African Anglican Archbishops Blast Church of England Decision over Gay Bishop Direction
Can Archbishop-elect Welby stop the hemorrhaging and restore the Communion's Biblical heritage?
By David W. Virtue
January 14, 2013
The division between the liberal pan Anglican West and orthodox Anglican Global South leaders widened this past week with vigorous denunciations by archbishops lining up to denounce the Church of England's decision to allow celibate gay bishops.
There has not been such an eruption of anger and frustration since the openly gay Gene Robinson was consecrated Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003.
One by one, the mostly African archbishops have lined up to denounce and threaten the Church of England's decision to allow unverifiable celibate gay bishops to function in the church, even though the laity recently shot down the idea of women bishops in the Church of England.
If the idea of celibate gay bishops actually comes to fruition, it will threaten already wide divisions in the worldwide Anglican Communion and sabotage any possibility the newly anointed Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has of bringing the warring factions together.
Nigerian Archbishop Nicholas Okoh, leader of some 21 million Evangelical Anglicans and the largest province in the Communion, said such reforms "could very well shatter whatever hopes we had for healing and reconciliation within our beloved Communion.
"The decision to permit homosexual clergy in civil partnerships to now be considered for the episcopacy is one step removed from the moral precipice that we have already witnessed in The Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada," he noted.
Earlier, Ugandan Archbishop Stanley Ntagali and Archbishop Eliud Wabukala of Kenya, who is also head of the Gafcon group of traditionalist Anglican primates, issued a joint statement saying that the recent decision of the House of Bishops to allow clergy in civil partnerships to be eligible to become Bishops is really no different from allowing gay Bishops. "This decision violates our Biblical faith and agreements within the Anglican Communion."
Later in the week, nine Anglican Primates including archbishops Mouneer Anis of Egypt, Ian Ernest, Primate of the Indian Ocean, The Most Rev. Datuk Bolly Lapok, Primate of South East Asia, The Most Rev. Stephen Than Myint Oo, Primate of Myanmar Bishop of Yangon and The Most Rev. Hector "Tito" Zavala, Primate of the Southern Cone issued a statement deploring the actions of the Church of England.
"Sadly, both the decision to permit clergy to enter civil partnerships and this latest decision which some call it a 'local option,' are wrong and were taken without prior consultation or consensus with the rest of the Anglican Communion at a time when the Communion is still facing major challenges of disunity.
"It is contrary to 'the inter-dependence' which we try to affirm between churches within the Communion.
"Moreover, it does not only widen the gap between the Church of England and Anglicans in the Global South, it also widens the gap between the Anglican Communion and our ecumenical partners.
"Further, it jeopardizes the relationship between us Anglicans living in the Global South and followers of other faiths, and gives opportunities to exploit such departure of moral standards that this type of decision may provide.
"The Church, more than any time before, needs to stand firm for the faith once received from Jesus Christ through the Apostles and not yield to the pressures of the society."
In other words, the Church needs to be "salt" and "light" and to present a distinctive message from that of the secular world around us.
This action by the Church of England will further deepen the divide created in the 77 million Anglican Communion which saw the Diocese of New Westminster in the Anglican Church of Canada bless same-sex couples in 2002 and later The Episcopal Church ordaining Gene Robinson as its first homogenital bishop in 2003.
African Anglican churches, which almost to a province are orthodox in faith and morals, and those churches in revisionist Western diocese that maintain biblical standards are in the vanguard of traditionalists opposing the change as contrary to Biblical teaching. Many are under direct threat from revisionist archbishops. Five dioceses have left The Episcopal Church unable to accept the changes they see as advancing a secular liberal agenda far removed from Scripture.
The Church of England has bowed "to the contemporary idols of secularism and moral expediency," the Nigerian Archbishop opined, and "is one step removed from the moral precipice we have already witnessed in The Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church in Canada."
"The supposed assurances of celibacy, while perhaps well intentioned, are both unworkable and unenforceable," he added.
CHALLENGE FACING WELBY
The reaction from African archbishops underscores the challenge awaiting the new Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who will officially take over as head of the Church of England and spiritual leader of the Communion in March.
The Global South will be watching to see which way the theological wind blows and how far he will bend to cater to what they see as a dying Western Anglicanism that might well be out of business in two decades unless they experience a spiritual revival.
Archbishop Rowan Williams failed, in his decade in office, to avoid a de facto schism between revisionists and traditionalists, mainly African evangelicals who with strong support from U.S. orthodox Episcopalians and Anglicans served notice that they would no longer tolerate the liberalizing trends of Church leaders in the United States, Canada and Britain.
For the last decade, the Anglican Communion has survived in a broken state. The formation of GAFCON/FCA - the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans in 2008 is now being pushed hard in England. This latest move could well result in more division. As one senior cleric in the Church of England stated, "If the bishops lift the ban on blessings it will result in deep divisions of a kind that has not been seen in the Church of England for centuries. People are already close to setting up an alternative Church."
Since a quarter of Anglican bishops boycotted the 2008 Lambeth Conference and a third of the Primates boycotted in Dublin last year, the Communion has been in a state of suspended animation, with the Archbishop of Canterbury all but impotent to do anything about it
A new Archbishop of Canterbury in the person of Durham Bishop Justin Welby, an avowed evangelical, offers glimmers of hope to a flailing Anglican Communion, but the Global South will suspend judgment till they see which way the wind blows.
Even as the Anglican Communion drifts further apart, the admission of women bishops and the possibility of gay but celibate bishops in the Church of England will only further cement positions African Anglicans reject.
Ntagali said he was discouraged to see "that the Church of England, which once brought the Gospel of Jesus Christ to Uganda, has taken such a significant step away from that very Gospel that brought life, light and hope to us."
The question now is, can Archbishop-elect Welby pull an evangelical rabbit out of a moribund Church of England ecclesiastical hat? To use another analogy, will he preside as the emperor with no clothes, an Archbishop in name only, unable to stop what many view as the inevitable demise of the Anglican Communion as we know it?
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