'Signatories' of Akinola letter say they didn't sign
By Pat Ashworth
THE CHURCH TIMES
A LETTER from Global South Primates to the Archbishop of Canterbury has been denounced by three of its alleged signatories as having been neither commissioned, discussed nor approved. The Primates of the West Indies, the Southern Cone, and Jerusalem & the Middle East have all objected to the letter. One described it on Tuesday as "an act of impatience", one as "scandalous", and the other as "megaphone diplomacy".
The confidential letter, a response to Dr Williams's address to the Global South Encounter in October, questioned his leadership. While thanking him for his "unequivocal words" on the human-sexuality consensus, the letter continued: "We wonder, however, whether your personal dissent from this consensus prevents you taking the necessary steps to confront those Churches that have embraced teaching contrary to the overwhelming testimony of the Anglican Communion and the Church. We urge you to re-think your personal view and embrace the Church's consensus and to act on it."
The Primates charge the Church of England with "giving the appearance of evil" by not seeking an exemption from the Civil Partnerships Bill. They continue: "We are troubled by your reluctance to use your moral authority to challenge the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. . . We do not see why you cannot warn these Churches now, based on the Windsor report, and your own convictions about unity, that they will not be invited to Lambeth 2008 unless they truly repent."
Accusing Dr Williams of "deferring to process", they declare: "You seem to keep saying, 'My hands are tied.' We urge you to untie your hands and provide the bold, inclusive leadership the Communion needs at this time of crisis and distrust." They go on to call Europe a "spiritual desert".
Signatories were listed as the Primates of Nigeria, West Africa, Congo, West Indies, Rwanda, Jerusalem, Central Africa, Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Indian Ocean, Philippines, Southern Cone, and South East Asia. The remaining three Primates present at the meeting - Tanzania, Burundi, and South India - were listed as "Present but had to leave before the final draft was circulated."
It seems clear that no final draft was ever circulated. A first draft was given to the Primates with other documents five minutes before the end of a hasty, 40-minute meeting on the final night of the Encounter, Saturday 29 October, as the delegates prepared for an evening planned by their hosts. Nothing more was heard of the letter - the response of one individual to Dr Williams's address - until it arrived at Lambeth Palace in its original form on Wednesday of last week, while Dr Williams was addressing the inaugural meeting of General Synod. Before he had had a chance to open it, its contents had already been circulated on conservative Evangelical websites.
The Bishop in Cyprus & the Gulf, the Most Revd Clive Handford, was the first to protest at the letter and the use of his name without permission. In a full press statement posted on the Anglican Communion website on Thursday of last week, he said that he had attended the Encounter with reluctance, but in his capacity as President-Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, which includes Egypt.
"While I saw a first draft of the letter, I was not involved in any subsequent discussion of it. Several other Primates shared my unease. In no way did I give permission for my name to be associated with the letter," he said.
"The Archbishop of Canterbury came very graciously to a meeting to which in a sense he could not have looked forward. He gave a sensible and searching Bible study. . . He then answered clearly and straightforwardly questions put by the Conference. We witnessed a man of God responding in a clear and pastoral way with a desire for understanding and reconciliation."
The Primate of Nigeria, the Most Revd Peter Akinola, issued an immediate response in the light of "one or two Primates alleging wrongful inclusion of their names in a document they were privy to its formation".
Archbishop Akinola insisted: "While every person is entitled to a change of opinion, the incontrovertible and indisputable fact remains that at our meeting in El Sukhna, the first draft of the response was circulated to all present to peruse, and give us any additional input or objection. It is pertinent to say NO ONE objected. All those that responded will see that the final draft reflected their inputs."
He described the document as "our collective response" and continued: "We find it pitiable that the media spin is drawing attention away from the deep biblical discussions contained in our response."
The controversy, he said, had been brought "by those who would undermine all that we stand for in preserving the sanctity of our One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic faith. They are the ones who are dividing the Church. Of course, anyone who wishes to have their name removed from this letter is free to do so. All formal requests to dissociate will be immediately effected."
The Primate of the West Indies, the Most Revd Drexel Gomez, described the letter on Tuesday as "an act of impatience and a disrespect for process". He said: "Unfortunately we never had a discussion of the letter. It was just circulated along with other documents - we only had 40 minutes to meet and were only told about the background to it."
He and the Presiding Bishop of the Southern Cone, the Most Revd Gregory Venables, had agreed together after the meeting that they could not be associated with it, Archbishop Gomez said. "We were never told it would be made public. I am not at all happy with the present situation."
Bishop Venables confirmed that he had been in touch with Archbishop Akinola to express his objections. He said on Tuesday: "I went along to Egypt as part of it all because I wanted to affirm the positive nature of Christianity within Anglicanism, and to see if we can find a way forward together.
"I certainly didn't go to have a go at Rowan, who's a good friend and a man I respect enormously. I certainly don't see any point in setting up an alternative Anglican Communion because that in itself would be a contradiction. Anglicanism isn't like that. Even if one side here wins, it stops being Anglican. That isn't our way; it's what keeps us from being a sect."
Bishop Handford also confirmed on Monday the haste that had surrounded the presentation of the letter, whose tone he described as "megaphone diplomacy". He said, "We only very briefly saw it, supposedly as a first draft, and indicated that we were unhappy with it both in content and not least in tone. . . A number of us will feel there has been a real betrayal of trust. That doesn' t help at all: it means you have another hurdle to get over before you can do real business again.
"But I don't think it's a real setback. I would hope it might even be used positively in that we do establish some ground rules for operating and a little more respect for one another."
The controversy over the letter has added to the emerging question whether the Global South is defined by geography or theology. Australia was absent from the Encounter, except for the Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Peter Jensen, who was present as an observer, and has expressed "sympathy with the central tenor" of the letter. Central America, Mexico, North India, Pakistan, and large parts of the Far East - Japan, Korea, Melanesia, Myanmar, and Papua New Guinea - were also absent.
"It is impossible to avoid the impression that the term Global South does not necessarily carry the approval of all the people normally associated with that grouping," said one insider this week.
Unease about what are seen as Archbishop Akinola's maverick tendencies and growing lack of consultation with Global South partners was also being expressed in several quarters, some ascribing it to his temperament, but others to pursuit of an agenda believed increasingly to be steered by conservative lobbyists in the United States.
Lambeth Palace responded to the letter with a statement on Thursday of last week, which affirmed Dr Williams's commitment to the debate called for in the Windsor report, and said: "If this letter is a contribution to that process of debate, then it is to be welcomed, however robust. If it is an attempt to foreclose that debate, it would seem to serve very little purpose indeed."
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