the next day or so — has failed because the traditionalists did not achieve the schism that many in the press decided was their goal in the here and now. The tone in a Time magazine piece is perfect, starting with the headline, “Threat of Anglican Schism Fizzles.”

The would-be Anglican rebels gathered with storm clouds brewing around them. But now, even though the conservative Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFcon) has not concluded its meeting in Jerusalem, the secession it threatened to bring to the 78 million-member Anglican Communion looks like a confused bust.

This all comes as a bit of surprise to the press, which — with ample encouragement from the Church’s right — had been framing GAFcon as a decisive step toward schism in the Anglican Communion, the third biggest global religious fellowship. GAFcon seems to be falling apart on several fronts.

One crucial change is needed. From SOME on the church’s right. I’ve been covering this story for a quarter century and lived in it for 10 and, believe me, I have never seen even a hint of unity on the conservative side of the Anglican fence. That’s part of what makes covering the story so complex.

So who gets it? Pre-Lambeth, I would urge reporters to read the following newsy essay by Timothy C. Morgan.

For you reporters out there, here is the key part:

If I were writing purely a critique of the mainstream media coverage, my central criticism would be that US and UK media outlets keep driving the political side of the story (Will there or won’t there be a schism?). But they are by and large missing the faith side of the story. …

But the media are not the only ones who are misunderstanding GAFCON. Among conservatives, no surprise, I am coming across three different kinds of Anglicans here who often don’t understand each other very well. Let me describe them this way:

* The separationists. These individuals wish to create a new Anglican Communion that is global, not centered in Canterbury.

* The reformers. These folks are not yet ready to give up on the existing Anglican Communion and have a movement strategy for redeeming and restoring the Communion.

* The new paradigm. This is the trickiest one to understand. Under a new paradigm, Anglicanism becomes a global network, locally distinctive, church or community-based, and centered on the biblical mission of evangelism and discipleship.

And then there is this comment, including some names worth chasing:

Last night, scholar Lamin Sanneh, Palestinian Christian Salim Munayer, and Messianic pastor Evan Thomas pointed GAFCON Anglicans toward a future that was global, reconciling, and biblical. Years from now, we might find that the only English element left in 21st century Anglicanism is the English language itself.

plbKeep repeating the GetReligion mantra on this — local, regional, national and global. You have to find a way to get the story right at all four levels.

And it also pays to keep the following joke in mind, the way that I first heard if almost 20 years ago (thus, the 2010 reference):

The year is 2010 and two graduates of the very conservative Anglo-Catholic seminary called Nashotah House are standing in the back of the Washington National Cathedral as the church’s latest presiding bishop and her lesbian partner process down the long center aisle, carrying a statue of the Buddha aloft while surrounded by a cloud of incense.

As they watch this scene unfold, one of the priests leans over and quietly tells the other: “You know, one more thing and I’m out of here.”

PERSONAL NOTE: By the way, I am out of here for a week away from my offices. I will touch base now and then, but I’m leaving you in the hands of the Divine Ms. MZ and company. But I still need to write a Scripps Howard column and keep in touch with my students, so I will post a few times.

Sigh. The Internet. Can’t live with it. Can’t live without it.

Print Friendly

About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Margaret

    I remember seeing the “one more thing” joke as a cartoon. A man and woman sitting in the pew and looking at a many armed god on the alter and the man turns to the womand says, “one more thing…”

    It bears repeating in all forms, of course.

    Thanks for the update, this is the only place I read comments about our former church affiliation.

  • Andy

    Speaking of the “one more thing” joke, keep an eye out for coverage of the just-concluded Presbyterian USA General Assembly.

    The GA approved ordaining unrepentant homosexuals not once, but twice. One action has to be approved by regional presbyteries; one takes effect immediately. Or I should say, might take effect immediately, depending on what precisely it means, which is hard to figure out, even for Presbyterians.

    There’s also the creation of a $2 million fund to fight lawsuits against departing congregations. Again, thanks to the byzantine nature of PCUSA polity, individual presbyterians may or may not be forced to contribute. It’s not clear.

    All in all, it makes for potentially disastrous misunderstandings by reporters not familiar with the PCUSA.

  • http://perpetuaofcarthage.blogspot.com/ Perpetua

    The most irresponsible reporting about GAFCON I have seen is the Stephen Bates article in the Guardian. He sneaked into the middle of a paragraph the claim that there were voices calling for biblically lethal punishment for homosexuals. I am assuming it is a lie. If it is, wouldn’t it be libel?

  • Jerry

    Perpetua, I did not read that column as a report but as a commentary. Certainly this is not reporting but opinion. And to put that quote in context:

    we’ve already had the archbishops of Nigeria and Uganda denying that gays are ever persecuted in their countries – and failing to find the words to condemn the violence if they are; voices calling for biblically lethal punishment for homosexuals; and lip-smacking assertions that the old church has fallen prey to apostasy, brokenness and turmoil, in its attempt to “acquiesce to destructive modern, cultural and political dictates”.

    I do agree that opinion piece or not, the question is whether or not someone actually said that or Bates made it up. And how will we ever know if he claims someone told him that someone said that?

  • Claude

    Inasmuch as many of the African Anglican Churches accept polygamy, I am amused that they are so ultra-orthodox in regards to homosexuality.

