“Forgetting pain is convenient, remembering it; agonizing. But uncovering the truth is worth all the suffering.”
Convenient forgetting. Over thirteen years have passed since the Jerusalem Declaration was released in 2008. At the time, I was a 28 year old priest, and the recipient of a young leader invitation to this pivotal conference. As I remember it, the attendees of the conference were divided by continent and the Declaration was put up on screens as it was read. Within a few minutes, we could hear African Anglicans singing songs of praise. Shortly thereafter, we heard joy break out among others. Two hours later, we North Americans were still debating basic language.
As I remember it, it was a painful time. We were keenly aware of all that divided us. The prospects of a new province of the communion seemed daunting. And yet, there was hope that the grace of God could break through and bring us to a new future. It is convenient to forget those divisions, especially as they deeply undermine and threaten the future of our global fellowship.
But, I must tell the truth.
The truth is that the GAFCON primates have expressly chosen language that shows they are bent on forgetting that there is still great division, especially on issues of the ordination of women to the episcopate. They have chosen instead to move forward in a way that relegates these very serious issues to secondary, adiaphora, hang-ups. The problem is, if I may be utterly clear, they have even misrepresented the language of the Jerusalem Declaration. This is particularly dangerous.
I don’t mean to cover over my own deep dissatisfaction with this in this essay, only to uncover the truth of what has happened in the remarkable statement of the GAFCON primates coming out of Nairobi this past week.
In that statement, they make the claim:
The Jerusalem Declaration affirms that the Bible makes a distinction between salvation issues and other secondary issues. In our discussion, the Primates acknowledged that while there is disagreement and ongoing discussion on the issues of the ordination of women as deacons or priests, and the consecration of women as Bishops, we are agreed that these are not salvation issues and are not issues that will disrupt our mission: to proclaim Christ faithfully to the nations.
Does it affirm that the bible makes a distinction between salvation issues and other secondary issues?
It does not.
Instead, the Jerusalem Declaration makes clear, following the deep principles of Anglican doctrine that first:
the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God written and to contain all things necessary for salvation. The Bible is to be translated, read, preached, taught and obeyed in its plain and canonical sense, respectful of the church’s historic and consensual reading.
We recognise that God has called and gifted bishops, priests and deacons in historic succession to equip all the people of God for their ministry in the world. We uphold the classic Anglican Ordinal as an authoritative standard of clerical orders.
We celebrate the God-given diversity among us which enriches our global fellowship, and we acknowledge freedom in secondary matters. We pledge to work together to seek the mind of Christ on issues that divide us.
While it is very clear that the various attendees of the Jerusalem conference in 2008 did believe that such secondary issues exist, it was not clear that the ordination of women to the episcopate was one of them. In fact, most would have deeply disputed that claim. The reasoning has been quite clear. First, Holy Scripture is abundantly clear concerning the possibility of women bishops. Second, the Anglican Ordinal is abundantly clear that only men may be ordained to any order in the Church, and thirdly, it simply isn’t true that the issue of Holy Orders does not pertain to salvation. Everyone knew that for a GAFCON province to proceed with the consecration of a woman to the episcopate, our unity and fellowship would be deeply imperiled. In fact, I remember in Nairobi in 2013, there was one lone dissent from the Communique and Commitment: voiced by a woman who did not believe the statement’s content regarding the ministry of women were substantial enough, especially with regard to ordination.
This forgetting was compounded when, in 2018, the first consecration of a woman to the episcopate occurred in South Sudan. This was called “extraordinary” and even more strongly an “anomaly.” Either way, there was a voluntary moratorium in effect since 2014 which had been forgotten, although it had remained in place.
A report to the Primates in 2017 gave this summary judgment:
It is our prime recommendation that the provinces of GAFCON should retain the historic practice of the consecration only of men as bishops until and unless a strong consensus to change emerges after prayer, consultation and continued study of Scripture among the GAFCON fellowship.
Such a consensus has not emerged. And yet, there have been two more such consecrations in Kenya. Now, the GAFCON Primates state boldly that these are not salvation issues. They appear to be committed to a “principle” of dual integrities. We have been down this road before. It is an idea far more Hegelian than Christian. Two contradictory understandings of Holy Scripture and the received faith cannot be simultaneously true. The Primates must understand that the faithful look to them for serious and sober leadership during these times. That in such a short period, they have exchanged pursuit of the truth for convenient forgetting is not only regrettable, it’s deadly.