The Telegraph has waded into the waters of international Anglican affairs -- and I'm afraid someone should toss a life line as it is about to go under. The article on the forthcoming meeting in Nairobi of Anglican leaders entitled "Challenge to Welby as traditionalist Anglicans stage 'fragmentation' summit" is not up to the newspaper's usual standard. It has the story backwards. As tmatt, the editor here at GetReligion, often reminds me, I sometimes wander off topic. In my misspent youth I served my time in the salt mines of Wall Street. My first job out of college was as a floor clerk at the Commodities Exchange for Drexel Burham Lambert. It was the 1980s, God was in his heaven, Ronald Reagan in the White House, greed was good and all was right with the world.
One of the memories I still have of those golden days was the Time cover theory of investing. In a nutshell, when Time magazine ran a cover story on the market or the economy, a smart investor would bet the other way. Paul Montgomery, an analyst with Legg Mason Wood Walker, had compared market returns to Time magazine covers going back to the early Twentieth century and found the trend profiled by Time would last on average for about a month, but a year after the cover story hit the streets the opposite conditions would prevail.
Montgomery's theory held true (at least when I was playing the markets). Every time in the 1980's Time featured Fed Chairman Paul Volcker on its cover, interest rates subsequently moved contrary to the sentiment of the story. On 4 July 1988 Time ran a story entitled "The Big Dry" that predicted higher bean prices as a result of a drought in the Midwest. Bean prices had been rising sharply through May and June, but the rally died the week the magazine hit the newsstands. (The second story about the super future of Japan in that issue is just as off base.) But I digress.
These memories of a distant past led me to wonder if we are seeing the start of a trend in Anglican affairs. Bet against the predictions made by the daily newspapers and you are likely to come out the winner.
I should also add a disclaimer. I have written for the Telegraph as a freelancer, providing stories from overseas Anglican jamborees in years past. That having been said; the article is quite extraordinary. Below the headline and above the photo comes this statement:
The Archbishop of Canterbury is facing what could be the biggest challenge to his leadership so far as a more than 1,000 traditionalist clerics stage a summit expected to formalise the “fragmentation” of the of the worldwide Anglican church.
The story does not state its source for this claim. This may be due to this assertion not being true. The conference scheduled for 21-26 Oct 2013 at All Saints Cathedral in Nairobi is the second Global Anglican Futures Conference (GAFCON). The claim that this will be Archbishop Welby's "biggest challenge" and may "formalise the 'fragmentation'" of the Anglican Communion is ludicrous.
Let me put it another way -- it is simply untrue. The article admits as much when it goes on to say the Anglican Communion has been fragmented for over five years.
I have been reporting on the preparations for this conference for over a year and if what the Telegraph says is true then half a dozen archbishops have been lying to me, or they are being misled by their staffers.The article starts of in high snark mode.
More than 1,000 bishops, archbishops and senior clergy, claiming to represent around 40 million Anglicans, are due to gather in Kenya later this month to discuss what they see as a liberal drift within the Church of England and other western branches of the church.
"Claiming"? The clergy and lay leaders representing churches that comprise over two-thirds of Anglicans will be present at the meeting. How is that a claim? "What they see as a liberal drift"? Way to telegraph your sentiments. These hot headed Africans and their knuckle-dragging troglodyte American allies see reds under the bed. The next line offers more assertions.
It comes five years after more than 200 bishops boycotted the once-in-a-decade Lambeth Conference, openly defying the then Archbishop Dr Rowan Williams over what they saw as his liberal stance on homosexuality. They staged a rival gathering in Jerusalem – the so-called Global Anglican Future Conference (Gafcon) – forming what has been widely characterised as a “church within a church”.
Now, the group is staging a second gathering, this time in Nairobi, where leaders from Africa, the Americas, Asia and Australasia hope to establish new, more permanent organisational structures, rejecting the existing Anglican Communion arrangements as a “colonial” relic.
The event is timed to mark 10 years since the consecration of the first openly gay bishop in the Anglican Communion, the Rt Rev Gene Robinson of New Hampshire in the US – the catalyst for the crisis which has divided the 77 million-strong Anglican Communion ever since.
Where to begin. Yes "more than 200 bishops" did not show up at Lambeth 2008. The exact number was 214 but there was no official statement from the Conference or the Archbishop of Canterbury's office. How do we know this? I counted.
In 2008 the conference press officers declined to tell me how many bishops had skipped the meeting. With a straight face they said they were prevented by the "Data Protection Act" from saying who was at the meeting and who was not. (A creative way to avoid admitting to a fiasco.) So I counted heads and reported:
Of those identified as absent by CEN, 214 bishops from 10 provinces made an affirmative decision not to accept Dr. Williams’ invitation due to reasons of conscience: Australia 7; Southern Cone 1; Episcopal Church 1; Church of England 3; Uganda 30; Nigeria 137; Kenya 25; Rwanda 8; South East Asia 1; and Jerusalem and the Middle East 1. From Africa’s 324 dioceses, 200 diocesan bishops (61 percent) were identified as having refused Dr. Williams’ invitation.
The organizers of the 2008 conference were at great pains to stress theirs was not a rival to the Archbishop of Canterbury's shindig -- and many of the bishops present at the Gafcon conference went on to Canterbury.
And, the timing of the current meeting has nothing to do with the anniversary of Gene Robinson's consecration -- the conference organizers have been trying to put a conference together for some time and at the midpoint between the 2008 and the forthcoming 2018 Lambeth Conference finally have the money in hand to meet.
And, no, Gafcon II is not going to set up a parallel church. It has no authority or ability to do so. Some within the conservative movement may wish to see the existing structures reformed or removed, but no one is seriously suggesting what the Telegraph has implied. For one, the African-led churches do not have the money.
The article states the conference will draw up an "action plan” on marriage and sexuality, "which will be an uncompromising reassertion of a traditionalist interpretation of the Bible." And then the Telegraph goes on to speculate:
That is likely to set them on a collision course with the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, who has openly signalled that he is reassessing his own views on the subject.
Although Archbishop Welby comes from the born-again evangelical wing of the Church and voted against David Cameron’s Same-Sex Marriage Bill, he has recently spoken about wanting to get his “mind clear” on the issue.
He told a meeting in August that the Church needed to face up to the fact that most young people, including Christians, thought that its stance on gay marriage was “wicked”.
The problem with this assertion is that the archbishop has subsequently clarified his remarks, and is not climbing down or backing away from his traditional views. His signal flags are now flying the other way.
The story then notes:
Although Archbishop Welby was invited, he has signalled that he will not be attending because of a prior commitment meeting European church leaders.
Again we have a problem. The archbishop will be in Iceland for a meeting of Northern European Anglican and Lutheran archbishops on the first day of the conference, but he has a second conflict as well on the Wednesday -- the little matter of the baptism of Prince George of Cambridge at the Chapel Royal at St James Palace. Christening the future King of England is an excuse to miss just about any engagement. He will, however, be addressing the gathering via video and will attend a private meeting with the archbishops organizing the meeting the day before the conference kick off.
The bottom line with this story is that it is repackaged conventional wisdom. There is no reporting here, only opinions. And dodgy ones at that.
And yes, wish me safe travels as I head on down to Nairobi for the fun.