Chris Sugden Evangelicals Now February 2011
From January 25-31 the Archbishop of Canterbury has invited the Primates of the Anglican Communion to meet in Dublin.
Why is it that for the first time in its history a number of primates are declining the Archbishop’s invitation? These are the Primates of the Indian Ocean, Jerusalem and the Middle East, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, South East Asia, the Southern Cone of Latin America, Tanzania, Uganda, and West Africa. They represent 40 million of the world’s 55 million churchgoing Anglicans, and over a quarter of the 38 provinces,
Speaking on behalf of some of the non-attending primates in November those who comprise the Primates’ Council of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans said:
“As we have made clear in numerous communiqués and meetings those who have abandoned the historic teaching of the Church have torn the fabric of our life together at its deepest level. We have made repeated attempts to bring repentance and restoration and yet these efforts have been rejected. We grieve for those who have walked apart and earnestly pray for them and the people under their care.
For the sake of Christ and of His Gospel we can no longer maintain the illusion of normalcy and so we join with other Primates from the Global South in declaring that we will not be present at the next Primates’ meeting to be held in Ireland. “
This refusal of his invitation calls into question the ability of the Archbishop of Canterbury to fulfil his role as gatherer of the Communion. It is not therefore surprising that some are urging all the Primates to attend, for example the former Archbishop of Kaduna, Nigeria, Josiah Idowu-Fearon. Though he himself did not attend the Lambeth Conference of 2008, he has published a plea in the Church Times urging that all the Primates attend the Dublin meeting to present both their views and those in their provinces who disagree with them, citing previous councils in Church History which church leaders attended though in significant disagreement with each other.
But the argument of Bishop Fearon is flawed. It is of course true that all Primates, whether of conservative or liberal persuasion, should present the views of their province as a whole as well as their own. But the real problem is that all the decisions made at previous meetings, when the Primates followed precisely the course that Bishop Josiah is now advocating, have been ignored, undermined or overturned. There are only so many times you can appeal to people to turn up and make their voice heard. When it becomes clear that what that voice has achieved through turning up has been ignored, then it is unwisdom to expect anything different the next time. The Primates are waiting for decisions they have already taken part in ( beginning from Lambeth 1998) to be respected and honoured.
The clear implication of Bishop Fearon’s case ( which is also Archbishop Rowan Williams’ case) is that even though Anglicans have been persecuted and driven from their homes, buildings and jobs in the USA and Canada, other Anglican leaders should meet yet again with those responsible for these outrages and thus legitimate the presence of those who completely contradict the teaching and practice of the Christian churches. Once decisions were made at the Early Church Councils Bishop Fearon has referred to, Arius and others were declared to be and treated as heretics. Similar clear decisions taken by the succession of meetings since 1998 have not been followed through.
In the bigger scheme of things there are of course more challenging developments. The recent attacks on Christians in Jos, Nigeria and Egypt draw attention to the fact that while some argue about the important issues of church order and discipline, people are dying for the faith. Those who cannot be gathered at this time are the elected leaders of some of the world’s poorest churches and people, of whom some are subject to continuing violence for being Christian.
Here is the contradiction at the heart of the policies of the leadership of the Anglican Communion. On the one hand there is an attempt to address poverty and powerlessness for example through the recently established Global Anglican Relief and Development Alliance. On the other hand, there is continued insistence on including those who deliberately flout Anglican teaching and practice in favour of the “diversity” of a “neutral” interchangeability of sexual relationships. This insistence undermines two of the foundations for addressing poverty: first, respect for the identity, aspirations, initiatives and elected leaders of the poor and their communities, and secondly strengthening commitment to marriage between a man and a woman as the basis for family life and society. This contradiction undermines the claimed desire to listen to the voice and concerns of the Global South.
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