Conservative Leader Refuses to Surrender in Fight to Preserve Anglican Tradition

( [email protected] ) Nov 08, 2007 10:38 AM EST

Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola has urged for a meeting with other Anglican leaders worldwide to respond to what he sees as a crisis stemming from the American church that will affect the entire Anglican body.

"The situation in The Episcopal Church is deteriorating rapidly," said Akinola, arguably considered the most powerful Anglicans in the 77-million-member communion. The Episcopal Church is the U.S. branch of Anglicanism.

"We are losing members. We are losing time. We are losing our integrity as an important part of the One, holy Catholic and Apostolic Church," he said.

The archbishop’s comments were written last week in a letter addressed to Anglican primates – the top leaders of Anglican provinces worldwide. The letter was released Wednesday.

Primates are expected to respond to a resolution passed by U.S. Episcopal bishops in in September stating that they will "exercise restraint" in approving partnered gays as bishops and authorizing public rites of the blessing of same-sex unions.

The Episcopal Church had caused uproar in the Anglican Communion when it consecrated its first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, in 2003.

Earlier this year, Anglican bishops had requested for the American church to make an unequivocal pledge not to consecrate another openly gay bishop or authorize same-sex unions. Conservative leaders also more specifically called for a "heartfelt repentance" and "genuine change" to get back in line with the communion and with Scripture, as many of the bishops in the Global South had stated.

The U.S. bishops, however, indicated they would not pull back from their pro-gay stance and further called for "unequivocal and active commitment to the civil rights, safety, and dignity of gay and lesbian persons."

In his letter, Akinola, one of several conservative Anglicans who have provided primatial oversight to those in the United States discontent with the liberal direction of The Episcopal Church, also defended his move to shelter conservative U.S. Anglicans, calling it a "heartfelt response to cries for help."

"We acted in accordance with the Gospel mandate," he wrote in the letter, arguing against claims that his missionary initiative in the United States was an "intervention" or "incursion."

"Had TEC (The Episcopal Church), against all godly warnings, not taken actions that tore the fabric of our beloved Communion there would be no need for hundreds indeed, thousands of its members to seek pastoral, episcopal and now primatial care elsewhere," Akinola stated.

Offshoots set up by Akinola as well as three other overseas leaders to provide a place for those in the United States to remain "faithful Anglicans" have been rejected by Episcopal leaders who have called alternative oversight from overseas bishops "injurious" to the polity of The Episcopal Church.

Akinola, however, argued that the situation is not about polity nor is his offshoot (Convocation of Anglicans in North America) an interest in territorial expansion. He indicated that Scripture must take precedence over the structures of the church.

"The world needs to understand that the situation that we now confront is not primarily about structure or conferences but about irreconcilable truth claims," he wrote. "Of course there is value to preserving Anglican structures but we must never do so at the expense of the people for whom our Lord Jesus the Christ gave his life."

The Nigerian leader has stated that he would dissolve the offshoot if The Episcopal Church gets back in line with the rest of the communion and repents for its controversial actions.

While still a minority, a growing number of Episcopal parishes have split from The Episcopal Church, citing the national church's departure from scriptural authority and Anglican tradition. Many face property litigation.

"Their only crime is a desire to continue their Christian pilgrimage as faithful Anglicans," said Akinola, defending those who have disaffiliated.

"Sadly, it is becoming increasingly clear that the only acceptable end as far as TEC is concerned is the full capitulation of any who would stand in opposition to their biblically incompatible innovations - this we will never do," Akinola stressed.