What is the Anglican Consultative Council meeting for?
By Chris Sugden and Vinay Samuel, Church of England Newspaper:
The Archbishop of Canterbury has written to urge all Anglican primates to attend the Anglican Consultative Council in Lusaka from April 8-19.
The primates of Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda have indicated that their representatives cannot attend because the spirit of the Primates Meeting in Canterbury, which introduced consequences for TEC and its participation in Communion decision-making on doctrine and polity, appears to be being overridden or ignored.
The issue of trust has emerged again. Trust was undermined by the invitation to Lambeth 2008, to the TEC Bishops who had consecrated Gene Robinson, in July 2007 before the September deadline for TEC’s response to the questions of the Dar-Es-Salaam primates meeting. The Jerusalem GAFCON Conference of 2008 was the direct result.
Archbishop Okoh of Nigeria argues that the orthodox have been manipulated by the revisionists and misled. He writes: “In spite of the hollow restrictions placed on The Episcopal Church, ( in January) the Presiding Bishop of TEC and the Chairman of the Anglican Consultative Council have avowed that the Primates had no authority to take that decision. “
Despite past history the GAFCON Primates decided to attend the January meeting. They demonstrated a love for the unity of the Communion but on a basis of common faith. They have not yet given up on the Communion. But ACC’s actions so far confirm their suspicions that they are being misled and manipulated and even an orthodox Archbishop of Canterbury cannot stop it.
How can ACC not accept the Primates’ decision? Why is it arrogating such roles to itself? Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda are right in drawing a firm line on the sand. Their approach is principled, not managerial or political.
Politically, TEC holds powerful cards – money, power, access, communication, control of the media and leverage. But did TEC accept the Primates decision in January in the light of what they look on as a replay in Lusaka?
But the political and managerial approach overlooks the fact that these decisions are about God’s truth on the nature of men and women, morality and the life of the church. If church leaders cannot be trusted when it comes to guarding the faith, everything descends to managing power relationships.
Kenya and Nigeria were very gracious in trusting the conversations at Canterbury and the decisions made there. They now suspect that they were misled.
Lusaka is not the place to sort out church polity, unity, doctrine or matters of sexuality. Those are the callings of the primates meeting and the Lambeth conference of Bishops.
While the ACC has synodical form with bishops, clergy and lay, it should not think of itself as the General Synod of the Communion. It does not make doctrinal decisions or define the mission of its member churches. Those decisions belong to the Lambeth Conference and the Primates’ Meeting. It does not define Anglican identity, even though membership of the ACC is part of being part of the Communion. It is not there to demonstrate Anglican unity across diversity. That ecclesiological matter is beyond its brief. Powerful forces will try to push ACC down this path.
ACC provides a network and means of working together of these many churches in addressing critical challenges. There are many networks in the ACC on everything from environment to women’s issues and back: far too many for the Lusaka conference to focus on. But activists will attempt to use it to further their causes on those umpteen matters. Lusaka will dissipate its efforts and end up endorsing motherhood and apple pie. Everyone else will regard ACC and the Anglican churches as irrelevant.
The world faces huge challenges. Terrorism and refugees; persecution and issues of religious freedom; dreadful poverty in places like Sudan and increasing inequality in many countries leaving people ‘left behind’ due to economic systems: human rights being used to challenge religious faith and conscience. Politicians have no answers. Anglican churches face them head on every day and have hope in the midst of them.
ACC Lusaka can speak forcefully by addressing these few matters with Christian hope, and planning together to share resources and expertise in resourcing the churches to analyse and respond together to the pressures many Anglican communities face in the world, whether in the west with its rapid cultural change and secular hegemony or in the non western world where many face poverty and persecution. The need for resilient communities of faith is urgent. These can only be built on revealed truth and the received faith of the Church that has resisted and thrived against many challenges over generations.