Secretary General Josiah Idowu-Fearon speaks his mind

Secretary General Josiah Idowu-Fearon gave a major address to the meeting of the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa (CAPA). The Living Church thankfully saw fit to publish the whole thing, HERE. 

I want to suggest that this address concerns positive mission action on the part of the churches in Africa. But it is hard to get there unless one reads and rereads the text, and the text lends itself to flashy headlines and the preoccupations of the West with how it is viewed these days by the Churches in Africa.

Unforunately the title given for the article in the Living Church was "You are the Majority."  That title was taken from the following statement by the Secretary. It was the bridge sentence between his comments about the work of the Anglican Communion Office and his comments about CAPA and its work. He wrote:

"You are the majority of the Anglican Communion. You have resources of skills and experience in Christian discipleship and witness in challenging contexts to share with the whole Communion. Please do challenge and shape the work of the Communion Office to enable us to serve you and your ministries in the best way possible."

It was perhaps just too tempting. After all, the numbers game has been used and abused by the folk who have formed the Anglican Church in North America for years as a way of saying they are on the "winning" side in some fierce battle for the souls of Episcopalians and members of the Anglican Church of Canada. 

The notion was that ACNA (and its predecessors) was part of the real, the winning, the majority of the Anglican Communion and that The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada were on the slide into the dustbin of the unfaithful, secularized and culturally compromised churches that no longer were legitimate witnesses to the faith "once delivered."  

So a quick read of this observation by the Secretary General would seem to be that it was a shout out for Anglicanism in Africa as the stalwart beacon of hope for the Anglican Communion, and an affirmation that all that ACNA has argued for in their claim to Anglican identity by identification with many of the churches in Africa.

That read I believe is wrong.

After careful reading and rereading of the Secretary General's address I believe a better lead is not "You are the majority" but rather something from what he says later in the address:

"CAPA should give a lead ... with on-the-ground action to empower and enable our people."   So the title might well have been "African Anglican Churches called to empower and enable the people."

My sense is the Secretary General's address is about a major new perspective on empowerment being raised again, one that might break the chains of colonial and neo-colonial perspectives of the older and mostly western Anglican provinces. 

He spells out first the reality of the churches in Africa, as he understands them, and the old perspective that continues to be touted by some in the west.

First he observes, 

"Through our work, we are the source of the gospel, of education, of democracy, of civil society and political parties, and of the reduction of maternal and child mortality on our continent.  

These were not imports from outside. These resulted from the work of our African grandfathers and grandmothers in the faith. They were the village evangelists, and catechists, and schoolteachers, and nurses and farmers and labourers and parents who brought to our continent the living Word of God, Jesus, through the written Word of God, the Bible, in the power of the Spirit. It was Bible-believing Christians who have transformed the face of Africa in the last 150 years, and we can transform it again. 

This is the truth."

Then the critique of the west:

"But this is in sharp contrast with how we are represented by others who do not have our best interests at heart. They present us as being 50 years behind the rest of the world. Their view of progressivism places them at the forefront of historical and social development — with us Africans bringing up the rear.

Even worse, deep down, they think that all of us, whatever our faith and commitments, have our price. They really believe that it will only be a matter of time before we fall in line with their view of the world, of culture, of marriage, of community either through conviction or, if not, then through convenience."

This assessment is not new. It was present in the work up to the Anglican Congress of 1963, which gave rise to the notion of Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in the Body of Christ, MRI.  MRI was supposedly to address the problem of doner and receiver churches and the colonial attitudes that essentially placed all the decision making for mission in the hands of the mission givers. MRI failed at that task, even as it encouraged the emergence of new supposedly autonomous Provinces of the Communion and new ways of engaging in mission across the Communion.

The problem was that support for the newer churches was accompanied by considerable suspicion that the newer churches, mostly brown and black, were not ready for self-administration, even if they had forms of self-governance. There was (and still is) the sense of "... Africans bringing up the rear."  The suspicion on the part of the churches in Africa and elsewhere was that,

"they think that all of us, whatever our faith and commitments, have our price. They really believe that it will only be a matter of time before we fall in line with their view of the world, of culture, of marriage, of community either through conviction or, if not, then through convenience."

MRI has failed to bring in a new way of thinking of mission engagement across the Communion. The old suspicions persist - that the newer churches are not up for the task and the older churches are imposing their culture, world views and theologies by the use of money. "They think that all of us have our price."  This suspicion (which had some merit) was magnified by those in the US church who were moe than ready to have TEC seen as a monster, buying Church's support for a price. And it wasn't helped by the apparent willingness of some in TEC to do just what they were accused of doing. 

In the 1970's Canon Burgess Carr believed that the only solution was to have a moratorium on all missionaries to Africa (and I presume all projects driven by foreign monies and mission personnel) so that the Churches in Africa could be free of colonial domination. His solution met with little support.

