Posted by: Titus Presler | April 2, 2015

Two-Thirds World Anglicans come into their own with appointment of Nigerian as Anglican Communion secretary general

Welcome in Holy Week is the news that Bishop Josiah Atkins Idowu-Fearon has been appointed Secretary General of the Anglican Communion. The appointment was announced on Anglican Communion News Service earlier today in a story entitled, “Nigerian bishop to be the Anglican Communion’s next secretary general.”

The announcement is silent, perhaps appropriately, about three salient features of the appointment: First, Bp. Idowu-Fearon will be the first secretary general from the Two-Thirds World, his predecessors having been from the U.K., Ireland, and North America. Given that since 1981 Christians in the Two-Thirds World have outnumbered Christians in Europe and North America – a demographic shift reflected in the Anglican Communion as well – it is appropriate that the next holder of the post hail from the Global South.

Second, the new secretary general is an African. From the Pew Research Center today comes the results of a six-year project in religious demography. Reportedly, while 25% of the world’s Christians are currently in SubSaharan Africa, by 2050 that percentage is predicted to be 40%. The African percentage of total Anglican Communion membership is something like 40% today, and the African percentage of active Anglicans may be a good deal higher than that. So it is appropriate that the secretary general be an African.

Third, the new secretary general is from Nigeria in particular. Two points about this: While the U.K. has the highest number of self-identified Anglicans, about 26 million (out of the global total of about 80 million Anglicans), the weekly attendance is about 1 million or less. Nigeria’s Anglicans number about 18 million, but the average level of church involvement is vastly higher than in the U.K., as it is among Christians throughout Africa. Weekly attendance figures for Nigerian Anglicans may not be available, but it is likely that 6-8 million Anglicans are in church every week.  So the next secretary general will come from a major global center of Anglicanism.

Equally important, the Anglican Church of Nigeria has led dissension within the Anglican Communion concerning issues of human sexuality, for instance boycotting the 2008 Lambeth Conference, catalyzing the Global Anglican Future Conferences (GAFCON), and participating in the establishment of dissident dioceses in the USA. By contrast, Bp. Idowu-Fearon has long been a moderate voice in Nigerian Anglicanism. His ministry as secretary general may well help to stimulate reconciliation within global Anglicanism.

This analysis is not intended to suggest that Communion-wide appointments should be allotted simply on the basis of demographic numbers, whether those of the Two-Thirds World, Africa or Nigeria.  After all, on such logic the current Pope would rightly have come from Brazil instead of Argentina.  Obviously personal gifts are a major consideration.  It is rather that the emerging and actually now longstanding demographic realities of world Christianity and the Anglican Communion should affect in some way the leadership profiles of the churches.  There was serious talk of the 2008 Lambeth Conference being held in Cape Town instead of Canterbury, but a complex of factors landed it in Canterbury again.  There has been talk of the Archbishop of Canterbury being appointed from beyond the Church of England, though that has always been recognized as much less likely in view of the archbishop’s canonical responsibilities within the Church of England.  The appointment of this particular secretary general for the Communion is salutary.

Rightly highlighted in the announcement is Bp. Idowu-Fearon’s expertise in Christian-Muslim relations. Since 1998 he has been bishop of Kaduna in northwestern Nigeria, a city that has been a flashpoint of Christian-Muslim conflict, especially in 2000 and 2001. Relations between Muslims and Christians is a major issue for the 21st century, and Bp. Idowi-Fearon’s insight will be welcome, especially since his on-the-ground experience is supported by academic expertise.

Reconciliation is the direction of God’s mission overall and certainly in the events that we commemorate in Holy Week. The first appointment made by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby when he took office in February 2013 was for a director of reconciliation, a post held by Canon David Porter. Reconciliation within the Anglican Communion and reconciliation between Christians and Muslims – we can be confident that Bp. Idowu-Fearon will move forward in these two vital aspects of God’s mission in today’s world.

The photograph published with the announcement was striking and heartening: Archbishop Justin Welby, Bp. Idowu-Fearon, and good friend Bp. James Tengatenga of Malawi, who chairs the Anglican Consultative Council, with which the new secretary general will work especially closely.

