GAFCON pressed from all sides

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‘The deadly ‘virus’ of homosexuality has infiltrated the ACNA’ he alleged, and this had ‘serious implications’ for Archbishop Foley Beach’s leadership of GAFCON (the Global Anglican Future Conference, made up of orthodox believers unhappy with Anglicanism’s liberal sexual trajectory).

But a careful reading of the Nigerian statement shows that it is based on a misunderstanding of an internal debate in the ACNA about the pastoral care of people who are same-sex attracted. A Pastoral Statement by the ACNA bishops addressing sexuality and identity released in January recommended that the term ‘gay Christian’ unhelpfully elevated sexual orientation into an identity and commended the phrase ‘Christians who experience same sex attraction’ instead.

Some within the ACNA then publicly objected by writing a ‘Dear Gay Anglicans’ letter and the Nigerians considered Archbishop Beach’s response to be far too weak and tantamount to tolerating same sex unions. But both sides of the ACNA debate do clearly hold Lambeth I.10 and the Jerusalem Declaration in common.

So why the misunderstanding? One explanation may be the tendency in African traditional culture to see homosexual attraction and practice as the same thing, the one leading to the other. It is significant that the Nigerian Primate flatly states: ‘A Gay is a Gay, they cannot be rightly described otherwise’ and no distinction is visible in his statement between orientation and practice, contrary to the foundational Lambeth Conference Resolution I.10 of 1998.

But this could also be a convenient misunderstanding. Some commentators have noted that Bishop Felix Orji, who leads the Church of Nigeria’s dioceses in North America, has been quick to use the Primate’s letter to justify their separation from the ACNA in 2019.

This dispute must be resolved because it touches on two commitments fundamental to Gafcon’s identity. The first is that culture needs to be tested against Scripture, and that must include all cultures, not just those of the secularised West. The second follows from it and is stated in Clause 12 of the GAFCON Jerusalem Declaration: ‘We pledge to work together to seek the mind of Christ on issues that divide us’. If the GAFCON Primates can come together and reach conciliar agreement under the word of God, the movement will have taken a step towards greater maturity. If they do not, it is difficult to see how this selfinflicted wound can heal.