The Global South Fellowship of Anglicans – Power and Numbers?

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Following the Lambeth Conference, bishops are returning to their dioceses with renewed energy, and an expanded vision as they realise the wonder of being part of a global communion of churches. While the external narrative might be about splits and an obsession with sex, they will tell a different story, barely recognising the conference they attended for the one reported on.

At Canterbury, the conversations were around being followers of Jesus in a world in crisis. Seminars and private conversations often focused on a world defined by authoritarian and corrupt governments, and climate disaster. The pressures are more acute among the poor, and as our poor face hunger, the poor in the socio-economic global south are facing starvation. Our prophets of justice face ridicule: theirs face death.

The ‘Lambeth Calls’ focused minds on potential action: especially for indigenous peoples, those still oppressed by the inheritance of slavery, young people facing an uncertain future, those living under threat of persecution for their faith and for standing for oppressed peoples. For a wonderful seminar presentation on justice from an African contributor – please click here.

However, one group called the ‘Global South Fellowship of Anglicans’ (GSFA), has been driving a divisive message that has distorted the reality of the conference. They claim to speak for those who have historically been marginalised and silenced through the dominance of power in the socio-economic global north. They claim to speak for 75% of Anglicans – an overwhelming majority. These claims are impressive and make them very significant, especially to progressives who are aware of the dangers of racism and the value of democracy.

But are these claims true? In order to fact check these claims we can look at the GSFA website, which lists 25 Provinces as belonging to, or associated with, the Fellowship. Belonging requires fully signing up to a constitution that relinquishes provincial autonomy in favour of a global ecclesial body. The site no longer says how many are ‘members’ and how many are ‘affiliates’.

The constitution is clear that, despite its name, the GSFA no longer claims to be defined by ‘geography’: rather, it is increasingly defined by ‘orthodoxy’.[1]

The Diocese of Sydney and the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) are both listed among the 25 members and affiliates, showing that despite its name it is not exclusively a voice for the socio-economic global south. Also, all members of the secretariat are from the Diocese of Singapore and Singapore is classified as being in the socio-economic global north.

This means that, rather than being a voice for the complex diversity of Anglicanism in the socio-economic global south, GSFA is claiming to be the voice of ‘orthodoxy’: an orthodoxy defined by a common view over a single key issue. This is reflected in almost every statement issued by the block for the last twenty years. The focus of these statements is on condemning the growing number of Anglican diocese and provinces where LGBTI+ people are included and their relationships celebrated, rather than issues that actually affect people in the socio-economic global south.

The first thing to note is that only 22 of the members/affiliates are Anglican Communion provinces. In addition to Sydney Diocese (not a province), the ACNA and the Anglican Church in Brazil are breakaway churches. In the Anglican Communion, 31 provinces have all their dioceses in the socio-economic global south with another 4 (Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, Jerusalem and the Middle East, South East Asia, and The Episcopal Church) having dioceses in both global south and global north. For example, TEC’s biggest diocese by numbers is Haiti, the biggest francophone diocese in the Anglican Communion. This means that GSFA claims to speak for 22 of the 35 Anglican Communion provinces with dioceses in the socio-economic global south, not all provinces with dioceses in the global south.

During the conference, the GSFA-EFAC Lambeth Resource group[2] distributed a letter to bishops asking for them to sign a document to reaffirm Lambeth I.10 and to indicate the number of Anglicans worshipping in their dioceses.

The voting was monitored by a UK-based accountant and General Synod member, Debbie Buggs. She ‘checked all email reaffirmations to ensure the information was accurately transferred from email to the official record, and that each affirmation recorded has been validated by a relevant Bishop’s Lambeth Conference Pass’. It is not made clear if she ensured that bishops were not supervised as they voted – that is, that they voted without pressure being applied. It is not clear if she validated the numbers of Anglicans declared.

While this was probably intended as a show of strength, an examination of the result from the press release issued at the conclusion of the process instead brings into question the claim to speak for the 22.

The reaffirmation was signed by 125 bishops claiming to represent nearly 8 million Anglicans, but the result demonstrates that GSFA neither speaks for the Anglican provinces in the socio-economic global south, nor for a majority of Anglicans globally.

In their press release, GSFA recognises this, and indicates that they expect bishops from the GAFCON provinces of Nigeria, Uganda, and Rwanda (who stayed away from the Lambeth Conference) to sign up in the future, which would swing the numbers in their direction. This may be the case, but it is not clear that these churches actually support the whole of Lambeth I.10, including the commitment to listening to LGBTI+ experience. The Church of Nigeria, in particular, has made it clear that listening to the experience of ‘homosexual persons’ is at odds with their position. They support the ongoing criminalisation of LGBTI+ people, which they assert is GAFCON policy.

The Primate of South Sudan, as Chair of the GSFA council, was to the fore in pressing for the reaffirmation of Lambeth I.10, and 40.8% of the signatories were from South Sudan (51). The next biggest block comprised IAMA bishops (bishops from the new province of Southern African Lusophone countries).

The third biggest block vote comprised bishops from TEC (8) – a province not listed as either a member or affiliate. On the other hand, no bishops from 5 provinces that GSFA claims to represent – Bangladesh, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, South Africa, and West Africa – signed.

