The battleground for the soul of Anglicanism has passed from North America to Britain, following the adoption of the Nairobi Commitment by the 2nd Global Anglican Future Conference.
The public face of the 4-page document affirmed by delegates to the 21-26 October 2013 meeting of traditionalist Anglicans in Nairobi laid out the strategic goals of the global Anglican reform movement. However, a tactical plan to create a safe harbor for British traditionalists — a third province for the Church of England — was spelled out in the document as Britain awaits the Pilling Report — a document due for release in December that will set forth the Church of England’s position on human sexuality.
The Rt. Rev. Neil Lebhar, Bishop of the Gulf Atlantic Diocese of the Anglican Church in America, welcomed the statement as a “unity” document that would gather other Anglicans into the Gafcon fold.
The Rev. Rod Thomas, vicar of St Matthew’s Elburton, Plymouth and chairman of Reform said “it sets a clear Gospel priority for Gafcon. It is designed to cary forward the work of encouragement and faithfulness … I’m delighted.”
The Nairobi Commitment was a product of the conference, the Rt. Rev. John Guernsey, Bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic of the Anglican Church in North America, told delegates when a draft was laid before the meeting on 25 October. The text was prepared by a writing team led by Bishop Guernsey that drew members from Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, the Southern Cone, USA/Canada and England and took its lead from reports prepared by the secretaries of the nine “mini-conferences” of Gafcon 2.
At registration each delegate was assigned to a mini-conference: The Challenge of Islam, The Work of the Holy Spirit, Marriage and Family, Children and Youth, Gospel and Culture, Being Women of God, Aid and Development, Theological Education, and Episcopal Ministry. Over the 11 hours of sessions, that were structured as seminars to allow each participant to have voice in the deliberations, the mini-conferences produced several hundred recommendations for items to be included in a final statement.
After the draft document was presented, Gafcon general secretary Dr. Peter Jensen and Bishop Guernsey asked delegates to break into national groups to offer corrections and criticisms for review by the writing committee. Eight drafts were needed to produce the final document from the several hundred submissions, which was presented for approval in the closing session of the meeting.
The two part document began with a recital of the highlights of the conference and a history of the formation of the Gafcon movement, now identified as the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (GFCA). It reaffirmed the GFCA’s evangelical theological principles and restated its denunciation of homosexual practices, affirmed the principle movements within the GFCA: Evangelicals, Anglo-Catholics and Charismatics, and recounted its support for the formation of the Anglican Church in North America.
The document went on to reaffirm its self-understanding as a fellowship of Anglicans, but noted at this stage in its life it needed to create institutional structures to support its work, asking delegates to provide funds for a staff and central/regional offices.
In the section entitled “Our Priorities” the document spoke to the core issues facing Gafcon and announced that it would provide support for embattled Anglicans whose provinces or dioceses had disowned them, or made their lives intolerable. However, future crossings of ecclesiastical boundaries by the archbishops would be taken only after the Gafcon Primates council “carefully” reviewed the request and came to a consensus on the need to act.
“Supporting genuine gospel initiatives, recognising that there are times when the maintenance of structures can constrain the proclamation of the gospel. In line with The Jerusalem Statement’s expectation that the Primates’ Council would intervene to provide ‘orthodox oversight to churches under false leadership’, the Primates’ Council will carefully consider working beyond existing structures as an obedient response to Jesus’ commission to take the gospel to all nations.”
Other priorities enunciated by the document included deepening “discipleship” as Christians, support for the ministry of women, the exclusion of “national, ethnic or tribal attachments”, combatting the pernicious influence of secularism on the doctrines and discipline of the church, responding to the challenges of militant Islam and “work for the protection of the environment and the economic empowerment of those who are deprived of resources.”
These principles were then enunciated in the Nairobi Commitment, which included a specific pledge of support to traditionalists in the Church of England. “We commit ourselves to the support and defence of those who in standing for apostolic truth are marginalized or excluded from formal communion with other Anglicans in their dioceses. We have therefore recognized the Anglican Mission in England (AMiE) as an expression of authentic Anglicanism both for those within and outside the Church of England, and welcomed their intention to appoint a General Secretary of AMiE.”
Behind the shift to England lies the fear the Pilling Report will endorse rites for the blessings for same-sex civil partnerships under the rubric of pastoral support. Coupled with the expected introduction of women bishops — and no legal protections for those unable to accept the innovation — steps had to be taken now said the Rev. Canon Gavin Ashenden, vicar of St Martin de Gouray on Jersey to prevent the fragmentation of conservative Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics into half a dozen groups.
Gafcon could become a “non-geographic province”, Canon Ashenden said. “Not legally, but spirituality, psychologically” supporting clergy and laity marginalized by the existing order, he said.
The Nairobi Commitment also made a clear call to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the House of Bishops of the Church of England. “Bishops have to decide,” Canon Ashenden said, between “Biblical orthodoxy” and the spirit of the age. “You must choose.’