If the Anglican Communion did not suffer schism on April 21, it’s the next best thing.
A declaration issued that day at the conclusion of an international church assembly in Kigali, Rwanda, means the media and other religion-watchers should gird loins for years of maneuvers, legalities, confusion and acrimony.
Here’s what’s at stake. This major segment of Christianity encompasses an estimated 85 to 90 million members worldwide in 46 regional branches. Its older western churches have a rich heritage in religious thought, worship, and fine arts, while the younger churches in the “Global South” are at the forefront of today’s creative Christian expansion.
This loose confederation has been organized like so.
(1) The archbishop of Canterbury, its titular leader as head of the “mother” Church of England, is no pope but summons and presides at these meetings.
(2) The Lambeth Conference, which gathers all Anglican bishops worldwide, most recently held — with many Global South leaders absent —last summer.
(3) The Primates’ Meeting (the confusing P-word refers to the leaders of regional branches), held most recently in March, 2022.
(4) The Anglican Consultative Council, a body of bishops, clergy and lay delegates that met most recently in February in Ghana.
The April 21 “Kigali Commitment,” which includes an emphatic vote of no confidence in all four of those entities, was issued by 315 bishops, 456 priests and 531 lay delegates from 52 countries. Sponsors claim their churches constitute nearly 85% of the world’s active Anglicans; for certain they represent a substantial — and growing — majority.
The fiercely-worded declaration states that all four entities foster liberalism that undermines the Bible’s “truthfulness, clarity, sufficiency and authority.” Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby is no longer recognized by these Anglicans as their faith’s world leader. Unless this establishment repents of doctrinal error — and no sentient observer expects that — the delegates believe the past unity of the Communion is definitively ripped apart.
Check out Anglican and other religious sites on the Internet, which are clogged with analyses on all this.
Brief background: Various disputes over liberal theology have long been at issue (click here for “Anglican timeline” backgrounders) but sexual morality became the central example in 2003 when the Episcopal Church, the U.S. branch of Anglicanism, consecrated the Communion’s first bishop in an open relationship with a same-sex partner.
That defied the traditional belief bishops reaffirmed at the 1998 Lambeth Conference. Matters culminated this year when the Church of England’s bishops approved formal blessing rituals for same-sex couples after they undergo civil marriage. The new policy was endorsed by General Synod delegates in February.
The Global Anglican Future Conference (“GAFCON”) sponsored the Kigali conference, but there was significant representation from the like-minded Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches (“GSFA”). The two organizations taken together are led by 15 primates, including those of the powerhouse denominations in Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda.
There was some hope the two groups would start toward merger at Kigali, but the meeting did foster closer cooperation. The Kigali Commitment says that GAFCON is an evangelism movement that among other things sponsors churches for conservatives “pressured by or alienated from revisionist dioceses and provinces” in the Communion. GSFA, meanwhile, seeks to establish “doctrinally-based structures within the Communion” and has thus far maintained tenuous ties with Archbishop Welby’s structures.
The GAFCON confreres joined with an Ash Wednesday commitment from GSFA (.pdf here) to unite all Anglican traditionalists and “reset the Communion on its biblical foundations.” It may take years to figure out what that means in practice and where the needed money comes from. For one thing, existing constitutions of some conservative branches still bind them to Canterbury.
Archbishop Welby’s office responded to the Kigali Commitment with a bland statement noting that only the four existing Anglican Communion entities have the power to reconfigure Anglicanism. Conservatives say they are now the numerically dominant, authentic and continuing Anglican Communion; admittedly without structure; some refer to Welby’s rival organization as the “Canterbury Communion.”
Key GAFCON bishops boycotted the last Lambeth Conference altogether, while some GSFA bishops attended but would not receive Holy Communion at worship alongside the others. Church historian Ephraim Radner at Wycliffe College, Toronto, predicts the 2022 session will be the last traditional Lambeth Conference for a generation because both sides are too dug in on principle.
David Virtue, an outspoken conservative who has analyzed Anglican politics for decades, wrote that the “excessive white presence” among speakers at Kigali was a serious error by GAFCON, considering the African, Asian and Latin American cast of its constituency. But at least Nigeria’s influential primate, Archbishop Henry Ndukuba, read the final statement when it was brought up for approval.
Also, the chairmanship of GAFCON now passes from Archbishop Foley Beach of the breakaway Anglican Church in North America to the Rwanda host, Archbishop Laurent Mbanda (who left the meeting early due to his son’s sudden death in Philadelphia). He holds graduate degrees from America’s Fuller Theological Seminary, Denver Seminary and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.)
GAFCON’s vice chairs are Kanishka Raffel, the archbishop of Sydney, Australia (who was raised in Britain by Sri Lankan Buddhist parents) and Archbishop Miguel Uchoa, who leads the breakaway Anglican church in Brazil.
For future reference:
GSFA’s chairman is Archbishop Justin Badi of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan, reachable via communications officer Manyang Gabriel Kon at email@example.com or (211) (0) 912389415.
Archbishop Beach, who remains a leader in GAFCON as well as GSFA, is in Loganville, Georgia, at firstname.lastname@example.org and 724–266-9400. Priest Anne Kennedy of Binghamton, New York, who was raised in Mali, West Africa, was the lone American on the Kigali Commitment drafting committee. Office (607) 723-8032.