I should say first that I do not want to detract from GAFCON. Almost everything I’ve read about last week’s meeting in Nairobi is positive, and I am glad my church is a full participant in this movement.
However, I was unpleasantly surprised to read, from the ever reliable George Conger no less, that there was a push to get GAFCON explicitly to support women bishops:
A behind-the-scenes fight over language describing the ministry of women also shaped the final document. It said: "We affirm the ministries of women and their vital contribution to the life of the Church: their call to the task of evangelism, discipling, and building strong marriages, families, churches, and communities. GAFCON 2013 upholds the Bible's teaching that men and women are equally made in the image of God . . . excercising different gifts. We recognise that we have differing views over the roles of men and women in church leadership."
Delegates from provinces that support women in episcopal leadership, however, fought for the inclusion of language in support of women bishops. The move was blocked by the dominant Nigerian bloc (almost 500 of the 1300 delegates), in alliance with conservative Evangelicals. When the final document was offered to the conference, a Ugandan woman clergy delegate voiced a lone "No" vote.
While thankful that this effort was successfully blocked, I am flummoxed that there was a notable effort to get GAFCON to support women bishops at all. Are there that many in GAFCON who are that ignorant or unconcerned about how the issue of women bishops has strained and is straining Christian unity, particularly in the West? Are there many that insensitive to the awful experiences orthodox Anglicans in the West have had with that issue and with a number of women bishops in particular?
Up to now, GAFCON has wisely had a flexible policy about women bishops – that it is up to the provinces – and has otherwise pretty much left the issue alone. Even many or most of those who support women bishops have seen that forcing that on a church is destructive and have seen amicable disagreement and space on this issue a far better way to go. That continues to be the policy, thanks largely to the Nigerians and allied conservatives.
But naysayers of orthodox Anglicanism have said that the germs of the problems that have consumed much of the Western church remain in the bodies of those Anglicans who have split off and formed orthodox provinces and dioceses. I hope said naysayers are mistaken, but after reading the above about GAFCON, I wonder.