Christian Living

ChurchWatch 09/27/07

Nigerian Archbishop Rejects U.S. Episcopal Church's Proposal

Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola has rejected the U.S. Episcopal Church's latest efforts to calm tensions over the consecration of gay bishops. The stand taken by the U.S. church is threatening to split the global Anglican-Episcopalian family.

Akinola, a vocal and influential leader of the faction seeking an outright ban on gay bishops, said a resolution this week by the U.S. Episcopalians that failed to explicitly bar gay bishops from the pulpit meant his followers' "pleas have once again been ignored."

"Instead of the change of heart that we sought, what we have been offered is merely a temporary adjustment," Akinola said in a statement posted on his church's Web site late Wednesday.

Akinola said church leaders would have to meet to coordinate their response. He made no mention of a formal separation.

In February the leaders of the world's 38 independent Anglican Churches met in Tanzania and told the Episcopal Church it would have to promise not to ordain any more gay bishops or authorize the blessing of same-sex relationships in church services.

They also demanded an autonomous new church-body with its own presiding chief cleric as a home for traditionalists in America. They set a deadline of the end of September for the Episcopal Church, which is the Anglican body in the U.S.

After what was reported to be a tense six-day meeting of Episcopal bishops in New Orleans, U.S. bishops affirmed a resolution passed last year by the Episcopal General Convention that urged bishops to "exercise restraint" by not consenting to a candidate for bishop "whose manner of life presents a challenge" to Anglicans and the church. The promise, however, falls short of an outright ban. The Episcopal leaders also promised they would not approve official prayers to bless same-gender couples.

Anglican leaders from around the world have agreed with Akinola's comments about the decision of the U.S. Episcopal Church.

"You may believe you have discovered a very different truth from that of the majority in the Anglican Communion," said Archbishop Mouneer Anis of Egypt, speaking to the men and women of the U.S. House of Bishops gathered this week in New Orleans. "It is not just about sexuality, but about your views of Christ, the Gospel and the authority of the Bible.

"Please forgive me when I relay that some say you are a different church, others even think that you are a different religion."

Akinola, who has arranged and oversees breakaway Episcopal congregations in the United States, said the latest proposal wasn't enough.

"It was our expressed desire to provide one final opportunity for an unequivocal assurance from The Episcopal Church of their commitment to the mind and teaching of the Communion," Akinola wrote.

"We also made clear that it is a time for clarity and a rejection of what hitherto has been endless series of ambiguous and misleading statements. Sadly it seems that our hopes were not well founded and our pleas have once again been ignored."

The homosexual issue has been divisive within the church as a whole and within the American church. Four of the 110 Episcopal dioceses are taking steps to split off from the national church and align with an overseas Anglican church.

Anglican leaders from Nigeria, Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda and elsewhere have violated Anglican tradition that they minister only within their own provinces and have consecrated bishops to oversee breakaway Episcopal congregations in the United States.

In a statement on Tuesday, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts-Schori, on behalf of the U.S. bishops, fired a shot at the African bishops. "We deplore incursions into our jurisdictions by uninvited bishops and call for them to end," she said.

But the groundswell of conservative, Bible-believing churches and dioceses that are breaking away from the Episcopal church continues to gain momentum. Seventeen bishops have already been ordained by a variety of African churches to lead splinter groups in the United States, and there are more on the way.

According to Robert Pigott of the BBC, there is gathering momentum to unite into an independent new church and compete for recognition as the authentic voice of Anglicanism in the United States.

John Guernsey, ordained a bishop earlier this month in Uganda, presides over All Saints, and 32 other parishes. He says a united traditionalist Anglican Church cannot come soon enough, and looks to their meeting in Pittsburgh to take a big step towards establishing it.

"Clearly we want to be fully unified as a biblical, missionary, Anglicanism that is one", he says. "We certainly hope that the Anglican Communion will give recognition and standing to those who are holding to the teaching of the Communion here in America."

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