By Kirk Petersen
The archbishop of the Church of Nigeria has issued a scathing indictment of the Anglican Church in North America, saying “The deadly ‘virus’ of homosexuality has infiltrated ACNA.”
The Most Rev. Henry C. Ndukuba, who leads the world’s second-largest Anglican church, wrote in response to an exchange of open letters discussing whether “gay Christian” is an acceptable term to describe gay people who are Christians. He says it is not: “A Gay is a Gay, they cannot be rightly described otherwise.”
In January, the College of Bishops of the ACNA issued a 3,700-word pastoral statement, concluding that the terms “gay Christian” and “same-sex attracted Christian” are both problematic and laden with cultural baggage. The statement recommended using the phrase “Christians who experience same-sex attraction.”
In response, a lay person in Nashville gathered dozens of signatures, including one bishop, for a letter addressed “Dear Gay Anglicans.” The letter affirmed ACNA’s “continued commitment to a traditional sexual ethic,” and endorses “practical steps to become churches where gay Anglicans can share all of their story, find community, and seek support.”
The letter did not explicitly contradict anything in the bishops’ pastoral statement, but nonetheless drew an angry response from ACNA’s archbishop, the Most Rev. Foley Beach. “While it says they are not undermining our Pastoral Statement, they actually are. Replacing ‘gay Christian’ with ‘gay Anglican’ is pretty much in your face,” he wrote, in a middle-of-the-night message to clergy in an ACNA diocese.
Beach said three unnamed provinces from the global Anglican Communion had expressed concern. “In many of our partner provinces, the practice of homosexuality is against the law, and to make matters more difficult, they usually don’t understand the nuances of the word ‘gay’ or ‘homosexual attraction’ — they just hear the practice of same-sex immorality.” Under Nigerian law, homosexual acts can be punished by up to 14 years in prison.
The Gay Anglican letter “is is likened to a Yeast that should be urgently and radically expunged and excised lest it affects the whole dough,” Ndukuba wrote. “The response of ACNA leadership so far has been palliative, weak and unwilling to discipline the erring bishops and priests,” he continued.
The Gay Anglican letter was written by Pieter Valk, a 30-year-old, celibate gay man who lives in a Nashville monastery that he helped found, called the Nashville Family of Brothers. He created deargayanglicans.com as a vehicle for posting the letter, which he then quickly took down after conferring with his bishop, the Rt. Rev. Martyn Minns.
Minns, who serves as the interim Bishop of Pittsburgh, which has jurisdiction over Nashville, told TLC that he advised Valk that the letter was “not helpful.”
“I don’t find this kind of dialogue by statement to be very useful,” he said, preferring private, face-to-face discussions, although the pandemic makes that difficult. “They’re all godly people who basically believe the same thing.”
Minns is a former Episcopalian who was named a bishop in the Church of Nigeria in 2006, and said that before retirement he traveled there about six times annually. “My initial calling was to provide pastoral care and connection for the significant number of Nigerian Anglicans who were living in America.” His ministry expanded beyond Nigerians as the leader of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, which eventually became one of the founding entities of ACNA.
Regarding Beach’s characterization of “gay Anglican” as an “in your face” provocation, Valk said that was not his intent. The carefully worded bishops’ pastoral statement was the result of more than a year of research, writing, and editing, and Valk said “I took the College of Bishops at their word, that they put exactly, precisely, without possibility of misinterpretation – they put exactly what they wanted to in the provincial statement. … They didn’t say that the word Anglican was some equally sacred word as the word Christian.”
He disagrees with the pastoral statement’s lengthy discussion of “why we cannot modify the word Christian in any way,” Valk said, but he nevertheless honored that stricture in writing the gay Anglican letter. “After the fact, applying this same standard now to the word ‘Anglican’ — I can only describe that as moving the goalposts.”
Valk hopes to be ordained as a deacon in the ACNA, and said the current controversy has done nothing to change that. He spoke about the Bible verses that often are quoted in opposition to homosexuality, and said “the most reasonable conclusion, and certainly the teaching of the church historically, has been that what we should take from those verses is that same-sex sexual and romantic activity are sins.”
“None of us who signed the Dear Gay Anglicans letter disagree with the top-line theology of the provincial statement,” he added.
“I believe the testimonies of some people … that God has changed their sexual orientation. The question is, how likely is that? How frequent is that? Should we expect that to be the norm?” He added, “the data we have is that 96, 97 percent of the time, when people participate in sexual-orientation change efforts, they experience no change in their sexual orientation or their same-sex attraction.”
Among the signatories of the letter was Bishop Grant LeMarquand, a professor at Trinity School of Ministry who recently served as interim bishop of ACNA’s Diocese of the Great Lakes. He said by email he had taken his name off the letter for unspecified reasons. He agreed to speak with TLC after initially declining to do so, but the connection has not been made as of this writing.
Archbishop Beach’s spokesperson did not respond to two calls seeking comment about whether LeMarquand and the various priests who signed the letter would face disciplinary action, as demanded by Archbishop Ndukuba. In his internal message to clergy, Beach wrote “if you are one of the clergy who signed on to this, I expect you to send me an email explaining why you signed a letter and beginning a private, non-punitive, conversation with me about your concerns.”