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UNHOLY MESS: Clash of Wills, Power & Theological Direction Mark AMIA-ACNA Battle

AN UNHOLY MESS: Clash of Wills, Power Struggles, & Theological Direction Mark AMIA-ACNA Struggle
AMIA loses her last ecclesiastical lifeboat. Society for Mission and Apostolic Works formed

By David W. Virtue
Sept. 8, 2012

By any criteria, it has become one of the most disastrous and devastating ecclesiastical battles since the formation of the Anglican Mission in the Americas (AMIA) and the later birth of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). It may well be the greatest single spiritual blot on the emerging landscape of North American Anglicanism.

The genesis of this battle between Bishop Charles "Chuck" Murphy, leader of the AMIA, and the Most Rev. Robert Duncan, archbishop of the ACNA, goes back two years. It has escalated to the point that it now involves three African Anglican provinces (Rwanda, Kenya, Congo) and indirectly affects two retired Primates from the Church of the Province of South East Asia. As a result of the continuing war, positions have so hardened that reconciliation now seems virtually impossible.

The larger war has resulted in archbishops, bishops, priests, deacons and laity fighting in localized ecclesiastical battles over who belongs to whom. The walking wounded are too numerous to name and number, and the war is still not over. The fallout continues. The most recent battle over flagship AMIA parish, All Saints Church, Pawleys Island, finds the rector in a pitched battle for his job desiring to take his parish to the ACNA with the bishop and chairman of the AMIA resisting. The Anglican Mission itself hangs in the balance facing an uncertain future. This story can be found here: http://tinyurl.com/99jcxbt

The story has generated over 7,000 hits at the website with even more through VOLs weekly digest and pass-alongs in the blogosphere and around the Anglican Communion. It bespeaks the intensity with which this battle continues to rage and occupy the hearts and minds of orthodox Anglicans everywhere, many of whom paid an enormous price having left The Episcopal Church over its abandonment of biblical faith and morals. Many orthodox Anglicans now feel abandoned, hurt and betrayed by the current confusion and war being waged. The All Saints battle is a microcosm of the larger war. The large number of VOL readers reveals just how important this story has become. Many see the divisions and splits among the newly forming orthodox Anglican jurisdictions as Satan's poisonous hand in the lives of godly men and women caught in the vortex of this ecclesiastical and spiritual storm.

At the forefront of the battle are the personalities, leadership and vision of two men: AMIA chairman and Bishop Chuck Murphy and ACNA Archbishop Robert Duncan.

For 12 years, Bishop Murphy has led The Anglican Mission. He is thought highly of by such spiritual luminaries as Archbishops Moses Tay, and Yong Ping Chung of South East Asia, Emmanuel Kolini of Rwanda and is supported by theologians like TEC bishop C. FitzSimmons Allison (SC ret.) and author/theologian/Bishop Dr. John Rodgers.

Depending on who you talk to, Murphy is either a strong visionary leader who early saw where the Episcopal Church was going and formed the AMIA as a counter to TEC's heretical path, proudly proclaiming his desire to reach America's 130 million unchurched by planting new churches across North America. Many of those same people who first followed him now believe he has become, over time, a proud, arrogant, stubborn, tyrannical, inflexible man who is mentally unstable and should step down. There is no middle ground. He is either loved or loathed.

On the other side of the ecclesiastical table, sits Archbishop Robert Duncan who suffered greatly at the hands of TEC Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori and her House of Bishops when he was the Episcopal Bishop of Pittsburgh. He emerged battle scarred to form the Anglican Church in North America now five years old, drawing together a body of disparate Anglican jurisdictions something that had never before been achieved. (The 1977 St. Louis Convention saw four breakaway Anglo-Catholic bishops and jurisdictions that now number more than 50.) Today the ACNA can boast nearly 1,000 church plants with over 100,000 Anglican parishioners. Many Anglican jurisdictions affiliated with ACNA hold dual ecclesiastical citizenships with Anglican provinces like Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana and Uganda. For his theological stance and conciliar skills, he has been recognized by the leading orthodox Primates of the Anglican Communion and sits on the Primates Council of GAFCON. By any reckoning, it is a huge achievement.

Both men have reached the zenith of their respective careers; both will step down in the next two years with no visible successors at this time.


Those who know both men say that there was bound to be a clash of wills, sooner or later. Perhaps because Duncan comes from a strong military background, the two men were bound to butt heads. Others say that the differing DNAs of the AMIA and ACNA could not be reconciled as the AMIA is a "mission" while the ACNA is a fully-fledged province even though it is not officially recognized by the Anglican Communion and its leader the Archbishop of Canterbury, or the Anglican Consultative Council. It is, however, recognized by leading Global South African Anglican provinces.

