By Adrian Worsfold
How does your GAFCON grow? We know that in North America it is via the New Province of North America in GAFCON. It is through separation and intended competition with the existing provinces, and some Evangelicals might try to use the possible Covenant to legitimize it and delegitimize The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada.
In England GAFCON grows via Evangelical organizations. Its strategy mimics that of what we know here as entryism. Back in the 1980s the Labour Party faced years of opposition. Its failures in government were laid at the door of its right wing by many of a socialist tendency. But the socialists themselves were failures, failure to take policy into the Labour Party when it was in power.
When Labour lost power in 1979 the socialists took their chance against the leadership, and the manifesto moved to the left; the result was a breakaway Social Democratic Party that later was to merge with the Liberals, a left-progressive but individualist party.
Some at the Marxist end of Labour wanted to go further, especially after Labour lost in 1983 with a manifesto that some called “the longest suicide note in history” – though Thatcher was parading around after winning the Falklands War. This Marxist end was known as Militant, which kept control of its own agenda, and infiltrated constituencies and impacted on policy organizations. It welcomed fellow travelers of other socialists; it hit back at the same who criticized its separate organizing. Militant took power in Liverpool, built lots of social housing, wrecked the budget and was removed from power by combinations of the government, law and the electorate.
Those who saw Labour as electable only if it reoccupied the centre ground again were forced to wrestle the party back from the socialists and Militant. They elected a moderate left leader (and right wing deputy leader). He somersaulted and stood on his head – regarding the ditching of his own past policies, and became unelectable himself, but his main effort was to remove Militant and move the party rightward. His replacement died, and then came Tony Blair, who moved the party well to the right of the SDP that had merged into the Liberals. It has taken the economic collapse to move it significantly and reluctantly leftward again.
There is a sort of equivalent battle for the life and soul of the Church of England now. One could say that the Church of England is a failed institution, attracting below 5% at best of the population into the pews on a regular basis. Other denominations barely double the figure. The last Archbishop that could speak for and to the nation would be William Temple just after the Second World War. Every one since has been something of a flop. Perhaps the worst was the Evangelical George Carey, said to be “Margaret Thatcher’s revenge” after the Church prayed for both sides and not the victorious British after the Falkland’s War.
Carey’s Decade of Evangelism was a flop, and so the equivalent of Militant in the Church of England has been organizing. A tiny group of Conservative Evangelicals found their colleagues in the United States and saw a situation to exploit there, where the Episcopal Church has a stronger identity of inclusion. Conservative Evangelism also found ballast in some African provinces. It has used this to create a kind of international confessing Anglicanism that gives the grouping far more influence than it could have if reliant upon home numbers and theological argument. Members have organized themselves like another Militant Tendency in producing this GAFCON movement to oversee Conservative Evangelical developments. They have been helped by the stupidity of the present Anglican leadership in seeking to centralize the whole communion and shift coordinating power upwards as a way of containing differences; Rowan Williams, far from being the liberal the Militants feared, has shown his Catholic Church centralizing tendencies, and given internationalism a legitimacy that the dispersed Anglican Communion never had. This is why the Covenant should not be allowed to be born.
Why is GAFCON like Militant? Because a core group maintains control as a reaction to the failure of other Evangelicals to get their way in the wider Western Churches. It then infiltrates to force its agenda. Even at the Conference itself, that jumble of oddities called the Jerusalem Declaration was born in a back room – it was leaked even before the assembled could give it the rubber stamp. GAFCON itself was planned by annoying the local Anglicans in Jerusalem because of their opposition to its divisiveness.
In Britain came the entryism into one of the theological colleges and the scattering of much of its evangelical staff, replaced by hardliners and the agreeable. The same man, Chair of the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC) has chaired the recent National Evangelical Anglican Consultation, in which, without notice, and without a right to amend, a pro-GAFCON motion was put to the meeting. The assembled would not have it, and refused to give it a vote. The result is that the CEEC will vote for it anyway on the spurious basis that it represents Evangelicals. Perhaps the CEEC once did, but as ever the hardliners continued to attend when others dropped away – it is how the entryists work.
Since then there had been blood on the floor. The Evangelicals are divided as never before. Yet perhaps they have been too charitable to those who seem to be of the same stock, and now see this.
It suits Militant types to have chaos. So longer as there is chaos, and division without, they have the control of the actual working agenda and can force it through as the only working show in town.
Like Militant these are entryists. Why? Here are the words of one of them at the NEAC 5:
“We will keep formal administrative links with the formal Church of England, but our real identity is with Global Anglicanism as defined by the Jerusalem statement and declaration. GAFCON is our connection to the Global Anglican Communion.”
In other words, like the separatists of North America, these people will use the property, parishes, institutions as they can exploit them, whilst running the show for themselves. They will never let in those who are unreliable. These include other Evangelicals.
Since the NEAC the same speaker has questioned the legitimacy of one of the Evangelical groupings, but well before this the same Chair of the meeting had identified Liberal Evangelicals as stooges of Liberals proper.
It is imperative, for the good of the dispersed Anglican Communion, that the new Province of GAFCON – and it will be only the first – is not recognized as part of the Anglican Communion. The Militants want that as a wedge into the system. Some more foolish of the Open Evangelicals, desperate for a Covenant to work (there’ll be egg on their faces over its failure), would ‘bring in’ the new Province via the Covenant. GAFCON would in turn use this, even though it regards the Covenant as useless (not confessing and toothless). It is rumored that the present Archbishop of Canterbury invited Bishop Robert Duncan to make an application for Communion membership, and he has said there can be few criticisms of the Jerusalem Declaration doctrinally (but he criticized a different centre of authority). This Archbishop also wrote the disgraceful Advent Letter of 2007 that endorsed Conservative Evangelical biblical interpretation as a means of Anglican Church by Church recognition.
In other words, Lambeth Palace hasn’t ‘got it’ – it cannot see entryism if it came with marching bands and large banners. Well let’s not be surprised about this: the present incumbent occupies another failure at the centre.
Labour recovered itself, and its internal peace, not by Militant taking it over part by part, but by ejecting it and excluding it. This is what is needed: let the separatists be really separate, to live on its own resources and not parasitically, and root it out. It might not sound Evangelical, it might not even sound very Christian, but it might be necessary all the same.
Adrian Worsfold (Pluralist), has a doctorate in sociology and a masters degree in contemporary theology. He lives near Hull, in northeast England and keeps the blog Pluralist Speaks.