Reflections on Refractions, Unreasonable Left-leaning Leaders' Outlooks

 

"Measure with a micrometer, mark it with chalk, cut it with an axe, and phase it out in two years…"

Those who served in the military (of any nation) will recognize the sentiment above, which describes the host of contradictions that often are found in institutional life. In many ways, the administrative core of the Anglican Communion functions much like that, presenting paradoxes and contradictions.  

One quandary of our post modern world is that people have no problem stating as facts positions that are contradictory. Further, a common practice is to demonize those with whom one disagrees. At the core of this current dilemma in Western culture is the tendency to hold positions not based on ontological truth—the objective reality of things that actually are—choosing instead to argue for how they wish things were and calling their misconceptions ‘truth.’ The practice is rampant in politics and, unfortunately, is even found in some areas of science (e.g., in the way environmentalists often demand acceptance of theories). Most troubling, however, is when people approach theology with what I will dub "wishology": wishing for things rather than discovering truth. The reason that this misguided approach is so serious in theology is that there are eternal consequences to some decisions. 

Recently, Bishop Josiah Idowu Fearon, formerly Archbishop of Kaduna ecclesiastical province and Bishop of Kaduna, Nigeria (and now Secretary-General of the Anglican Communion), recorded an interview in London at the Anglican Communion Office with Canon Ian Ellis of the Church of Ireland Gazette. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll use simply the title Abp Josiah for him. 

The interview was deeply disappointing and very much like so many of the institutionalists' talking points. Sadly, it is increasingly the pattern for those in positions of institutional leadership to eschew serving all those in their organizations, while dismissing a boatload of faithful people who just haven't changed with the times. Often, liberal-leaning leaders will present assertions that simply cannot withstand scrutiny. Even more frustrating, as occurs in this interview, they often promote positions that serve only to advance the liberal agenda, all the while claiming to be conservative. Here is a link to the interview with ABp Josiah, the Anglican Communion General Secretary: 

https://gazette.ireland.anglican.org/interview-67-archbishop-josiah-idowu-fearon/

Historical Departure: Advocating for an Inclusive “Rainbow” Church

I’ve known Abp Josiah since 1998. I remember visiting with him at the 1998 Lambeth Bishops’ Conference and can recall the very spot where we spoke on the University of Kent campus. I pointed out that he was spending a great deal of time with notorious Western liberals. He laughed and said, “I know myself.  I can take their money and do things in my diocese where there are needs.” 

I replied, “I believe you will find that you can’t dance with the devil and keep from smelling like smoke.” [Note: That is an old proverbial saying, I’m not actually saying that liberals are the devil.]

Over the years, I have continued to listen to him and other Communion leaders protest how conservative they are and, yet, insist that the only right position is for us to stay together with those who are changing the faith. These individuals also regularly contend that institutional unity is the only godly response to the conflicts in the Communion. 

When ABp Maurice Sinclair and ABp Drexel Gomez published To Mend the Net in 2001, I was invited by ABp Peter Akinola to the House of Bishops in Nigeria to introduce the book and present its blueprint for exercising discipline in the Communion, in a gracious, coherent way. By that time, I had quite a bit of experience with ABp Fearon, so I was surprised that ABp Akinola had scheduled him to speak to the House of Bishops immediately after me. It seemed it would be an opportunity for him to completely dismantle what I was presenting. 

When I spoke, I gave my testimony and shared how much the Nigerian Church had meant to me, having been very close with some of their Bishops and ABp Joseph Adeteloye, the previous Primate. I was humbled by the grace I received from the Bishops and the warmth of their welcome. The Bishops were overwhelmingly enthusiastic about ABps Sinclair’s and Gomez’s proposals. When I finished my presentation, the Archbishop and the Bishops invited me to stay in the meeting. I was eager to stay because I was interested in both what ABp Josiah would say and how what he said would be received by the other Bishops. 

