Riazat Butt in today's Guardian:
At Gafcon, who calls the shots?
White conservative Anglican clergy are beginning to pull the strings, squeezing their African brothers out of the picture
It was Canon Vinay Samuel, from India, who accused Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury of not trusting the intelligence of developing churches. The situation is hardly any better at Gafcon, where white conservatives are slowly but surely calling the shots and squeezing their African brothers out of the picture.
The eight-day gathering – which cost $5m and looks like making a small but tidy profit – was set to be the Archbishop Peter Akinola show, until his unfortunate use of the word apostate had the more media savvy prelates cringing into their prayer books.
The explanation given was that Akinola came from a different cultural context and didn't fully understand the impact of what he was saying. The same explanation was given for the African archbishops' silence on acts of torture.
Akinola, previously described as a luminary of the conservative movement, has now been hidden away until Sunday afternoon, when a statement outlining a skeleton structure for a "flying communion" has been issued and, handily, when most of the press will have left Jerusalem altogether.
Gafcon has not been the first time that western clergy have stepped in on behalf of the African primates. Where does interpretation stop and manipulation start? There are concerns over the way the African archbishops project themselves and such a guiding hand is, at best, good public relations and, at worse, patronising. If these men are held in such high regard then they should speak in their own words, without any help.
Williams' supposed lack of trust is reflected in the western clergy's handling of Akinola and co. It is a curious alliance. To the outsider the African churches have the numbers and the westerners bring the infrastructure and savvy. Together they can rightfully claim that they represent half of the Anglican communion and have an intellectual and theological depth to rival Rowan's. The westerners are doing the briefings – on and off the record – and the messages are being put out by them too.
When I say westerners, I mean white people. The African bishops are disappointed that the US bishops – including those who are deposed or disillusioned – are going to the Lambeth conference in July. The Australians, according to Gafconites present in Jerusalem, are unhappy that the Nigerians made the Lambeth boycott decision for them and announced the news before they had the chance.
In the fateful press conference – regarding torture – Akinola said that what was permissible in one culture was not permissible in another, without realising that same-sex unions have become the norm in western society and should therefore be accommodated in the same way that discriminatory legislation and treatment of homosexuals are par for the course in some African countries.
If the white bishops can turn a blind eye to polygamy and persecution then surely the courtesy should be returned.
Gafcon is heading for a clash of civilisations, with the northern and southern hemispheres each trying to assert their superiority. And that's before you get to the rumour about Gafcon being a done deal months ago, with little or no Nigerian input, or the rivalries between the Nigerians and Ugandans, with them trying to out-do each other when praying.
Of course the exception to all this tribalism is the Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, who is western but not too western and other but not too other. It has been suggested that he be lined up as an alternative Archbishop of Canterbury, but another suggestion would be for him to not give up the day job