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Anglicans in Sydney in a time of conflict

By Bruce Kaye - posted Wednesday, 19 November 2008


World wide Anglicanism is in conflict and Sydney is in the midst of it. What that might mean within the diocese is not yet clear.

The conflict internationally is between the alliance of African and other bishops including the archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen, who object to the ordaining of an openly gay man as a bishop in The Episcopal Church in the USA and the authorising of blessing services for same sex relationships by a diocese in Canada.

This followed heated debates at the 1998 Lambeth conference of Anglican bishops when a relatively conservative resolution was passed against such measures. On the other hand The Episcopal Church in the USA objects to the ordination of clergy and bishops by African and Asian Primates for work in the USA without any agreement from that church.

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The alliance of conservatives called a Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) in Jerusalem earlier this year in protest that the Anglican Communion had not enforced the 1998 resolution and that the whole movement in North America represented an abandonment of the authority of the Bible. The American church is itself deeply divided on the issue.

The Lambeth Conference in July 2008 was set up as a consultative exercise and not as a decision-making event. GAFCON in general has regarded this as a failure, and attempts to develop a covenant to hold the Anglican Communion together as weak and ineffective. They are seeking to expand their connections through a council of which Peter Jensen is the honorary secretary and the recent Sydney synod authorised appropriate funds for him to be able to carry our these responsibilities.

The consultative style of the Lambeth Conference is a return to an earlier form, in fact its original character. In the three conferences up to 1998 a trend had developed of preparing for the conference by consulting around the Communion to identify the critical issues facing Anglicans and then to prepare material for the conference related in general terms to these issues. The conference then divided into sections to deal with these matters and produced resolutions for the conference.

This whole process, and the way in which it was reported gave the impression that this was a kind of global parliament that was making executive decisions that would lead to something happening.

Of course back home in the provinces of the Communion these resolutions were regarded as advice. Serious advice, but nonetheless advice. That is the way in which they have historically and quite reasonably been regarded in Sydney.

At the 1998 Lambeth Conference the intense and heated argument at the final plenary session on homosexuality arose not just because those involved thought the subject was very important but also because many thought that a resolution at the Lambeth Conference meant that something would happen as a result. That is exactly how the GAFCON primates interpret this resolution. They complain it has not been enforced.

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There have been earlier conflicts over issues of sexual ethics such as marriage and divorce practices. These have arisen in the context of the interaction between gospel and culture. They have to do with how what is perceived to be a gospel truth of universal application can be applied in the particularities of the cultural context where the gospel is to be lived out. This is the point rightly identified by Peter Akinola in relation to homosexuality when he announced GAFCON.

In a contrast which set the tone for the public perception of this conference he went on to say:

Those of us who will abide with the Word of God, come rain come fire, are those who are in GAFCON. Those who say it does not matter are the ones who are attending Lambeth … Uganda, Rwanda, Sydney, Nigeria: we are not going to Lambeth conference. What is the use of the Lambeth conference for a three weeks jamboree which will sweep these issues under the carpet. GAFCON will confer about the future of the church, which will set a road map for the future. (Quotes taken from www.gafcon.org. It is interesting that there is no reference here to Kenya, Tanzania or the Southern Cone.)

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In an earlier version of this article reference was made to a practice in the diocese of restricting appointments to those who were opposed to the ordination of women. Bishop Robert Forsyth has assured me that after consulting with  his colleagues there is no diocesan practice  of restricting  appointments to those who are opposed to the ordination of women. I am  happy to accept that assurance.



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About the Author

The Revd Dr Bruce Kaye is a Professorial Associate in the School of theology at Charles Sturt and a Visiting Research Fellow in the School of History at UNSW. He is formerly the General Secretary of the Anglican Church of Australia (1994-2004) and he is the author of Introduction to World Anglicanism, Cambridge University Press, 2008 and Conflict and the Practice of Christian Faith; The Anglican Experiment, 2009. See www.brucekaye.net.

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