Both groups are driven by evangelistic purpose, church planting and the desire to see God's Kingdom spread throughout North America. It's hard to see how the DNA could be that different; clearly more is going on.

One insider clergyman gave VOL this insight. "A couple of years ago Murphy had a national clergy conference of AM where the theme was 'Pirates'. There was a large blow up of pirates all over the meeting room. Murphy had decided to embrace the term that had been so used against them in the beginning days of First Promise and AM. Most of the clergy voiced serious concern about the image."

So, one is forced to ask, is it really a clash between two men or a clash between two world views of the kind of leadership that is needed to win a war (or in this case the effort of Anglicans in America). Is it a navy or a group of pirates? The clergyman offered up this illustration. "There is a great scene in the movie Patton when Omar Bradley is trying to explain why Eisenhower will be leading the D-Day invasion and not George. Omar says to George 'You are great at winning battles but no good at what it takes to win the war'. Murphy has been great at winning battles, but clearly did not have what it was going to take to win the big picture of bringing such a wide variety of entities together to form the ACNA. There is no indication that George ever accepted Omar's reasoning. Murphy has yet to accept that he wasn't to lead ACNA so rather than be honest with himself and accept that, he needs to blame someone else in order for it to make any sense to him why he is not able to fulfill what he believed was his destiny."

In the early stages, Murphy and his bishops were members of the ACNA College of Bishops, but later he withdrew himself and his mission over differences between himself and Duncan. Murphy made it clear, in withdrawing, that he did not want Duncan talking to his bishops. Was it simply a clash of ideology or was it more one of strong wills between two men as to who should lead the ACNA?

So why did he withdraw AMIA from ACNA? An AMIA priest said that the only reason the leadership in the AM was given was that because they were "embedded" into the Canons of Rwanda, they were not able to be in ACNA. "SHAME on us (the leadership of AM) for having taken him at his word. But we not only didn't do that, we didn't even ask for the specifics of the Canons that would make us in violation if we were part of ACNA. We didn't even read the canons, and Chuck's Council of Bishops later admitted that they had never even read either the Constitution of PEAR (Rwandan House of Bishops) or the Canons or the original Charter of the previous organization known as AM."

Part of the rationale Murphy used last fall to his council of bishops, his network leaders and to his college of presbyters for why they needed to secede from the Province of Rwanda was that overseas oversight was just not working anymore. It came to be known amongst the clergy as the "Out of Africa" doctrine.

"Last Fall Murphy told us that we never had been part of the Constitution of Rwanda, which at the time he was saying was a good thing as far as he was concerned because we could now be a missionary society. He blamed it on 'misunderstanding' in the writing of the Constitution. But that just isn't true," the source told VOL.


Even though it was apparent to most people that Duncan was the natural leader that did not sit well with Murphy who believed, as he was the first out of TEC and the first to begin an Anglican ministry, that he should have been the first Anglican leader.

Time, it was thought, would heal the wounds and their differences. Duncan told friends and co-laborers that he worked hard to heal the breach. However, both men argued and fought whenever their paths crossed in the US and UK. The gulf, in time, only widened between them.

Then came leadership change in the Anglican Province of Rwanda.

When word came down that Rwandan Archbishop Kolini's successor, Onesphorus Rwaje, wanted more accountability from the AMIA's leadership over such issues as money and control over Murphy's insistence on turning the AMIA into a missionary society, it all blew up.

An ecclesiastical eruption between the two men became public with finger pointing and the first of many parishes departed the AMIA for new ecclesiastical pastures. Two AMIA bishops promptly resigned and came under PEAR/USA preferring to remain with the Anglican Province of Rwanda. Later other bishops would ally themselves directly with the Anglican Church in North America.

Murphy wrote a letter accusing the Rwandans of being Egyptians and that he, Moses, would lead the AMiA out of the Egypt of Rwanda into the Promised Land. God he said is "doing a new thing". Bishop Murphy's further remarks about "reverse colonialism" were painfully received in the Rwandan House of Bishops. Murphy later apologized for this remark.

Still others believe that Bishop Murphy's "style" was on a collision course with that of the newly anointed Archbishop Rwaje and that personality differences between the two men made confrontation inevitable. True or not, Murphy burned a bridge that would never be rebuilt. The relationship between the Province of Rwanda and the AMIA collapsed. Murphy told his people that the mission had spent $46 million dollars over its 12 years, but he would not say, nor could an accounting be obtained, about how much of that went to his friend Archbishop Kolini and the Province of Rwanda. Rwaje later told VOL that he would not be blackmailed by money and he would not change his mind - that the AMIA had to come fully under his authority. He gave Murphy six months to make up his mind if he would stay or go.

