Akinola denies rift over Primates' letter to Williams
As the squabble continues over a controversial letter issued by some developing world primates after a recent South-South Encounter with the Archbishop of Canterbury on issues dividing the Anglican Communion, Dr Peter Akinola, the Archbishop of Nigeria has bluntly denied claims that it was published without consent.
Last week the Most Rev Clive Handford, Presiding Bishop of Jerusalem and the Middle East, publicly disassociated himself from the letter - which has been widely interpreted as questioning the ability of Dr Rowan Williams to sort out bitter arguments about lesbian and gay people in the 77-million strong worldwide Church.
Bishop Handford said: 'While I saw the 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.'
But Dr Akinola, in a press statement through the Global South Anglican website on Friday, claims that 'no-one objected.'
Referring also to the claim by the conservative Primate of the Southern Cone, Archbishop Gregory Venables, that it was 'scandalous' to make public what was supposed to be a private communication to Dr Williams, Archbishop Akinola says: 'While every person is entitled to a change of opinion, the incontrovertible and indisputable fact remain 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 continues: 'The presentation of the Archbishop of Canterbury to us was made public and has been widely discussed by many who were not present at our Encounter. It is only fair that our collective response to that publication should also be publicly available. Our response was released when it was fully ready and timing was not deliberately planned as being suggested.'
Said Dr Akinola, who has been the prime mover to discipline and remove Anglicans who affirm the ministry of lesbian and gay people in the Anglican Church worldwide, 'We [the developing world Primates] find it pitiable that the media spin is drawing attention away from the deep Biblical discussions contained in our response.'
In an uncompromising statement, the head of the 25 million-strong Nigerian Church also takes the opportunity to lay blame for the division of the Anglican Communion wholly on 'those that would undermine all that we stand for in preserving the sanctity of our One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic faith' - by which he means those dissenting from the majority position on the gay issue.
Ekklesia has spoken to several protagonists in the saga. None are willing to do on the record, but it is clear that the process by which the Global South statement was produced remains mired in confusion and disagreement, despite Archbishop Akinola's belief that it is 'incontrovertible and indisputable.'
Commented one: 'If ëno-one objected', as Archbishop Akinola says, it is only because it never occurred to us that the letter would be published without final approval.'
The names of Presiding Bishop Handford and Archbishop Venables remain on the internet version of the letter, in spite of their public dissociations.
Bishop John Chew of Singapore, general secretary of the third South-South Encounter hosted by the Anglican Diocese of Egypt from 25-30 October, says that he has not received official requests to do so, and the website says that it cannot remove signatories on the basis of press reports alone. Dr Chew is corresponding with Presiding Bishop Handford.
A source close to Global South Anglican commented: 'I am pretty sure that the GS Leadership Team will Ö clarify the procedures for future release of key and important documentsÖ[and that] the controversy generated will lead to some discussions between those leading [the] Global South [Primates] for better ways to communicate with one another and release such information in future.'
Meanwhile the South-South Encounter office says that all primates have been communicated with, and maintains that the global media is wrong in representing the letter as an attack on Dr Williams, as deliberately timed to coincide with the General Synod of the Church of England (where the Archbishop of Canterbury once again pleaded for mutual respect), or as an attempt to engineer further division.
According to Global South Anglican: 'Any thoughts of ëpersonal attacks' or ëcondemnation' were furthest from the minds of those who drafted the letter.'
A Lambeth spokesperson commented last week: 'The Archbishop of Canterbury has made it clear since before the time of his enthronement that neither he nor anyone else has a mandate to change the teaching of the Church by fiat. He is committed to the process to which all the primates [have] committed themselves and their provinces.'
A senior group of Anglican theologians and clerics has recently published a book on Gays and the Future of Anglicanism, which strongly challenges the view of those in the church who see faithful homosexual relationships as going against scripture and tradition.
[Also on Ekklesia: Rowan Williams calls for active dialogue over gay conflict; Global Anglican leaders query C of E church-state link; Read Stephen Bates of The Guardian in conversation about his book, A Church At War; buy Gays and the Future of Anglicanism; Nigerian gay and lesbian Christians challenge Archbishop Akinola; Episcopal bishop rejects Nigerian criticism on gays; Tutu calls on Anglicans to accept gay bishop; understanding St Paul and homosexuality, by Oxford New Testament Professor Christopher Rowland]