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NIGERIA: Rift Between Canterbury And Abuja?


News Analysis

by David W. Virtue

WEST CHESTER, PA (10/7/2004)--The Lambeth/Eames Commission report has not yet been released but things have reached boiling point between the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primate of Nigeria, Peter Akinola.

On a swing through the U.S., the Nigerian Primate announced in Washington, DC this week the formation of a convocation of congregations for Nigerian Anglicans who cannot in conscience attend Episcopal Churches because they are seen by African Evangelical Anglicans as apostate in morals and theology. It will be called the Church of Nigeria in America (CONA).

The primate is racing across the country speaking his mind without worrying about the consequences of his words or actions. He apparently doesn't care, because he sees the
US Episcopal Church as irretrievably lost, beyond all hope and lacking the will or theology to repent, therefore the creation of a convocation as a safe place for Nigerian evangelicals is now foremost on his mind.

In announcing the formation Akinola, leader of the world's largest Anglican province with more than 17 million adherents said an estimated 250,000 Nigerian Anglicans in the United States who find the Episcopal Church theologically and morally unacceptable.

Akinola's point is that last year's consecration of V. Gene Robinson, the world's first openly homosexual Episcopal bishop had caused too much "pain, agony and a sense of alienation" for Nigerians to remain in the American Episcopal Church and said the Church of Nigeria in America would be "a spiritual home" for his expatriate flock.

He likened CONA, which he called a "convocation," to scattered Episcopal and Anglican churches around Europe that are overseen by American and British bishops. He said the convocation would be open to non-Nigerians. "They are absolutely free to join. The convocation is a non-geographic diocese," he told reporters.

"The Episcopal Church has created a new religion that says what is sin is not sin," he said. "It doesn't take the Gospel seriously. We are not in communion with the Episcopal Church now."

But within hours of his announcement the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams issued a statement saying he had not approved plans to establish a non-geographic Nigerian diocese, independent of Episcopal Church (ECUSA) structures, on American soil.

A spokesman for Williams said Archbishop Akinola did discuss working within the structures of ECUSA to provide for the spiritual needs of expatriate Nigerian Anglicans in the United States.

But Primate Akinola said he had spoken with Dr. Williams about the convocation and that Williams had told him, "I wish that you would do this with the Network" of Anglican Dioceses and Parishes, or NACDAP. So, he said, the convocation will be conducted in what Truro's rector Martyn Minns described as a "partnership" with NACDAP.

According to a spokesman in William's office, whilst the issue and its presenting difficulties were discussed, and the role of the 'network' raised as providing a possible solution within the structures of ECUSA, the possibility of a Nigerian convocation in the
United States and of the Nigerian House of Bishops commending, recommending or choosing a bishop was not raised and formed no part of these discussions.

A little history is important here.

Once upon a time Archbishop Akinola and Presiding Bishop Griswold were friends, back in 2000, with Akinola even criticizing the formation of the Anglican Mission in America (AMiA) for crossing diocesan boundaries when the Provinces of Southeast Asia and
Rwanda consecrated missionary bishops for the United States.

In 2002, the friendship of the two men led to three highly publicized events: Bishop Griswold's 11-day visit to Nigeria, (where he told them he was an Anglo-Catholic when he is not); Archbishop Akinola's enthronement at the cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, (a case of seduction) and his (Akinola's) subsequent speaking at a meeting of the ECUSA House of Bishops (aren't we all on the same page guys.)

To add to the maelstrom of words Washington Bishop John Chane recalled Archbishop Akinola's criticisms of AMiA. He quoted from remarks Archbishop Akinola made to the Church of Nigeria News in 2001: "You don't just jump from your diocese to begin to do whatever you like in another man's diocese. That is not done in our Anglican tradition."

But a lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then.

Akinola again: "Hitherto my position has been that there was no need for alternative pastoral oversight. But that was when we were together, sharing the same faith, sharing the same order. When the Episcopal Church chose to separate itself from us, we had no choice but to come rescue our people."

With the consecration of V. Gene Robinson, everything both climaxed and changed irretrievably.

Frank Griswold, ECUSA's presiding bishop lied to the Primates at Lambeth when he said he would not consecrate an openly non-celibate, divorced priest to the episcopacy. Within a few weeks of signing the Lambeth statement he did just that. The Primates have never
trusted him again and have called on him numerous times to repent. He hasn't.

But what is interesting in today's knee jerk response from Archbishop Williams is this. There is a sub-text in his message to Archbishop Akinola. What he is saying is that regardless of the outcome of the Lambeth/Eames Commission report, Griswold and the ECUSA will still be "in communion" with himself.

This is a colossal statement. It is, by the by, all that Griswold cares about. He has made it very clear that he does not care what his fellow Primates think, he just wants to remain "in communion" with the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Now if that is the case, then the sudden flurry of international activity by Akinola makes sense. He has gotten Williams to declare his hand publicly before the Lambeth/Eames Commission has declared itself. It would appear that whatever the report says and however Williams acts, Griswold remains in the communion without the need for repentance, and if that is the case it is all over for the Anglican Communion.

When some 350 African bishops meet for the AABC conference at the end of the month in Lagos, a conference to which all media have been specifically excluded, including this writer, then one can only conclude that they will decide what the Anglican Communion might ultimately look like.

The issue then will not be what the African Anglican Church has to say about Griswold, we already know that, it will be about what the Africans and the Global South in general will now do with Rowan Williams!

When Akinola says The Episcopal Church has created a new religion that says what is sin is not sin, and doesn't take the Gospel seriously and therefore they are no longer in communion with the Episcopal Church, then logically if Dr. Williams stays in Communion with ECUSA, then de facto Nigeria is no longer "in communion" with Canterbury.

Dr. Williams cannot have it both ways. If he stays with the Episcopal Church and the Africans and Global South do not, then the latter can no longer stay with Canterbury, hence the statement "we do not need to go through Canterbury to get to Jesus" takes on a whole new meaning.

Southern Cone Primate Greg Venables told Virtuosity in an exclusive interview recently that the option of opting out of the present Anglican Communion had been discussed along with a number of other scenarios including the possibility of a new communion.

Could it happen? Will it happen? Certainly the provocative but seemingly necessary actions of Archbishop Akinola in Washington and Northern Virginia this week would seem to suggest that a break is in the wind; why else announce the formation of CONA so close to the Lambeth/Eames Commission report?

That the Archbishop of Canterbury should have responded so quickly and definitively suggests that his grand plan to keep everyone at the communion table is falling apart, and Oct. 18 has not even arrived!

The arrival of the Commission report on Oct. 18 will mark a turning point in the life of the communion, but what the Africans decide on Oct. 28 in Lagos could be far more decisive. Perhaps that is the date we should be noting on our calendars. Certainly it indicates a major paradigm shift is underway, and it will not disappear till we can be assured that there is but One Faith, One Hope, One Lord.


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