As an Episcopalian, I watch with dismay as the Global Anglican Future Conference aka GAFCON continues it efforts to bully other Anglicans.
What is GAFCON? It is a group of Anglicans, based heavily in Africa and the so-called Southern Cone, who are conservative and claim to be biblically based and to adhere to “orthodox” Anglicanism..
The claim that they are orthodox is at the heart of the problem. While GAFCON looks askance at marriage equality, gender equality and many issues that are okay in the Church of Canada and The Episcopal Church, opposition to these issues does not, and never has, constitute orthodoxy within an Anglican context. Instead, orthodoxy is defined as having ties to the Church of England, cooperation between the various autonomous provinces of the Anglican Communion, and a big tent approach to life in general. Thus, even here in The Episcopal Church, one may find high churches, low churches, broad churches, activist churches, old guard churches, liberal churches, evangelical churches, and even charismatic ones. In many cases, elements of all of these may even coexist in the same parish. In short, orthodoxy is limited to accepting the creeds and trinitarianism, and that is about it.
There’s another twist, which is that here in the US, many of the GAFCON crowd claim to be Anglican. That’s misleading, because the only church recognized here as such by the Anglican Communion is The Episcopal Church. They might use similar liturgy, they might be former Episcopal congregations, they might have former Episcopal clergy, or they might even have clergy from elsewhere in the Anglican communion. But they are not Anglican.
So how has the GAFCON bullied? In 2014, the Washington Post released the infamous Sewickley memo, written by dissidents with ties to GAFCON. In it, there was discussion of a “cluster” strategy, in which groups of churches would simultaneously attempt to seize church assets, request “alternative Episcopal oversight” from overseas bishops, and thus overwhelm the mainstream church.
This approach was tried here in Virginia, with seven parishes in the Northern part of the state, led by Truro and Falls Church, tried to assert that church canons don’t apply to them. Their reasoning? Because they don’t want them to apply. Tolerance anywhere is evil everywhere, is their mantra.
Fortunately, the courts ruled in favor of The Episcopal Church, as it has in most other jurisdictions. There are, however, still cases pending in other states.
Now, we see GAFCON trying its usual antics, where in a cross-border raid, they have attempted to place a “missionary bishop” in the Church of England. Why? Because the Scottish Episcopal Church is moving forward on marriage equality.
Meanwhile, we see apologists for the GAFCON crowd, including Christopher Seitz, trying their usual “words-don’t-mean-what-words-mean” routine. Thus, they assert facially ludicrous claims, including:
- That courts will rule against Title IV, the Episcopal Church’s disciplinary canon, because it is not spelled out by the church constitution. In reality, this is a non-justiciable issue, protected by the Establishment Clause.
- That Episcopal dioceses have historically been independent. The reality is that, since the earliest days of The Episcopal Church, each diocese has been required to offer an unqualified and irrevocable accession to the canons, constitution and discipline of The Episcopal Church.
- That bishops have historically been independent. Yet, even before Title IV, two bishops have been tried for heresy, albeit unsuccessfully.
- That diocesan property is not subject to the control of the larger church. The reality, however, is that it always has been, and the Manual of Business Affairs has long imposed requirements on all Episcopal entities.
By the way, the claim of locally autonomous bishops is amusing because it’s inherently illogical. One right Anglican bishops have always had is to control Anglican activities within their dioceses, so sending a “missionary bishop” into another diocese or province is, itself, contrary to this argument. Thus, if one does not respect Anglican rules of the road, how can one claim to still be Anglican?
So, bullying by the GAFCON crowd is not only about trying to seize property and forcing others to accede to their wishes. It’s also about trying to redefine the rules of the game–and doing so at halftime.
At the end of the day, any religious organization built on bullying and breaking ordination oaths, together with homophobia and hatred, is going to have very limited success. That is particularly the case with younger Americans, who have little patience for hatred, regardless of their political or religious views.