Hope for Unity Fading in Divided Anglican Communion

Hope for the Anglican Communion is not any brighter now than it was when leaders tried to resolve divisions earlier this year or even 10 years ago, said the Anglican Archbishop of Nigeria.

In his latest statement over the highly publicized rifts in the 77 million-member Anglican Communion, the Most Rev. Peter Akinola blasted The Episcopal Church – the U.S. branch of Anglicanism – and the Anglican Church of Canada, saying they betrayed the rest of the Communion.

"Their intention is clear; they have chosen to walk away from the biblically-based path we once all walked together," said Akinola.

Akinola is considered the most powerful Anglican leader in the 77 million-member Communion and the fiercest critic of The Episcopal Church, particularly over homosexuality.

The Nigerian archbishop argued that he and other conservative Anglicans have sent clear warnings of impaired relationships when the Diocese of New Westminster in Canada voted in 2002 to approve blessing same-sex unions and when The Episcopal Church USA voted to consecrate an openly gay bishop in 2003.

"As always, we were ignored," stated Akinola, who set up an offshoot called CANA (Convocation of Anglicans in North America) in the United States to house U.S. Anglicans who find themselves no longer able to live out their faith in The Episcopal Church.

He stated that the leadership of the Anglican bodies in North America "seem to have concluded that the Bible is no longer authoritative in many areas of human experience especially in salvation and sexuality."

"They claim to have 'progressed' beyond the clear teaching of the Scriptures and they have not hidden their intention to lead others to these same conclusions. They have even boasted that they are years ahead of others in fully understanding the truth of the Holy Scriptures and the nature of God's love," said Akinola.

Episcopal leaders have indicated that they will not go "backward" on their 2003 decision and affirmed their desire to stay within the Anglican Communion. U.S. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said earlier that if they leave the Communion, they would be losing the "advantage" of being able to "challenge" views expressed by other Anglican leaders in regards to homosexuals.

The Anglican Communion affirms that homosexual practice is incompatible with Scripture. At the same time, it has called for the pastoral care to all people, regardless of sexual orientation, and has also committed to "listen to the experience of homosexual persons."

"These past ten years of distraction have been agonizing and the cost has been enormous," said Akinola, who predicts the moment of decision on the relationship of The Episcopal Church with the Communion has come.

The Episcopal Church has been given a Sept. 30 deadline to unequivocally pledge not to consecrate another openly gay bishop or authorize official prayers for same-sex couples.

Meanwhile, Anglicans stand at a crossroads, said Akinola.

One follows the current path of the Anglican bodies in North America while the second follows faithfulness to Anglican tradition and scriptural authority.

The first road, Akinola said, "is one that we simply cannot take because the cost is too high."

"We want unity but not at the cost of relegating Christ to the position of another 'wise teacher' who can be obeyed or disobeyed," he said. "We earnestly desire the healing of our beloved Communion but not at the cost of re-writing the Bible to accommodate the latest cultural trend."

Akinola's comments come ahead of Lambeth 2008, a worldwide decennial meeting where gathers Anglicans from across the world for theological engagement and fellowship. The Nigeria church leader and several conservative leaders from other provinces have threatened to boycott the conference if violators of the 1998 resolution that rejects homosexual practice and blessing same-sex unions are invited, namely U.S. Episcopal leaders who supported the consecration of the openly gay bishop.

"The consequence is most serious because, even if only one province chooses not to attend, the Lambeth Conference effectively ceases to be an Instrument of Unity," said Akinola.

Originally, those invited to Lambeth 2008 were requested to give their response to the invitation by July 31, but the Rev. Canon James Rosenthal, the communion's director of communications, noted that the deadline to respond had been extended as some overseas bishops "have stated they have not receive their invitation yet."

According to U.K.-based Christian Today, only a couple hundred of the 880 who were invited had replied by the deadline.