The upcoming global meeting of Anglican archbishops can be a make or break time for the 77 million-member Anglican Communion.
Archbishop Peter Akinola of the Church of Nigeria, reportedly the largest province in the worldwide communion, says the issue of homosexuality must be resolved before the 2008 Lambeth Conference. Otherwise, Akinola is counting his church out.
The bishop told the Guardian newspaper of Lagos that the conference is not worth attending if it will "not be able to guide the church in a way that the church will embrace" and "comply."
Division in the global body escalated when the Episcopal Church consecrated an openly gay bishop in 2003. Last November, the church invested its first female bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, who supports the consecration of homosexuals and the blessing of same-sex unions.
The recent actions of the Episcopal Church were seen as a violation to a 1998 Lambeth Resolution where Anglican heads worldwide agreed on the rejection of homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture. Earlier this month, the Church of Nigeria had warned that they cannot walk together with provinces that do not repent of such violation.
Sending more than 100 Nigerian bishops to the 2008 Lambeth Conference would not be an "act of prudent stewardship," said Akinola, "if the conference was simply going to be an expensive Episcopal jamboree."
"The American Church rejected this (Lambeth Resolution), saying its approval of homosexual behavior is their business and not ours," said Akinola, according to Virtue Online, the self-claimed voice for Global Orthodox Anglicanism. "They said it is good for them. That is why we are saying in Nigeria and indeed in Africa that if the Lambeth Conference resolutions and consensus-building will be of no use to some people, it is not worth attending."
Akinola said he will rather use that money for mission and evangelism in Nigeria. And if the Nigerian bishops pull out of the conference, they plan to hold their own Lambeth meeting, a gathering held every 10 years.
While some Anglican leaders and media have blasted Akinola for being "anti-gay," Akinola clarified that the Church of Nigeria teaches the truth of Scripture and understands that every person, regardless of their sexual orientation "is made in the image of God, loved by God, and deserving of the utmost respect."
Anglican bishops from 38 provinces are scheduled to meet at a key Primates meeting mid-February in Tanzania. Although the meeting is limited to head representatives of each province, Archbishop Rowan Williams invited three other U.S. bishops, in addition to Jefferts Schori, to the gathering. The three bishops representing the more conservative Anglican groups in the United States will reportedly present their voices during a recess of the meeting.
The Primates gathering is being viewed as a key meeting that may determine the unity or the break of the worldwide communion. "We are hoping that after the primates’ meeting in Tanzania next month, we will have a clearer vision of what we have,” said Akinola. “If the Lambeth Conference is worth attending, we must put this problem behind us.”