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Are Orthodox Anglicans in Danger of Tearing Apart over Limits to Homosexual Acceptance?

Are Orthodox Anglicans in Danger of Tearing Apart over Limits to Homosexual Acceptance?


By David W. Virtue, DD
March 1, 2021

A damaging rift in the Anglican communion between two Anglican jurisdictions, the Anglican Church in North America and the Anglican Church of Nigeria threatens to tear apart orthodox Anglicans under the banner of GAFCON; even as many provinces have accepted, and many seem ready to ratify homosexuality within the Lambeth Conference of bishops including the Church of England.

A statement put out by the ACNA College of Bishops this week, attempted to put a non-judgmental, but compassionate face on the place and life of homosexuals within the North American Church. The statement tried to be loving, but without compromising strong scriptural prohibitions on homosexual behavior. This statement drew the ire of the Nigerian Anglican province and its primate who tore the statement apart.

The ACNA statement outlined three questions:
• What should our biblical and pastoral response be to those within our Church who self-identify as Christians with same-sex attraction? This raises two more related questions:
• What is the biblical vision for transformation with regard to same-sex attraction?
• What is the most helpful language to employ in describing the reality of same-sex attraction?

It should be noted the statement was primarily pastoral not theological in nature. The College of Bishops further declared the decision as to how this should be implemented would be left to the discretion of each bishop. That statement was a red rag to the Nigerian bull.

Astute observers believe that the ACNA statement should have been more declarative in condemning homosexual behavior, citing St. Paul as their source. That failure might cost the ACNA bishops dearly. Time will tell.

The ink was barely dry on the ACNA College of Bishops' statement when a self-proclaimed, celibate, homosexual lay postulant, one Pete Valk threw an ecclesiastical hand grenade among the bishops with a 'Dear Gay Anglican' statement. Valk argued that same-sex attracted people are being held to a higher standard than straight people regarding vocational singleness, procreation, divorce, and remarriage and many same-sex attracted Christians are "fighting the good fight to become more like Jesus," but have "felt ignored by fellow followers of Jesus to the point of feeling invisible."

Valk then blasted those who practiced reparative therapy and said this: "We confess that Christians have perpetrated destructive reparative/conversion therapies, leading many sexual minorities to lose their faith or die by suicide. Even as God possesses the power to heal any brokenness in this world, none of us are promised relief from temptation. Research has demonstrated that these therapies have been 96% ineffective at eliminating same-sex attraction while increasing the risk of suicide attempts by 92%."

This second statement is factually wrong and has been overthrown by Jeffrey Satinover, a Jewish psychiatrist, and a Catholic therapist, Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, who worked for decades with men facing same-sex attractions. Full disclosure. I attended one of these reparative sessions in London and saw how the process worked. I was impressed with the honesty and transparency of men who self-disclosed as same-sex attracted and were struggling to move beyond that into a heterosexual state.

Valk's statement drew support from some 50 Anglican leaders, both clergy and laity. Why? An Anglican deacon told VOL that one has to understand that most of these signers are people who "work in the trenches" with young men and women who struggle with 'sex equals identity' issues and it is hurtful to make blanket judgements such as the Nigerians did.

Many viewed Valk's statement as a foot in the door that would lead in time to full acceptance of homosexual behavior. Perhaps, but there is no immediate evidence of that in the bishops' statement. Anglican Theologian Dr. Gerry McDermott had this to say; "This letter is the thin end of the wedge that suggests ever so subtly that marriage should NOT be always between a man and woman, because some are not made that way. They are fundamentally SSA, that is part of their identity. And if we would not be biblicists, one could plausibly argue, we should let them follow their God-given identity and be joined in body as well as spirit to their beloved. It suggests that being gay is part of their fundamental identity, which is what some have argued for years."

"It denies, either explicitly or implicitly, what the catholic great tradition has taught, that SSA is disordered. It is interesting that the very beginning of the letter denies the efficacy of therapy to redirect and help deal with SSA. It uses bad stats. I have friends who have been helped significantly by such therapy. The letter's attack on this therapy suggests that they think God made them this way, and that they should celebrate their SSA as fundamental to the way God made them. If God made them this way, then how could it be disordered? And their attack on this therapy suggests that the plain sense of 1 Cor 6.11 must not be true."

Valk took down his statement at the insistence of his bishop, Martyn Minns, but the damage had been done. The confusion was made worse by a misleading claim that Provincial approval had been given for the letter; it had not.

Valk's statement prompted a response from ACNA Archbishop Foley Beach, who while acknowledging that it did not undermine the bishops' Pastoral Statement, replacing "gay Christian" with "gay Anglican" is pretty much in your face. He concluded by saying, "our bishops are not going to back down on our conclusions which we worked on, received input from all over the province, edited, reviewed, edited, reviewed, and edited." That should have ended it. Not so.

