The Church of Nigeria will break with the Church of England should it appoint clergy living in gay civil partnerships to the episcopate.
In a statement released under the signature of the Archbishop of All-Nigeria, the Most Rev. Nicholas Okoh at the close of the bishops’ annual retreat this week, the Anglican Communion’s largest church: “Sadly we must also declare that if the Church of England continues in this contrary direction we must further separate ourselves from it and we are prepared to take the same actions as those prompted by the decisions of The Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada ten years ago.”
The 20 Dec 2012 announcement by the House of Bishops and clarification issued on 4 Jan 2013 that the church had ended its moratorium on the appointment to the episcopate of clergy who had contracted civil partnerships but who had pledged to remain celibate has sparked sharp criticism from within Evangelical ranks within the Church of England and from the overseas church. The claim that clergy who had entered a relationship that mimics marriage for same-sex were living a godly and moral life by refraining from consummating the relationship left some archbishops nonplussed.
The African church's objections were not to the appointment of men to the episcopate who had a same-sex sexual orientation, but to clergy who had contracted a gay civil partnership being appointed to the episcopate. The proviso that such relationships were celibate only when they involved the clergy of the Church of England was preposterous, one African bishop told Anglican Ink.
Archbishop Stanley Ntagali of Uganda said the House of Bishops’ decision “to allow clergy in civil partnerships to be eligible to become Bishops is really no different from allowing gay Bishops. This decision violates our Biblical faith and agreements within the Anglican Communion.”
The decision to permit partnered gay clergy to serve as bishops “only makes the brokenness of the Communion worse and is particularly disheartening coming from the Mother Church,” he argued.
The Archbishop of Kenya, Dr. Eliud Wabukala concurred, saying the announcement “will create further confusion about Anglican moral teaching and make restoring unity to the Communion an even greater challenge.”
The “proviso” that clergy in civil partnerships remain celibate is “clearly unworkable. It is common knowledge that active homosexuality on the part of Church of England clergy is invariably overlooked and in such circumstances it is very difficult to imagine anyone being brought to book,” the archbishop said on 6 Jan.
However, “the heart of the matter is not enforceability, but that bishops have a particular responsibility to be examples of godly living,” he argued. “It cannot be right that they are able to enter into legally recognised relationships which institutionalise and condone behaviour that is completely contrary to the clear and historic teaching of Scripture” and the teaching of the church.
“The weight of this moral teaching cannot be supported by a flimsy proviso,” Archbishop Wabukala said.
Following the 7-11 January 2013 meeting of the House of Bishops at the Ibru Centre in Agbarha-Otor, Archbishop Okoh stated this public relations disaster for the Church of England had been self-inflicted.
“When the Church of England failed to exercise its legal and moral right to opt out of the civil partnerships legislation in 2005 warnings were given in England and around the Anglican Communion that this was a first step towards the recognition and institutionalization of behaviour contrary to the plain teaching of scripture and reaffirmed for all Anglicans by the 1998 Lambeth Conference in its Resolution 1.10. Sadly those warnings were ignored and we now face the next step in a process that could very well shatter whatever hopes we had for healing and reconciliation within our beloved Communion.”
The decision also served to poison the forthcoming archiepiscopate of Justin Welby, saddling him with a mess weeks before he takes office.
“We urge the House of Bishops to reconsider their decision,” the Nigerian bishops wrote, “so as to allow for a full, prayerful and sober reflection on the call on all clergy, especially bishops, to live holy lives and not encourage what are, at best, morally ambiguous partnerships that make it impossible for a bishop to be a wholesome example to the flock.
If the Church of England persisted in this foolishness, the Anglican Communion would suffer, they warned. The historic role played by the Church of England within the life of the Anglican Communion was not inviolate, they observed, noting the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans ha not “bowed he knee” to the “contemporary idols of secularism and moral expediency.”
British church leaders have argued the interpretation being placed on their 20 Dec statement has been misconstrued. In a 5 Jan 2013 note to his diocese, the Bishop of Carlisle, the Rt. Rev. James Newcome said the “situation now is no different to the situation in 2005 which referred to clergy. What we’re saying for Bishops is exactly what we said for clergy."
“It would seem wrong to set a different bar for Bishops than clergy,” Bishop Newcome explained.