Tuesday, 21 April 2009

GAFCON - Game Over or New Game?

One of the most interesting people I ever listened to was an advertising executive, talking to a class studying Fashion and Design with Marketing, back in the 1980s. This man had a better grasp of human motivation than anyone I’ve ever met, before or since.

The reason, however, was self-evident: his livelihood depended on understanding what made people tick. Hence he knew (for example) that because 80% of men’s underwear was bought by women, the advertising and packaging needed to be aimed at them.

Another social group with an excellent grasp of human nature is journalists, and for much the same reason: they need a nose for a story, without which they cannot sell the papers that pay their wages. And it is this light that we might interpret the absence of journalists at the recent GAFCON primates press conference.

Some have read this as indicating that GAFCON is washed up. Personally, I believe it is rather because the national press now recognize there is no story in the division of the Anglican Communion — not because the Communion has survived the pressures of recent years but because it quite evidently has not. As a headline, ‘Anglican Communion Faces Split’ is now entirely on a par with ‘Dog Bites Man’.

In fact, the lack of press interest was already evident at the Alexandria Primates’ Meeting in February this year where, according to the Changing Attitude Blog, there were only seven people in the press briefings (including the blogger himself).

This lack of interest from those whose job it is to sniff out what is interesting is as profound as the silence of a canary in a coalmine. It is a sure sign that something has already happened, even though many people may not have noticed.

In case there is any doubt about this, let us remind ourselves that following that meeting the Archbishop of Canterbury appointed a group of Pastoral Visitors “commissioned by him to conduct personal and face to face conversations in order to assist in the clearest discernment of the ways forward in any given situation of tension”.

One of those situations of tension is, presumably, North America. What, then, have the Pastoral Visitors achieved so far in that area? Does anyone know? Or care? The question is not entirely rhetorical, but the answer for most of us is undoubtedly ‘No’ to both.And the point is, this applies to Communion Conservatives as much as to anyone. I doubt very much that, for example, Bishop Tom Wright has any confidence in the scheme, even if he knows much about its workings. And certainly no-one in the hierarchy of TEC gives a hoot.Which brings us to the Windsor Process. If ever there were an argument for mercy-killing, the prospect of putting a bullet in this sad saga must be the best. Chinese Communism used to refer to the West as a paper tiger. Anyone with a modicum of intelligence must see that the Anglican Covenant is not merely paper, but soggy paper. It is to church discipline what Eeyore’s balloon was to birthday celebrations: “You did say balloon? One of those big coloured things you blow up? Gaiety, song-and-dance, here we are and there we are?” Or in the case of the Covenant, one of those things that is going to set boundaries, and define the faith and the faithful?

Those who believe the Windsor ‘Process’ is going to deliver what the Primates’ were demanding four years ago are fooling no one but themselves. Indeed, it cannot deliver, since the Anglican Communion as it was in 1998 is no more. In a few years time, that will be recognized as the date of the last true Lambeth Conference of the old, Empire based, gathering of global Anglican bodies. 2008 was not the year of the breakup, but it was the year in which the breakup could no longer be denied.

The old game is over, and that is sad (in my view). But the new game is beginning. We must look to the future. And it is not ‘Windsor shaped’. The journalists who stayed away from the GAFCON meeting knew this. They will not, I suspect, be there in droves when the Covenant is finally launched either.

The reality is that Anglicanism is now a mixed economy: Canterbury, GAFCON, the FCA, TEC, the ACNA will all vie for position, and it will be the economics of church growth, not reports and formal processes, which will decide the outcome. Our Lord Jesus Christ said that he would build his church. Time will now tell which that is.

Revd John P Richardson
21 April 2009

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  1. Alternatively - it could just be that very few people care one way or the other.

    The Global South hasn't made a decisive break with Canterbury
    (so Anglicanism can still count them all e.g. arguing for observer
    status with the UN). Neither have UK Anglicans made a decisive
    break with the UK (in spite of Colin Slee's latest message, this
    seems to be wishful thinking on his part rather than a leak).

    One obscure group (GAFCON) recognises another obscure group
    (APNA)? Not going to sell any papers. If GAFCON breaks with Canterbury; goes for their own recognition ecumenically; or if Rochester does try to lead an exodus from the CoE --- then I think
    you may find journalists more interested.

    James Noble, Wellington NZ.

  2. What you might have said is that the journalists gather where there is a "good" story, which usually means bashing "conservatives" (ie. orthodox Christians), and they are normally bashed by caricaturing, or stereotyping, them as those awful people who hate homosexuals. But that has ceased to be shock horror enough for hournalists, now.