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Responses

  1. Ngarifambe vangheri.

    • Michael’s brief comment, translated ‘Let the gospel travel,’ picks up on one of the stanzas of a very stirring chorus sung by Shona Christians. Among the stanzas are:

      Rine moto vangheri – The gospel has fire

      Rine nyasha vangheri – The gospel has mercy

      Ngarifambe vangheri – Let the gospel travel

      . . . and so on.

      Each stanza is followed by a refrain: Chinguri ndakaudza kuti [rine moto – or another one of the stanza phrases] repeated twice before going on to the next stanza.

  2. Dear Titus,
    I’ve enjoyed looking at your blog site from time to time and it helps me to remember to pray for you.
    I agree with much of what you’ve written in this post above about Archbishop Josiah. I do have one bone to pick – obviously it is a matter of perspective, but I would not have described Nigeria as having ‘led dissension within the Anglican Communion.’ True, the Church in Nigeria has been firm (ok, belligerent if you wish) and has made decisions which many (especially in the western churches) find difficult (boycotting Lambeth, involvement with GAFCON). But wasn’t it the Anglican Church of Canada and the Episcopal Church (of the USA, not Sudan) which would be better described as leading the dissension?
    Blessings
    Grant LeMarquand, the Horn of Africa

    • Dear Grant,

      Thanks for your comment. It is always good to hear from you. I salute your ministry in the Horn of Africa. Your name came up in a conversation I was having yesterday here at the Salt Lake City General Convention, and my interlocutor and I were united in our admiration and affirmation of your good work in a difficult part of the world.

      I agree with you that actions of the Episcopal Church USA and the Anglican Church of Canada precipitated the Anglican crisis that is still with us, though today its tone partakes more of ice than fire. Whether ECUSA should have authorized the consecration of an openly gay bishop as it did at the 2003 General Convention will be debated for decades. My own position is that it was an action that proceeded naturally and faithfully from a movement of God in this part of the Anglican Communion.

      However, the lack of adequate notice to other sectors of the Anglican Communion prior to the action and, especially, the lack of communication, explanation and face-to-face encounter around the communion after the action led to ECUSA being perceived as rash, headstrong and arrogant – I believe this is what you’re referring to in your comment. Moreover, it was viewed as consonant with the USA’s rash, headstrong and arrogant rush to war in Iraq in 2003, so that the ecclesial and politico-military initiatives issuing from this part of the world were viewed as mutually confirming an intemperate national disposition.

      It was this disastrous immediate Anglican aftermath that prompted me to propose, as a member of the Episcopal Church’s Executive Council, that the Episcopal Church undertake visits to provinces around the communion to explain the church’s actions and try to repair relational damage in the context of personal encounters. In the spring of 2004 a trio consisting of Bishop John Lipscomb of Southwest Florida, Bishop Ted Daniels of Texas, and myself as a missiologist and Dean of the Seminary of the Southwest traveled to Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi to have conversations with primates, bishops and other church leaders in those Anglican provinces. The trip was funded by the office of the presiding bishop, at that time Frank Griswold, a good move on his part.

      The conversations were searching and wide ranging, and important relationships were formed. The most frequent question we were asked was: “Why has it taken so long for anyone to come from the Episcopal Church to discuss this with us?” (My article about the venture was published 2007 in the Anglican Theological Review under the title “Listening Toward Reconciliation: A Conversation Initiative in Today’s Anglican Alienations.”)

      Upon our return we submitted a comprehensive report to the presiding bishop’s office and recommended that a large number of such visits be made to various parts of the communion. That recommendation was heard and considered, but no followup visits were organized. This was due probably to Frank Griswold’s cautious personality and his relative inexperience in the Global South. Whatever the reason, it was unfortunate that the Episcopal Church did not undertake a humble and risk-taking approach to healing relationships with those parts of the communion that were so disturbed by its actions. We may still be suffering the effects of that failure.

      The Indaba Listening Process that was initiated by the 2008 Lambeth Conference has been a welcome effort to initiate needed conversation among Anglicans who have deep differences about human sexuality and other issues. I was involved with Indaba for a time, coordinating theological consultations in India, the Caribbean and Episcopal Church USA. Indaba Director Phil Indaba has been at the current General Convention and has introduced the project’s recent publication “Risking Reconciliation.”

      We pray and work for healing in the Anglican Communion. Meanwhile, thank you for your good work.

      Blessings,
      Titus

      Meanwhile


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