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Parsing the latest from the GAFCON Primates

Parsing the latest from the GAFCON Primates

A few weeks ago, the primates of the Global South Anglican group released a statement from their meeting in China.

We didn’t jump right on it for two reasons: the first is that there didn’t seem to be much news in it, but the second may be worth remarking on.

We’ve decided to forego posting items that serve more or less exclusively to give folks who are sympathetic to our pro-LGBT point of view the chance to say negative things about folks who are opposed to that point of view. We don’t expect people to stop making critical comments, and we don’t intend to refrain from criticizing what we consider to be destructive points of view, but some of the arguments in Anglican land are so well rehearsed that they are no longer worth having unless there is something immediately at stake.

That said, there were two intriguing elements in the Global South communication.

Paragraph 14 reads as follows:

We have devoted much time to discuss the Anglican Communion Covenant and the Preamble by the Province of South East Asia documenting the historical events leading up to the Covenant and insisting that the Primates should be the proper moral and spiritual authority for the monitoring of the Covenant. The Covenant with the Preamble have been commended to our respective Provinces for further study and decision.

It is difficult to tell whether the primates’ decision to commend the covenant to their provinces constitutes a significant development. Several of the primates who signed this document have already rejected the covenant. Are they backtracking? And if so, does that give the covenant new momentum? My sense is that it does not give the covenant new momentum because the covenant these folks envision makes the primates, rather than the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion, the arbiters of covenant compliance, and that simply isn’t in the current document. But perhaps I am missing something.

Second, while this statement is featured prominently on the homepage of the Global South Anglican group–which is now led by the pro-covenant, anti-gay Primate of South East Asia, John Chew, it appears no where on the GAFCON site. Those of us outside of the Global South have a tendency to conflate these two entities, and not without reason. But it seems somewhat clearer these days that Chew’s people are willing to maneuver toward their ends within the Communion, whereas the GAFCON group, led by the folks who recently instituted the Anglican Mission in England are not. What gets confusing, is that the cast of primatial characters frequently overlaps.

Which leads to a recurring reminder: don’t read too much into the list of names on these documents. After all, Albert Chama, primate of the Province of Central Africa, left the meeting that produced this document and flew more or less immediately to Quito, Ecuadar, for a meeting of the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church.


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I read the statement very carefully. I think it is bad news for the Covenant supporters. The S. E. Asia prefix contains an argument for a different covenant, the one that puts the primate’s meeting in charge.

Whatever the flaws are in section four, and I like others have written about quite a few, it does not create a primatial curia. If a church adopts the prefix with the covenant the amended document is not what was sent.

What we are seeing in the partial acceptances by some churches, the prefix from S. E. Asia and the obscure language from others (cf. Ireland,) is the conversation Dr. Williams tried so hard to avoid with a “final draft.”

I do not agree with the Gafcon or Global South positions but that does not matter. I do believe, contrary to one archbishop and his arrogant staff, that their voices are worth hearing. I also think progressive and moderate voices are worth hearing. The process of sending an unalterable draft has sought to silence those voices and it is failing for that very reason.

In this “commendation” the primates are sending a different document. No one knows, at least, no one I know claims to know, what will happen if that document is approved by more churches. What we do know is that it won’t be what the initial document’s authors intended.


jim B.

Chris Epting

Despite the wishful thinking of GAFCON, the Primates will not be the monitors of the Covenant, but rather the newly-created Standing Committee of the Communion. Covenant framers know that putting the Primates in that role is a non-starter, so let’s not get distracted that their refusal to accept reality.

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