Anglicans gather in J'lem to protest secularization

GAFCON meeting reflects splits in church.

Ordination of homosexuals, same-sex marriages and a perceived deviation from Jesus's gospel have prompted some 300 hundred clergymen and hundreds more delegates from the conservative wing of the Anglican Communion to gather this week in Jerusalem. The meeting, known as the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON), is perhaps the most tangible demonstration yet of the division within the 77-million-strong Anglican church. More liberal dioceses located primarily in North American and Britain are now pitted against more conservative congregants and clergy who come from the West, but also in disproportionately high numbers from Africa, Asia and South America. These conservative Anglicans might represent just a third of the Anglican bishops, but they make up about 75 percent of Anglican churchgoers, said GAFCON organizers who spoke with The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. An identical trend of an increasingly liberal "West" alienated from a more conservative "East" or "South" has threatened unity also within the Catholic Church and various Protestant sects. Organizers who spoke to the Post Sunday said that GAFCON was not advocating a schism in the Anglican church, rather the conference was an expression of an "impaired communion." Still, the Anglican church has already shown the symptoms of a serious rift. Some tangible examples include the refusal by more conservative leaders of the church to recognize more liberal Episcopalian bishops as clergymen. Congregations located in dioceses controlled by more liberal bishops "import" more conservative bishops to lead them. At the end of the seven-day conference, a group of bishops and archbishops representing conservative Anglican leadership are expected to make a definitive statement on the future of the Anglican Communion. These leaders include Peter Akinola of Nigeria; Henry Orombi of Uganda; Nicholos Okoh of Nigeria; Emmanuel Kolini of Rwanda; Benjamin Nzimbi of Kenya; Peter Jensen of Australia and bishops Martyn Minns of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, and North America's Moderator Bishop of Common Cause, Bob Duncan. They are expected to consolidate their power and represent "a grouping" of conservative Anglican leadership. The pivotal incident that seemed to point to an irreparable split in the Anglican Communion was the 2003 election and consecration of Gene Robinson, an openly gay man, as the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire. GAFCON, held in Jerusalem's Renaissance Hotel, was planned to precede by a month the Lambeth Conference, the single most important Anglican Communion ingathering which convenes once a decade in Canterbury, England. Many of the bishops and delegates attending GAFCON will boycott Lambeth in protest against what they call the secularization of the Anglican Church. At the last Lambeth conference in 1998, the bishops passed a resolution "rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture" and opposed the blessing of same-sex unions. The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams refrained from inviting Robinson to this year's Lambeth in a move seen as an attempt to avoid a schism. GAFCON will coincide with Jerusalem's Gay Pride Parade, which takes place Thursday, June 26. GAFCON organizers were adamant that the rift was not just about homosexuality. In a theological document entitled "The Way, the Truth and the Life," distributed ahead of the Jerusalem conference, leading conservative archbishops and bishops alluded to the theological differences between the liberal and conservative branches of the church. "We see a parallel between contemporary events and events in England in the sixteenth century," they wrote, referring to the inception of the Anglican Church. "Then, the Catholic Church in England was faced with the choice of aligning itself with either Rome [Catholics] or Geneva [Protestants]. But when forced to decide its identity, it sought to distinguish itself from both the practices of the Papacy and the excesses it associated with the more radical reformers. "Now, after five centuries, a new fork in the road is appearing. Though this split may present itself publicly as a choice in relation to aberrant sexuality, the core issues are about whether or not there is one Word, accessible to all, or whether or not there is one Christ accessible to all."