Parroting the language of Western liberals, Abp Josiah said, “We need to be an inclusive church—like a rainbow,” echoing the voices of The Episcopal Church in the USA (TEC). He went on and on, laying out pretty much the basic liberal talking points, but didn’t get far. I was shocked to see how strong the distress among the Bishops was until many stood up and insisted that he stop speaking. The meeting ended with a resounding rejection of his presentation. Undaunted, he said to me, “You see the unreasonable way that I am treated—what I have to put up with?"

I’ve seen ABp Josiah on many occasions since then. Each time, he has been saying the same things, describing how conservative he is, all the while “striping the playing field” in a way that tends to advance the liberal agenda. To my knowledge, nothing has been done to aid the conservative perspective. 

Restriping the Field or Creating Alligator Pits?

As you listen to this interview, you will hear sweeping criticisms of the leadership of the Anglican Churches in Africa, condemnation of GAFCON, and actually, by default after dismissing others, the establishment of himself as the arbiter of truth. I’ll only offer a few examples, which I believe represent the way that institutional leaders seem to view the rest of us: as “little people” who need to be straightened out. 

The “re-striping of the field” works to include areas and activities that previously have been proscribed. By insisting that everyone in the Communion stay together and accept each other’s belief and behavior, he is embracing dangerous beliefs and practices, including the incorporation of the same-sex agenda into the life of the church, even while claiming he disagrees with it. Not only is his new area out of bounds, it is fraught with danger.

In affirming pretty much everything uncritically, Liberal Progressives introduce not just change, but danger.  Those who argue that we have to accept those who seek to change the tenets of the faith are actually creating a very dangerous alligator pit. Healthy conservatives don’t say “No” to same-sex sexual intimacy out of hatred Hate is not in the balance (for most folks anyway).. Rather, we recognize that departure from Biblical standards poses great risks for people. What is important to us is fidelity to Biblical faith and love-your-neighbor-as-yourself concern for people. The negative consequences of same-sex sexual intimacy are legion––physically, psychologically, and spiritually. It is not rejection, lack of love, or hatred that causes me to hope people avoid disease, depression, shortened life span, or worst of all, separation from God’s redeeming love. It is concern. Liberals who reject Biblical truth about sexuality are doing a great disservice. Literally, there is nothing worse than the church leading people away from the redeeming love of Jesus Christ. That has eternal implications and is absolutely unacceptable.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

Our opposition to “re-striping the field” is based on the recognition of that danger. Today, the Church is confronted with two opposing world views, or perspectives regarding reality. One is the traditional, orthodox Judeo-Christian world view that God made the world and has revealed in the Scriptures His design for how we relate with Him and how we should live. The other world view is that we have the ability—even the right—to decide everything for ourselves [sounds rather like Isaiah 14:13,14]. People who entertain this position insist that those who disagree are judgmental haters, but the traditional position is NOT about hate and despotism. Neither is it about American conservative activists beguiling naïve African leaders to make same-sex issues a “front burner” issue when African leaders don’t care about the issue. The issue is with two very different world views. 

Rejecting GAFCON: Charges Without Warrant

In the aforementioned interview, ABp Josiah goes on to reject GAFCON and makes the grave claim that it "is not a movement of the Holy Spirit." He claims, instead, that it is a movement seeking division and offers as his proof three misconceptions.

First, he says that “despotic” African leaders ”forced” Bishops to attend the 2008 gathering in Jerusalem. In denouncing African leaders (and he includes both secular and church leaders as despots), he makes no exceptions and offers no example of anyone who operates differently from pursuing despotism, except (surprise!) himself. While there is no doubt that modern Anglican Church history in Africa has had some scoundrels, to dismiss them all as despots, as ABp Josiah does, is ludicrous. He proudly points out that he had the gift of a Western education that produced humility in him, and apparently qualifies him to make disparaging remarks about his brothers in Christ.

Here is a quotation from the interview. "The Church in Africa lacks effective leadership. African church leaders generally do not see themselves as leading the way Christ leads His church. Rather the African leaders see themselves in the role of traditional leaders with absolute authority—terribly despotic. African church leaders—and I’m speaking from experience—are very despotic.” 

