5/07/2007

About that Letter from Peter to Rowan

I've read the letter from Archbishop Peter Akinola to Archbishop Rowan Williams several times.

So what are we to make of this strange letter? The Archbishop of Nigeria does not even acknowledge that the general content of the ABC's letter was clearly reported to be the request that the service not go forward. Archbishop Akinola makes it clear that he is set on a course and that CANA is here to stay, barring an unforeseen overturning of decisions by the Episcopal Church.

I think the Archbishop of Nigeria could have been clearer and shorter in his response. Here is a much shortened rewrite of the full version of his letter which can be found HERE:

Dear Rowan:

I read your letter. It came too late, the deed was done before I read it. No matter, it was always too late. Those TEC people have dishonoured the Lord's name and they will not retract. CANA is here to stay. There are people to save, bishops to elect and a plan already in place for province to replace The Episcopal Church. Bishop Minns, and CANA established, are just the first steps in this process. But you knew that.

In Christ,

Peter.


Lest the reader think this is an exaggeration or a parody, take a look at some of the wording in the actual letter (quotes from the letter are in italics and a different font, with highlights in red. My comments are in normal font style.)

"I have received your note expressing your reservations regarding my plans to install Bishop Martyn Minns as the first Missionary Bishop of CANA."

I suppose then it was not a long letter, but a "note", but wait….

"Even though your spokesmen have publicized the letter and its general content I did not actually receive it until after the ceremony".

Ok, it's a letter. The actual letter was not made public, only the fact that it had been sent, and according to the report on Anglican Mainstream, where it was first publicized, its general content was as follows: "Lambeth Palace today confirmed the Archbishop of Canterbury has written to the African Primate asking him to cancel his trip to Virginia to carry out the service." This is not about "expressing reservations," this is about "asking him to cancel his trip …to carry out the service." So Archbishop Akinola knew about the letter and its content. He ignored it.

"We are a deeply divided Communion. As leaders of the Communion we have all spent enormous amounts of time, travelled huge distances - sometimes at great risk, and expended much needed financial resources in endless meetings, communiqu├ęs and reports – Lambeth Palace 2003, Dromantine 2005, Nottingham 2006 and Dar es Salaam 2007. …"

Only Lambeth Palace 2003 (the special meeting of the Primates) was specifically about the divided Communion. The other meetings were the regularly scheduled meetings of Primates and the ACC. The only added expense and time at them grew from additional strategy meetings with persons not part of either the Primates or the ACC in and around those meetings. This is a red herring.

"…As I stated to you, and all of the primates in Dar es Salaam, although CANA is an initiative of the Church of Nigeria – and therefore a bonafide branch of the Communion - we have no desire to cling to it. CANA is for the Communion and we are more than happy to surrender it to the Communion once the conditions that prompted our division have been overturned."

The first highlighted words – a bonafide branch – is part of an argument tried before. The argument is that because the Church of Nigeria is a branch of the Anglican Communion, and CANA is part of the CoN, therefore CANA is a branch of the Communion. But this is hokum.

Provinces are constituent members of the Anglican Communion. Dioceses are not. There are the rare exceptions of extra-provincial dioceses directly under Canterbury, but these are understood precisely in relation to Canterbury. Claiming that a diocese, part of a province, is also a branch of the Communion is a "nose under the tent" way to get to the desired end: CANA as a constituent member of the Anglican Communion, a province in the making in the wings.

The second highlighted words – we are more than happy to surrender it to the Communion – are an echo of what the Archbishop said on Saturday in Virginia. Here the offer is to turn CANA, this gift for the Communion, over to the Communion. What this means, who knows, but we might do well to consider the relational terms here: surrender is contingent on the conditions that prompted the divisions being overturned. There is no mention of any conversation between The Episcopal Church and others; CANA is not to be surrendered to The Episcopal Church in any case, but to "the Communion." The wording may not be completely clear, but the intention is: no negotiations with The Episcopal Church at all, they must either overturn their prior decisions or have them overturned. At that point CANA will be surrendered to the Communion. But of course the Archbishop does not think this will happen.

"We have sought to respond in a measured way. We delayed the election of our first CANA bishop until after General Convention 2006 to give The Episcopal Church every opportunity to embrace the recommendations of the Windsor report – to no avail. At the last meeting of the Church of Nigeria House of Bishops we deferred a decision regarding the election of additional suffragans for CANA out of respect for the Dar es Salaam process."

The measure, of course, is a measure of escalating actions: you (TEC) didn't do as we believed you must, given Windsor, so we set up CANA and then we elected Bishop Minns. If you don't now do as we believe you must given Dar es Salaam, we will elect more bishops. (P.S. when we have enough we'll have enough to start a province.)

"Sadly we have seen no such respect from the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church."