Rwandan Bishop John Rucyahana put his finger in the pulse of the situation when he wrote VOL saying, "I wrote an open letter to +Chuck calling for him and the House of Bishops in Rwanda to put right the differences that developed in the June 2011 meeting. Indeed, what I predicted has come true. The formation of a missionary society came at a wrong time when Rwanda was transitioning in leadership from ++ Kolini to ++ Rwaje." Reconciliation, however, was not to be. Positions hardened.


Following his departure from the Province of Rwanda, Murphy looked to other African provinces for ecclesiastical cover but to no avail.

Murphy sought cover from The Rt. Rev. Nathan Kyamanywa, Bishop of Bunyoro-Kitara Diocese, in the Province of Uganda. Ugandan Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi quickly scotched that forcing Bishop Nathan to withdraw his offer.

AMIA continued to flounder in an ocean of ecclesiastical uncertainty. The mission also changed its name several times without telling its clergy. What began as the Anglican Mission in America became the Anglican Mission in the Americas, and then TheAM leaving people wondering and confused.

In another effort to provide canonical residency to clergy in the AMiA and the Society of Mission and Apostolic Works, Murphy approached Archbishop Henri Isingoma of the Province de I'Eglise Anglicane du Congo. Murphy obtained temporary ecclesiastical refuge from the Congolese Archbishop that technically runs out at the end of October. VOL has been told that a letter is on its way from Isingoma saying that they respectfully decline offering the oversight he sought, citing its relationship with Uganda, and Rwanda. Isingoma and Duncan also sit on the GAFCON Primates Council.

Many have asked why the AMIA leadership chose to announce the formation of the Missionary Society move right after Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini retired and Archbishop Rwaje was on his way in and his feet were still wet. The timing seemed poor.

It should be noted that Bishop Murphy's decision to withdraw from ACNA was based on consultation among the AM Council of Bishops and SE Asian Archbishops Moses Tay, Yong Ping Chung, and African Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini. Interference by these retired archbishops incensed Duncan who believes that once an archbishop or bishop retires, he should stay out of the politics of the church.


It all became an unholy mess. Murphy withdrew from the ACNA leadership.

When letters and communiques from both sides floated onto the Internet, the blogosphere exploded. Painful internal memos and emails sent to VOL give a picture of a man out of touch with the reality of what he had done, clinging to power even as his ecclesiastical world was, in the words of Archbishop Duncan, "disintegrating."

As the Anglican Mission narrative has played out, one cannot help but think that a certain amount of paranoia now prevails at the Pawleys Island headquarters. Wrote one observer, "The AM narrative to its front line was first that the problem was Archbishop Rwaje and the HOB of Rwanda, now the narrative has shifted to the problem being Archbishop Bob Duncan and to some extent still Bishop Terrell Glenn (the first bishop to leave the AM for PEARUSA). Add to what is happening now at All Saints, Pawleys Island to Robert L. Grafe one is forced to ask, who is the common denominator in all these clashes"?

"I have heard with my own ears public, hateful, painful, even embarrassing demonization of Archbishop Bob from Bishop Murphy," wrote a priest to VOL. "I have yet to hear it in reverse."

In a personal reflection on Anglican TV on the unholy mess, Archbishop Duncan reiterated what he said in Ridgecrest at a recent ACNA Mission's Assembly Conference: the AMIA is "disintegrating" and that the AMIA poses a challenge to unity in North America and a challenge to unity throughout the Confessing Anglican movement, as well as the emerging communion "which is taking the place of the structures we have known."

Duncan praised the AMIA's early vision for being in the forefront of mission with church planting, "They had hit exactly on the right thing. When I called for the building of 1000 churches we built on the trajectory of the Anglican Mission. We worked very hard with the AMIA to structure a province in North America. What we sought was a diocesan cluster or network that looked at a structure that allowed for the freedoms that had been developed there. In time they became more geographical."

Murphy would have none of it, said Duncan. "In 2010 the AMIA ceased to be a jurisdiction. Murphy didn't want to spend his and AMIA's energies building a church; he only wanted to do the mission. But if you are going to be a church then one must follow the Lord's Prayer in John Ch. 17 where Jesus says we must be one. You can't just focus on the mission and build relationships. The thing we tried to do with the AM is for them to be accountable. We wanted them to be a part of the ACNA and their bishops should be chosen and seated in ACNA's College of Bishops. Then the day came when he didn't want me to communicate with his bishops they could only go through him. He then said he didn't want them to communicate directly with the archbishop, only through him." The AMIA's autonomous and independence emerged.

Duncan was particularly disturbed at the continuing interference from former (retired) archbishops from SE Asia and Rwanda Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini who offered continual cover to Murphy. "Our polity is that when an archbishop ceases to be an archbishop he ceases to be a part of a province actively as an archbishop and must go." That was not the case with Murphy and the AM.

