A Letter from the Primate of All Nigeria to the House of Bishops and the Members of the Standing Committee of the Church of Nigeria
My sisters and brothers:
Greetings in the name of our risen Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
I am grateful for our fellowship in the Gospel during these difficult days within the worldwide Anglican Communion and I am still rejoicing at the memory of our time together in Kaduna. I am also thankful that while we are all engaged in many different expressions of practical concern for the poor and the oppressed at home and abroad we share a common commitment to the primary mission of the Church, which is to proclaim redemption from sin and the promise of life eternal through faith in Jesus Christ.
I now write to you in response to the recent Covenant statement from ECUSA’s House of Bishops during their spring meeting in Camp Allen, Texas and also because there have been a number of misleading reports about the recent Primates’ meeting in Northern Ireland.
While the statement issued by ECUSA’s House of Bishops expressed a desire to remain in the life and mission of the Anglican Communion, I was disappointed that the only regret offered was for their failure to consult and the effect of their actions instead of an admission that what they have done has offended God and His Church. As was pointed out in the Primates Communiqué issued in February ‘the underlying reality of our communion in God the Holy Trinity is obscured, and the effectiveness of our common mission severely hindered’. ECUSA has yet to grasp this reality and still appears to be chasing shadows. Until this is recognized there can be no hope of meaningful reconciliation.
The statement answered the call for a moratorium with regard to the ordinations of non-celibate homosexuals with a pledge to withhold consent to the consecration of any bishop until 2006 – I find this response to be disingenuous since it holds the entire church to ransom for the sin of a few. While they have claimed to answer the call for moratorium on the blessing of same-sex unions we know that there are Dioceses where the clergy are still continuing the practice of blessing same-sex partnerships with the Bishops’ explicit permission. I find this duplicitous and I would point out that the underlying issue is not a temporary cessation of these practices but a decision to renounce them and demonstrate a willing embrace of the same teaching on matters of sexual morality as is generally accepted throughout the Communion and described in Lambeth Resolution 1.10.
With regard to the Primates meeting in Ireland I find it highly offensive to hear claims that a group of us were influenced by external forces into taking stands that we would not otherwise have taken. There is absolutely no merit to these claims and I am saddened that there are those who wish to perpetuate this malevolent falsehood. Our actions and agreements were the result of prayerful deliberation and principled conviction. The idea that orthodox Americans manipulated us is an insult – in truth we in the Global South have been challenging them to stand firm. And there were a number of us who felt that the recommendations did not go far enough but out of respect for the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury we were willing to leave space for serious reflection and genuine repentance.
I was appalled by statements claiming that the devil was wandering the halls of the Dromantine Retreat Centre perhaps those who make such observations should first look within themselves before they accuse others. Many of us believe that what we achieved in our time together was due to the work of God’s Holy Spirit and to claim otherwise is blasphemous.
I have noted with disappointment that there are those in ECUSA and the Anglican Church of Canada who are suggesting that these Provinces should defy the Primates’ request that they voluntarily withdraw their members from the next meetings of the Anglican Consultative Council. I would urge the appointed leadership of these Provinces to weigh seriously the consequences of such actions if indeed there is to be any hope of the reconciliation and healing that we all seek. Moreover I believe that it is an accurate sense of our meeting to say that the Primates do not expect ECUSA and the Canadian church to participate in ANY of the structures of the Communion until they have chosen to respect the mind of the Communion. Until they decide to return – something for which we earnestly pray the sad truth is that they have walked away from the Communion.
Finally, I need to address the important matter of provincial and diocesan boundaries. As I have repeatedly reaffirmed maintaining good order is important for the work of the Gospel but it can never be used to silence those who are standing for the Faith and resisting doctrinal error. It was our common understanding in Newry that the extraordinary pastoral relationships and initiatives now underway would be maintained until this crisis is resolved. If, however, the measures proposed in our Communique to protect the legitimate needs of groups in serious theological disputes prove to be ineffectual, and if acts of oppression against those who seek to uphold our common faith persist, then we will have no choice but to offer safe harbour for those in distress.
These are challenging days for our common life and witness, they are also a glorious opportunity for us to demonstrate the truth that we serve the living God who can make all things new. May we all make every effort to submit our lives to His gracious will so that we may all be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.
The Lord be with you.
The Most Rev. Peter J. Akinola is Primate of All Nigeria and Chairman of the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa