ACNS 3591 | NIGERIA | 23 SEPTEMBER 2003
[ACNS source: All Africa News Agency] The Archbishop of the Church of Nigeria, the Most Revd Peter J. Akinola, has written a strong-worded letter to his southern Africa counterpart, Archbishop Winston Njongonkulu Ndungane of Cape Town, expressing deep criticism over the stand taken by Archbishop Ndungane on the controversial issue of gay ordination within the Anglican Church.
Responding to Archbishop Ndungane's recent sentiments published in a leading British newspaper, Archbishop Akinola has launched a scathing attack on his fellow churchman, telling him, "you got it all wrong".
Archbishop Ndungane had indicated in an interview that African clergymen, including Archbishop Akinola, who were expressing opposition to gay ordination were arrogant, intolerant and hypocritical.
Below is the full text of Archbishop Akinola's letter, released yesterday:
A MESSAGE TO ARCHBISHOP NDUNGANE
"My attention has just been drawn to a publication by a religious affairs correspondent in a British daily criticising the stand of a majority of Global South Primates and several other bishops around the world over the current departures arising from the ongoing controversies surrounding unscriptural revisionist innovations on human sexuality.
Your criticism is based on some unfortunate presuppositions. And coming at this time, it appears like an attempt to cause a possible diversion of focus amongst African and Global South Church leaders. But thank God these leaders have come of age, they are no longer to be pulled by the nose nor taken for granted. We are poised, using every gift of God available to us to defend orthodoxy, the integrity of the Church, and banish the erroneous teachings you plan to impose on us.
1. How correct are you dear brother Archbishop Ndungane in judging the cloud of witnesses to biblical truth through the ages whose stand on biblical ethics is only being upheld by those of us who are now branded as arrogant and intolerant? Is there anything in our pronouncements that constitutes a departure from the standard of morality held out in the Bible?
Isn't it a paradox that the Archbishop of Southern Africa sees no arrogance in those whose flagrant disregard of the stand of the entire Anglican Communion has plunged us into this sad and avoidable controversy. They have refused to ensure strict compliance with resolutions duly passed at the Bishops' Lambeth Conference and the Primates' Meetings. To you that is alright. Should there not be a protest against such disrespect? When has the poor (as we in the Global South are often called) begun to be proud over and against the rich (the affluent West)?
2. How can you forget so soon the alert we sounded at the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) in Hong Kong barely a year ago? It is worth repeating here:
"While I appreciate that the New Westminster diocese and the Church of Canada may not be, in numerical terms, especially large ecclesia bodies, we value them as dearly as we value all our partner Provinces. We have a growing fear for the sense of loss which sustained departure by them from our common path and mind must risk. We urge and pray that reflection will lead to reconsideration. It is hard indeed to see any action, which threatens our Communion to be justified as a 'local mission priority'"
3. Brother Ndungane, you got it all wrong. What you cited as top priorities are in this context clearly misplaced. I ask, are the issues of peace, hunger, sharia, and HIV/AIDS, serious and prevalent, as they are, more important to the Church than faithfulness to the plain truth of Scripture? We remind you dear brother of our Lord's response to a similar situation two thousand years ago as recorded in Luke 13:1-5.(Please take time to read it over and over again). His response was that, tragic as those situations were, the more important priority was repentance. He actually said, "Unless you repent, you too will all perish" It didn't mean that Christ was not compassionate. If anything He demonstrated compassion daily in His miracles and teachings. We are following His footsteps by doing all we can for those caught in these painful conditions as part of our holistic approach to ministry.
We place a high priority on caring. For sure, the Archbishop has not forgotten that 'man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from God' (Dt. 8:3; Matt. 4:4; Lk. 4:4). Peace, hunger, sharia and HIV/AIDS are indeed major life and death issues, albeit, they are at the physical level. Unfaithfulness to Scripture is a more major life and death issue because it is spiritual. What shall it profit a man to feed well and live long here on earth only to lose his soul in hell? What then is the Church here for ?
4. On the question of integrity of ECUSA's decision, again we ask, can one eat his cake and still have it in his hands? And can two walk together unless they be agreed? (Amos 3:3). If the integrity of a part is so important, what will be said of the whole? And it must be said that this is not a matter of 'unity in diversity' for according to the rule: in the essentials, unity; in the non-essentials, freedom; in all things charity, the issue at stake falls within the orbit of the essentials and thus any deviation means alienation.
One suspects in your unguarded and scathing criticism a resurgence of a hitherto latent feeling of hurt since the Lambeth Conference Committee on human sexuality you chaired was overwhelmingly overruled by the so-called hard-liners who are not willing to compromise the precious heritage of scriptural truth.
5. The accusation of hypocrisy does not recognise the inherent difference between what the Church openly and officially sanctions and what it does not but exists. In the former, the Church stands responsible while in the latter, the burden of blame and guilt remains the private responsibility of those concerned with the accompanying room for repentance and forgiveness. This accusation carries with it an uncomfortable insinuation of double standards on the part of those opposed to homosexuality in the Church. However, it still does not square up as two wrongs do not add up to a right.
6. The unwarranted accusation that Africans do not know much about their sexuality portends a talking-down of Africans-a gnostic tendency that is capable of weakening the resolve of the African church leaders to be God's prophets in times like this. The biblical prophets resisted it and so must their contemporary counterparts.
I ask you dear brother to face issues and not fall into the temptation of "casting stones". Apparently you do not know everything I have said and done on every issue concerning Nigeria. That you have not heard any fuss from me in the foreign media about certain issues does not mean the Church which by the grace of God I lead is doing nothing. For instance, I deliberately included Zamfara State in the itinerary of the immediate past Archbishop of Canterbury to Nigeria and called the world's attention to the infringement on fundamental human rights that the imposition of the Islamic penal code portended for freedom-loving peoples. The Church in Nigeria has borne the most brunt of this unwarranted imposition. If you care to know, I urge you to refer to the volumes of published findings by Christian Solidarity Worldwide following their repeated visits to Nigeria, including my Office.
May I say as I conclude that your comments reveal a palpable failure to grasp the nature of the issues at stake. Your criticism is so burdened with such sad and most unfortunate presuppositions that see our stand from the point of arrogance and intolerance rather than a strong will to defend the 'faith that was once delivered to the saints.' When you accuse us of arrogance and intolerance, be courageous enough to direct the searchlight at yourself and those for whom you spoke.
What is at stake has to do not just with the identity of the Church universal and our historic faith but also how we treat God and his incarnate and written Word. Yes, we are a worldwide communion, but our church is only a part of the holy, catholic and apostolic Church. Where the autonomy of any part of our communion becomes a scandal in the entire Christian world, then we must be humble enough to accept rebuke and correction. There is still room for repentance. Amen."
The Most Revd Peter J Akinola
Archbishop, Metropolitan and Primate
The Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion.