By Kirk Petersen

In unusually harsh language, the Archbishop of Canterbury has “condemn[ed]” as “unacceptable” a recent statement by the Archbishop of Nigeria on human sexuality — thereby raising the stakes in what started as a disagreement between the Nigerian primate and the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA).

Archbishop Justin Welby’s comments on March 5 were in response to Nigerian Archbishop Henry Ndukuba’s contention that “The deadly ‘virus’ of homosexuality has infiltrated ACNA. This is likened to a Yeast that should be urgently and radically expunged and excised lest it affects the whole dough.”

“I completely disagree with and condemn this language,” Welby stated. “It is unacceptable. It dehumanises those human beings of whom the statement speaks. I have written privately to His Grace The Archbishop to make clear that this language is incompatible with the agreed teaching of the Anglican Communion.”

The relationship between Canterbury and Nigeria has been fragile for years. Nigeria was one of three African provinces of the Anglican Communion that announced a boycott of the decennial Lambeth Conference, which had been scheduled for the summer of 2020. The conference has been pushed back to 2022 because of the pandemic.

The Church of Nigeria is the largest member of GAFCON, the global orthodox Anglican movement that has been building an identity separate from Canterbury. With 18 million members, it is also the largest province in the Anglican Communion, aside from the Church of England.

ACNA is another influential member of GAFCON, even though at 130,000 members it is tiny compared to Nigeria and other GAFCON provinces. ACNA’s Archbishop Foley Beach currently leads GAFCON’s Council of Primates, and thus ACNA and the Church of Nigeria would appear to be key allies.

But Archbishop Ndukuba’s statement accused ACNA leadership of being “palliative, weak, and unwilling to discipline the erring bishops and priests” who expressed disagreement with the recent pastoral statement by ACNA bishops on sexuality and identity. The carefully worded 3,700-word pastoral statement rejected the term “gay Christian,” arguing that homosexuality is a temptation to sin, not an identity. The bishops proposed “Christians who experience same-sex attraction” as an alternate term. The international controversy erupted after a bishop and multiple priests in ACNA signed and briefly posted online a “Dear Gay Anglican” letter, written by a celibate gay ACNA layman, that positioned gayness as an identity, while affirming ACNA’s “continued commitment to a traditional sexual ethic.”

In response, Ndukuba wrote “A Gay is a Gay, they cannot be rightly described otherwise,” and fired a warning shot across ACNA’s bow: “ACNA was formed by GAFCON, as a safe haven for faithful Christians who reject the apostasy and rebellion in TEC (the Episcopal Church). They should not now find in ACNA the aberrations which drove them from TEC.”

Ironically, all parties to the dispute agree, at least officially, that homosexual acts are contrary to Scripture. Even Welby, while citing a 1998 Lambeth Conference resolution denouncing homophobic language, noted that it “restated a traditional view of Christian marriage.”

All of this is in sharp contrast to the Episcopal Church, which now has five gay and lesbian bishops and authorizes same-sex marriage rites throughout the Church.