At the end of last week, the Most Reverend Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, who is the Bishop of the Diocese of Kaduna in Nigeria, was appointed as the new secretary general of the Anglican Communion.
The announcement was made quietly on Maundy Thursday, on a day when most people who might usually be inclined to notice and comment on a significant appointment in the Church could quite properly be expected to be busy with all the furore of Holy Week. A day to bury bad news if ever there was one; and make no mistake, this has been bad news.
To be secretary general of the Anglican Communion is not a little thing. In effect, this man has been appointed as the executive officer of the Council which writes policy for the Anglican Communion and is charged with being one of the bodies that is meant to keep the member churches of the Communion together, and who is now expected to represent the Communion to ecumenical bodies, to worldwide churches, and to secular institutions including the United Nations. This is an appointment that it was important to get right, and that it was important to be seen to get right.
Ask yourself, at a time when issues of human sexuality are tense and prominent in the life of the Church, is it right of the Anglican Communion to appoint a man who has in the past been seen to be so vehemently anti-gay?
Bishop Josiah told the Dallas Morning News in 2007 that “[gay people] are wrong”, and just thirteen months ago at a high profile event in Nigeria he said that “the government has criminalised homosexuality, which is good”. It is not clear whether these are still his views. A private correspondence to the Episcopal Women’s Caucus which was made last week after they had made contact with him stated that his position has not changed and that he does not support the criminalisation of homosexuality — it seems to me that it is not possible for both of those things to be true. He has made no effort to publicly clarify his views; nor has either the Anglian Consultative Council or Lambeth Palace.
It is, perhaps more importantly, also not clear whether the Anglican Consultative Council believed these to be his views at the time that they made the appointment.
I am usually capable of allowing for difference of opinion. I usually take great joy in the fact that in the Anglican Communion we seek to love one another for our differences as well as for our similarities, and that we can make room for how each one of us sees theology and Scripture and God. I can recognise as an adult that not everyone shares my view of the world, and in all the things I have ever said about the theology of human sexuality I have never considered people who believe differently to me to be less than I am or to belong in this Church less than I do. I wish everyone did believe the same as I do, but they don’t and that’s okay.
But it is a different thing to hold and express divisive views as an individual than it is to hold those views when you are supposed to be a visionary bridge builder for reconciliation in a worldwide Church. I am paraphrasing from the person criteria now.
And if you believe that consensual sexual activity between two people who are of the same sex ought to be a criminal act, you are just plain wrong.
That’s not my opinion. That’s just the way it is.
The views of Bishop Josiah need to be clarified publicly. If the Anglican Consultative Council and the Archbishop of Canterbury and my own Primus believe that it is a good and holy thing that someone who holds these views becomes the face which we as Anglicans show to the world, then we need to consider whether we, as individuals and as member Churches, remain in communion with the Anglican Communion.
EDIT: A statement has now been made by Bishop Josiah that he does not and has never supported the criminalisation of homosexuality. He continues to express some very troubling anti-gay sentiments in that statement. There also needs to be clarification on this statement that he “has never” supported criminalisation, which is a direct contradiction to a statement he made in March 2014.