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The Rt Revd Josiah Idowu-Fearon, formerly one of the Provincial Archbishops of the Church in Nigeria, and currently a diocesan bishop in that church has been appointed as the new Secretary-General of the Anglican Consultative Council, a body described as one of the “Instruments of Unity” of the Anglican Communion. Bishop Idowu-Fearon is the first African and the first non-white Euro-American to be so appointed. That in itself is a significant step towards giving the majority constituency of the Communion a major voice in the affairs of the Anglicanism world-wide.

The bishop was educated in England and Nigeria and is well known in America. He has worked heroically for understanding and reconciliation with the Moslem majority in his present diocese and in the northern regions of Nigeria. He has steadfastly supported the full participation of the African Church in the Anglican Communion. Bishop Fearon is a long time friend of the archbishop of Canterbury and preached at the consecration of Archbishop Welby as Bishop of Durham. His witness for peaceful accommodation with Moslems has been at great cost to him personally and put him in harm’s way. His loyalty to the Anglican Communion has put him at odds with the leadership of his own church and others in Africa and elsewhere who champion schism and disunity and work for the fragmentation of the Anglican Communion.

Bishop Idowa-Fearon is a traditionalist, does not support same-sex unions, but, unlike many others, believes that in baptism we are drawn together, have a common identity as children of God, and thus cannot but work together however we may disagree. We are saved by faith, trust in God, and not by the perfection of our beliefs or conduct. In short we are all sinners, saved by grace.

In a time when Anglicans, at least in the West, have been drawn into group identity, holy tribes, sure of their own perfection and ready to denounce those perceived as enemies – a precise imitation of party politics in Western democracies – there is little wonder that the bishop’s appointment has drawn the venomous ire of both left and right. A blog site named the Episcopal Cafe rushed to judgment, denouncing the bishop for, they said, supporting the criminalization of LBGT people in Nigeria. They relied on a dubious snippet from a Nigerian newspaper’s coverage of a talk the bishop gave. It seems that the Nigerian journalist responsible misquoted the bishop and failed to report the context of Bishop Joshua’s words. The bishop has now issued a statement denying the veracity of the newspaper article. One may only speculate why the Cafe rushed to judgment without checking sources. Could it be because the bishop is a Nigerian and that he does not support the present proposed policy of the Episcopal Church? Has a particular view on sexuality now become the litmus test of suitability, a core doctrine? One doesn’t expect an apology.

And from the right, Anglican TV’s commentators sneered at Bishop Fearon’s appointment, denounced him as a traitor to the Church of Nigeria because he supports the Anglican Communion and the Archbishop of Canterbury, and forecast the demise of the ACC. It seems that Bishop Joshua can’t win for losing.

Archbishop Welby had no part in Bishop Idowa-Fearon’s appointment, an appointment which was the unanimous decision of the ACC, but there can be no doubt that this is part of the archbishop’s patient endeavor to restore unity to the Anglican Communion. It may well have been an inspired appointment signaling a shift towards the non-Western churches and a recognition of their full participation in the life and work of the Communion.

It has been predicted that the Episcopal Church will withdraw funding from the ACC as a result of this appointment. Such an action would perhaps fatally cripple the Council. One can only hope and pray that all Anglicans will come together and support the new secretary-general and not give in to the impulse to withdraw into sects of self-regarding virtue on the left and right.

3 Responses

  1. One can generally assume one is on the correct track when one gets criticism from both sides. The “via media” can often feel like being on the median strip of a freeway–no matter which way you lean, someone is going to hit you!

  2. The supposed “rush to judgement” on Episcopal Cafe had everything to do with a quote in a newspaper that supported criminalization, which is a human rights violation. There was nothing on the web that I could find from Bishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon that contradicted that quote. Given the way Rowan Williams coddled human rights abusers and Justin Welby’s gaff in blaming a massacre in Africa on gay liberation in the West (a claim not verified by a single human rights organization), people had every right to be highly skeptical about whether this bishop supported human rights abuse.

    There was no clarifying statement made by Bishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon that he does not support criminalization until Episcopal Cafe raised legitimate skepticism. I would call that a positive result.

    I have to say that the description of “rush to judgement” is bizarre. The vast majority of comments were cloaked with deep concern, a lot of “if so’s” and golly gee we’d like to hear if the Bishop actually did say that criminalization “is a good thing,” and where he stands now.

    The statement “It has been predicted that the Episcopal Church will withdraw funding from the ACC as a result of this appointment” was a suggestion by one blogger. It is hardly representative of the entire Episcopal Church. So I’d say this blog is rushing to that judgement.

    TEC should consider it’s funding of ACC based on the bashing we took for following our theological conscience. The “intolerance” was all from ACC, not the other way round.

  3. The suggestion that TEC might withdraw funds came not from the Cafe but the conservative Anglican Unscripted, and was made with some relish. Bishop Fearon has indeed denied in a public statement that he is for criminalization. He could hardly deny it before the accusation was made. As to your characterization of my blog post, well it’s Easter and less said, sooner mended. Easter Greetings.

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