Anglican Church leaders engage in a war of words
Tensions between the Episcopal Church and its critics in the worldwide Anglican Communion have escalated with an exchange of strongly worded letters between the church’s presiding bishop and the Anglican archbishop of Nigeria.
The letters involve a planned visit by Nigerian Archbishop Peter J. Akinola to the United States this weekend, in which he is expected to install a bishop to lead congregations that have broken away from the Episcopal Church.
The 2.3-million-member church is the American branch of the Anglican Communion and is at odds with much of the rest of the denomination over the U.S. church’s more liberal views on homosexuality and other issues.
Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, wrote to Akinola on Tuesday, urging him to reconsider his plans to install Martyn Minns, the rector of an Episcopal church in Fairfax, Va., as bishop of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America at a ceremony Saturday. The network is an offshoot of the Anglican Church of Nigeria.
Jefferts Schori said the installation “would violate the ancient customs of the church,” in which bishops generally minister within their own jurisdictions unless permission is granted to do otherwise. Akinola’s plans, she said, “would not help the efforts of reconciliation” between the Episcopal Church and the global communion and would “display to the world division and disunity.”
Akinola, who wields considerable influence as head of the Anglican Communion’s second-largest province, after the Church of England, responded sharply in a letter posted Wednesday on his church’s website. He said that the custom to which Jefferts Schori referred was intended to protect the church from false teaching, not to prevent those who cling to Anglicanism’s traditional teachings from receiving the care of their bishops.
“I also find it curious that you are appealing to the ancient customs of the church when it is your own province’s deliberate rejection of the biblical and historic teaching of the church that has prompted our current crisis,” he wrote.
And he made it clear that he thought the usual protocols were not applicable because of what he viewed as the Episcopal Church’s “current unbiblical agenda.”
Akinola’s visit comes at a crucial moment, as many Anglicans and Episcopalians fear that the 77-million-member communion may break apart. In 2003, long-simmering tensions in the United States and abroad rose when the Episcopal Church consecrated its first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.
The situation escalated further in February, when Anglican leaders gave the Episcopal Church until Sept. 30 to state explicitly that it would bar official blessings for same-sex couples and stop consecrating gay bishops or risk playing a reduced role in the Anglican fellowship.
Akinola is to preside over an installation ceremony for Minns at a nondenominational chapel in Woodbridge, Va. Minns was consecrated as a bishop of the breakaway network in an earlier ceremony in Abuja, Nigeria.
In a conference call with reporters Thursday, Minns said there was an urgent need to find a place for theological conservatives, who are a minority within the Episcopal Church.
Minns said the convocation, which he said included about 30 parishes and 50 clergy members, was the result of a “broken relationship” between the Episcopal Church and the rest of the Anglican Communion. He said he planned to work closely with other groups of breakaway Episcopalians to try to bring them together.
“We are what the church used to be,” Minns said. “Our desire is not to interfere with what [the Episcopal Church is] doing. We simply don’t agree with it.”
Akinola’s letter is on his church’s website, anglican-nig.org. Jefferts Schori’s letter is available at the Episcopal Church’s website, episcopalchurch.org.