Splinter Anglican Communion group announces alternative meeting just before Lambeth 2020

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted May 10, 2019

[Episcopal News Service] The turmoil over the 2020 Lambeth Conference continues, most recently with a communiqué from the leaders of the Global Anglican Future Conference, or GAFCON, reiterating their contention that the gathering of Anglican Communion bishops is flawed because it will include bishops from provinces that allow same-sex marriage.

The group also announced that it will call a meeting of Anglican Communion bishops for June 8-14, 2020, in Kigali, Rwanda, just weeks before the Lambeth gathering. In 2008, its inaugural year, GAFCON staged a similar pre-Lambeth meeting in Jerusalem. When GAFCON was formed in 2008, its founders said “moral compromise, doctrinal error and the collapse of biblical witness in parts of the Anglican Communion” had reached a critical level.

“On the one hand, we have no interest in attempting to rival Lambeth 2020,” GAFCON’s May 2 letter from its Primates Council said. “On the other hand, we do not want our bishops to be deprived of faithful fellowship while we wait for order in the communion to be restored.”

The council said the Rwanda meeting is meant primarily for bishops who have already decided to boycott Lambeth. However, any bishop of the Anglican Communion who supports its “Jerusalem Declaration” and Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference, defining marriage as “the lifelong union of a man and a woman” is invited.

While Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has been criticized for his refusal to invite the same-sex spouses of bishops to the 2020 Lambeth Conference, GAFCON said in its 2018 “Letter to the Churches” that Welby should not invite bishops from provinces that “have endorsed by word or deed sexual practices which are in contradiction to the teaching of Scripture and Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference, unless they have repented of their actions and reversed their decisions.”

“We have not yet received a response from the Archbishop of Canterbury,” the council’s letter said.

As noted in the 2004 Windsor Report (page 61 here), Lambeth Conference decisions do not carry the force of canonical law in part because there is no single set of canons applicable across the entire communion.

GAFCON’s 2018 letter also asked Welby to invite as full members to the Lambeth Conference bishops of the splinter groups known as the Province of the Anglican Church in North America and the Province of the Anglican Church in Brazil. Instead, on April 26, Welby announced that he had invited the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), the Anglican Church of Brazil and the Reformed Evangelical Anglican Church of South Africa (REACH-SA) to send observers to the conference. They will have the same status as representatives from other Christian churches, such as the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Methodist, Lutheran and Reformed churches, and multilateral bodies including the World Council of Churches and the Global Christian Forum.

Archbishop Foley Beach of the Anglican Church in North America, the new chair of GAFCON’s Primates Council, responded by saying Welby had based his decision on “a partisan, divisive, and false narrative by wrongly asserting that I left the Anglican Communion. I have never left the Anglican Communion, and have no intention of doing so.

“I did transfer out of a revisionist body that had left the teaching of the Scriptures and the Anglican Communion, and I became canonically resident in another province of the Anglican Communion. I have never left.”

Foley said being given observe status “is an insult to both our bishops, many of whom have made costly stands for the Gospel, and the majority of Anglicans around the world who have long stood with us as a province of the Anglican Communion.”

During the Anglican Consultative Council’s recent 17th meeting, Secretary General Josiah Idowu-Fearon said that GAFCON had acted in a way that “causes confusion and potential division.” He said that calls for GAFCON bishops to attend Lambeth as full participants were divisive because the bishops “are clearly not members of the communion.”

GAFCON’s letter also announced that it had affirmed the interim report of its Task Force on Women in the Episcopate, which after a “four-year comprehensive study,” recommended that GAFCON provinces should not allow women to be bishops “until and unless a strong consensus to change emerges after prayer, consultation and continued study of Scripture among the GAFCON fellowship.”

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is the Episcopal News Service’s senior editor and reporter.