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By Terry Mattingly
Want to know how to cause a church split?
The deepest fault lines — sex, money and pride — have been obvious for centuries, said Archbishop Kanishka Raffel of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney, Australia.
“We use nationality or age or gender or wealth or clothing or accent or profession or politics — to show off and communicate who we are and what sort of person we will or will not engage with,” said Raffel, who was born in London, is of Sri Lankan descent and was raised Buddhist.
“God’s people are frail and very human. We bear the marks of weakness and humiliation. We can be loveless, faithless, tolerant of the intolerable and wretchedly self-satisfied. … God is angry about the abuse of people that comes through sexual immorality, greed and hateful, deceitful and cruel speech. We are not surprised.”
For decades, he acknowledged, the 42 churches in the Anglican Communion have been rocked by divisions over biblical authority and colonial-era ecclesiastical structures — with LGBTQ+ disputes grabbing headlines.
During the recent Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) held in Kigali, Rwanda, Raffel was one of several bishops — 315 attended, from 52 nations — who stressed that traditionalists now need to look forward. It’s time to focus on life in their rapidly growing churches while dedicating less time and energy to clashes with declining churches in England, America, Canada and elsewhere.
This will, Raffel stressed, require looking in the mirror.
“We have been engaged in decades-long conversation about sexual immorality. But we have often focused on one form of sexual sin, to the neglect of sexual sins which perhaps are more common among us and just as displeasing to God,” he said. “How many women … have shed rivers of tears over the way their sexuality has been misused by others? I suppose it would be millions. There is a self-serving blind spot of which we must repent, a log in our own eyes with which we are yet to deal. Lord, have mercy.”
The bottom line: “God will judge us for words that are condemning, harsh, loveless, mocking, spiteful.”
Leaders of GAFCON and the overlapping Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches did not retreat when discussing clashes with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and others — especially after the historic 250-181 General Synod vote to allow Church of England priests to offer blessing rites to same-sex couples married by the state.
In its summary document, conference leaders said they “can no longer recognize the Archbishop of Canterbury as an Instrument of Communion, the ‘first among equals’ of the Primates.” Recent archbishops of Canterbury have “failed to guard the faith” by embracing bishops “who have embraced or promoted practices contrary to Scripture,” they added.
In response, Lambeth Palace noted that Global South bishops have not been granted the power to change Church of England traditions and structures.
Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell responded by stressing that “whether we like it or not, we are called to love one another,” and that unity and cooperation are more important than defending one approach to doctrine.
Through an emphasis on “revelation, reason, scriptural investigation and theological imagination,” it’s possible to talk about the “missionary expansion of the church to the whole of humanity,” he said, addressing the York Synod. The goal is to consider “not merely subjective experience (what ‘I feel’ or what ‘I think’) but observed lived experience” in the modern world.
Cottrell’s goal: “Not ‘anything goes,’ but ‘everyone counts.’”
The leader of the alternative Anglican Church in North America, which is recognized by Global South leaders but not Canterbury, also stressed the need for increased ministry to the young, the poor and the outcast — but insisted this could be done without modernizing ancient Christian teachings.
“Do you know what most unbelievers out there think we feel toward them? … They think we despise them. They think we judge them,” said Archbishop Foley Beach, the outgoing GAFCON chairman.
“People all around us are suffering immensely. People have wounded family relationships. People are living in sexual brokenness and misery. People are financially burdened and overwhelmed. People are addicted to alcohol, drugs, sex, porn and money. People are exhausted and can’t get off the merry-go-round. … They are craving a little compassionate care. They are craving a better way.”