At the church this morning I talked with folks (among others) all who may be described as liberal in one sense or another. I discovered another such person last week, who had done a diploma in feminist theology at Lampeter and let slip about being somewhat on the edge of the formal liturgy. I then said so am I, and this morning pointed to several people in the same boat (or at least similar boats). Indeed, of those who speak, there are a number of us, but still expectations of roles and propriety keep liberal views relatively quiet even in churches where there is no huge pressure to keep quiet. This idea that the loyal laity were all "orthodox" and being let down by liberal clergy has always been so much tripe: if anything the clergy are the ones keeping the orthodoxy going, according to their promises and performance.
The GAFCON stress on the Thirty-nine Articles will interfere with the practice of the reserve sacrament in the local church, the prayers given for the dead, and would contradict the liturgy as in Common Worship (2000).
The Four Councils - GAFCON does not say which, but it is presumed the first four. This includes, then, the primacy of Rome, which is rather interesting.
As for the plain reading of the Bible, one of our teachers and scholars (particularly of the Hebrew Bible) let out an instant laugh. There is simply no such thing. The academic world studies biblical meaning with intensity and depth, and the notion of a plain and obvious meaning is just plain daft.
As one person said (and it is my view too), "Let them get on with it. "
Bishop Robert Duncan and company are going to set up a new province to cover North America as a whole. If the Anglican Communion has any guts, it won't recognise it. Of course, the Primates' Council, an alternative seat of power, will. So there could be two claims to deciding what is and is not Anglican, and even if Canterbury recognises the new Province, there is (at least for a time) a difference of recognition regarding The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada.
George Congar reports for the Washington Times:
In addition, more than 600 Church of England clergy will reportedly swear allegiance to the new GAFCON body at a meeting next week in London.
This raises questions about to whom these clergy will swear allegiance. Will they maintain their subordinate relationship to their diocesan bishop, that receiver and giver that Rowan Williams wrote about for his recent lecture, or will they transfer their allegiances to international oversight from the Primates' Council? The danger is that if the Canterbury four Instruments of Communion dither over the Primates' Council, they may find their functions being taken over in some cases by the quicker off the draw Primates' Council.
Well Lambeth 2008 is not going to have any resolutions, so presumably there will be no statement from the assembled bishops, the focus of Anglican Communion, about this additional development that will presume actions over the heads of many of them. They may try to cover the ground of GAFCON, to try and take away the need for GAFCON type action. However, the basis of the Jerusalem Declaration is far too narrow for actual Anglicanism as it appears around the world.
One good side of GAFCON, of the "let them get on with it" view, is not just that they could end up sidelining the Conservative Evangelicals and weakening the place of evangelicalism, but that the activity of the Primates' Council will mean that there is no possibility of Rowan Williams achieving a more organic, thorough and conserving intercommunion. GAFCON adds to, and does not reduce from, the situation where, according to Rowan Williams:
Anglicans have failed to think through primacy with any theological seriousness and have become habituated to a not very coherent or effective international structure that lacks canonical seriousness and produces insupportable pluralism in more than one area of the Church's practice.
It adds to it because now there will be structures that are bishop and geography centred, via Canterbury's primacy, and the Primates' Council of international oversight - except where the Primates' Council approves of local Anglicanism (which then is a double recognition).
Indeed, what GAFCON does is force a looser Confederation, not a Communion. It is one where the Church in any place, or across any place, is its own entity. Its primacy depends on where it chooses its oversight - that way around - if it chooses any at all. For example, there might be a Province of the Anglican Church of North America under Robert Duncan as Metropolitan and in the Anglican Communion as understood by the Primates Council. At the same time, The Episcopal Church may find itself either in the Anglican Communion with its Presiding Bishop attending Canterbury based meetings, and the Anglican Church of Canada has its Archbishop attending the same meetings, or, alternatively, both might find themselves excluded from the Anglican Communion, or choose to withdraw because of, say, some unacceptable Covenant, and thus seek a Communion with each other. And they may find Communion with the Scots, the Welsh, the Irish, Brazil, the New Zealanders, Hong Kong, most Australians... Whichever way you look at it, it is all more the messier, not less, thanks to GAFCON.
And as well as this, those Anglo-Catholic traditionalists, with nowhere to go (let's face it, GAFCON isn't exactly for them - given the basis of the Primate's Council deciding orthodoxy), may find themselves receiving a gift of the Gospel (to use Rowan Williams's words) from Pope Benedict XVI, offering a Unitate Anglican Church! At this point, the Anglican ship starts to look like the Titanic (breaking up into little boats).
The upshot is that Catholicism and centralisation cannot be pushed as Rowan Williams has tried to do. It can be on a Protestant basis - usurping the geographical diocesan principle - but the whole policy of a Covenant is now disastrous. It cannot be the basis of unifying such a disparate body.
Canterbury then returns to what it was: an informal centre, where there is a recognition of bonds of friendship from most Anglican bishops, but nothing so organic as he has presented. That degree of binding is not possible. Anglicanism is a set of of culturally embedded Churches which inherit what each Church thinks are the essentials of Christianity, expressed through a liturgical tradition. That GAFCON, by organising some Churches on a strongly confessional belief basis, means that other Anglican Churches will be all the more cultural and broad. This further means that these other Anglican Churches will be loosely in relationship with each other, as they wish, and the confessional belief based Anglican Churches will come under a Primates Council. They will be more centralised, but Anglicanism as a whole will not be and cannot be.
Of course there may be groups of Anglican Churches, for example those in the Global South that may develop their own catechism and wish not to come under the Primates' Council at any point. Open Evangelicals might like their own Covenant - then it would be non-geographical.
Anglicanism is likely to Balkanise.
The Archbishop's Covenant policy for all Anglicanism based on Catholic ecclesiology has completely failed before it has even come to any sort of conclusion. It was always going to end badly. It can only ever become a light and non-disciplinary document, that has neither point nor purpose. The definers of orthodoxy, who met in Jerusalem, have no need for a Covenant as they have already given the basis on how they regard orthodoxy. Broad based Anglicans have no need for a Covenant either. Others may like the idea, but they will either exist in regions or have other non-geographical formations and can please themselves.