The Archbishop considers the measured response of establishing CANA, electing a bishop, installing him as bishop of CANA, planned additional suffragans, as somehow respectful, and he sees no such respect from the House of Bishops of TEC. Perhaps he has confused respect with submission.

"In the middle of all of this the Lord's name has been dishonoured."

In my better moments I presume the Archbishop means dishonored by our "unhappy divisions." That is no doubt true. But I don't think that is what he means; rather I believe he means the Lord's name has been dishonored by The Episcopal Church. He goes on to say "…many will be lost to the church and thousands of souls will be imperilled…. It is imperative that we continue to protect those at most risk." No mention of any dishonour by folks in the realignment crowd.

So what are we to make of this strange letter? It seems arrogant, and it surely seems the declaration of the first step to the Global South vision of an alternative province.


13 comments:

  1. As if Abp Akinola wrote it, and not some mid-Atlantic think tank masquerading as doers of God's will but actually keepers of earthly principalities.

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  2. Mark - I am not sure that Abp Akinola is claiming that CANA is either a diocese, nor that it is part of the Anglican Communion directly in its own right as an extra-provincial diocese as you seem to suggest in your critique of Akinola's letter to Cantaur.

    It seems to me as if he is only claiming that CANA is a legitimate part of the Anglican Communion because it is a branch of the Nigerian Province which is a part of the AC. Do you really deny that any legitimate branch of any Anglican Province is not in communion with Cantuar? I am in a parish in the Diocese of Perth, which is part of the Anglican Province of Australia - therefore surely I am in communion with Cantuar - although he would not know me from a bar of soap. But this is not to claim that I am in communion with Cantuar as an extraprovincial diocese, or independently in my own right, which clearly I am not.

    Just because a branch of a province falls outside the geographical boundaries of that province does not make it illegitimate - otherwise then what about the branches of ECUSA which are outside the USA,(in Europe, for example and which co-exist with other Anglican dioceses) but would still claim to be in communion with Cantuar through their membership of ECUSA?


    Brian F

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  3. If parsing the letter is in order, may I suggest looking at the pronouns. In the first paragraphs regarding receipt, +Peter refers to himself as "I" but from then on the pronoun he chooses is "we." In the next few paragraphs the "we" might mean the "primates" If so the presumption is that this "we" has the juridical authority (which is somewhat of a leap) but then, without skipping a beat, the "we" continues on. "We" established CANA.. "We" did this on behalf of the communion etc. At best the "I" that is +Peter, is the "we" of the Church of Nigeria (and, in accordance with its constitution, the the two really are just one and an imperial "We" might be in order), But when did +Peter's "I" morph into the "we" of the primates, the "WE" of the Communion?

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  4. He'd be happy to turn it over to the Communion? As the replacement for TEC, perhaps? I thought that was the Network's goal.

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  5. How things are viewed from Nigeria - HERE

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  6. christopher+8/5/07 9:47 AM

    Brian F's point about entities of TEC abroad, such as the Convocation of American Churches in Europe, is well taken. Such geographical extensions of ministry do indeed exist, though, of course, they exist and function by virtue of the provinces of which they are a part, not by independent connection to Canterbury.

    Nonetheless, given everything now known about the political intentions of the realignment gang, it would indeed seem that the choice of the word "branch" and its relation not to the Church of Nigeria but to the Communion as a whole, reveals what truly lies behind this assertion of bona fides - rather ironically, "good faith." The Nigerian primate and those working with him mean either to impose their biblical-interpretive views on non-core issues on everyone - and henceforth enforce them universally - or to split the Communion. Sadly, it's that simple. It remains to be seen, though, whether most Anglican provinces will really go along with this. In the end, that seems unlikely.

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  7. And every time I read the letter I am impressed with how it reads as a direct unequivocal challenge to the ABC himself.

    "We have sought to respond in a measured way. We delayed the election of our first CANA bishop until after General Convention 2006 to give The Episcopal Church every opportunity to embrace the recommendations of the Windsor report – to no avail."

    However, the ABC's task Force on TEC compliance with the WR, found TEC in substantial compliance.

    "we deferred a decision regarding the election of additional suffragans for CANA out of respect for the Dar es Salaam process.
    Sadly we have seen no such respect from the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church."

    The ABC found the HoBs response disappointing but not disrespectful. In fact, he has respectfully accepted the HoB's respectful invitation to come to confer with the HoBs and has stated he is interested in hearing their respectful alternatives to the Tanzania PV Scheme.

    I repeat what I asked on a prior thread, how does the ABC read this? It seems like a clear challenge to me. Which is odd coming from a group (CANA) that states that its main concern is to provide a safe place for orthodox Anglicans in America to enjoy communion in the AC - but completely dish the ABC at the same time?