It was not until the emergence of two ideas in the last decades of the 20th and the first of the 21st Century that any of this was countered by new perspectives. 

These were: (i)the notion that mission was not defined by mission agencies and their agenda, but defined by God's call to peoples, by God's mission, for which peoples in various places and times are called to service, and  (ii) the notion that sustainable development was primarily the product of local assessment and response to issues directly by the peoples involved.

Thus, the argument now is that the future belongs to those called by God to God's mission locally, and those called to directly engage the issues faced by the Christian communities in place. Of course there are wider engagements, for at best none of us is an island. Of course there are local issues that are closely related to world issues and crises. But the beginning is with churches in local context. 

My sense is that The Secretary General was addressing the Council of Anglican Churches in Africa with a way forward that stresses the work of the national and regional churches  (provinces) of Africa. 

The Anglican Communion News Service posted an article that at least hinted to this. It's title is this: 

"African Churches urged not to be distracted by Western progressives."

Unfortunately the body of the article stresses the Secretary General's critique of "Western progressives," and the positive agenda not so much. Positive news doesn't sell well even in the church press.

It is only by going to the text that we can see what he proposes instead of that distraction.  It is certainly true that he apparently considers the western progressive agenda (whatever that is) to be wrongheaded. He affirms what has to be affirmed in much of Africa if there is to be any further conversation. He says,

"Our African churches can never be social progressives in the sense beloved of the West. We will never allow our churches to be taken over by views and programmes which suggest that the Bible is wrong. We will not crumble or bow the knee to a godless secular culture that despises the Bible and what it teaches." 

Well, as a western progressive, I think I'm no more up for "crumbling or bowing the knee to a godless secular culture that despises the Bible and what it teaches" than the Secretary General is. I suspect we differ strongly on what the Bible teaches.

But there it is. He flies the flag of independence from the West. I suggest he does so because independence from the West is necessary if the church is to speak to the nations in which it is placed and if the church is to promote sustainable people driven development. In the very next sentence of his address he states more positively:

"Actually, our African churches are already progressives. We are seeking to live our lives in accordance with the will of God in the kingdom of God, which is the real future for humanity that measures all human progress. And that kingdom is marked here on earth by the priority it gives to the poor in the ministry of the gospel and the concerns of the people of God."  (bold mine)

Remembering who he is speaking to, the Secretary General goes on to say,

"I have to confess to you that I am deeply disturbed by some of what is happening in the Communion and its churches today. I have seen Anglicans who are poor and marginalized in their own societies plead for their right to maintain Anglican orthodoxy in their own churches, only to be swept aside by a campaign to change the churches’ teaching on marriage and so-called rights of equality. This is something I take to the Lord in prayer again and again."

I am not sure who he is talking about when he talks of "Anglicans who are poor and marginalized in their own societies (who) plead for their right to maintain Anglican orthodoxy in their own churches, only to be swept aside by a campaign to change the churches’ teaching on marriage and so-called rights of equality".  Surely not ACNA.  The notion that ACNA is a poor and marginalized crowd is propaganda from within ACNA itself.

And it is terrible to see him write despairingly of "so-called rights of equality."  But there it is, and it will have to be addressed. 

Yet, with all this he then asks,
"So as we meet, what can CAPA offer the African Anglican churches today?"

His answer is revealing of what the "real challenges" include.

"The Real Challenges 

May I humbly put forward what are the real challenges that the church in Africa faces? I wonder if you agree. You may have others to suggest.

How can we release resources for enterprise solutions to poverty? Facilitating a water production plant here; pioneering employment for families devastated by HIV/AIDS there; instituting banking for the poor so that they can have access to further economic resources for their own development?

How can we build a new generation of leaders in a country like South Sudan? This is an agenda for CAPA to respond to. It was CAPA who called in 2008 for a response to the newly liberated country of South Sudan and sent a delegation to consult with Archbishop [Daniel Deng Bul] and his colleagues. This led directly to the founding of Manna-Microfinance by the Diocese of Juba, the most successful small business loan service in the country to date.

How can we overcome the impact of tribalism in our nations and our churches? You will have experienced this problem over and over again, with each tribe wanting its own diocese and its own bishop far beyond the realistic resources of the people of God to sustain this wish.

What does it mean to be a citizen of our nations? What does citizenship involve?

Should we promote a religious or accept a secular basis for our multifaith nations to ensure their cohesion and prosperity?

How can we prepare and protect our churches and our nations in the face of militant Islam? It is hitting the Middle East and Europe at the moment. It has already hit hard in Nigeria and parts of East Africa.

Can we help our people and our politicians understand what is really going on, draw on the resources of Christian faith and our communities to address it, and face it down? Not in the name of defeating anyone, but in the name of preserving communities of God’s faithful people to hold forth the word of life and the good works of the gospel."

