Global Anglican Future Conference (Gafcon) believes in ‘conversion therapy’ for gay people, with its toxic, destructive results, writes Canon Marie Rowley-Brooke in the Irish Times
The Global Anglican Future Conference (Gafcon) was initiated in 2008 as a conservative reaction to a partnered gay priest in the US Episcopal (Anglican) Church being appointed a bishop.
In April 2018, Gafcon opened a branch in Northern Ireland (* CNI note below). Gafcon has an intense concern about “purity” in sexual matters, and promotes the expulsion of those who do not conform to its own particular reading of scripture.
It self-defines as the “true” voice of Anglicanism. It is not.
It is deliberately and wilfully schismatic. All large church institutions have internal pressure groups – necessary safety valves to give voice to different theological opinions which ultimately may or may not alter church doctrine.
However, these do not set out to create a parallel church utilising existing church structures as Gafcon is doing in attempting to fracture Anglican unity, a unity that exists by respecting the autonomy of each independent Anglican province. Gafcon is seeking to undermine and divide the global Anglican family.
It supports a theology of “headship”, ie, the “biblically-mandated” submission of women to their husbands and other men in positions of church authority. (Its general secretary, Peter Jensen, did not ordain women at all when he was Archbishop in the Sydney diocese).
Two of our 12 Church of Ireland bishops are Gafcon members – I wonder how they cope with this tension when dealing with the sole woman bishop in the Church of Ireland. Do they practise “mental reservation”? Similarly when they ordain women as deacons and priests?
Do they fully subscribe to the motions passed by the Church of Ireland General Synod in 1984 and 1990 to accept women to the ministries of deacons, priests and bishops/archbishops? Some clarity here would be helpful. I do not believe the Church of Ireland would countenance any regressive steps that would dismantle this.
There is simply no conversation to be had regarding “headship”, any more than any of us today would accept engagement in a conversation promoting slavery because it’s “in the Bible” and therefore part of God’s “will”.
There is a trinity of heartbeats pulsating through scripture; the heartbeat of love, succinctly summarised in 1 John: “God is love”; the heartbeat of hospitality, demonstrated so profoundly in Mary’s consenting to partner with God in bringing forth Jesus, our Lord and Saviour; and the heartbeat of justice, which we understand as demanding the freedom and flourishing of all peoples regardless of gender, sexuality, race or colour. Love, justice, and hospitality.
In our Church of Ireland we are still working out the full implications of these Gospel imperatives.
Part of Gafcon’s self-proclaimed mission is “guarding the Gospel”. Dear Gafcon members, the Gospel does not need “guarding” – it never did. It needs abundant and joyful flinging all over the place! It certainly does not need “protecting” by holding fast to cultural mores of some 2,000-3,000 years ago.
In the Republic we take our place as a valued member of a pluralist society. The Church of Ireland – island-wide and serving in two political structures – is in a covenant relationship with the Methodist Church of Ireland, enabling the ministries of both women and men to serve in either denomination to the highest levels. With vision, courage and openness we have come together for this.
And today we are in the midst of a turbulent theological conversation regarding our LGBTQI sisters and brothers (who too often are excluded from these conversations) as we struggle to realise the indisputable fact that, like slaves in the past and ordained women in the present, they are fully made in the image of God, and thus are to be welcomed and enabled to rightfully flourish in our church structures.
This continues to be a work-in-progress, part of which is the vital challenging of (Gafcon-supported) “conversion therapy” for gay people with its toxic, destructive, and abusive results.
We endeavour to follow the footsteps of an itinerant Galilean preacher who lived some 2,000 years ago; who brought abundant life for all, and who showed us how to attain this.
In this endeavour Gafcon has very little to offer the Church of Ireland. It should either desist from its destructive practices or have the integrity to walk away from the Anglicanism it rejects and form its own independent church.
Canon Marie Rowley-Brooke is a retired Anglican priest, formerly rector in Nenagh, Co Tipperary, and canon of St Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick. Currently she is a PhD researcher (part-time) at Birmingham University, focusing on the challenges of cyborg theology. This article was published in The Irish Times, July 3, 2018
*CNI note – Whilst the first public meeting of Gafcon Ireland was held in Belfast, the organisation would present itself as an All-Ireland body. Both the bishops who attended the Jerusalem conference have exercised parochial ministry in Cork. One is a diocesan most of whose parishes lie without Northern Ireland.