Fidelity in Kigali?

The fourth Global Anglican Futures Conference adopted the “Kigali Commitment,” which was essentially an Anglican declaration of independence from the primacy of Canterbury.

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The capital of Rwanda may not seem a likely venue for important events in religious history, but it was on April 21, when the fourth Global Anglican Futures Conference (GAFCON) adopted the “Kigali Commitment.” It was essentially an Anglican declaration of independence from the primacy of Canterbury.

Like Philadelphia in 1776, Kigali in 2023 was no bolt out of the blue: it was a long time in coming. One can ask when Americans really declared their independence. When they fought the Stamp Act? When they dumped good tea into December waters too cold for a good brew? When they first drew British blood at Concord’s North Bridge?

Likewise, one can ask when Anglicans really declared their independence. I live next to an Episcopal church that touts George Washington among its parishioners (he hasn’t been posthumously downgraded yet, as he and Robert E. Lee were in Alexandria). 

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Down the road, the Anglicans who left the “historic church” because it recognized priestesses just finished building their new edifice. Was that when Anglicans separated? Or when it ordained a man declaring he was an active homosexual as a bishop? Or was it when, contrary to polity documents, Canterbury did nothing about the latter?  

History is often a combination of major trajectories and contingent events whose coalescence supplies the sufficient tinder for a spark. The Anglican spark was the decision earlier this year when the Church of England approved prayers for blessings of same-sex relationships.

Matthew and Anne Kennedy claim that the churches assembled in Kigali represent “85% of the world’s Anglicans.” It’s an epochal move. While the “Archbishop” of Canterbury was certainly not the English pope or even the primus inter pares in the way the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople (Istanbul) is, he was certainly a nominal point of unity in a church that, in recent decades, has demonstrated nominal resilience against faith or morals dividing it.  

Till one Friday in April.

In any other setting, the African declaration of independence would be feted as “decolonialization,” the “globalization” of the church out of a “Eurocentric cradle,” the rise of the “Global South” in the church catching up to its rise in matters of state. Should one be impolite to ask whether the curious silence of these standard shibboleths in the Western press has anything to do with the fact that what was declared independence from was sacred Western liberal ideological colonialism?

If I was a Church of England or U.S. Episcopal prelate, I might speed-dial Cardinal Walter Kasper for advice on what to do with these African bishops “tell[ing] us too much what we have to do.”  

Schism is an extraordinarily destructive act one wishes on no one, even when it’s dividing from other schismatics. But the question that might honestly be asked is: “Who are the schismatics?”

Like the Methodist Church in the United States, currently convulsed by separation over ordaining homosexually active clergy, it’s the group that held to ecclesial tradition that’s called the “spin-off” while the doctrinal revisionists pretend to be the party of continuity. Like their Anglican older brothers, American Methodists are also severing fraternity with their African coreligionists.

Three theologians challenged the Kigali Commitment, asking “Is the Anglican ‘Reset’ Truly Anglican?” While they share the grievances of the GAFCON IV participants, their argument is that the Kigali Commitment overemphasizes a sola scriptura approach rather than dealing with “the Scripture-tradition relationship so as to return to the hermeneutic of the English Reformation.”

As a Catholic theologian, I found that line rich. The “Scripture-tradition relationship” developed by the “English Reformation” was a deliberate rejection of the Scripture-Tradition relationship of the Catholic Church, replaced by an artificial construct designed to provide a theological fig leaf for a lecherous royal serial wife abuser’s coup d’église, ratified by ecclesiastical and political yes-men. Why is one revisionist treatment of Scripture-Tradition relations sauce for the goose but not the gander? The “Scripture-tradition relationship” developed by the “English Reformation” was a deliberate rejection of the Scripture-Tradition relationship of the Catholic ChurchTweet This

The more fundamental question about what is “truly Anglican” is the state of a “Communion” that has held together for the past several decades only by willful refusal to admit the first principle of theoretical reason, i.e., the law of noncontradiction. Archbishop Welby urged his shattering “Communion” to “walk together” in “good disagreement.” By the way, Lambeth’s official reaction was long on process and “flexible” adaptations, but it evaded the moral questions Kigali raised.  

This question should have been joined almost 50 years ago. The “priestess” question posed it. My two local Anglican parishes highlight that: one cannot be a cleric in good standing, offering true praise and worship and administering the sacraments on Broad Street, but none of those things on Arlington Boulevard.  

Kigali (like the Methodist implosion) has finally admitted what should have been obvious.  

Amidst this internal fracturing of two major old-line Protestant denominations, Rome should be asking two questions. First, Roman Synodal enthusiasts should be asking themselves about the implications of what’s going on in Germany and the Flemish lands on these same issues and how it might flow over into the doctrinal ambiguities that so far seem to have plagued the Synodal “process.” (A corollary: How might those doctrinal ambiguities impede Anglicans from finally swimming the Thames to the Tiber?) 

Second, with whom will Rome carry on its Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue: a “primate” with whom the majority of Anglicans may no longer share communion, or those subscribing to the “Kigali Commitment?” Lambeth is likely to claim institutional prerogatives. So, is it Canterbury or Kigali?    


  • John M. Grondelski

    John M. Grondelski (Ph.D., Fordham) is a former associate dean of the School of Theology, Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey. All views expressed herein are his own.

tagged as: Anglican Communion

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