Archbishop Ndukuba and Archbishop Welby
Welby: Nigerian Primate’s Statement “Unacceptable”
In unusually harsh language, the Archbishop of Canterbury has “condemn[ed]” as “unacceptable” a recent statement by the Archbishop of Nigeria on human sexuality — thereby raising the stakes in what started as a disagreement between the Nigerian primate and the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA).
Archbishop Justin Welby’s comments on March 5 were in response to Nigerian Archbishop Henry Ndukuba’s contention that “The deadly ‘virus’ of homosexuality has infiltrated ACNA. This is likened to a Yeast that should be urgently and radically expunged and excised lest it affects the whole dough.”
“I completely disagree with and condemn this language,” Welby stated. “It is unacceptable. It dehumanises those human beings of whom the statement speaks. I have written privately to His Grace The Archbishop to make clear that this language is incompatible with the agreed teaching of the Anglican Communion.”
The relationship between Canterbury and Nigeria has been fragile for years. Nigeria was one of three African provinces of the Anglican Communion that announced a boycott of the decennial Lambeth Conference, which had been scheduled for the summer of 2020. The conference has been pushed back to 2022 because of the pandemic.
The Church of Nigeria is the largest member of GAFCON, the global orthodox Anglican movement that has been building an identity separate from Canterbury. With 18 million members, it is also the largest province in the Anglican Communion, aside from the Church of England.
ACNA is another influential member of GAFCON, even though at 130,000 members it is tiny compared to Nigeria and other GAFCON provinces. ACNA’s Archbishop Foley Beach currently leads GAFCON’s Council of Primates, and thus ACNA and the Church of Nigeria would appear to be key allies.
But Archbishop Ndukuba’s statement accused ACNA leadership of being “palliative, weak, and unwilling to discipline the erring bishops and priests” who expressed disagreement with the recent pastoral statement by ACNA bishops on sexuality and identity. The carefully worded 3,700-word pastoral statement rejected the term “gay Christian,” arguing that homosexuality is a temptation to sin, not an identity. The bishops proposed “Christians who experience same-sex attraction” as an alternate term. The international controversy erupted after a bishop and multiple priests in ACNA signed and briefly posted online a “Dear Gay Anglican” letter, written by a celibate gay ACNA layman, that positioned gayness as an identity, while affirming ACNA’s “continued commitment to a traditional sexual ethic.”
In response, Ndukuba wrote “A Gay is a Gay, they cannot be rightly described otherwise,” and fired a warning shot across ACNA’s bow: “ACNA was formed by GAFCON, as a safe haven for faithful Christians who reject the apostasy and rebellion in TEC (the Episcopal Church). They should not now find in ACNA the aberrations which drove them from TEC.”
Ironically, all parties to the dispute agree, at least officially, that homosexual acts are contrary to Scripture. Even Welby, while citing a 1998 Lambeth Conference resolution denouncing homophobic language, noted that it “restated a traditional view of Christian marriage.”
All of this is in sharp contrast to the Episcopal Church, which now has five gay and lesbian bishops and authorizes same-sex marriage rites throughout the Church.
This recent Statement from the Archbishop of Canterbury, ++Justin Welby – in response to homophobic cemments made by the Primate of the Anglican Church in Nigeria, Henry Ndukuba – means that the Primus-Inter-Pares of the worldwide Anglican Communion has at last raised his voice against the deplorable conduct of one of the GAFCON Primates who claim to represent what they are wont to call ‘Orthodox Anglicanism’.
The fact that Ndukuba’s arrogant dismissal of the human rights of LGBTQ+ people in the Church was directed primarily towards the actions of his GAFCON partners in North America (ACNA) should not have prevented the notional Head of the Anglican Communion (the ABC) from issuing an immediate condemnation of the actions of Archbishop Ndukuba who, though a member of the dissident GAFCON Provinjcial Church, still claims membership of the Anglican Communion (even though he is part of a movement that has separated out from the ACC on issues of Biblical Interpretation on matters of gender and sexuality, and no longer attends ineternational meetings of the Anglican Primates).
There is no doubt that the Church of England might be keen to maintain its somewhat uneasy symbiotic relationship with the African Provinces that have formed their own quasi-‘Anglican’ Church in response to the Western Provinces of the Anglican Communion’s growing affirmation of the presence of LGBTQ+ clergy and laity within their churches. However, GAFCON’s (and ACNA’s) continuing and divisive attitudes towards this significant minority in the life of the Church has many other Anglicans wondering whether they should have to live in communion with Anglican Provinces which display the degree of blatant homophobia and sexism that still exists in places where the local government’s opposition to LGBTQ+ people is still often violent and abusive.
The paradox here is that, while most Anglicans in the West might be amenable to the prospect of a ‘broad Church’ diversity; its Global South counterparts seem unwilling to move from their traditional understanding of issues of gender and sexuality that were current in Biblical times – and in the teaching of the Christian Churches – before the advent of scientific and theological understandings of such matters opened up both the world and the Church to a new perspective, allowing for a much broader treatment & acceptance of the social and moral implications of the biological evidence now available.
When even the Head of the Roman Catholic Church (Pope Francis) can acknowledge the different theology now needed to deal with such issues, it seems inevitable that other Christian Churches will, eventually, have to accept that :-
The times, ‘they are a-changing’ – on issues that our young people are already grappling with, to the point where some of them are wondering why the Church cannot accept the reality of gender and sexual identity that may not conform to the traditional binary ‘norm’. Like the issue of Copernicus in the early history of the Church, we must all be prepared for the fact that ‘revelation’ is an ongoing reality, that did not cease with the First Creation.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand