31 May 2023

‘Orthodox … Biblical Anglicanism’, or an ‘outright lie’? GAFCON divides

Chair of GAFCON Australia Bishop Richard Condie said he believes division is inevitable. Image: iStock and supplied.

Kirralee Nicolle

15 August 2022

Beliefs about salvation are core to the Anglican church’s division on sexuality coming to a head with the GAFCON movement, leaders say.

It comes alongside the possibility that a section of the Anglican Church of Australia could split into a separate diocese if other dioceses chose to bless same-sex unions.

The Global Anglican Future Conference Australia established the Diocese of the Southern Cross in September 2021.

GAFCON leaders said this existed as an option for those people and congregations who may choose to leave the Anglican church following such a decision.

Some say engaging in same-sex relationships excludes one from partaking in fellowship.

Others say this view is divisive and outdated, and that differing perspectives ought to coexist in the Anglican church.

Read more: Love your neighbour (terms and conditions apply): On tolerance

GAFCON Australia board chair Bishop Richard Condie said that the role of GAFCON was two-fold: to promote “orthodox, faithful, Biblical Anglicanism” and provide support for those who feel marginalised by the actions of some in the Anglican church.

He said the use of Scripture as the final authority on matters of faith was what had made Anglicans distinctive across the world.

He said that unity was found in common belief and common doctrine, and that those who were “in error” should be excluded from the fellowship.

Bishop Condie said that GAFCON was a response to an increasing trust in the value of human experience rather than Biblical truth. He said cultural changes which originated in the 1960s had precipitated shifts in how people viewed human sexuality and identity.

He said marriage was at the core of the Biblical narrative.

“The Bible begins with a marriage and ends with a marriage,” he said. “Those Biblical images of marriage are used to demonstrate God’s relationship with his people. When the society changes its views about sexuality they rub up against that Biblical view. Aspects of our church have gone with those views of society rather than the Biblical witness on those things.”

Bishop Condie said that GAFCON was often blamed for causing division in the church, but that the members of GAFCON were simply trying to respond to an existing division.

He said division was inevitable, and the only way unity could be preserved was for those who wanted same-sex marriage to be accepted by the church to stop campaigning for change.

“You have to have unity around the doctrine and around what we teach,” he said. “That is the fabric of unity.”

“What GAFCON has been trying to do is go back to where we began.”

The board of GAFCON Australia announced in 2020 their intent to establish a parallel diocese if Anglican Church of Australia dioceses chose to bless same-sex unions.

The Diocese of the Southern Cross is an Australian Public Company, limited by guarantee.

Read more: What we should and shouldn’t tolerate must be determined by God

Speaking in his capacity as a Melbourne General Synod lay representative, Professor Peter Sherlock said it was an “outright lie” that GAFCON’s focus was on restoring orthodoxy.

He said that over time, each culture had defined matters of faith differently, and decisions about what constituted orthodox faith needed to be based on consensus.

Professor Sherlock said that he agreed with most of the content in GAFCON’s statement of faith, the Jerusalem Declaration, apart from that which defined sexuality as just between a man and a woman.

“What’s at the heart of orthodox Christianity is wrestling with the Scriptures, listening to the Holy Spirit and doing that together,” he said.

Professor Sherlock said he attended the first GAFCON Australia conference in 2008 to attempt to understand the perspective of those in the movement but had seen no attempt from those in GAFCON to try to understand his beliefs.

He said he believed those in GAFCON were closing their minds to the Holy Spirit by continuing to refuse to engage, but that he would be praying for the GAFCON Australasia Conference being held from in August.

“The way that they’ve approached this issue, there is no serious engagement with others on [it],” he said.

Professor Sherlock said that the only way to reach unity and move forward with differing views was a return to simplicity and community.

“The only way forward is abject humility,” he said. “The Anglican church is in a very difficult place.”

Read more: To achieve Anglican unity, there is one single place we can start

GAFCON board member Fiona McLean said same-sex unions were a tipping point for the Anglican church. Mrs McLean is also a lay representative for the Melbourne diocese.

She said that she saw her involvement in GAFCON as a helpful way to work towards reform in the Anglican church.

“Our primary loyalty is to Jesus Christ, not to the Anglican church,” she said. “We believe that there are some things we shouldn’t affirm. Being in fellowship with people who are clearly walking away from God is damaging. We are not heading in the same direction.”

Mrs McLean also said she believed even church councils were at risk of being in error in decision-making around issues such as sexuality, according to the 39 Articles.

“Sometimes decisions are made that are not actually pleasing to God,” she said.

“For the sake of faithfulness to Christ, for the sake of people in our congregations who need clarity, for the sake of those who don’t yet know Jesus, we need to be clear about what it means to be a Christian and what it means to be an Anglican.”

Bishop of North Queensland Keith Joseph has written critiques of the GAFCON movement and said while he believed the issue of sexuality was important, it was not worth splitting the church over.

Bishop Joseph said he believed the Jerusalem Declaration went “well beyond” traditional orthodoxy by focusing on ethics as well as doctrine. He said the inclusion of ethical issues such as sexuality in a statement of faith was irrelevant, as ethics tended to shift over time.

He said that he was concerned that love was not a focal point in GAFCON documentation, and that any reference to the commandment to love God and neighbour was also missing.

Bishop Joseph said he found the debate frustrating as the church had far more significant issues to deal with, such as child sexual abuse. “Conservatives see [same-sex unions] as a first-order issue,” he said. “My view has always been that it’s a second order issue.”

This story was amended on 16 August to better reflect a statement by Bishop Richard Condie. The statement originally read: ‘He said that unity was found in common belief and common doctrine, and that those who practiced same-sex lifestyles were in unrepentant sin and should be excluded from the fellowship while they were “in error”.‘ This was amended to read: ‘He said that unity was found in common belief and common doctrine, and that those who were “in error” should be excluded from the fellowship.’

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