Calling it “offensive,” African Anglican primates have dismissed a recommendation made by the Lambeth Commission that they apologize for having unilaterally provided pastoral care and oversight to conservative Anglican parishes and clergy opposed to the ordination of a gay bishop in New Hampshire and the authorization of same-sex blessings in the Vancouver-based diocese of New Westminster.
“We reject the moral equivalence drawn between those who have initiated the crisis and those of us in the Global South who have responded to cries for help from beleaguered friends,” said a statement issued by primates gathered at the first African Anglican Bishops’ Conference (AABC) in Lagos, Nigeria, last Oct. 26 to Nov. 1. “To call on us to ‘express regret’ and reassert our commitment to the Communion is offensive in light of our earlier statements.”
The commission, headed by the Church of Ireland ‘s Archbishop Robin Eames, had asked the Episcopal Church in the United States (ECUSA) and New Westminster to apologize for having “breached the bonds of communion” and for the “deep offence” their decisions regarding sexuality have caused to “many faithful Anglicans.”
But it also asked bishops and primates who offered episcopal oversight to conservative parishes to apologize for “the consequences of their actions.”
No group was asked to apologize for its actions, but rather, only the consquences.
(Bishop Michael Ingham of New Westminster and Bishop Frank Griswold, presiding bishop of ECUSA, have both expressed “regret” for the consequences of their churches’ decisions.)
The commission, created last year by the Archbishop of Canterbury to seek ways of healing the deep divisions over sexuality within 38 provinces of the Anglican Communion (which is composed of 70 million Anglicans worldwide), released its findings in the Windsor Report last Oct. 18.
The Africans’ statement also indicated that primates of the global south would disregard the commission’s recommendation that they stop providing episcopal oversight to dissenting parishes outside their jurisdictions. (Two weeks before the release of the Windsor Report, Archbishop Peter Akinola, primate of the Church of Nigeria and chair of CAPA, announced plans to establish a non-geographic Nigerian diocese, independent of ECUSA, on American soil. Four other primates are providing episcopal oversight to breakaway parishes in New Westminster.)
“We note with approval the recognition that extraordinary episcopal care is needed for congregations alienated from their diocesan bishops,” the primates said. “We remain convinced that the adequacy of that care should be determined by those who receive it.”
Nine out of 12 primates belonging to the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa (CAPA) attended the AABC.
In a press conference, Archbishop Akinola said that African primates were “united” in their opposition to the ordination of openly gay bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire and same-sex blessings in New Westminster. “Homosexuality is not our problem in Africa,” said Archbishop Akinola. “Out of 12 primates, 11 are united in their view that it goes against the church doctrine and the Scripture. It has nothing to do with tradition and culture.” He added that, “only one primate has a different opinion and that is not to say that he has the full support of his province. It is his personal opinion.”
The primate of Southern Africa, Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane has reiterated his church’s commitment to all its congregations, including gays and lesbians. Archbishop Ndungane was not present at the AABC but sent a bishop to represent him. Archbishop Samuel Ndayisenga of Burundi also did not attend. On Nov. 12, he issued a statement that the Episcopal Church of Burundi “remains totally committed to the Anglican Communion.”
A source present at the conference told Anglican Journal that while “a majority” of primates and about 300 African bishops present at the conference were opposed to ordaining gay clergy and bishops, most oppose any plan to break away from the Anglican Communion. “There is a consensus in Africa, except in South Africa, against homosexuality,” said the source, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “But in terms of the Communion, there is no consensus, although most want to remain part of it.”
The Anglican primates’ statement also called on ECUSA and the Anglican Church of Canada to repent and to “move beyond informal expressions of regret for the effect of their actions to a genuine change of heart and mind.” Failure to do so would mean, “they have chosen to ‘walk alone’ and follow another religion,” said the statement.
The African Anglican primates and bishops — whose churches account for about half of the world’s Anglicans — stopped short of calling for a split in the Anglican Communion as feared by some.
However, they announced that they would stop sending African clergy for theological training in Western institutions, and instead establish new theology institutions whose teachings would be consistent with African culture.
“The Western world is embroiled in a religion which we cannot associate ourselves with,” Archbishop Akinola told a press conference, citing that the theology school where he trained in Alexandria, Va., now accommodates same-sex unions.
The AABC did make a statement about where it stood regarding ECUSA, from which traditionally about a third of its grants have come. It did not invite the ECUSA presiding bishop but it welcomed Bishop Bob Duncan of Pittsburgh, moderator of the Anglican Communion Network, which represents disaffected Episcopal dioceses and parishes in the U.S.
But it also invited representatives of the New York-based Trinity (Wall Street) Grants Program, which has been supporting CAPA’s mission for over 25 years, despite earlier statements made by some African primates that CAPA would no longer accept funds from ECUSA. Canon James Callaway, Trinity church deputy for grants, told the AABC that program grants are available to all missions regardless of their theological viewpoint.
No one from the Anglican Church of Canada was invited to the gathering.