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Misunderstanding GAFCON

This global gathering of Anglicans is proving impossible to characterize--at least for now.

Some 1100 Anglicans from around the world are meeting this week at the Renaissance hotel in West Jerusalem in hopes of steering the Anglican Communion back to the center of Christian Orthodoxy.

But this conference, now entering its fifth day, is in many respects becoming more difficult to understand and thus easier to misinterpret.

If I were writing purely a critique of the mainstream media coverage, my central criticism would be that US and UK media outlets keep driving the political side of the story (Will there or won't there be a schism?). But they are by and large missing the faith side of the story.

It's easy to do. The folks attending the worship events of GAFCON are telling me that these are high water marks in their own spiritual development. Most worship events are well attended and the plenary sessions are standing room only.

I am told the worship service on Wednesday evening at Ophel Gardens, along the southern steps of the Temple, was a stunning display of contemporary Christian worship in an ancient context. Most media skipped that event (myself included) due to scheduling conflicts.

But the media are not the only ones who are misunderstanding GAFCON. Among conservatives, no surprise, I am coming across three different kinds of Anglicans here who often don't understand each other very well. Let me describe them this way:

* The separationists. These individuals wish to create a new Anglican Communion that is global, not centered in Canterbury.

* The reformers. These folks are not yet ready to give up on the existing Anglican Communion and have a movement strategy for redeeming and restoring the Communion.

* The new paradigm. This is the trickiest one to understand. Under a new paradigm, Anglicanism becomes a global network, locally distinctive, church or community-based, and centered on the biblical mission of evangelism and discipleship.

One new reality of GAFCON is that the discussions here across the Anglican food chain from the Primates to the small groups of lay and parish clergy have moved beyond "The American Problem," which is The Episcopal Church, its bitterly hostile actions against conservatives, and the advent of homosexual clergy and same-sex unions. Bishop Bob Duncan, the American conservative leader from Pittsburgh, isn't even here.

Last night, scholar Lamin Sanneh, Palestinian Christian Salim Munayer, and Messianic pastor Evan Thomas pointed GAFCON Anglicans toward a future that was global, reconciling, and biblical. Years from now, we might find that the only English element left in 21st century Anglicanism is the English language itself.

In my mind, the questions of the hour before the committee drafting a GAFCON statement are these:

What will the drafting committee emphasize? Will they lay the groundwork for a new communion? Will they map out a process of Anglican Communion reform? Or, will they envision a new kind of Anglicanism that is post-colonial, not nationalistic, but conciliar, global, and networked?

Tomorrow, GAFCON small groups are due to evaluate the statement in draft form.

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