[Anglican Journal] When Bishop Josiah Atkins Idowu-Fearon, secretary general of the Anglican Communion, addressed General Synod on July 9, he thanked the Anglican Church of Canada for its many contributions to the communion. He did not indicate how Monday, July 11’s vote on whether to allow the solemnization of same-sex marriages would affect Canada’s place in the global Anglican body.
But Idowu-Fearon did note its repercussions for some provinces of the communion.
Although he praised the “typically Canadian and commendably transparent process” that led General Synod to the marriage canon vote, he said that the conclusions this process led to — that same-sex marriage was theologically possible — “would be difficult to receive” for other parts of the communion.
In his comments on the vote itself, he expressed concern over how either a “yes” or a “no” would be understood by the wider church.
“However you are led by the spirit in your reflection at this synod on the marriage of gays and lesbians in Canada,” he said, “I pray that your decision may be received in such a way by the provinces of the communion that it will help, and not hinder, our equally vital agenda to change attitudes that would make people safe.”
Idowu-Fearon, who served as bishop of Kaduna in the Church of Nigeria before becoming secretary general in 2015, said it would be “impossible” to think about the 77-million member Anglican Communion without noting the “historic and ongoing” role Canada has played in it.
Ever since the first Lambeth Conference in 1867, “Canadian Anglicans have borne faithful witness to Christ in their service to the Anglican Communion,” he said.
Idowu-Fearon also spoke highly of the number of Canadian Anglicans taking on roles in the Anglican Communion Office, the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) and in ecumenical dialogues, and thanked the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) for its support of the Anglican Alliance. He also praised the Canadian primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, saying his “moderating presence” at the January 2016 gathering of primates helped them get through “days of uncertainty.”
When he touched on the question of same-sex marriage, Idowu-Fearon was circumspect, stressing that Western churches are not the only ones in the communion struggling with questions about sexuality.
Speaking of his home province of Nigeria, a nation in which homosexuality is illegal, Idowu-Fearon noted that “the struggle for the legal, social, spiritual and physical safety of gay and lesbian members is an issue” that the Nigerian church has to face, given the Anglican Communion’s unambiguous denunciation of homophobia at the 1998 Lambeth Conference and at multiple Primates’ Meetings since then.
He argued, however, that it is for the Nigerian church to take the lead in confronting this issue.
“This is about changing attitudes,” he said. “We need the space and time to do this work on our own.”
In the year since the U.S.-based Episcopal Church voted to allow religious weddings for same-sex couples, there has been significant backlash in some parts of the communion over what some have seen as a unilateral decision on an important point of doctrine.
This culminated in a statement by the primates in January this year, calling for “consequences” against the Episcopal Church that would limit its participation in communion bodies and decision-making. However, when the communion’s main legislative body, the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC), met in Lusaka, Zambia, in April, no sanctions were taken against the the Episcopal Church.
This has left some Canadian Anglicans uncertain about what treatment they can expect if their church goes down the same road.
But despite the present anxieties, Idowu-Fearon ended on a positive note, reflecting on the positive contribution Canada made at the ACC meeting and declaring that in his recent travels across the communion, he has come to believe that the global Anglican church still has much that brings it together.
“This is an exciting time to be an Anglican,” he said. “It is an exciting time to be a part of the Anglican Communion.”