- Peter Akinola, the Anglican Archbishop of Nigeria, and Emmanuel Kolini, the Anglican Archbishop of Rwanda, in a joint statement today said they had "experienced the power of the Holy Spirit moving among us" at an Anglican summit in Lambeth. The two conservative men had just achieved that the entire Anglican Communion condemns the ordination of gay priests and the blessings of same sex unions.
2003 indeed has been an "annus horribilis" for the Anglican church as the issue of homosexuality split the communion in one conservative camp - led by African archbishops - and one liberal camp of the Northern churches. Canon Gene Robinson, a gay Canadian priest, was confirmed as Bishop of New Hampshire, Oxford in England almost got a gay Bishop, the Episcopal Church of the USA approved of the blessings of same sex unions and African churches broke all ties with the Diocese of New Westminster and the Episcopal Church.
This week, the primates of the Anglican Communion have been united in Lambeth to find a solution to the conflict that threatened to create one Northern and one Southern Anglican communion. It turned out that the conservative churchmen, headed by Nigeria's Primate Akinola, had been most effective in their campaigning.
The victory of the anti-gay camp was almost total. While the Lambeth summit reaffirmed the Anglican Church's "commitment to listen to the experience of homosexual persons in an ongoing process of study," all the gains for gay clergy and Anglicans made in North America and Britain this year were nullified.
The final resolution of the Lambeth meeting means that "the wider Communion cannot support the recent developments for the blessings of same sex unions or the election of Canon Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire," according to an official statement from the Church. "Indeed, the ministry of Gene Robinson as a bishop will not be recognised or received in the vast majority of the Anglican world."
The summit thus blessed the "state of impaired or broken communion" with the Diocese of New Hampshire and with the whole of the US Episcopal Church for "many parts of the Anglican Communion," including most African churches. It however still remained unsure how these divisions were to "affect the relationship of each province with the See of Canterbury as the centre of unity of the Communion."
Official statements from the Lambeth conference include remarkably few references to religious issues - they do not even refer to the Bible - and only sum up technical details of the practical compromise achieved. They further illustrate that the conflict was not over religion but over conservative versus liberal world views.
The fight indeed had been both bitter and loud. The conservatives blamed the liberals of "heresy" and the liberals blamed the conservatives of wasting their time and energy while their congregations were suffering from hunger and AIDS.
In particular Nigerian Archbishop Akinola didn't bother to stick to diplomacy as he lifted the rhetoric to Mugabean heights during the fight. The Nigerian Primate observed "the rich churches of the North" to be manipulative and to use their financial power to force the poorer churches of Africa and Asia into "heresy". Africa's churches now needed to become financially "self-reliant as a matter of urgency," Mr Akinola stated, while breaking ties with those Northern churches practicing "a new imperialism".
The pugnacious Nigerian easily found comrades-in-arms among many of his counterparts in the developing world, where the issue of homosexuality mostly remains taboo. In Africa, Mr Akinola was joined by the Archbishops of Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi and Central Africa and by several Asian and Caribbean churches. His outspokenness even helped him get elected Chairman of the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa (CAPA) two weeks ago.
Though the anti-gay campaign of the Nigerian Primate was successful in most church provinces of the South, he also met his most eager resistance in Africa. Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane of Southern Africa led the liberals' campaign against Mr Akinola. The Archbishop of Canterbury - the spiritual leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion - meanwhile had to make a diplomatic retreat from his pro-gay conviction to take the role of mediation.
With two African Archbishops leading the two camps into the battlefield, the fight for a long time seemed to break even. The liberal camp however didn't possess the same arms as the conservative camp, which more or less openly threatened with a break-up of the Anglican Community. This price was, finally, too expensive for the Communion, resulting in yesterday's victory for Mr Akinola.
The Primates agreed to let the issue and the fight rest for now and not make any more inflammatory statements. Archbishop Akinola of Nigeria and colleague Kolini of Rwanda however still needed to celebrate their victory in public. While not mentioning the issue, their joint statement noted: "We are so grateful to God for hearing the prayers and cries of his praying people to preserve both the truth and the unity of the Anglican Communion." Diplomacy has returned.
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