The claim to representation is especially interesting when the Province of South Africa is considered. The pre-Lambeth documents from GSFA include a paper rejecting the ‘Indaba’ model embraced by the design group of the last two Lambeth Conferences. This model was championed by the Primate of Southern Africa, the chair of the design group. GSFA claims to represent Southern Africa in objecting to the Indaba model. Now that we know that it does not have the support of a single Southern African bishop, this appears a hollow claim.

The number of signatories from Australia (4), Canada (4), England (3), and Ireland (3) was greater than signatories from Burundi (1), Central Africa (3), Kenya (2), and Tanzania (3), all provinces in the socio-economic global south with significant numbers of Anglicans. I had conversations with several bishops in these African provinces who were adamant that GSFA did not speak for them. They asked me who these people were, and said they had no authority to speak for them. I was given access to WhatsApp groups in Kiswahili formed with encouragement to ignore the representations received from GSFA.

The GSFA does not appear to represent 25 provinces of the Anglican Communion. We can say that it represents one very big one – South Sudan – and some smaller provinces, but not 25. It is a minority group in the global south.

The next question is whether it represents 75% of Anglicans globally.

The claim to overwhelming numbers was intended to be reinforced by Bishops being asked to declare the number of Anglicans worshipping in their dioceses. There are two problems with this; firstly, this was not validated and secondly, it is rare for worshipping Anglicans all to support the opinions of their bishop. It is unlikely that all – or even a majority – of the 19,800 Anglicans in the dioceses of the three Church of England Bishops who signed the document agreed with it. While it may be an accurate number, it may not be a useful number.

The numbers in Tanzania are probably accurate, but again illustrate weakness. The three bishops there claim to have 88,000 worshippers. However, the Diocese of Central Tanganyika on its own has between 700,000 and a million worshippers in just one diocese. The three signing bishops are bishops of very small dioceses.

This goes to demonstrate just how unreliable numbers are as a way to judge anything: they are a terrible way to judge truth – Jesus would have failed completely! However, what GSFA has shown by its own documents is that it does not represent 75% of Anglicans.

There are bishops in provinces in the socio-economic global south who support equal marriage. The Province of Brazil has revised its prayer book to welcome same-sex couples. There are dioceses where same-sex unions are blessed. However, they are a minority.

The clear message of the support for the Archbishop of Canterbury’s carefully worded address was that, although most bishops in most provinces will continue to support Lambeth I.10 in their dioceses and provinces, they are willing to continue in mission with those dioceses and provinces that think differently.

This is also backed up by what I observed. TEC bishops were planning mission initiatives with African bishops. The South Sudanese bishops were very excited by their invitation to the Diocese of Salisbury.

And the role of the Bible in all this?

Archbishop Makgoba has shown that it is the Indaba way that is biblical. He shows that Paul gave local churches such as the church in Corinth the responsibility for cultural integration and dispute transformation. Paul never suggested that conflicts in local churches be referred to the Jerusalem Council. Paul founded a communion of churches, not a single institution. It is a Communion-based global church that images the missiological ecclesiology of Paul.

In contrast, the GSFA champions a non-biblical approach to conflict resolution based upon Western European understandings where definitive judgements are made by majority in council and imposed on the whole. This way is the way of division. The splintering of the GSFA demonstrated why it must be resisted.

So where are we?

No one actually agrees with the whole of Lambeth I.10. They may say they do, but it was a compromise between a desire for a harder line and the sop of the promise of listening. When churches have genuinely listened to LGBTI+ people they have questioned the advice not to bless same gender unions and ordain LGBTI+ people.

In many countries where Anglicans seek to decriminalise LGBTI+ people, the Lambeth I.10 formula is actually useful to them, because the language of human dignity is better than that of ‘human rights’. The human rights agenda is played as the new colonialism – imposing the will of a powerful Western lobby on the cultural norms of independent nations. The Call to respect human dignity is being seen by some as a call to act for decriminalisation. We should pray for and hope for action here.

And for the Churches considering the deeper inclusion and celebration of LGBTI+ people? The message should be that the Anglican Communion will not fall apart if they go ahead.

[1] Communiqué from the 8th Global South Conference, 2021, Para 10:
‘Under this Covenantal Structure, the Global South Fellowship is transitioning from being a grouping based on geography to one based on orthodoxy while appropriately keeping our historical roots.’

[2] GLOBAL SOUTH ANGLICAN LEADER SETS FOUR PRIORITIES FOR ‘ORTHODOX DELEGATES’ ATTENDING THE LAMBETH CONFERENCE – 7 July 2022 notes: ‘A Resource Group to support Orthodox archbishops/bishops attending the Conference has been set up by the GSFA, and the Evangelical Fellowship in the Anglican Communion (EFAC).  It comprises Bishop Henry Scriven (Hon. General Secretary EFAC), Bishop Rennis Ponniah (Hon Director, GSFA Executive Secretariat), Bishop Keith Sinclair (National Director, Church of England Evangelical Council), Canon Charles Raven (Director Relay200, The Relay Trust), Rev William Mok (Deputy Director, GSFA Executive Secretariat) and PR Consultant, Revd Paul Eddy.’ Rev William Mok is from Malaysia in the global south, but works in Singapore in the global north.