    They may argue that TEC has done the same, but oddly the ABC has not found them to have done so. Perhaps, he will look the other way and find that Akinola hasn't dished him either. The difference seems to me, that in the latter Akinola stands ready to usurp his position in the AC. I wonder if that will make a difference in how he reacts?

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  8. "Brian F's point about entities of TEC abroad, such as the Convocation of American Churches in Europe, is well taken."

    Well, actually, no.

    This recurring motif -- which gets trotted out on Anglican/Episcopal blogs again and again, notwithstanding getting shot down each time -- is in fact a comparison of apples with oranges.

    The Convocation of American Churches in Europe, like the CoE's Diocese in Europe, does not exist or operate within the boundaries of any recognized Anglican Communion province. The CoE does not claim for itself or exercise jurisdiction over the European Continent; nor does any other AC province. The American Convocation and the Diocese in Europe overlap each other -- and also overlap the Spanish Reformed Episcopal Church and the Lusitanian Church (each of which is an *extraprovincial* diocese under the direct metropolitical authority of Canterbury) -- without ever intruding upon a recognized Anglican province.

    A better analogy would be with the Church of South India congregations in the USA -- but again, the attempted analogy fails, because the CSI congregations requested and were granted authority from the recognized AC province within the boundaries of which they operate, namely, the Episcopal Church.

    Re the repeated attempts to justify CANA by invoking the supposed precendents of the American Convocation and the CSI congregations in the USA, I suppose this is merely to be expected when former Baptists and would-be congregationalists try to manipulate the categories of catholic ecclesiology.

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  9. I also was struck with the language of "turning CANA over to the Communion." As I recall, the language of the Tanzania communique acknowledged that CANA and AMiA would require some special attention, but was over all focused on continued efforts toward reconciliation, and the Episcopal Church, reconciled within itself and with its dissenters, as the recognized province. Thus, to speak of "turning CANA over to the Communion" would seem Akinola's own step away from and beyond any continuing effort toward reconciliation, and beyond anything we might have called a Windsor Process.

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  10. christopher+9/5/07 5:10 PM

    Just to clarify my point in light of eli miamiensis's objection:

    I do agree that there is an underlying "apples and oranges" problem and that some are abusing such comparisons to claim legitimacy for Cana and other groups. As I understand it, the Anglican/Episcopal dioceses/convocations "sharing" the European continent do so in full and joyful collaboration and cooperation with each other and others, such as the Old Catholics. This is definitely not what Nigeria's Cana is doing - or seeks to do - in the United States.

    But Brian is correct in that individual Provinces are sometimes represented by legitimate entities in other regions. These are not - and cannot be - in themselves, however,(independent) "branches" of the Anglican Communion.

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  11. Were there any objections to CANA, when its churches consisted of former Nigerians living in the States? No! What if I was married to a Nigerian and wanted to attend her church, would I be an Anglican (in apostolic procession)? Yes! Could our child be legitimately baptized? Yes! I hope that there would be no objections to these questions from either side of the fence. Certainly, there weren't any a few years back.

    Now, I am a WASP with no connection to Africa other than having been there once to do surgeries on cleft kids. Can I join a CANA church and be Anglican? "Oh, no!", I hear Katherine crying. Her citing ancient traditions has got to make anybody's farce-meter go red line. It also puts ABp Akinola in the company of St. Augustine. Not bad company to keep.

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  12. christopher+10/5/07 1:34 PM

    Except, Rob Roy, that you must imagine how Archbishop Akinola would react if TEC, without his consent, established an independent "convocation" for expatriate American Episcopalians living or working in Nigeria - just to to make sure they were not somehow marginalized in Nigerian parishes. Would he accept this? Certainly not.

    And Cana, of course, does not function to attend to the specific needs of Nigerian Anglicans in the US. As the organization says on its own website:

    "CANA will serve as a transitional entity that may, by God’s grace, be a building block for a new ecclesiastical structure."

    The creation and maintenance of Cana is a political, not merely a pastoral endeavor.

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  13. I wouldn't imagine that Abp Akinola would feel at all threatened if ECUSA decided to set up a convocation of North Americans in Nigeria for disaffected Americans worshipping in Anglican Church of Nigeria parishes now. I mean - who would attend such churches - the one or 2 gays in Nigeria? He and his clergy are too busy growing their already vast congregations to be bothered by the presence of a few North Americans surely. It would be like a flee on an elephants back.

    I think it is telling that ECUSA is so threatened by the presence of CANA in USA. If ECUSA was so confident that its theology, doctrine and practices were correct, then why is it so threatened?

    The trouble is that when a man is constantly demonised on blogs then others start to believe he is a demon, when in reality I am sure he is a genuine Christian man concerned for the salvation of souls. It is disturbing when some continue to attribute political motivations to others when in reality it is not about politics at all, but all about theology.

    Brian F

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