Julie Stahl | Jerusalem Bureau Chief | Monday, June 30, 2008
The Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) -- representing more than half of the world's practicing Anglicans -- wrapped up a weeklong meeting in Jerusalem, where more than 1,100 lay and clergy, including nearly 300 bishops, declared their allegiance to traditional biblical and church teachings and vowed to combat liberal trends, including the acceptance of homosexual leadership.
In a statement drafted after all the delegates were allowed to give input through the week, the leaders said they were grieved by the "spiritual decline" in Western nations where, they said, "the forces of militant secularism and pluralism are eating away the fabric of society," leaving a vacuum filled "by other faiths and deceptive cults."
The group, which represents more than 35 million Anglicans worldwide, said Christians must work together "to understand and oppose these forces and to liberate those under their sway."
The statement singled out the Episcopal Church in the U.S. (ECUSA) for ordaining an openly homosexual bishop in 2003 and the Anglican Church of Canada for blessing same-sex unions.
These trends have forced scores of Episcopal congregations in the U.S. to break with their leadership and seek traditional oversight, which they have found primarily Africa.
Archbishop Peter Jensen of Sydney, Australia, told reporters Sunday that GAFCON had decided to form a high-level group that would take responsibility "to help with the chaos that has been caused in the Anglican Church through revisionist activities."
The new council of primates (highest-level bishops) would be able to "consider matters calmly" and to decide if "fairly drastic action should be taken."
Five of the six primates are from African provinces of the church -- Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda and West Africa -- and the sixth is from the church's southern Latin American branch. The majority of Anglicans lives in Africa and adhere to traditional church teachings.
Jensen acknowledged that the move was unusual, "but then the times we are in are unusual."
Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria said that the conservative Anglican leadership wants those who are following the "false gospel" to repent.
Jensen went a step further and said Christians need to take action to counter the liberal influences.
"The revisionist agenda, which you can see came into its fruition with the same-sex union ... is a missionary one and it is going to spread it's theological views as far as it can," he said.
"That means that the rest of us have to be alerted to this and have to give ourselves to very strong theological work to make sure we can defend the gospel," he said.
While the dispute in the church has usually been portrayed in the media as one over sexuality, Bishop David Anderson, president of the conservative American Anglican Counsel organization, said the main issues were the authority of the Bible and who Jesus is.
The Anglican faith has "jumped the tracks in a number of theological areas," Anderson told Cybercast News Service .
"Those attempting to revise Christian faith [are] leaving the box the same but changing the contents -- making Jesus a way, a truth, a light, a savior, but there are others. You pick what works for you, which in fact is not monotheism. It's polytheism. That is such a radical departure ... not only from Anglicanism [but] from Christianity full-stop," he said.
While those at GAFCON would say that Jesus is the only way to salvation and the Bible is the inspired Word of God, others argued that it was written by men and therefore could be adapted to the culture, re-interpreted and rewritten, he said.
"If you conform your religion to your culture, it's like taking a compass and, when it doesn't tell you what you want, you break it," Anderson added.
In their "Jerusalem Declaration," the clergy upheld "the unchangeable standard of Christian marriage between one man and one woman as the proper place for sexual intimacy and the basis of the family." They called for a renewed commitment "to lifelong fidelity in marriage and abstinence for those who are not married."
The conference also challenged the authority of the titular head of the Anglican Church, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. Many conservatives feel that he not taken a sufficiently firm stance against liberal tendencies and were angry that he invited ECUSA leaders to attend the church's key once-in-a-decade Lambeth Conference in England next month.
Many of the bishops at GAFCON plan to boycott Lambeth.
In their declaration, the GAFCON participants said while they recognized the historic role of the Archbishop of Canterbury, they did not accept him as the sole figure determining Anglican identity.
So far there has been no public reaction from Williams..
Archbishop Henry Orombi of Uganda said the move was a "very big" challenge to Williams, whom he described as a personal friend.
"He is a godly, wonderful, humble man," Orombi told Cybercast News Service . "The Anglican Communion is a tough thing. Sometimes it's not enough to be nice. You ought to make some clear-cut decision where you stand... [Williams] doesn't want to hurt anybody. He wants to be good to everybody. Then he ends up pleasing nobody. That's a problem."
Although it appears that the Anglican Church - the largest Protestant denomination in the world - is heading for some kind of formal split, Steve Engstrom, a Jerusalem-based analyst familiar with the Anglican Communion, noted that the GAFCON leaders had taken pains not to use the term.
"They have consciously avoided using the term 'church split,'" he said. "The legitimate reason for that is that's not what they think of themselves as doing. What they're doing is laying claim to the authentic Anglican tradition, so they don't want to be construed as leaving something."
"In fact, what they want to point out is that they're not the ones who have left," Engstrom added.
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