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Dr Idowu-Fearon regrets absences at Lambeth Conference

02 September 2022

‘Politics, not theology’ was behind the absence of Nigerian, Rwandan, and Ugandan bishops, Pat Ashworth is told

Neil Turner/Lambeth Conference

Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, who was awarded a Lambeth D.D. during the Lambeth Conference last month

Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, who was awarded a Lambeth D.D. during the Lambeth Conference last month

THE different stances on sexuality in the Anglican Communion are more to do with politics than theology, the outgoing secretary-general, the Most Revd Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, told a final press conference on Tuesday.

He was sorry for those Provinces — Nigeria, Rwanda, and Uganda — whose bishops had chosen to stay away from the Lambeth Conference. “It was an opportunity to see what we are as a family,” he said, speaking of the “real dialogue” that had taken place in Canterbury. “The essence of dialogue is not to convert or to convince anyone, but to learn to listen. . . I describe it as cross-culturalisation, moving into another person’s culture without losing your own.”

It would be naïve to say that everyone was on the same page at the end of it, but the narrative set out by people not present at the meeting had not been the experience of those who were there, Dr Fearon said, describing himself as an Islamicist: “They distinguish between the ideal and the reality. The ideal is what God wants: the reality is often not close.” The Archbishop of Canterbury had not minced his words, and had been very honest about what the position was, he said. “We wash our dirty linen in the open.”

Dr Fearon had viewed the job, which he held for seven years, as an opportunity to experience the various cultures, churchmanships, and theological positions of the Communion. He had come in with high expectations — and those had been fulfilled, he said, paying tribute to Archbishop and Mrs Welby for the model of “open heart and open home” which they practised.

There was “no Church like the Anglican Communion of Churches, pledged to stay together”, he contended. “Pentecostals — we’ve got them. Charismatics — we’ve got them. High Church, Low Church, Evangelical, conservative. . . This is the beauty of the body of Christ.”

In recognising that, while Resolution 1.10 remained the teaching for a majority of Provinces around the globe, others had moved on from that position, the bishops were upholding precisely the principles laid down at the Lambeth Conference of 1878, he said. The first principle of the Lambeth-Chicago Quadrilateral that they had drawn up, concerning how Anglicans related to non-Anglicans, had been that any decision taken and reflected on by a Province or diocese was to be respected by other members of the family.

That was enacted in the present day in the Church of Nigeria, Dr Fearon said, in relation to polygamy, which they had accepted in 1988 but which was not accepted today. But, in parts of south-western and south-eastern Nigeria, polygamists were members of the Church. “In the north, we don’t give them holy communion or positions of leadership, but the Anglican Communion agreed we can baptise them,” he said.

“The Mothers’ Union is for women married to one man: you have men who are polygamists, and whose second and third wives are not allowed to be MU members but can be members of the Women’s Guild. Some of the polygamists are baptised and confirmed. You can’t just throw them out.

“So, let’s come back to our position on same-sex. If you don’t like what the Canadian Church or the Episcopal Church have done, that’s fine. We’re not asking you to. The first point is to respect it. You don’t have to throw them out of the Church.” Nor, Dr Fearon reiterated, was there any mechanism for doing so.

He was upbeat, on fire, full of praise for new Provinces such as Chile, where the style of church-planting was “about people, not buildings”, and which was “packed with converts”. It was not such good news in some other sections of the Communion, notably West Africa, he suggested, which “still need to intensify the Five Marks of Mission”, and, in terms of mission, were not seeing signs of growth. They included Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Ghana, where the bishops, he said, “are aware of this, and doing what they possibly can to make the gospel relevant”.

He will continue with the work of engaging Nigeria, Uganda, and Rwanda in “renewing and refreshing” the conversation with the Communion, called for as a priority by the Conference: “I can speak in love and with an informed mind to continue with the work of diplomacy,” he said.

But he is moving on in his ministry, and, although he is planning to write a book, what he had experienced was “not meant for the bookshelf”, he said. While continuing to be an assistant bishop in the diocese of Southwark, he has accepted an invitation from the diocese of Texas to be bishop-in-residence of a Houston parish, where he will take the lead in evangelism, church growth, and global partnership.

It is a three-year appointment “to help Christians reach out to the city of Houston. . . I can’t wait,” he said.

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