Church Of England Issues Fierce Rebuke To Conservative Body GAFCON

The Church of England's top lay official has issued an extraordinary admonishment to the conservative Anglican body GAFCON UK after it published a list of clergy and church leaders in same-sex relationships.

The spat symbolises a breakdown in "good disagreement", which the Archbishop of Canterbury – whose residence, Lambeth Palace, is pictured here – called for over the issue of sexuality.Lambeth Palace

The astonishing rebuke was in a letter published on Tuesday evening from William Nye, secretary general to the Archbishops' Council, a senior leadership body of the Church. It was addressed to Andy Lines, chairman of GAFCON UK.

GAFCON UK's document painted a "significantly misleading picture both of the teaching and practice of the Church of England", Nye wrote.

In turn GAFCON UK has released its own defence of the controversial briefing which was branded as a "name and shame" list by the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM).

The group insisted it had only published names already known publicly and held back on others who remained private.

"There was never any intention to 'shame' anyone, but simply to collate information that was already widely known," a statement on the GAFCON UK website read.

It insisted "confusion" over the "seriousness and extent of the breaches of Lambeth I.10" prompted the compiling of the list.

"The real story, the main story, and the story that has been missed by many, is that this briefing catalogues the inability by the leadership of the Church of England to maintain biblical church order, or abide by the agreements reached at the conference it itself hosted in 1998," it read.

GAFCON was set up in 2008 in opposition to what it saw as a trend towards liberalisation on sexuality within the wider Anglican Communion. The UK branch has only recently been formalised but caused outrage when it published a list of church leaders who had "violated" an oft-cited landmark resolution from 1998 known as Lambeth 1.10.

Nye insisted that resolution was "not legally binding" but rather expressed the "view of the attitude of the Communion" at the time.

"It is not the only important resolution, from that Conference or others. It does not have the force of Scripture, nor is it part of the deposit of faith," he wrote.

He added that Church teaching remained that marriage was exclusively between one man and one women.

"At this point no change has been made to teaching, nor has there been any formal proposal to do so."

Nye refuted GAFCON UK's claim that there had been many "violations" and pointed out clergy were allowed to enter civil partnerships and could offer prayers of support for same-sex couples.

Andy Lines told Christian Today GAFCON UK had never claimed the Lambeth 1.10 resolution was binding. He said: "But it carries moral and spiritual authority because the collegial mind of the assembled bishops of Communion expresses the apostolic position as received.

"It is authoritative in that it accurately articulates the biblical revelation about human sexuality."

He added he was grateful Nye addressed "the real issue, ie what is the teaching of the Bible and the worldwide church on sexual ethics, and how do we apply this in the C of E". 

The unusual intervention by the CofE comes as the Church's senior body, the House of Bishops, meets on Wednesday to discuss next steps on sexuality. The climax meeting comes after two years of facilitated talks at all levels of the Church to try and reach "good disagreement".

The bishops are expected to bring their recommendations of whether there should be any change in teaching or practice to the next General Synod in February.