Archbishop of Canterbury criticizes proposed Anglican Primates’ Council

Archbishop Rowan Williams / Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Archbishop Rowan Williams / Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori


Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the highest-ranking cleric in the Church of England, has responded to the announcement of the Global Anglican Future Conference that it is setting up a Council of Primates to defend what it sees as Anglican orthodoxy. Archbishop Williams said the planned council would not be universally accepted throughout the Anglican Communion and would be abused by factions who use concerns about theological integrity as pretexts for ecclesiastical infighting.
The GAFCON meeting ended in Jerusalem on Sunday with the release of the “Jerusalem Declaration.” The meeting had been called to address controversies within the Anglican Communion over the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, the authority of Scripture, and issues concerning sexual morality such as some Anglicans’ approval of homosexual acts.  The declaration claims that most of the world’s practicing Anglicans have entered a “post-colonial” reality where the Archbishop of Canterbury is recognized for his historical role but is not seen as the only arbiter of what it means to be an Anglican.

The Jerusalem Declaration also states that GAFCON is not breaking away from the Anglican Communion.

In his statement responding to the declaration, Archbishop Williams said GAFCON’s final statement contained “much that is positive and encouraging” about the priorities of conference participants.

“The 'tenets of orthodoxy' spelled out in the document will be acceptable to and shared by the vast majority of Anglicans in every province, even if there may be differences of emphasis and perspective on some issues,” the archbishop said.

“I have no doubt that the Lambeth Conference will wish to affirm all these positive aspects of GAFCON's deliberations,” he continued, speaking of the upcoming Lambeth Conference scheduled for mid-July. The conference is a meeting of global Anglican leaders which takes place every ten years.

“Despite the claims of some, the conviction of the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as Lord and God and the absolute imperative of evangelism are not in dispute in the common life of the Communion,” Archbishop Williams stated.

The archbishop then criticized the GAFCON’s proposals for being “problematic in all sorts of ways,” urging GAFCON advocates to “think very carefully about the risks entailed.”

GAFCON’s planned “Primates’ Council,” Archbishop Williams argued, consists only of “a self-selected group” which “will not pass the test of legitimacy for all in the Communion.” The proposed council’s claim to operate across provincial boundaries, he said, is “fraught with difficulties” because of Anglicanism’s “historic commitments to mutual recognition of ministries in the Communion” and also because of the “obvious strain of responsibly exercising episcopal or primatial authority across enormous geographical and cultural divides.”

He said both the source of the council’s authority and its likely effectiveness at disciplining prelates are questionable.

“How is a bishop or primate in another continent able to discriminate effectively between a genuine crisis of pastoral relationship and theological integrity, and a situation where there are underlying non-theological motivations at work?” the Archbishop of Canterbury asked. “We have seen instances of intervention in dioceses whose leadership is unquestionably orthodox simply because of local difficulties of a personal and administrative nature. We have also seen instances of clergy disciplined for scandalous behavior in one jurisdiction accepted in another, apparently without due process.”

The archbishop argued that problems in the Anglican Communion ought to be targets for renewal rather than replaced with “improvised solutions.”

Archbishop Williams also responded to the GAFCON declaration’s charge that some members of the Anglican Communion were preaching a “different Gospel.”

“I believe that it is wrong to assume we are now so far apart that all those outside the GAFCON network are simply proclaiming another gospel,” he stated. “This is not the case; it is not the experience of millions of faithful and biblically focused Anglicans in every province. What is true is that, on all sides of our controversies, slogans, misrepresentations and caricatures abound. And they need to be challenged in the name of the respect and patience we owe to each other in Jesus Christ.”

Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, also responded to the GAFCON declaration, saying in a statement:

“Much of the Anglican world must be lamenting the latest emission from GAFCON. Anglicanism has always been broader than some find comfortable. This statement does not represent the end of Anglicanism, merely another chapter in a centuries-old struggle for dominance by those who consider themselves the only true believers. Anglicans will continue to worship God in their churches, serve the hungry and needy in their communities, and build missional relationships with others across the globe, despite the desire of a few leaders to narrow the influence of the gospel. We look forward to the opportunities of the Lambeth Conference for constructive conversation, inspired prayer, and relational encounters.”

The Episcopal Church’s decision to ordain an openly homosexual man as Bishop of New Hampshire helped contribute to the controversy within the global Anglican Communion.

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