George Pitcher writing in the Telegraph says Michael Nazir-Ali’s departure is a totemic event that signals the end of Anglicanism’s damaging schism. That’s a pretty bold claim to make. Is it true?
Pitcher says bishop Michael’s departure is emblematic of the decline of the Global South conservative political force in Anglicanism which threatened to tear the Communion apart. Last year they dreamed of overthrowing the authority of Canterbury in favour of an African-led Communion. Michael Nazir-Ali, pitched his tent with the African rebels but now finds that army dispersed and demoralized. How quickly, says Pitcher, has the optimism of last year’s rebel schismatics turned to dust. Then there was talk of an end to neo-colonialist rule in the Anglican Church, with a new biblical hegemony that would isolate homosexual bishops and build a new Communion out of Africa.
The bishops, including Dr Nazir-Ali, who boycotted the Lambeth Conference at Canterbury last summer expected the old order to fall, but at the Anglican Primates’ meeting in Alexandria, not one primate was absent for doctrinal reasons. The Archbishops of Uganda and Nigeria were present. Type Gafcon into Google News, says George, and practically the only items are from Virtue Online, and David Virtue is interested solely in proclaiming the destruction of the Communion, as I know only too well.
My suspicions about the motives of the six English bishops (Blackburn, Chester, Chichester, Exeter, Rochester and Winchester) who wrote in support of the Bishop of Pittsburgh in September 2008 have not yet been totally allayed.
Is the schism over? Are we now entering a period in which skirmishes continue but the Primates and Provinces of the Communion reluctantly engage with the listening process? I have always predicted this as the most likely outcome, and events such as the recent hearing on the Same Gender Marriage (Prohibition) Bill in Abuja, Nigeria, and the positive effect of equality legislation in the UK confirm my predictions.
The hearings may look like a success for the huge forces arrayed against homosexuality in Nigeria. But one side-effect of introducing the bill and pushing it through the legislative process is that Nigerians are being made more and more conscious of the fact of homosexuality and the presence of LGBT people in their country and their churches.
There has been a second side effect. LGBT Nigerians are far more aware of themselves and the place that they are being denied in society and their confidence and determination is being energised.
Raising awareness and consciousness in the media is the next step on the road to a change of attitude in Nigerian society. They are where we were in the 50s and 60s, when the Church of England first produced a report and gay activism became a public force.
Whether or not bishop Michael becomes active in Gafcon after leaving Rochester won’t ultimately matter. The Communion will return to engaging with homosexuality and the real lives of LGBT people.