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God or mammon?

National | RELIGION: African archbishops call U.S. Episcopalians to "repent and come back" or walk away entirely; meanwhile, they won't accept funding from apostates

Issue: "Why the long face, Fidel?," May 1, 2004

We won't accept your money any longer.

That was part of a stinging rebuke Anglican archbishops in Africa delivered to the Episcopal Church (ECUSA) last month. Meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa (CAPA) voted to reject funds from any diocese that recognizes gay clergy. By a majority vote, the ECUSA last year approved the consecration of V. Gene Robinson-an open homosexual living with his partner-as Bishop of New Hampshire. The action touched off a global fracas that threatens to split ECUSA and the largely conservative Worldwide Anglican Communion.

The CAPA archbishops also voted to refuse cooperation with any missionary who supports ordaining gay priests. And they urged an advisory commission Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams appointed last year to recommend ways to deal with the crisis to "call ECUSA to repentance" and give the American church three months to comply with Anglican doctrine and positions. "Failing that, discipline should be applied," they said, warning of severe "consequences" if ECUSA fails to repent. The commission's report is due September 30.

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The CAPA archbishops wrestled long and hard about the decision not to accept money from wayward dioceses in ECUSA and elsewhere in the West. About 70 percent of African church funding reportedly comes from partnerships with Western dioceses and from affluent national churches like ECUSA, to which dioceses contribute. It remains to be seen how closely CAPA defines what is and what isn't tainted money, and whether the poorest churches can afford to give up funding.

"If we suffer for a while to gain our independence and our freedom and to build ourselves up, I think it will be a good thing for the church in Africa," Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria and CAPA chairman told reporters. "And we will not, on the altar of money, mortgage our conscience, mortgage our faith, mortgage our salvation."

"It's either repent and come back to the fold, or give up on the Anglican family," he told an Atlanta audience of conservative leaders in ECUSA two weeks earlier. They were mainly leaders from the evangelical-rooted American Anglican Council (AAC) and the recently formed Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes. (The Network seeks to link conservative parishes stranded in liberal dioceses with like-minded bishops.)

Archbishop Akinola, who leads a fast-growing flock of 17.5 million souls in Nigeria, said he strongly backs the conservatives, even though they represent only a minority in ECUSA. The future of true Anglicanism in the United States, he declared, lies with the biblically faithful people within ECUSA who oppose gay marriage and opening the ministry to active homosexuals.

He said ECUSA "is trying to redefine Christianity and rewrite Scripture, and we have no right to do that."

Conservative ECUSA dioceses and parishes are redirecting some of their giving to help the African and other overseas churches cope with the coming shortfall. Anglican provinces in Asia and Latin America were poised to adopt positions similar to CAPA's.

Meanwhile, ferment continues in ECUSA. For example, five Northeast Ohio congregations that uphold biblical teachings on sexuality served notice on their new gay-friendly bishop, Mark Hollingsworth: Stay out of our churches. They said the Network has assigned them their own bishop for spiritual oversight-periodic visits to preside over confirmations and communion. The churches caused an uproar in March when they brought in retired conservative ECUSA bishops for a confirmation service-without the advance knowledge and approval of the diocesan bishop, a violation of ECUSA policy.

The majority of ECUSA bishops recently adopted a plan for alternative oversight that places the local bishop in control of all arrangements. Network and AAC leaders reject it as unacceptable.

Edward E. Plowman
Edward E. Plowman

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