A BISHOP in the United States has been revealed as the principal author of a seminal letter to the Church of Nigeria from its Archbishop, the Most Revd Peter Akinola, which was published on Sunday.
The letter includes a suggestion that the Archbishop of Canterbury’s status as a focus of unity is “highly questionable”. It also refers to a “moment of decision” for the Anglican Communion, which is on the “brink of destruction”.
The document, “A Most Agonising Journey towards Lambeth 2008”, appears to express to Nigerian synods the personal anguish of Archbishop Akinola over his attendance at the Lambeth Conference.
But computer tracking software suggests that the letter was extensively edited and revised over a four-day period by the Rt Revd Martyn Minns, who was consecrated last year by Archbishop Akinola to lead the secessionist Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) (News, 11 August 2006). Bishop Minns, along with the Rt Revd Gene Robinson, has not been invited to Lambeth (News, 25 May).
Close examination of the document, tracing the authorship, editing history, and timing of changes, reveals about 600 insertions made by Bishop Minns, including whole new sections amounting to two-thirds of the final text. There is also a sprinkling of minor amendments made by Canon Chris Sugden of the conservative group Anglican Mainstream.
The first three paragraphs, which seem to be from the hand of Bishop Minns, describe a “costly and debilitating” ten-year journey, “as most recently demonstrated by the tepid response to the invitations to the proposed Lambeth Conference 2008”. There is “little enthusiasm even to meet”, the writer suggests.
One of the most significant revisions says: “Sadly, this Conference is no longer designed as an opportunity for serious engagement and heartfelt reconciliation, but we are told will be a time of prayer, fellowship and communion. These are admirable, commendable activities, but this very Communion, however, has been broken by the actions of the Canadian and American Churches. 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. The convenor’s status as a focus of unity also becomes highly questionable. Repentance and reversal by these provinces may yet save our Communion.”
The paragraph ends with the warning: “Failure to recognise the gravity of this moment will have a devastating impact.” It replaces deleted wording: “Anything else is like going to bed and ignoring a naked flame burning in the house.”
Another piece of revised text refers to the request by the Primates at their meeting in Dar es Salaam to the North American Churches to change their stance on homosexuality (News, 23 February): “As the deadline approaches, we fail to see how [the positions of the Canadian and US Churches] can be reconciled.
“The situation has been made even more incoherent by the decision, made earlier this year, to extend an invitation to the Lambeth Conference of those responsible for this crisis with no call to repentance, while rejecting bishops who have stood firm for the Faith.”
Bishop Minns goes on to harden a passage that originally expressed a need to “state clearly the efforts that had been made since 1997 to prevent ‘a time like this . . . when painful but necessary decisions . . . have to be taken to avoid the departure of millions from the faith revealed in the Holy Scriptures’.”
It now becomes: “Now we confront a moment of decision. If we fail to act, we risk leading millions of people away from the faith revealed in the Holy Scriptures, and also, even more seriously, we face the real possibility of denying our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Under the heading, “All journeys must end some day”, the document concludes: “These past ten years of distraction have been agonising and the cost has been enormous. The time and financial resources spent on endless meetings whose statements and warnings have been consistently ignored is a tragic loss of resources that should have been used otherwise.
“It now appears, however, that the journey is coming to an end and the moment of decision is almost upon us. But this is not a time to lose heart or fail to maintain vigilance. It would be an even greater tragedy if, while trying to bring others back to the godly path, we should miss the way or lose the race.”
Very little of the original text remains unrevised.
The Bishop of Botswana, the Rt Revd Trevor Musonda Mwamba, has expressed reservations about the tone and style of pronouncements in the past, which have purportedly come from African bishops.
Speaking at the Ecclesiastical Law Society conference in Liverpool (News, 2 February), he said: “Up till now the loud voices in Africa have threatened the Anglican Communion with schism, insisting that some provinces be expelled from our worldwide fellowship. Yet such voices, because of the very diversity and strength of the Anglican Church in Africa, could be playing a reconciling role.”
The voice of the majority of Africa’s 37 million Anglicans had been “eclipsed by the intensity of sounds on opposing sides of the debate”.