This presumption—to dismiss and denigrate those who disagree with one—is straight out of the liberal playbook. I’ve not known every leader in Africa, but over decades, I have known many of them well. I have found the overwhelming majority of them to be luminaries—not a gaggle of despots. No one is perfect save Jesus, but I know greatness when I see it. I have seen it in the likes of Archbishops Adeteloye, Akinola, and Okoh (Nigeria); Mtetemela (Tanzania); Nkyoyo, Orombi, and Ntagali (Uganda); Rwaje (Rwanda); Malango (Central Africa); Kuria, Gitari, Nzimbi, Wabukala, and Ole Sapit (Kenya);  Akrofi and Johnson (West Africa); and Yugasuk, Marona, and Deng Bul (Sudan). In addition to those great Archbishops, there are hundreds of Bishops who have served with distinction all across Africa, as well as countless clergy and other Christians. I could easily list scores of them who have loved people and valued the Gospel more than their very lives. Is there a scoundrel or two among them? Of course. I have known many of the Bishops though, and I find lots of saints and hardly a despot. Reality is a very different world from the one painted by liberals, who see those who disagree with them as being altogether disagreeable. 

The second reason for rejecting GAFCON rises from the claim that the Jerusalem Declaration was not debated, a falsehood that neglects how it was developed.

For the record, the development of the Jerusalem Declaration was a prayerful and deliberate process that involved all the participants. Each day during the conference, after each of the many plenary sessions, small group discussions, break-out discussions, and workshops, people were given 3 x 5 cards and asked for input. The cards asked questions such as: 

               What are you hearing that you think is from God?

               Is there anything we are missing?

               Is there anything that you think we are getting right?

               What do you think the Lord is trying to do among us? 

Those cards, thousands of them, were sent to a large working group of almost a hundred people who worked diligently to categorize them and forwarded themes and messages to the drafting team. The drafting group of approximately a dozen individuals started with a literally blank page and began to put ideas down on paper. The information gathering and drafting procedures were the idea of ABp Akinola, who insisted that we go with a blank slate rather than a pre-done statement to refine. He insisted, and all the leadership agreed, that was the way to go. All along the way, absolutely every single bit of input that was offered was given serious consideration. 

After the first reading, the entire conference gathered into national groups that sent amendments to the drafting committee. They worked until 3:00 A.M.,  incorporating the changes and suggestions. Rather than being “cooked” or forced, it was singularly the most open Church meeting and document I have ever attended. 

People felt tremendous ownership of both the Jerusalem Declaration and the longer Jerusalem Statement that contains it.  When the final copy was read, there was stunned silence at the profundity of both the Jerusalem Declaration and the Jerusalem Statement and how completely they represented what was happening in our gathering. That is why when it was read, after a moment, the group rose and gave a rousing shout and applause of affirmation. I remember thinking, “Dear Lord, this must be what happened in Nicaea!”

ABp Josiah dismisses the document because it “wasn’t debated.” That is a specious argument. The final statement did not have to be debated because we all had input into its creation and it reflected our hearts and what we heard God saying. All of the eleven hundred people there had the chance to have major impact on the content. It was presented and passed without dissent, but no one was pressured to approve it. We all just loved it.  In the end, not one person dissented, not even him. When it was presented, people could have said, “No, we’re not done,” but that didn’t happen because the process was so open.

Third, he rejects GAFCON because he contends that those who refused to attend the 2008 Lambeth Bishops’ Conference were, by definition, divisive. Again, he is espousing one of the liberals’ talking points. They posit, “If GAFCON members cared, they would come to the Lambeth Conference and work things out.” The problem with that position is that the playing field must be level for honest negotiation, and it is not the least bit level. Ever since the day after the Lambeth Bishops’ Conference in 1998, the Anglican Communion structures have been at work to reverse the clarity of Lambeth 1.10, which states that same-sex sexual intimacy is incompatible with Scripture. It is not surprising that, having watched Primates at meeting after meeting speak with clarity only to have the Communion Office or other leaders change or ignore what was said, some leaders no longer consider that “showing up” is fruitful. That doesn’t make them schismatic; it just means that they are not foolish. 

