So just why did the GAFCON Primates stay for four whole days of discussion at this week’s meeting when their position had been so very clearly stated at the beginning?
For some this has been seen as a weakening of resolve or even a failure to uphold the Scriptural mandate to not meet nor even validate false teachers. The question was only further sharpened by the now well-publicised decision of Archbishop Stanley Ntagali of Uganda to leave on Tuesday after his call for TEC and ACoC to absent themselves was defeated. My initial reaction was to wonder why the rest of the GAFCON Primates didn’t leave too.
As always, the reality is more complex than we first realise. Sources from within the conservative camp tell me that the decision not to leave was based on a number of key factors.
- For 20 of the Primates it was their first gathering and a large number simply weren’t properly informed as to what TEC and ACoC had been doing over the past 20 years. In our rapid information culture of the west this seems incredible, but that’s the reality. Those Primates needed to be briefed and reasoned with so they could understand the gravity of the situation.
- Uganda’s decision to walk was view as one of integrity and the choice of the remaining GAFCON Primates not to leave had nothing to do with a lack of solidarity.
- It was evident as the meeting progressed that as more and more Primates understood exactly what had been transpiring in North America they were joining up with the GAFCON position. On Tuesday when Uganda chose to leave this shift was taking place. The other GAFCON Primates understood that there was more to be gained by staying and carrying on the discussions so as to win more over.
- In particular a number of key Global South Primates who had previously stood somewhat on the edge of GAFCON were increasingly standing square alongside them. I am led to understand that Archbishop Mouneer Anis (Middle East) was a key mover here. The GAFCON Primates chose to remain and cement that joint position rather than leave.
Ultimately, the choice to stay was weighed in favour of continuing to win over more Primates rather that some failure to stand to principle. That’s not to say that the process put in place by Welby’s staff wasn’t at times difficult to work with (and some would even claim outright manipulative and designed to avoid any clear decision making).
When the final vote came it was passed by 3 quarters of those present; something that my sources tell me would not have been achieved even on the Tuesday. When Uganda left his vote was lost – 15 in favour and 20 against. Even over the next 36 hours there was therefore a shift of up to a further 15 Primates towards the conservative position.
The final sanctions were centred around the question of same-sex marriage, implemented by TEC at their latest General Convention. This is also the reason that the ACoC are not included in the disciplinary measures. Their General Synod has not yet progressed as far as TEC has, only authorising “same-sex blessings”. While the distinction may be somewhat artificial it had to be dealt with. TEC’s changing of marriage rites was a key factor in the strength of the final vote. As someone very close to the conservative Primates told me:
TEC has engaged in all sorts of unbiblical behaviour for the last 15 years, but it was the changes they made this summer at their General Convention that galvanised the room.
So the narrative from GAFCON is one of a growing consensus amongst the Primates and a clear trajectory going forward. Having achieved the vote I understand that the GAFCON Primates have now left the meeting and may very well not be there on Friday. They expect to be meeting up with more and more other Primates in the coming months as the GAFCON movement is catalysed forward by relationships forged in the crypt of Canterbury Cathedral.
Should they have left early? Should they have even turned up? Opinions will still differ. But why they stayed is now becoming clear.