The Kigali Commitment released at the end of the 4th GAFCON meeting just held in Rwanda is, as one would expect, an interesting and important document. Evidently it was approved by all there assembled (though it is not clear exactly how it came to be put together as yet, and who exactly wrote it). Such considerations may seem more important for historians than for the status of the document as such, which derives simply from the fact of its being approved by the Assembly.
There are other seemingly formal matters which do, however, matter for the status both of the gathering itself and for the documents it approved.
It would thus be important to know how the status of membership in GAFCON actually comes about and who represents whom. For example, are all the Anglican Primates who participate present with the expressed formal backing of their provinces, or do they participate in a personal capacity? How do Provinces as such become part of GAFCON – do they have to pass resolutions in their own governing structures that then mandate membership or not? The language of delegates seems to be used of those present aside from Bishops. What is the process whereby delegates are appointed? How many are sent by a given province? Does the number from any given Province reflect the number of communicants in the Province or is it determined in some other way, or does every Province get the same number of delegates? Again, how do the delegates decide to vote, in accord with their own judgment or in relation to some kind of express mandate?
All of this acquires added significance when there has been criticism of historic structures of the Anglican Communion, such as the Anglican Consultative Council. There, most of the Provinces have largely the same number of representatives no matter their membership size (thus, most have three representatives, while the smallest may have only two or even just one). This is awkward when, for example, the Church of Wales may have 50,000 communicants and Nigeria 20 million).
Looking at the Kigali Commitment in More Detail
The statement is strikingly clear in saying:
We have no confidence that the Archbishop of Canterbury nor the other Instruments of Communion led by him (the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meetings) are able to provide a godly way forward that will be acceptable to those who are committed to the truthfulness, clarity, sufficiency and authority of Scripture. The Instruments of Communion have failed to maintain true communion based on the Word of God and shared faith in Christ.
All four Instruments propose that the way ahead for the Anglican Communion is to learn to walk together in ‘good disagreement’. However, we reject the claim that two contradictory positions can both be valid in matters affecting salvation. We cannot ‘walk together’ in good disagreement with those who have deliberately chosen to walk away from the ‘faith once for all delivered to the saints’ (Jude 3).
This is phrased in such a way as to work around the manifest differences of view within both GAFCON and its members—for example ACNA—about the ministry of women in the church. It would seem that while the majority overall do not support the ordination of women as priests or their consecration as bishops, others within these bodies clearly do. But GAFCON does not consider these matters to be ones of salvational importance—rather they are adiaphora and matters of secondary significance.
The Commitment Makes Clear its “Support for Faithful Anglicans Across Borders”
Thus the document states:
Since the inception of GAFCON, it has been necessary for the GAFCON Primates to recognise new orthodox jurisdictions for faithful Anglicans, such as the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), the Anglican Church in Brazil, the Anglican Network in Europe (ANiE)….In view of the current crisis, we reiterate our support for those who are unable to remain in the Church of England because of the failure of its leadership. We rejoice in the growth of the ANiE and other GAFCON-aligned networks.
We also continue to stand with and pray for those faithful Anglicans who remain within the Church of England. We support their efforts to uphold biblical orthodoxy and to resist breaches of Resolution I.10.
This makes clear that GAFCON is not demanding that those who cannot accept what is now proposed in the Church of England should leave the church – but rather that it will support both those who do and those who do not.
This implies also an important qualification in regard to their first-order position, which states that they “ cannot ‘walk together’ in good disagreement with those who have deliberately chosen to walk away from the ‘faith once for all delivered to the saints’ (Jude 3).” For while GAFCON upholds this principle (and cannot thus walk directly themselves with those who err), they are willing to walk together with others who do walk with those who err (i.e., those who stay within the Church of England, and presumably elsewhere, who themselves are willing to walk together in some degree with those whom they see to have walked away from the historic teachings of the church. That is clearly a highly nuanced position.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Instruments of Communion, and the Future of the Anglican Communion
Here, the Kigali Commitment is interesting in several ways. The statement stresses the mutual agreement of both GAFCON and the Global South Fellowship of churches upon the point that both the GSFA and GAFCON Primates share the view that, due to the departures from orthodoxy articulated above, they can no longer recognise the Archbishop of Canterbury as an Instrument of Communion, the ‘first among equals’ of the Primates.
And the statement declares that
Resetting the Communion is an urgent matter. It needs an adequate and robust foundation that addresses the legal and constitutional complexities in various Provinces. The goal is that orthodox Anglicans worldwide will have a clear identity, a global ‘spiritual home’ …. and a strong leadership structure that gives them stability and direction as Global Anglicans.
Tellingly, however, there is nothing more specific as to how this will be brought about – so clearly there is much that has yet to unfold—and a time of some considerable ambiguity and uncertainty lies ahead regarding the exact formal future expressions of the global Anglican well-being that they want.
Here it is also interesting to note a clear suggestion of two different paths lying ahead, as it is stated that
GAFCON is a movement focused on evangelism and mission, church planting and providing support and a home for faithful Anglicans who are pressured by or alienated from revisionist dioceses and provinces.
While it allows that the Global South Fellowship “on the other hand, is focused on establishing doctrinally based structures within the Communion”.
This distinction implies that whereas GAFCON will work outside the existing structures of the Communion, the Global South will still work within them
This, in turn, raises a puzzle as to how that can be done at the same time as repudiating the Archbishop of Canterbury and the other Instruments of Communion.
All of which means there is clearly much yet to be done and resolved before the shape of the new Anglican Communion envisaged can begin to become clear.