Nigerian bishop to evangelicals: stay and fight it out

The outgoing Anglican archbishop of Nigeria's Kaduna state, Josiah Idowu-Fearon, explains why many Nigerian Christians have such profoundly negative views about homosexuality, but at the same time questions the relationship between conservative American Anglican and fundamentalist groups, and says the fast growth of the Church in Nigeria has come at the expense of a deep knowledge of the Christian faith for many new adherents.

Speaking to the Dallas Morning News, Archbishop Josiah, speaks of his experience in a Nigerian province where Christianity is a relatively new religion and is now encroaching on the historically Muslim area and describes the challenges the brings.

...He oversees a Christian flock in a traditionally Muslim region where thousands have died in interreligious strife there. An academically trained Koranic scholar, Archbishop Josiah works with Muslim leaders to avoid communal violence and paper over differences.

And he is critical of the liberalizing trends in other parts of the Anglican Communion and places the differences both in terms of culture and in terms of differing understandings of Biblical authority:

I think it is wrong to say it is between Americans and Africans, or the West and the Southern hemisphere. It is between two groups of people who understand the authority of Scripture differently. You see, for me as a Christian from Nigeria, my parents are Christians. My grandparents had practiced traditional religion before they became Christian. Now, in African traditional religion, if I had an attraction to a male person, that is considered as an abnormal thing, a spiritual problem. ...

Now, when my grandparents met the English, who introduced us to the Christian faith, they read the Bible to my grandparents, and said, look, this thing you're talking about, the Bible agrees that it's sinful. So for us, the Bible supports our pre-Christian theology. We accepted it. We became Christian. And that is why in Africa, generally, if you have an abnormal sexual orientation, you don't brag about it. ...

That's why we feel we are deceived, we have been cheated by the people the Lord Jesus Christ used to introduce us to the Scriptures, to bring us to a new faith in the Lord Jesus. They are telling us that it's not wrong after all, that it's a natural way. But we say: You are wrong; the Bible is right. So it's not just a question of human sexuality. It's about the authority of Scripture. For us, Scripture judges every culture. What I hear in the Western world is that culture judges Scripture. That's the basic difference. It's not a question of sex or no sex.

When asked about the fast growth of Christianity in Nigeria, the Archbishop sounds a note of caution. Citing the experience in the Protestant West described by Max Weber, he said that Protestantism gave a structure of discipline that allowed capitalism to develop. He contrasts that with the Pentecostal movements in his country which describes as 'flamboyant' and having 'no self-denial.' He says,

You go to a church and you see hundreds of people who call themselves Christians, and they cannot even articulate for you the basics of the Christian gospel. But they can tell you that I came to Christ at two o'clock on the 7th of October of whatever year. I say, so what? They will cheat, they will lie, there is a lot of promiscuity. The Christianity that is so-called growing like wildfire in Africa is frightening to me. It's superficial, and that's the truth. It's growing, but what kind of Christianity are we talking about? You have church leaders bribing to be voted for. You have church leaders taking money from bankers who have embezzled it and given to the church, and you say, "Praise the Lord"? You can't reconcile that with the ethics of the Kingdom.

He cautions against Americans turning to African churches for leadership and about breaking away from their home church, advising them instead to remain true to their convictions and to be a voice for Biblical truth even in a Church that, in his view, is turning away from it.

The solution is right here. I believe Evangelicals, those who believe in the authority of Scripture, need to stay and fight it out. But I know that the way we are structured, decisions are often taken by bishops. To me, it is wrong. You might have a bishop who doesn't believe in the finality of the sacrifice of Jesus, in the uniqueness of Jesus, in the authority of Scripture. What do you do with that? I tell people: How often do you see a bishop? The important thing is, do you have a rector or priest who believes in the Bible? Me, I would stay in my parish and fight to be an oasis of hope for people who believe in Scripture.

Archbishop Idowu-Fearon speaks a voice that is true to his evangelical convictions. He desires people to have an informed, deep faith that rests in a working knowledge of the Bible. He also advises against schism as the way to heal the Church.

Read: Josiah Idowu-Fearon: At the heart of two flashpoints

Comments (2)

I've just seen the compelling new documentary, "For the Bible Tells Me So,' for the second time. We would do well to offer it to a genuine Anglican communion 'listening process.'

The director, Dan Karslake, spent the time it took to find five conservative Christian families who were willing to tell the story of their coming to terms (or not) with having a LGBT child. Their stories are honest, sometimes very painful, and also full of grace.

Whether part of a listening process or just in rolling out of American culture and media, I wish, no hope, Archbishop Idowu-Fearon and others of our sisters and brothers in Africa may eventually see this powerful, provocative and loving film. Yes, 'loving. ' It's not an angry polemic but a loving, funny, and occasionally fierce telling of a hard story, the current chapter in the Bible getting commandeered to divide and hurt people, even to the point of inviting violence, as it has also been mis-used in support of slavery and second-class status for women.

Dan Karslake made the film around real families, real experience AND he made a careful, serious effort to address the questions of Biblical interpretation so the film could make Gospel sense to conservative Christians. What he reports from conservatives who have seen it is that it does raise new questions for them.

How does he do this? Without pulling punches or hiding from painful truths, like the statistic that LGBT teens are three times likelier to kill themselves than their peers, and six times likelier to attempt it - because of what some Christians claim the Bible says about them, the film's overall tone is gentle and deeply respectful of people's struggles, their love for their kids, and Karslake is determined to use people's love of scripture as they understand it to plea for deeper understanding and faithfulness to it. That and the acknowledgment of how hard it is to re-examine , re-interpret, and change what we think we know of God and what feels settled and secure are what make this film so compelling.

Archbishop Idowu-Fearon and Dan Karslake share a vision here - that we're not going to get closer to truth and Gospel faithfulness by shouting at each other. The scripture work in the film is accessible enough to get anyone who has read the Bible at all (and even those who have not) to re-read and reconsider what it actually says and the Godly, faithful necessity of interpretation.

Gene Robinson and Desmond Tutu speaking from the heart and with the patience and compassion they exemplify do our church proud. The trailer is on Youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ajBR0dq0XXk. and there's a good video of Dan Karslake talking about the film at http://video.yahoo.com/video/play?vid=1178&fr=

I was struck by this statement from the Bishop, reflecting on interreligious violence in his diocese and region: "It's cost us thousands of lives – unnecessarily, wasteful death, millions of dollars worth of property, as a result of the lack of respect for the other person who believes in God in a different way. (emphasis mine) And yet earlier in the same interview he also said, "Today you will hear leaders of the Episcopal Church say that Jesus Christ is not the only way, and I say: "So why are you even in the church? You should resign." "

So, if Bishop Idowu-Fearon can recognize God in the worship of others in his own context, how can he criticize his American colleagues for recognizing God in the worship of others in their own contexts? Have some Episcopalians, including some bishops, seen God worshipped by those beyond the borders of the three Abrahamic religions? Yes; but it is still to recognize there the worship of the one God, even if that's not how the worshipper understands it. Bishop Idowu-Fearon has said no more, really, than Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori, and certainly no less.

There are those among American evangelicals, including evangelical Episcopalians and disstaff Anglicans, who do not repect "the person who believes in God in a different way." Perhaps we need Bishop Idowu-Fearon to speak to them.

Marshall Scott

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