Sunday 3 February 2008

The Ethical Question on the Methods of GAFCON

Ruth Gledhill loves a splash that stirs; you'd never know it from the harmonious interview with Simon Sarmiento after the launch of the Lambeth Conference in January 2008.

She received source material that suggests other motives regarding Bishop Suheil Dawani and his opposition to GAFCON more to do with his internal diocesan battles than any principled stand about having a reconciling ministry.

The source material says nothing about the matter of potential conflict that could be brought to the Holy Land by a GAFCON conference. What it attempts to do instead, via vague references to minutes of a meeting that might be true and about the bishop's motives, is smear. It reads on the level of inference and supposition for Bishop Suheil Dawani's stance against the GAFCON leaders. Basically in its rambling it pitches him as needing Palestinian support within the Diocese of Jerusalem and this is the basis of his opposition to GAFCON, rather than divisive positions taken by GAFCON. It suggests that Bishop Dawani needs wider support in overcoming Bishop Riah Abu Al-Assal and his apparent own family based education charity, who is also apparently soft regarding the Palestinian cause.

Bishop Al-Assal had created a charitable trust, the "Bishop Riah Education Campus" that he continues to run after retirement, and which is subject to local area litigation and accusations.

It's important here to cut to the chase. Whatever may be any truth in this, the document referring to the minutes is an attempt to rough up Bishop Dawani who countered GAFCON effectively, as demonstrated in the minutes of the meeting. He is being roughed up just as Michael Poon was roughed up.

So, someone else who turns out not to support GAFCON finds himself on the receiving end of black propaganda and mud slinging made public.

Anglican Mainstream itself highlights the report in Religious Intelligence about the bishop and former bishop. This is not just about alleged fraud in Bishop Al-Assal's family running this trust. It is also about the fact that retired Bishop Al-Assal called for Bishop Darwani's sacking after Bishop Darwani allegedly turned a blind eye to physical violence after a conformation service. Also Bishop Al-Assal was sidelined when in 2006 the Archbishop of Canterbury announced the formation of the Anglican-Judaism dialogue commission, about which Bishop Al-Assal protested due to the war in Lebanon - whereas Bishop Darwani backed Lambeth and was brought into the planning. Factions regarding responses to the occupation of Palestinian land have built around both bishops.

First of all it is obvious just from this that GAFCON should go nowhere near this place, given the disputes, and given the need for a ministry of reconciliation from even a Church itself going through strife.

Yet the smear referring to the minutes goes directly into the Palestinian dispute. GAFCON is not reconciling, it is (as Darwani said) dealing in division. Dawani is claimed to be too pro-Palestinian. This is highly dangerous in itself. The source material arrives on Ruth Gledhill's desk and she duly publishes its inferences (journalists are often used like this, of course, and they would reply, 'What else are we to do?').

The pro-Israeli GAFCON is doing exactly what is feared, importing its ideological battles into the Holy Land. This is not even about homosexuality or the broader Anglican divisions adding to an already divided land, but a direct attack connected to the principle reason the land is divided and why there remains so much conflict.

When the Bishop said, "Go to Cyprus," the GAFCON leaders said they are not holding a conference anyway. However, the theology group meeting in Lagos shows that structural decisions are intended, and they won't get those from a pilgrimage. It is still GAFCON not GAFPIL. Is GAFCON led by a bunch of liars?

So there will be more aggravation added to a troubled land. And now Anglican Mainstream is even attacking the reputation for tolerance of the Muslim period in southern Spain, selecting out comments reportedly made by the sociologist Rodney Stark. So not only are these groups (Anglican Mainstream and GAFCON) visibly pro-Israeli, but here is a turning up of the anti-Muslim heat in a manner that shows GAFCON in the Holy Land can only inflame even further the situation there.

This all must be sheet glee to the mainly American right wing Christians who see conflict in the Middle East as the means by which Christ will return and institute the last days. For this to happen, Jews must return to Jerusalem, and they would if Israel needed defending along the lines of some interpretations of the final biblical battle. This is the case of the lunatics wanting to run the Middle Eastern asylum.

Away from that locality we then have the easy use of the cultural superiority cum racism card.

I have had this thrown at me previously, because I have identified African Anglicanism as a heady mixture of pagan origin connected magic, signs and wonders, seeing in the Bible the kind of supernatural world they live in, and a Reformation biblical literalism. As a result I was accused (buried away in Thinking Anglicans comments pages in earlier 2007) of regarding such as Archbishop Akinola as uneducated and effectively being racist. I had never said anything of the sort. I had identified a kind of religion that connects and allies with the extreme selective literalism that is part of Reform and Anglican Mainstream, and at Wycliffe Hall.

Similar has now happened with Bishop Tom Wright, the Bishop of Durham. I am no defender of his theology. If his theology, upholding the Advent Letter and a strong Covenant, was standard and uniform for Anglicanism, then I'd be elsewhere. Perhaps I should be. Watching Tom Wright against Dr Robert Beckford on Channel 4 well over a year back now about the gospels was a quick microcosm of how Tom Wright in his New Testament work wants the evidence to support an outcome of orthodoxy when the options for the future were far wider. However, though never seen as going to be sympathetic to GAFCON, Tom Wright has now received some hefty treatment too.

