GAFCON responds to South Sudan consecration of woman bishop


GAFCON responds to South Sudan consecration of woman bishop


George Conger

The appointment of Elizabeth Awut as Assistant Bishop of Rumbek was a “wartime expediency” akin to the consecration of Florence Li Tim-Oi in Hong Kong during the Second World War, and not a change in church discipline authorized by the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan, Anglican Ink has learned.

A senior member of GAFCON, who asked not to named as he was not authorized to speak on behalf of the primates, said the archbishops of the Anglican reform movement learned of the 31 December 2016 consecration in April 2017 from the Primate of South Sudan, the Most Rev. Daniel Deng.

Archbishop Deng said he consecrated Bishop Elizabeth as many of the male priests in the Diocese of Rumbek, which has been in the front lines of the South Sudan civil war and border conflict with the Khartoum government in Sudan, were dead or in exile. She was the best available candidate in the circumstances, Archbishop Deng told the other archbishops.

However, in an interview with Good News Radio, a Sudanese Catholic station, Archbishop Deng stated he had long hoped to be able to appoint a woman as bishop and was pleased with the innovation.

AI was told the news of the appointment, which came during a the primates' spring meeting, which among other issues dissussed the self-imposed moratorium on women bishops adopted by the GAFCON provinces, took the other church leaders aback.

GAFCON declined to make a public statement about the consecration due to the “anomalous” nature of the event. The individual archbishops, however, were free to share this information as they sought fit -- however, details of the consecration and the name of the bishop only surfaced in rumors within international Anglican circles this past year.

Bishop Elizabeth was present at the election of a new primate for South Sudan last month and sources tell AI she was introduced to the secretary general of the Anglican Consultative Council and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Advisor for International Affairs. However, neither the ACNS or Lambeth Palace has issued a statement of congratulations -- as has been the custom for every other woman bishop from the developing world.

Some of the South Sudanese bishops learned of the consecration when they gathered to elect a new archbishop in Juba last month. No formal discussion has yet been held on the question of women bishops with the South Sudan church, nor has a provincial wide policy been established. Sources in the South Sudan House of Bishops note the question of an assistant woman bishop for Rumbek is of secondary concern in light of the uproar over alleged irregularities in the election of a successor of Archbishop Deng.

The election of the new archbishop was hailed by the Anglican Communion News Service as a model for South Sudan's civil society in good government. No statement has been issued from London, however, in light of the claims of fraud, bullying and electoral malfeasance in the archiepiscopal election -- problems that mirror issues facing South Sudan's civil authorities.

The consecration of a woman bishop in a GAFCON province in violation of the moratorium agreed in 2014 was “difficult”, but would not lead to a parting of ways for the reform movement, AI’s source said. Reactions to the news would vary widely -- from condemnation to congratulations with GAFCON -- but the GAFCON leadership believed they would hold together in the fight to renew the Anglican way.

On 9 Feb 2018 the Most Rev. Peter Jensen released a statement on behalf of the GAFCON secretariat that stated it would take a wait and see attitude, noting that the group’s formal position was laid out in a report prepared in January 2017 on women in the episcopate.

The statement said:

From the beginning of the Gafcon movement there have been a variety of understandings among our members on the question of consecrating women to the episcopate. Recognising that this issue poses a threat to the unity we prize, the Primates agreed in 2014 to do what was within their power to affect a voluntary moratorium on the consecration of women to the episcopate. They then set up the Task Force on Women in the Episcopate, chaired by Bishop Samson Mwaluda which presented a report to the 2017 Gafcon Primates Council.


In discussions at this Council, the Primate of South Sudan, Archbishop Deng Bul (who had not been present when the moratorium was agreed) shared with us that his personal decision to consecrate a female bishop was an extraordinary action taken in the midst of civil unrest in a part of his country where most of the men were engaged in armed conflict.


The Gafcon Primates chose to not allow this anomaly to change the course followed since 2014. The Task Force was asked to continue to provide theological resources, and the Provinces were urged to continue the study of Scripture, to consult with one another and to pray that God will lead us to a common mind. The voluntary moratorium remained in place.


In accordance with these decisions, the Task Forces' Report ...  is now being discussed at the regional level in advance of the April Gafcon Primates Council and the Global Anglican Future Conference in Jerusalem this June. Our hope is that the newly elected Primate of South Sudan will join us in these discussion as we seek to find a common mind, looking to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.