My dear people of God,
I wish to begin my letter to you this month by giving thanks to Almighty God for his blessing upon those of us who gathered in Dubai recently for our G19 Conference. We enjoyed wonderful fellowship and took counsel together on the theme ‘Serving Christ Faithfully in the Nations’.
Many came from nations where Christian life and witness face restrictions of various kinds and we were encouraged and humbled by the testimony of their joy and faithfulness despite the trials they undergo. Their suffering serves to proclaim the gospel and their example of resilient faith needs to be at the heart of our witness in the Anglican Communion.
But we also heard that those who suffer for their faith suffer doubly. They feel the pain of betrayal when the gospel they love and serve in lives of costly discipleship is confused, undermined and denied in other parts of the Communion, and even as we were meeting, confusion surrounding the 2020 Lambeth Conference deepened.
A recent blog by Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, the Secretary General of the Anglican Consultative Council had confirmed that the Archbishop of Canterbury would be inviting bishops in same sex unions to Lambeth 2020, but not their partners. The exclusion of the spouses was a break with the convention, and with Archbishop Welby’s own previous statement that all bishops’ spouses would be included.
The reason given was that their presence would not be appropriate because Lambeth Resolution I.10 of 1998, which affirmed the biblical and historic understanding of marriage, remains the position of the Anglican Communion.
But how can the same sex spouses be excluded if their partners are still invited as bishops in good standing? Both are equally committed to a sexual relationship described by Lambeth Resolution I.10 as ‘incompatible with Scripture’.
The inconsistency is obvious to all. Some in the American Episcopal Church (TEC) are now proposing that their Province’s generous financial support for the London based ‘instruments of communion’ should be reviewed, while a UK Member of Parliament has called for the Lambeth Conference to be taken to court for discrimination and it has been confirmed that at least one of the disinvited partners will come to England regardless.
The story unfolding around Lambeth 2020 shows that so called ‘good disagreement’ produces the bitter fruit of controversy and confusion, but this could have been avoided. The Archbishop of Canterbury has shown that he is willing to use his power of invitation to the Lambeth Conference by disinviting the spouses of bishops in same sex unions and he could have used that power to maintain the integrity of the Lambeth Conference as urged in our Jerusalem ‘Letter to the Churches’. Instead, faithful Anglican bishops from North and South America are excluded, while those who tear the fabric of the Communion by word and deed are welcomed.
However, inspired by the example of those who suffer with God-given joy and perseverance, Gafcon will continue by God’s grace to gather faithful Anglicans and work sacrificially for a faithful, active and missionary Communion. Prayer is vital and on Ash Wednesday, the Gafcon Prayer Network launches a daily prayer diary which can be accessed via the website, received through daily social media posts (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) or through the PrayerMate App.
I humbly ask that all of us commit to pray daily for the work of Gafcon throughout Lent and beyond. This is an act of love for one another as we stand together in gospel partnership and a discipline of the heart so that all the glory may go to the God in whom we trust, now and into eternity.
The Most Rev’d Nicholas D. Okoh
Archbishop, Metropolitan and Primate of All Nigeria and Chairman, the Gafcon Primates Council