Global Anglican Future Conference – Archbishop Peter Jensen
“A Global Anglican Future Conference is planned for June 2008. The aim of the Conference is to discuss the future of mission and relationships within the churches of Anglican Communion.
Those who wish to retain biblical standards especially in the area of sexual ethics have spent much time and effort in negotiations on these issues in the last five years. They want to move on together with the gospel of Christ’s Lordship, a gospel which challenges us and changes lives. Israel is planned as a venue because it symbolises the biblical roots of our faith as Anglicans. I want those in the fellowship of our Diocese to know what this is about and why I am involved.
In 1998, the Lambeth Conference made it clear that the leaders of the overwhelming majority of Anglicans world-wide maintained the biblical view of sexual ethics – that sexual relationships are reserved for marriage between a man and a woman. Five years later, however, actions were taken in Anglican Churches both in Canada and the United States of America which officially transgressed these boundaries in defiance of the Bible’s authority.
There was an immediate adverse result for those who wanted to maintain orthodoxy within these churches. They courageously protested against these actions, and as far as possible withdrew their fellowship from those who they perceived had broken God’s law. In doing so, they wished the world to know that they remained as genuine Anglicans. They had made no change in their basic beliefs and they understood themselves still to be in fellowship with the mainstream of the Anglican Church elsewhere in the world.
The American actions also impacted churches all around the world. In particular the churches of the Global South had to own the name ‘Anglican’ while living in societies where the actions of the Americans was condemned by all, especially Muslims. The action of some North Americans severely hurt the witness of these churches. It also hindered the good effect that membership of the Anglican Communion has for those who live in a situation where Christians are in a minority.
Since 2003, patient attempts have been made to call the offending North Americans back to biblical standards. Many American Anglicans are now more aware of the distress which their actions have caused others, and regret this impact. At the same time, however, others have condemned attempts by Global South Bishops to provide ministry for the orthodox Christians who still wish to be Anglican, but cannot continue to do so in the fellowship of the American churches. Individuals, parishes and even dioceses have left the original church, becoming associated with other dioceses in other parts of the world, and with new bishops being appointed from overseas to care for the disaffected.
Such has been the fall-out that it is now clear that we will never go back to being the Communion which we once were. There has been a permanent change. We live in a new world. Some American Anglicans are as committed to their new sexual ethics as to the gospel itself, and they intend to act as missionaries for this faith, wishing to persuade the rest of us. The problems posed by the American church are not going to remain in North America. This means that the rest of the Anglican world must be vigilant to guard the teaching and interpretation of scripture. Bound up in this are other issues such as Anglican identity, fellowship, theological education and mission. How are we going to help each other remain true to the authority of God’s word? How are we going to help each other to preach the gospel of God’s transforming power and grace? These matters require urgent attention.
The next Lambeth Conference has been summoned for July-August 2008. The Archbishop of Canterbury is responsible for the guest list, and he has invited all except for the Bishop of New Hampshire on the one hand and some of the new bishops appointed to care for the dissidents on the other. Thus, for example the Bishop of New Westminster has been invited although his actions have caused the Reverend David Short and his congregation (which includes Dr Jim Packer) to withdraw as far as they can from the Diocese. An invitation to share the Conference under these circumstances has posed a real difficulty for many of us.
Several African Provinces have indicated that they will not be attending Lambeth, because to do so would be to acquiesce with the North American actions. They are not ending the Anglican Communion, or even dividing it. They are simply indicating that the nature of the Communion has now been altered by what has occurred. They see that since the American actions were taken in direct defiance of the previous Lambeth Conference, the Americans have irreparably damaged the standing of the Conference itself. They asked without success for the Conference to be postponed. They do not think that this Conference is what is needed now. To attend would be to overlook the importance of the issues at stake.
The Anglican Future Conference is not designed to take the place of Lambeth. Some people may well choose to go to both. Its aim is to draw Biblical Anglican Christians together for urgent consultation. It is not a consultation which can take place at Lambeth, because Lambeth has a different agenda and far wider guest list. Unlike Lambeth, the Future Conference is not for Bishops alone – the invitations will go to clergy and lay people also. But it is a meeting which accepts the current reality of a Communion in disarray over fundamental issues of the gospel and biblical authority. It therefore seeks to plan for a future in which Anglican Christians world-wide will increasingly be pressured to depart from the biblical norms of behaviour and belief. It gives an opportunity for many to draw together to strengthen each other over the issue of biblical authority and interpretation and gospel mission.
I am supporting this Conference and am part of the planning team for it. I am hoping that we will also see Sydney laypersons and clergy in attendance with our bishops. We must look to the future, and network with Anglican Christians from around the globe who share our fundamental trust in the authority of God’s word. We have much to learn from them and they can benefit from our fellowship also. I hope that you will pray for the Conference and support our decision to attend.”
(text updated 27 December 2007.)