    I realize that many of you here want to deny Christianity’s bloody past, but until rather recently a lot of Christian Churches called for the death penalty for homosexual sodomy (i.e., “crimes against nature”). Some still do.

  • Stephen A.

    Claude, can you please name for us the “a lot” of Christian Churches that are calling for the death penalty for homosexual sodomy?

    What’s happening is that the African Christians are getting a target painted on their backs by those of OTHER faiths because they are seen as being aligned with the permissive Western nations. I’ve not heard of Nigeria’s Archbishop Peter Akinola ever calling for New Hampshire’s bishop to be killed, so I suspect this is a gross exaggeration of their position.

    I suspect the “many” African Anglican churches accepting polygamy is a red herring designed to show hypocrisy, but please list the names of those national churches that do, just for our edification, and for any reporters who may be reading this. I’m sure they’d like to investigate this.

    I don’t like mud-throwing against Christians, pagans, Muslims or anyone else. All religions have a “bloody past” if you want to get technical. What’s the point of bringing THAT up in this conversation, other than another red herring?

  • Gerry

    How do you reconcile “no schism” with this?

  • FW Ken


    I have read that some African churches have made allowance for polygamists who become Christians, so that the plural wives don’t become destitute. However, polygamists are restricted from church leadership and may have other restrictions. I have also read that polygamists are expected to abstain from sex with the plural wives, but continue to support them (effectively, possibly legally, divorcing them). I can’t find out which of these are true.

    As to the death penalty for homosexual acts, there is some interesting stuff out on the internet, but it’s hardly worth responding to claims from people like Claude. I’m sure someone out there is calling for the execution of sodomites, but from what I can tell, the only place people are actually executed for same-sex acts is Iran.

  • FW Ken

    Oops, I got sidetracked and didn’t note what I find really interesting: when I was young, Christianity Today would hardly have been interested in anything Anglican. It’s been interesting to watch them change over the past 30 years, moving from a highly rationalistic “bible church” journal to an excellent source of broadly evangelical news.

  • Stephen A.

    Gerry is onto something. This is huge news. Although the Washington Times is saying that it’s something *less* than a schism, calling for a church in America to rival TEC is pretty much one, even if they hope to be recognized by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

    The Times article says:

    The new “church within a church” will force the 80-million member Anglican Communion either to become a weak federation of independent churches or, in the unlikely event that Canterbury either kicked out the GAFCON churches or the North American churches, will produce one of the most far-reaching Christian schisms since the Protestant Reformation.

    I’m sure supporters of the TEC in the US will say that the first part of the statement is already true, since they’ve argued that it always has been a “weak federation” that has no say in national church polity, allowing them to pursue the gay rights agenda without heed to the rest of the Anglican Communion’s feelings on the matter.

    We’ll have to read the entire Declaration to fully understand it, of course. I’m sure a blog entry on how this is beng covered is forthcoming.

  • Stephen A.

    I found the full text of the final statement below. It’s out. all over. the Web.


    The AP has taken a crack at describing the conference already.

  • Corban

    Contrast the Buudha joke with the story from Gafcon of a Nigerian bishop who says he helped convert a Buddhist in an airport lounge en route, then they smashed the man’s Budha statuette. Story on the Gafcon website video links.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Deleted many comments about Archbishop Akinola, homosexuality, etc. Make sure your comments focus on media coverage. Thanks.

  • Dave

    Stephen A. (#6) wrote:

    What’s happening is that the African Christians are getting a target painted on their backs by those of OTHER faiths because they are seen as being aligned with the permissive Western nations.

    Specifically, Islam. This makes the whole matter an worldly issue of competition for market share, like corn flakes vs shredded wheat. I fault the media for not keeping this aspect in front of readers.

  • dogless

    What I wish the media would remember is that the lay people and priests of the Diocese of New Hampshire called Gene Robinson to be their bishop, knowing his orientation and his partnered relationship. So the issue is, who chooses the shepherd of New Hampshire: is it the flock in New Hampshire, or is the decision to be made in Canterbury or Nigeria? Support for Gene Robinson need not be read as a pro-gay attitude; it might simply be a pro-local autonomy attitude.

  • Stephen A.

    What I wish the media would remember is that the lay people and priests of the Diocese of New Hampshire called Gene Robinson to be their bishop, knowing his orientation and his partnered relationship. So the issue is, who chooses the shepherd of New Hampshire: is it the flock in New Hampshire, or is the decision to be made in Canterbury or Nigeria? Support for Gene Robinson need not be read as a pro-gay attitude; it might simply be a pro-local autonomy attitude.

    You’re certainly right that the Episcopalians of New Hampshire called V Gene Robinson to be their bishop. If that’s as far as it went, then no one would mind. But unfortunately there are a lot more aspects to the story, such as the polity within the Anglican Communion, which aren’t decided by votes in New Hampshire.

    The liberal Episcopal church in America is certainly trying to make this a pro-local autonomy issue (has any other issue been given that privilege, I wonder?) and again, that ignores all the theological, moral, social and polity issues involved. That, of course, is the intent of such an argument: it is meant to short-circuit the discussion and make it emotional or simple, when in fact, the actions of those few voters here in tiny New Hampshire has thrown 77 million Anglicans into years of turmoil and heart-wrenching decisions about their denomination and its future.