Backlash to the ACNA bishops' statement was immediate. An international firestorm erupted.

First out of the gate was US-based Nigerian bishop Felix Orji, who wrote this: "As the Coordinating Bishop of the Church of Nigeria North American Mission (CONNAM) I write to raise serious concerns regarding this Statement on Gay Anglicans signed by an ACNA Bishop and several high-ranking clergy in ACNA. No clergy in CONNAM is allowed to sign this document. We believe that Scripture condemns homosexual activity as a sin before God and hence must not be allowed in the Church or condoned by clever manipulation of language."

CONNAM has two dioceses: the Anglican Diocese of the West (ADW) led by Bishop Orji and the Anglican Diocese of the Trinity (ADOTT) led by Bishop Amos Fagbamiye. They have 100 churches and 170 clergy across the USA and the dominion of Canada. They were formally associated with the ACNA, but broke off to come under the Anglican Province of Nigeria. They maintain fraternal relations with the ACNA.

Then the Anglican Church of Nigeria got into the act and issued a statement accusing the ACNA of "tolerating" homosexuals. The Most Rev. Henry Ndukuba, Primate of the Anglican Church of Nigeria, blasted the statement by ACNA saying that it mirrored the route taken by The Episcopal Church (TEC) before it moved to fully embrace same-sex unions, including among ordained clergy.

"ACNA was formed by GAFCON, as a safe haven for faithful Christians who reject the apostasy and rebellion in TEC. They should not now find in ACNA the aberrations which drove them from TEC," Ndukuba roared.

"The Church of Nigeria views these events as most unfortunate and dangerous to the cause of Mission based on the Truth of the Gospel, especially at a time when secular governments are adopting aggressive campaign for global homosexual culture. The Church in USA which should lead the fight against this evil is ACNA; and if it fails, it would have disappointed God and faithful Anglican Christians worldwide."

He also reminded the American church that the current chair of GAFCON is none other than its primate, Archbishop Foley Beach, whose "actions or inactions and that of his Province have serious implications for GAFCON leadership."

The Primate's inflammatory statement now puts the unity of Anglican bishops under GAFCON on a collision course and calls into question their future.

The rift reveals simmering tensions that lie beneath the surface that might have more to do with power politics, and a colonial history of British Anglican dominance in Africa, that Nigerian Anglicans now deeply resent. Given that Archbishop Justin Welby seems bent on legitimizing homosexuality in the Church of England, one can understand the attitude of the Nigerian leader towards the world Anglican leader.

It seems he may have overstated the ACNA College of Bishops statement.

Whether Ndukuba likes it or not, the Nigerian province needs the ACNA province as much as the ACNA needs Nigeria. Any division now would sink GAFCON and pave the way for a takeover by Welby and the Lambeth Conference. Josiah Idowu-Fearon, a Nigerian Anglican bishop who is Secretary General of the liberal Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) would see this as a victory for the ACC and would quickly move to fill the void. Nigerian Primate Ndukuba is doing what he condemns.

While Nigerian Anglicans are solidly evangelical in faith and morals, with zero tolerance of homosexuality in any nuanced form, they are the largest attended province in the Anglican Communion with over 18 million Anglicans. They are growing despite persecution from Boko Haram and Fulani tribesman. They do not look to the West for help, nor do they look kindly on compromise (as they see it) on something like homosexuality which the Bible clearly repudiates. The Church of England, by contrast, is going the way of the Dodo bird for its refusal to make a clear stand for biblical truth on sexuality issues.

Nigerian Anglicans despise the current leadership of the Anglican communion. They refuse to recognize the past and present Archbishops of Canterbury as their titular head. Former Nigerian primate Peter Akinola said of Rowan Williams, ere he left the office, that Williams had wrecked the communion for his failure to take a stand against homosexuality. There is no love lost between the present Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primate of Nigeria.

Clearly, Archbishop Beach has no wish to escalate tensions. He announced that he would not personally engage his Nigerian Anglican counterpart further, saying only that he and his bishops stood by their original statement.

Will that work? Beach has worked tirelessly to keep the fractious ACNA family together and has done so knowing that the issue of women's ordination simmers just beneath the surface and could erupt at any time, leading to full blown schism. This latest incident does not help in maintaining international unity.

What the future holds remains to be seen if the Nigerians will push the envelope further. Archbishop Beach is presently the chairman of GAFCON. This might pose a problem for the vigorous Nigerian primate and his province. Is there another shoe to drop? Time will tell.

Archbishop Beach's self-control in the situation is to be commended. No one wants to get into a contest with the Nigerians. They can be both difficult and unpleasant to contend with.

Any fragmentation of GAFCON now would be a disaster of global proportions for orthodox Anglicanism. The ball is now squarely in the Nigerian Anglican court.


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