Some Realities to Consider

Turning to last January's Primates’ Meeting, we find a new attempt to “re-brand” or redesign the playing field so as to water down the overwhelming and clear message of the Primates. They voted something like 30 to 6 to discipline TEC for changing the definition of marriage. Rather than taking the guidance of the Primates seriously, today’s Anglican liberals dismiss their voice as being only advisory and seek to elevate the Anglican Consultative Council as “the only legal body.” This action overlooks the historical tradition that, until recently, successive Lambeth  Bishops’ Conferences have called for “enhanced responsibility for the Primates.” Another liberal talking point that surfaced in the interview is, “where there is love, there are no ‘no-go’ areas.” His contention is that the Primates did not act in love because they sought to inhibit TEC from participating in matters of doctrine, polity, and ecumenical affairs. But any parent (or even pet owners for that matter!) know that discipline, including sometimes saying, “No,” is often the most loving thing that can be offered. When Abp Josiah says that the Primates are only advisory, what is left, is the elite perspective that there are those who know best—and it’s NOT the body of Primates.  

While it is true that the Primates said they desired to “walk together,” not walk apart, the whole story must be told. Actions by a Province can isolate them, lead to their marginalization, or even ultimately lead to expulsion. What Abp Josiah left out is that “walking together” means walking together with agreement about the substance of the faith. The decision to impose limits was the action taken by the Primates to call TEC into a place where walking together is possible. The term was three years because it would be three years until the General Convention of TEC could meet again to reverse (hopefully) what they had done in re-defining marriage. I remember one of the Primates in Canterbury saying, “Surely when they see how serious this is, they will turn back.” (Of course, most people know that they will never change.)

Another common liberal misconception is that African leaders are easily beguiled. The accompanying talking point goes something like this: "Very conservative people in the U.S. pumped this [concern about same-sex activity] into some African leaders. It is these conservative Americans who have made this a front burner issue.” Rubbish! What I have found in Africa are leaders who have said, “No!” to unbiblical activity. One of my favorite quotes from a Bishop I met at a conference in Uganda in 1995 was, “We lived in great darkness. Western missionaries came with the Bible and taught us to turn from our ancestral religion and embrace Jesus Christ. Our lives have been immeasurably better when we turn to Christ and try to live as He teaches in the Bible. Now Westerners come back and say, ‘Wait! Don’t believe the Bible.’ Why would we want to turn away from Christ, Who has given us everything!?!” That Bishop did not start believing the Bible because I convinced him to. He believes the Bible because Jesus changed his life. 

Of course, no liberal Anglican Communion agenda would be complete without an attempt to revive the Anglican Covenant. In fact, ABp Josiah says, “Without the Covenant, there is no Communion.” He wants to put the emphasis on the things everyone can share regardless of what they believe or do. At the same time, he proposes that the fourth section of the Covenant, the part that would exercise discipline, be re-written to be about the administration of common life. What is never going to work is ordering discipline in a global Communion on anything other than Scripture.

It is particularly sad how those who espouse the liberal talking points are so quick to demonize people who hold differing views. It is stunning the way that American conservatives, African leaders, and even great Primates like ABp Mouneer Anis (Jerusalem and the Middle East) are dismissed and denigrated. ABp Josiah says that ABp Mouneer is simply wrong in claiming that the liberal sex agenda has a negative impact on evangelism with Muslims. Really? That’s not what the Muslims themselves say. I have seen with my own eyes and held in my hand a Xerox copy of a news story about same-sex relationships that Muslims had copied and written across the top a denunciation of local Anglicans because they were linked with the American liberals. 

Where the Holy Spirit is at work, He will prick consciences and work to reform hearts. Over time, as we walk with Him, we should become more like Christ. We should have tender hearts toward those with whom we disagree. Sweeping denunciations without testing the content of our own hearts is a recipe for sophistry.   

Sadly, there is mounting evidence that it is altogether too easy to be like Darth Vader in Star Wars and to reject others in such a way that one becomes what they say they hate.

"Good Lord deliver us. Help us to be agents of true reconciliation, not just affirming whatever people want, but coming together under Your headship, building the Body of Christ into all You want us to be."