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dropping the conference, leaving the GAFfes.

Archbishops Peter Jensen of Sydney and Peter Akinola of Nigeria have now met (separately) with Bishop Suheil Dawani of Jerusalem about GAFCON, the gathering proposed over this past Christmas for self-proclaimed "orthodox" bishops, clergy, and laity in Jerusalem. The organizers hadn't thought to meet with the Bishop of Jerusalem or with Mouneer Hanna Aris, the Primate of the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East, before sending out a press release saying that the were holding a conference in his diocese, and as it turns out, neither one of these bishops of the chosen site for GAFCON are even remotely pleased about its being held there any more than they are about not having been consulted before the site was announced.

But now Jensen and Akinola have met with Dawani -- separately, despite the meetings being only three days apart -- and Thinking Anglicans has posted the minutes of those meetings, which make for very interesting reading.

Apparently Archbishop Akinola didn't take kindly to the objections of his host: "[Akinola] stressed that liberty was important for Africa and that he could not allow anyone to tell his community what to do and to say." At no point, according to the minutes, did he acknowledge his host's concerns; he apologized only "for sending his letter to Bishop Suheil at a very inconvenient time (at Christmas) and at such short notice, but he said that he could not see how this conference could become a 'political problem'." Nor did Akinola ask his host what he might respond to or ameliorate the concerns of Jerusalem's Primate, bishop, and people.

Instead, he tried another tack. "Archbishop Akinola then said, that this was a pilgrimage and wondered what the difference was to other pilgrimages. The Rev’d Canon Hosam responded by saying that this was not only a pilgrimage, since the Archbishop himself was talking about a conference with an agenda. Archbishop Akinola replied that he would be happy to change the terminology and refrain from calling it a conference, in which case he would call it a pilgrimage."

Hosam has a point. Clearly the event was intended from the start as a conference -- hence the name 'GAFCON," the Global Anglican Future Conference. The front page of the GAFCON website refers to it as a "conference" fifteen times, including in every header, while the word "pilgrimage" appears a grand total of three times. At least the organizers finally added the picture of one person of color (Archbishop Akinola); the first incarnation of the website, the domain of which was registered in Englishman Canon Chris Sugden's name, had pictures only of white men (Sugden, Jensen, and Bishop Bob Duncan of Pittsburgh).

In any case, none of the Jerusalem Christians present were going to buy the line that GAFCON isn't really a convention -- at least not as it's currently being organized. And so, although he hadn't been asked his opinion on what might help, Bishop Suheil rather generously offered a suggestion: that Akinola's agenda be spilt in two, with the conference taking place in Cyprus so what happened in Jerusalem could be a pilgrimage only.

That's what closed the meeting, with no response from Akinola, who had earlier "repeated that his interests were not political, and that his major concern was about how to grow and how to be strengthened and exchange experiences." I'm not surprised that he did not immediately accept Suheil's suggestion, or even promise to think about it. I'd say it was clear from the start that GAFCON was not only a conference, but a conference with political intent. My hunch is that organizers "immediately felt that [Jerusalem] was the right venue," as Jensen put it, because of the resonance they hoped edicts from that gathering would have as a kind of reconvening of the "apostolic council" in Jerusalem described in Acts 15.

Acts, however, describes "the whole group of those who believed" as being "of one heart and soul" (Acts 4:32), and it's clear that, not having consulted with the Jerusalem Christians before announcing a conference there, that GAFCON is not building that kind of community.

So who knows -- organizers may drop the "CON" from the name to further description of the event as not being a conference. It might be an even more appropriate name if they do -- the organization seems to have been nearly all gaffe thus far.

January 22, 2008 in ++Peter Akinola, Africa, Church of Nigeria, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (4)