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GAFCON leaders at odds over pastoral care of gay Christians

02 March 2021

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The Archbishop of Nigeria, the Most Revd Henry Ndukuba

The Archbishop of Nigeria, the Most Revd Henry Ndukuba

THE Archbishop of Nigeria, the Most Revd Henry Ndukuba, has rebuked members of the conservative Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), for what he calls a “subtle capitulation to recognize and promote same-sex relations among its members”.

The cause of Archbishop Ndukuba’s rebuke, issued last Friday, was a pastoral statement issued by ACNA on 19 January on sexuality and identity, which included discussion of language describing Christians who are gay. It said: “To insist on the adjective ‘gay’, with all of its cultural attachments, is problematic to the point that we cannot affirm its usage in relation to the word ‘Christian’.”

It commended instead the use of “Christians who experience same-sex attraction”; but its conclusion invited bishops to discern usage in their own dioceses, as appropriate.

This pastoral statement prompted a published response from a group of ordained and lay Anglicans in ACNA which quickly came to be known as the “Dear Gay Anglicans” letter. This welcomed the pastoral statement; confessed that ACNA churches “have inconsistently applied God’s wisdom for sexual stewardship by holding same-sex attracted people to a higher standard than straight people regarding vocational singleness, procreation, divorce, and remarriage”; acknowledged that “reparative/conversion therapies” were destructive; and offered “the teaching and practical support gay Anglicans in vocational singleness or mixed-orientation marriage need to thrive in their vocations”.

Among the signatories to the “Dear Gay Anglicans” letter was the Dean of Charleston, Very Revd Peet Dickinson, along with clergy from Pittsburgh and Tennessee.

The ACNA Primate, the Most Revd Foley Beach, requested that the letter be taken offline, although it continues to appear on various websites and blogs, such as here.

Archbishop Ndukuba was critical of both this letter and the original ACNA statement. He described the letter as a “clarion call to recruit Gays into ACNA member parishes”.

He wrote: “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 (Luke 13:20-21; Gal. 5:9). The response of ACNA leadership so far has been palliative, weak and unwilling to discipline the erring bishops and priests and taking a clear stand to totally reject their actions and underlying motives.

“We appreciate Archbishop Foley Beach’s intervention by which the offensive Gay Anglican letter was removed from the web; but this has not cured the diseases that has set in already neither has it mitigated the damage this has done by the public advertisement and the changing perception of the ACNA stand on Biblical orthodoxy and GAFCON Movement.”

The Global Anglican Future movement dates from a conference (hence GAFCON) in Jerusalem in 2008. It unites conservative Anglicans both within the Anglican Communion and those, like ACNA members, who have broken away to form their own Churches. The current chair of GAFCON is Archbishop Beach; Archbishop Ndukuba is a member of GAFCON’s Council of Primates.

Archbishop Ndukuba warned Archbishop Beach that his actions threatened the future of GAFCON. “ACNA was formed by GAFCON, as a safe haven for faithful Christians who reject the apostasy and rebellion in TEC [the Episcopal Church in the US]. They should not now find in ACNA the aberrations which drove them from TEC. It is more serious that the Archbishop of ACNA, Archbishop Foley Beach, is also the current Chairman of GAFCON. Therefore, his actions or inactions and that of his Province have serious implications for GAFCON leadership.”

He called on the Archbishop and ACNA to make an immediate statement “condemning the action taken by the gay activists in their midst” and to discipline those who signed the letter.

ACNA responded quickly, with a statement published on Saturday saying that the “Dear Gay Anglicans” letter had not been approved by the Province, and that the Province’s “biblical understanding of sexuality and human identity. . . has not moved”.

And in a letter to all ACNA clergy, Archbishop Foley described the letter as “pretty much in your face” and having caused “international ramifications”. The response to the letter had been tumultuous, with interventions from three Provinces, with some predicting it would cause the break up of ACNA, he reported.

He asked its signatories to “send me an email explaining why you signed a letter, and begin a private, non-punitive conversation with me about your concerns”. Some may have signed “not really realizing the ‘in your face’ attitude of some of the authors”, he suggested.

“They saw it as a way to say to the same-sex attracted persons in the ACNA that we love them. Others signed out of angry disagreement with our discouraging the use of any pronoun before Christian, specifically ‘Gay Christian’. Some were misinformed thinking the authors had been in discussions with Provincial leadership; they were not.”

The Kenyan newspaper The Standard said that it expected the Primate of Kenya, Archbishop Jackson Ole Sapit, to issue a statement that also condemned the “Dear Gay Anglicans” letter. It described the fallout in an article as the “fabric connecting the African Anglican Communion to the West seems to be tearing like the temple curtain at Jesus’ death”.

There were calls by some on social media for the Archbishop of Canterbury to withdraw Archbishop Ndukuba’s invitation to the Lambeth Conference. At the time of going to press, Archbishop Welby had not made a public statement about Archbishop Ndukuba’s comments.

Several C of E bishops condemned Archbishop Ndukuba’s language about gay people, however. The Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, posted on Twitter that the language used was “unacceptable. If I were to say otherwise it would make a mockery of my participation in the LLF [Living in Love and Faith] process.”

Also on Twitter, the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, said of Archbishop Ndukuba’s comments: “Totally unacceptable. But, more to the point, wrong and dangerous.”

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