October 21, 2013

Islam, Secularism Near Top of Anglican Concerns as GAFCON Begins

Archbishops from South America, Africa and Australia presaged conference themes about Islam and Western secularization as Anglicans from over 40 different countries gathered in Nairobi, Kenya this week.

Leaders of the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) refuted characterizations in the western press of the gathering as a breakaway movement, with recently retired Archbishop Peter Jensen of Sydney responding that “nothing could be further from the truth.”

Instead, the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FCA) General Secretary portrayed the movement as seeking to model how the worldwide Anglican Communion can function “particularly when the Communion insists on strong theological standards” centering on the bible.

“There is a temptation to change Christian faith to comply with surrounding culture,” Jensen observed at an October 21 press conference. “We think this has occurred far too often in the world.”

The primates took questions about the challenge of Islam and re-evangelizing the secular west, both themes of “mini-conferences” within GAFCON over the coming week.

“We’ve been coping with the challenge of Islam not as a body of religion, but a section of Islam that in recent time has become difficult to manage,” Archbishop Nicholas Okoh described of regular attacks against Nigerian Christians by terrorist group Boko Haram.

“They [Boko Haram] are ready to kill people,” Okoh reported, adding that the group refuses to listen to advice or government efforts to identify and address their concerns. “They have refused to accept anything until Nigeria is Islamized and western education abolished.”

The Primate of All Nigeria, who leads the west African country’s 18 million Anglicans, said the Nigerian church was engaging Islamic leaders, not Boko Haram itself, on how to move forward. Okoh was uncompromising, however, on Boko Haram’s stated goals, maintaining “you cannot force people to assert Shari’a, you cannot close the schools.”

Asked about Nigerian efforts to evangelize through the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) missionary outreach, Okoh described the goal as “trying to encourage people to believe” and “follow Jesus as simply as they can.”
The Bible, Okoh argued, was a force that could help people be better than they presently are.

Asked to respond to comments by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby in a sermon yesterday at Nairobi’s All Saints Cathedral, Okoh asserted that there was no moral equivalence of homosexual marriages in some liberal provinces and Anglican cross-jurisdictional border crossings by conservatives into those jurisdictions.

Orthodox Anglican churches, Okoh explained, “did not cross borders for fun,” but did so because actions recommended by worldwide Anglican leaders to address innovations by the U.S.-based Episcopal Church and Anglican Church of Canada were not heeded.
The global family of churches descended from the missionary activities of the Church of England were no longer in crisis, however, according to Chairman of the GAFCON Primates’ Council Eliud Wabukala.

“We [the Global South churches] have moved on,” The Kenyan Archbishop assessed. “The crisis is behind us, although the factors that produced it are still there.”

Wabukala defended the importance of orthodox concerns about human sexuality, noting that in addition to African churches, St. Paul and the Book of Genesis portray human sexual relations as part of God’s plan for creation.
“Churches need to uphold God’s ordering of creation,” Wabukala expressed.

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