All of a sudden he is being accused of cultural superiority with a strong suggestion of racism. Did he utter anything racist? Not from anything I read.

He wrote an article Evangelicals are not about to Jump Ship in the Church Times and now posted at Fulcrum, which represents his sort of theology. He refers to:

...the small group represented by Chris Sugden, Martyn Minns, and Peter Jensen. It is clear that they are the prime movers and drafters, making a mockery of Canon Sugden's claim (Comment, 11 January) that GAFCON is about rescuing the Churches from Western culture.

Those who claim how this operation is taking place look at sources of documents written, the buying of the GAFCON domain name and the treatment of those who oppose. My view (for what it is worth) is that the extreme evangelicals find in the African religious mix what they need to promote their agenda, which would achieve nothing without the African Churches locked in because such extremism has become too marginal in the West. The African Churches have become locked in because epicopacy provides the means by which international connections and attacks on existing Churches can be made. Thus, nominally through episcopacy, the African Churches are in charge, whereas actually the ideological method is being driven by advice and writing from the UK and the US. Again, it is like Liverpool City Council in the 1980s. It was formally in charge and did everything, but some were co-opted into small, narrowly guarded and flexible for decision making structures by which the decisions were acutally made. In this Anglican case, synods pass what the inner circle has already decided. It is classic Trotskyite methodology.

The article by Tom Wright is a kind of wading in itself, from the 'tough guy' of the Open Evangelicals. Being in the Church Times, it cannot be long enough to argue its points, so it tends to make them quickly:

There are many in the GAFCON movement whom I admire and long to see at Lambeth, but the movement itself is deeply flawed. It does not hold the moral, biblical, or Evangelical high ground.

This is a blanket statement. The methods of GAFCON raise significant questions of ethical standards. There is a methodology here of religious bullying. Methods one sees in Trotskyite and also Bolshevik systems should have no place in Anglicanism.

The argument could be addressed on the level as to whether Tom Wright is correct: can Lambeth 2008 be based on successfully producing a Covenant that would satisfy evangelicals, following on from the Advent Letter? Answer is it only might, if there is a kind of coup of evangelical bishops over others, but not a conference devoid of resolutions and where the responses from Church after Church already show that the Draft Covenant is a non-starter. Stephen Noll (of GAFCON) made a good point when he thought any Covenant Lambeth produces would need another Covenant to actually work in an evangelical fashion.

So then came the reply to Bishop Wright, from Dr. Vinay Samuel, making the accusation of Cultural superiority and, indeed, white superiority.

He wrote about business and religion outside the West (highlighting mine):

In these two worlds, the equal partnership and interaction of people from different cultures and economic backgrounds is a daily reality. If there were any sniff of cultural superiority that assumed that the involvement of white people meant that they would inevitably take the leadership role, or exercise dominant power, these movements would have died.

So here we have white people. I'm sorry, but black people are part of Western culture too. Who mentioned white people? It is just a slur. I do not suppose that Tom Wright has a racist bone in his body, nor does his particular theology express a stance of cultural superiority (compare his with, say, Radical Orthodoxy, which is all about Christian Platonic culture).

On the point of cultural superiority, there is a bigger argument about the cultural baggage of episcopal Christianity anyway - why perhaps Stephen Noll had to refer to the difference between episcopal authority and episcopal absolutism. That authority system is Western - it is why traditionalism becomes rationalist bureaucracy (in Weberian sociology): they share the same continuous cultural foundations and this is within world Anglicanism.

Dr Vinay Samuel also states:

To see GAFCON primarily as a product of manipulation and power-play is an offence to those who lead Churches with millions of members faithful to the Christian faith and growing in the midst of the most difficult challenges in the world.

I'm not sorry to offend. We keep seeing evidence to make the accusation of power-play and manipulation. By its fruits shall we know the beast.


Anonymous said...

Who mentioned white people? Um, well you did. Or rather you quoted Tom Wright mentioning white people as the prime movers of GAFCON.
You are entitled to your opninion, but that is all it is. You have not produced any evidence that GAFCON is dominated by white people.
Time will soon tell on this issue - the book issued by GAFCON will be out in May and the conference in June. It should be fairly easy then to see if the whites dominate. At present we only have a few PR announcements to go on.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

No he did not. Bishop Tom Wright mentioned a mockery of rescuing Anglicanism from Western culture. It is the response, not him, that has mentioned white people.

Is not, for example, Barack Obama a representative of Western culture? Is not Martin Luther King a representative of Western culture? Is not, in the UK, Trevor Phillips representative of Western culture? Of course they are. What Sugden, Minns and Jensen represent is an extreme form of Reformation Protestantism which, the last time I read about it, was a development of European and Western culture.

It is they who are introducing race, and they who are engaging in smear. They would be on a better ethical wicket if they talked about imperialism, but even that would be problematic, because they represent the imperialism of that form of Reformation culture.

The issue here is one of control: who are the key advisers and where the real decisions are made and where the rubber stamping happens.