At the moment in relation to Lambeth 2020 we have important preparatory work being done but we also appear to have the reversal of previous policy, the rejection of previous theological rationales in relation to invitations, no justification of these changes, and no public response to the requests from GAFCON or engagement with their theological rationale.
These are all worrying signs that preparations for the Conference are refusing to consider any creative proposals for its restructuring in response to the realities of impaired communion, even though the consequences of these realities have already been recognised by the Instruments. It is as if, in planning the Conference, we are in denial of the truth articulated by Rowan Williams back in 2006: “There is no way in which the Anglican Communion can remain unchanged by what is happening at the moment”.
It seems as if there is a determination simply to call the bluff of those who have warned they may not attend and even to aggravate them further by altering the invitation policy from 2008. Why not rather engage them in dialogue and offer them grounds on which they may conclude it is right and profitable to attend, despite their current concerns? The other side of this stance is an apparent willingness to accept that many bishops (particularly from provinces marked by significant Anglican growth) will indeed stay away but to say that this doesn’t really matter and is a price worth paying in order to uphold the current but novel and unexplained invitation policy. It is almost as if, rather than address these issues, the view is that the Conference will happen as currently planned however many cannot in conscience attend it. Even if, as I’ve heard it put, the Conference ends up being small enough to meet in a telephone box.
There is of course no chance the Conference will be that small because whatever happens there will undoubtedly be a significant turnout on current plans. It would, however, be a serious error to (a) ignore the significant shift in the nature of the Conference which has been created by the moving of the goalposts embodied in the current invitation policy or (b) minimise how widespread and deep the concerns (and possible absences) are likely to be with that new policy. These concerns are not limited to the more hard-line GAFCON provinces or even just to GAFCON as a whole. The 6thGlobal South Conference in October 2016 was clear about the Communion’s problems in its communiqué:
- The prolonged failure to resolve disputes over faith and order in our Communion exposes the Communion’s ecclesial deficit, which was highlighted in the Windsor Continuation Group Report (2008).
- This deficit is evident in the inability of existing Communion instruments to discern truth and error and take binding ecclesiastical action. The instruments have been found wanting in their ability to discipline those leaders who have abandoned the biblical and historic faith. To make matters worse, the instruments have failed to check the marginalisation of Anglicans in heterodox Provinces who are faithful, and in some cases have even sanctioned or deposed them. The instruments have also sent conflicting signals on issues of discipline which confuse the whole Body and weaken our confidence in them.
“… for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” (Jeremiah 2:13)
- The instruments are therefore unable to sustain the common life and unity of the Anglican Churches worldwide, especially in an increasingly connected and globalising world, where different ideas and lifestyles are quickly disseminated through social media. This undermines the mission of the Church in today’s world.
- The present and potentially escalating crisis poses challenges to the Global South in the shepherding of her people. We recognise the need for our enhanced ecclesial responsibility. We need to strengthen our doctrinal teaching, our ecclesiastical ordering of our collective life as a global fellowship and the flourishing of our gifts in the one another-ness of our mission.
- The Global South Primates will therefore form a task force to recommend how these needs can be effectively addressed.
If the challenges identified in this article are ignored and if no attempt is made to find a consensus among the Communion’s bishops about the nature of the Conference and the status of participants, the real danger is that these Global South conclusions will simply be applied to Lambeth 2020, perhaps at their next Global South Conference later this year. It may even be that some bishops in the Global North draw the same conclusions and seriously consider the implications of this for their attendance.
If this happens, it will represent a tragic failure of leadership as the Conference will demonstrate how far apart from each other we are now walking.