"This is contrary to the good order of the church. We hoped to find a way to work with the AM, but there is no precedence in the Western Church for a dispersed authority found for such a Society for Apostolic Works. When you look at the documents they are not at all Anglican. You can be a member of any church or not. There is nothing particularly Anglican about them. A Primatial vicar is not an Anglican idea."

Duncan recalled how amidst the turbulence Murphy announced that the AMIA was going into the Congo; "He had a sudden arrangement with the Congo, imagine that."

Duncan said the structure of the AM held all power in the hands of one man (Murphy). "As an Apostolic vicar no one really knows what happens or who is accountable to whom. When the Congo had the opportunity to think about it the HOB rejected the idea and only one bishop gave cover. Isingoma offered his province as only temporary cover.

Earlier in April Rwaje, who clearly had jurisdiction, asked AMIA's bishops to declare themselves. "He agreed to give them a window of six months. We in the ACNA agreed to receive those bishops who asked. Bishops Todd Hunter, TJ Johnson and John E. Miller have asked to come into ACNA. Others will follow."

Duncan described the situation as "confusing." When the documents for the Society and Apostolic Works came forward, it became clear that there was a technical accountability of bishops and clergy to ACNA bishops or to bishops in other parts of the world, but there was no real jurisdictional authority. All had been ceded to this apostolic vicar (Murphy).

"We tried to find a pathway forward to partner with the AMIA but confusion reigns. It was impossible. There was no reconciliation. There are more broken relationships than ever," said Duncan.

The archbishop asked for clarity, simplicity and flexibility. "There was no notion of subsidiarity in our dealings. We have tried to be flexible but our being flexible is bringing about more confusion." Duncan said he sent in two of his bishops, one from Canada (Charlie Masters) and the other from Blue Bell, PA (REC Presiding Bishop Leonard Riches) to help work things out but to no avail. "This confusion we are participating in is not helping. Relationships are broken and they are only getting worse. They have been spiraling down since 2010. AMiA doesn't fit the vision laid out to both Kolini and Chuck it all fell on deaf ears."

Duncan delivered his coup de grace.

Duncan told Murphy that if he wanted to be a part of a Mission Society (it is not a jurisdiction), then ACNA could not be a part of the confusion spilling out all over the communion and he could not be participate in the [ACNA] province. "For the good order the church, the ACNA cannot participate in the diminishing confusion. We cannot let them participate in the chaos. As the AMIA reshapes and new generation of leaders emerges perhaps unity will be possible."

Duncan concluded by saying that he hoped the AMIA gets reshaped and that it will want to come back to the ACNA. "We have not changed our vision - we are biblical, missionary and united."

An Anglican leader who has watched the situation unravel said he believes the manner in which Duncan has modeled conciliarity with the [new] Primate of Rwanda will be one of the highlights of his legacy.

To end the confusion, Duncan said that a new diocese was in formation - Western Gulf Coast - that will be under the Rev. Clark Lowenfield, a refugee from the AMIA, who would absorb more of AMIA's congregations.

In their new constitution, AMIA leaders make no mention of any overseas oversight, describing itself simply as a society of mission and apostolic works. You can see it here: http://www.theamia.org/am_cms_media/amia-constitution--adopted.pdf

The sad truth is that the Anglican Mission is fracturing and disintegrating. With less than 100 parishes and six bishops, its long-term survival would seem unsustainable. The Anglican Church in North America is growing and remains the only game in town recognized by leading Global South Anglican Primates. The future clearly belongs to Archbishop Robert Duncan and his successors. All ties with African provinces must at some point cease. One can only hope and pray that whoever succeeds Bishop Murphy will be humble enough to accept that reality and link hands across a divide that should never have broken in the first place.

The Anglican TV interview can be found here: http://www.anglican.tv/content/archbishop-duncan-discusses-amia-crisis

PERSONAL FOOTNOTE: This has been one of the hardest stories this journalist has ever had to write. I have been involved with the AMIA from its inception - over 12 years - attending every winter conference. I have worshipped, heard lectures and sermons, and caught the vision of a movement that was clearly touched by God. Tragically, the pride, hubris and inability of one man to see beyond his own vision for a greater vision, is bringing down the Mission. This is not the first time this has happened and it certainly won't be the last. There is still time to redeem the situation, if wiser heads prevail and full repentance is made.

To read a response to this story from Bishop Murphy click here: http://tinyurl.com/d5lkblu

All communiques, letters are listed here as individual PDFs of each attachment. They are all in a single folder here:

For a rebuttal to this story click here: http://www.virtueonline.org/portal/modules/news/article.php?storyid=16510#.UFDryY2PU1M

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