He then cautions against becoming embroiled in the agendas of "other people," by which I believe he means the issues in the "Western progressive" churches.

"Very few of our provinces have the skills, resources, or networks to address these problems. And so we tend to leave these problems to others. We then become totally embroiled in the agendas of other people in the Communion, which, while important, are not central to the life of our churches or our nations. Yes, it is important that we maintain our faithful witness to the truth of the Scriptures and the churches’ teaching on marriage as set out in Lambeth 1.10. That will never change. But our churches are called to do far more than that." (bold mine)

He then returns to the list of concerns he has for the Church's presence in African nations.

"May I suggest that CAPA should give a lead in embracing these challenges with practical responses, with on-the-ground action to empower and enable our people?

Many friends and supporters in Anglican and other churches, and in international agencies, are waiting to engage with churches that are committed to the goals of sustainable development.

There is no lack of money for work that genuinely helps people gain a better life for themselves and their children through inspiring and enabling their own enterprise and ethical commitment."

It is too narrow a focus to look at the Secretary General's remarks about "Western progressive" churches. The more important part of his challenge is about "more than that."

I believe these remarks concern a clarity of direction for the Churches in Africa that is independent of the ecclesial and theological fights in the West, independent of the suspicions of the past, guided as they are by givers prejudices and receivers being reduced to beggary. His positive questions for CAPA's future, for the future of the Provinces in Africa are important and are clearly stated. 

I belive too that, looked at as a whole, this address is less an attack on the West and more a call to the Provinces of Africa itself.

The Secretary General ends with these comments:

"I believe CAPA should focus on these initiatives:

Facilitating the Anglican Provinces of Africa so they can engage with the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations. This should be facilitated by the Anglican Alliance, and there is every possibility that such partnership, backed by the [Anglican Consultative Council], would get adequate financial support from state and private sources.
Equipping the Provinces to understand and respond effectively to the challenge of Islam. A small committee should be tasked with developing a programme that supports and builds provincial initiatives. I would suggest that the Barnabas Fund and PROCMURA could and should be asked to assist with this programme.
Educating: Producing a programme of education and training in citizenship that will deal with the issues of tribal conflict, tribal belonging, and identity as citizens."

So, a question for us "Western progressives," is this: What of this agenda can we embrace and support? And how do we deal with being maligned by the same voice that speaks of new possibilities for engaging sustainable development?


  1. I fully urge our *disengagement* from them.

    They must deal with the fallout of the culture they so exalt on their own, if they are to preserve that culture. Besides, whatever they may claim they *are* at least 50 years behind, because the same imperialist culture in Britain that infantilized them and then abandoned them ensured that it would be that way.

    Their triumphalism smacks of something so deeply dysfunctional, so deeply unhealthy and spiritually unsound that we should, if for no other reason, set ourselves out of their sphere of influence for our own well-being.

    As for the idea that they and we in the West can be part of one universal denominational structure . . . errant pride. Humans are not God, and are limited. We cannot be one church in the doggedly literal sense that clergy and those in power love to continually promote.

    The difference is one of the nature of reality - either the world is to be trusted as God's creation and ongoing revelation of God, or to be rejected as a trick which keeps God's works from being seen and blocks His supernatural power. Two different realities. Not reconcilable.

    Not just CAPA and the Global South, but ACNA, as well, can really not be in our household of faith, because they are two different faiths. Sad? Yes. Failure? Perhaps. But that is part of God's Will for us, to remember we are human and cannot force to be whole what only God can make whole.

  2. I would challenge Secretary General Idowu-Fearon: what, here (in your address), is for your African Christian LGBTs? Where is your ministry to and for them? If you don't minister to them---your brothers & sisters equally (in their sexuality) Made in the Image and Likeness of God---then we, despised "Western Progressives" will.

    Choose this day, CAPA.

  3. Like you, Mark, I see in his address the message "African solutions for African problems".

    As Western progressives, the way that we can support this is to respond to their requests for assistance (whether for financial aid or for expertise) and not impose our solutions on them.

    He could have been much more clear -- he hints but doesn't say it outright -- that African churches are being used as pawns by Western conservatives in our culture wars, and that that is the primary reason they are being perceived as backwards.

    I think Idowu-Fearon is walking a tightrope. He is very aware of the influence Western conservatives have in Africa and how unhealthy it is, both for the Communion and for the African churches themselves. He wants to empower his fellow Africans to throw off their new colonial masters without rocking the boat too much, knowing that it will be a slow process. Look at the communiqué from the meeting: only a pro forma reaffirmation of 1:10 with no discussion. If the African bishops go into the next meeting insisting that most of the agenda be devoted to poverty, climate change, food security, peace, human trafficking and other justice issues that are vital in their own context (the majority setting the agenda according to their own needs), that will make a big step forward.


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.