The Most Rev. Josiah Atkins Idowu-Fearon, secretary general of the Anglican Communion, said March 16 that Anglican and Episcopal women must continue – and redouble – their work to change the fate of women and girls in their communities, including by working with their national and local governments. He delivered his remarks and took question at the Episcopal Church Center in New York.
Idowu-Fearon acknowledged during his speech that in many contexts, including some parts of Africa, “religion can be a stumbling block to change.” Earlier that day, he said, he learned “to my horror” that the parliament in his home country of Nigeria had defeated gender equality legislation for the third time. Opponents claimed that the proposed law violated Nigerian cultural norms as well as both the Bible and the Quran.
He also recalled attending a meeting of the Nigerian provincial standing committee in 2003 after the Episcopal Church had agreed to ordain openly gay Episcopal priest Gene Robinson as the bishop of New Hampshire. During that meeting, the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals, adopted in 2000, were being discussed. A senior bishop declared that the development goals are “ways of the West wanting to poison our minds and remove us from focusing on the gospel.” Idowu-Fearon said the bishop refused to back down when he challenged him.
“You see what ignorance does? That’s ignorance,” he said, “but, I thank God that even though Nigeria did not buy into it, other parts of the communion were fully into it.”
While people of faith can and should challenge cultural norms, Idowu-Fearon acknowledged “with a heavy heart” that “our churches are buried in the past and, in so many cases, still failing to recognize the equal God-given dignity and giftedness of women and men.” He noted that he comes from a province in which women cannot be ordained and are not given “full leadership roles in the church.” In addition, he said, work is needed to ensure that lay voices are heard “as an essential part of the Anglican dialogue.”
During a question-and-answer session, two women challenged Idowu-Fearon about the focus of the recent primates gathering on internal issues.
“Each time you meet as primates you have specific agendas and you seem to fight and there’s so much tension – so much conflict – and we hold our breath because we don’t know what is going to come out of your meetings. And yet, there is so much injustice happening in the world, so much that we could be working on,” said Ashella Ndhlovu Chama of Zambia.
Chama challenged Idowu-Fearon and the primates of the Anglican Communion to be seen participating in the White Ribbon Campaign of men and boys working to end male violence against women and girls.
— Bishop Michael Curry (@PB_Curry) March 21, 2016