Software Reveals N. Va. Bishop

A prestigious Anglican Church weekly has charged that a Northern Virginia clergyman was the principal author of a provocative letter assailing the Archbishop of Canterbury attributed to Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola.

The Church Times, in its Aug. 24 on-line edition, credits the Rev. Martyn Minns of the Truro Church in Fairfax, head of a new association of Virginia churches that defected from the Episcopal Church U.S.A. last December, with ghost-writing the Akinola letter. Akinola is the designated leader of the defecting churches that includes those in the congregation of the Falls Church Episcopal Church who voted to leave.

“Computer tracking software suggests that the letter was extensively edited and revised over a four-day period by the Rt. Rev. Martyn Minns, who was consecrated last year by Archbishop Akinola to lead the secessionist Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA),” the Church Times wrote.

The powerful revelation appears to confirm the suspicions of those who’ve suggested that Minns, more than Akinola, is the seminal force leading the movement to defect from the Episcopal Church. When Akinola attended seminary in Northern Virginia, he did an internship at Minns’ church before returning to Nigeria where he was eventually elevated to the position of Archbishop.

While the CANA organization has publicly celebrated the role of the “church of the southern hemisphere” in breathing new life into American congregations, it appears from the Church Times report this week that the breath in question may be one recycled through Nigeria from old voices in Virginia.

Part of Akinola’s appeal to the defecting congregations in Virginia has been his strident opposition to homosexuality, including his call for prison sentences for persons of the same sex seen holding hands in public or gathering to discuss gay marriage.

It was the elevation of an openly-gay pastor to standing as a bishop in the Episcopal Church U.S.A. in November 2003 that was a precipitating development in the move of some church congregations to defect. Issues of the authority of the Bible were also considered important.

The letter in question attributed to Akinola last month was entitled, “A Most Agonizing Journey Toward Lambeth 2008.” According to the Church Times, it included “a suggestion that the Archbishop of Canterbury’s status as a focus of unity is ‘highly questionable.’” It also suggests that the global Anglican Communion is on the “brink of destruction.”

Akinola has not been invited to the Anglican Church’s next Lambeth Conference, held every 10 years, scheduled for next summer. Nor has the openly-gay U.S. Episcopal Bishop Eugene Robinson, whose elevation to bishop helped spur the Akinola-linked defections.

Concerning the editing of the Akinola letter, according to the Church Times, “Close examination of the document, tracing the authorship, editing history, and timing of changes, reveals about 600 insertions made by Bishop Minns, including whole new sections amounting to two-thirds of the final text. There is also a sprinkling of minor amendments made by Canon Chris Sugden of the conservative group, Anglican Mainstream.”

The article continues, “The first three paragraphs, which seem to be from the hand of Bishop Minns, describe a ‘costly and debilitating’ 10-year journey, ‘as the most recently demonstrated by the tepid response to the invitations to the proposed Lambeth Conference 2008.’ There is ‘little enthusiasm even to meet,’ the writer suggests.”

In a highly-provocative revision, the letter reads, “Sadly, this conference is no longer designed as an opportunity for serious engagement and heartfelt reconciliation…This communion, however, has been broken by the actions of the Canadian and American churches. The consequence is the most serious because, even if only one province chooses not to attend, the Lambeth Conference effectively ceases to be an instrument of unity. The convener’s status as a focus of unity also becomes highly questionable.”

The paragraph ends with a Minns revision saying, “Failure to recognize the gravity of this moment will have a devastating impact.” That replaced deleted wording that said, “Anything else is like going to bed and ignoring a naked flame in the house.”

Other revisions assail those in Canadian and American churches for their stance in acceptance of homosexuality and “the decision, made earlier this year, to extend an invitation to the Lambeth Conference to those responsible for this crisis with no call to repentance, while rejecting bishops who have stood firm for the faith.”

The document concludes, “These past 10 years of distraction have been agonizing and the cost has been enormous. The time and financial resources spent on endless meetings who statement and warnings have been consistently ignored is a tragic loss of resources that should have been used otherwise.”

“Very little of the original text remains unrevised,” the Church Times reported. The Church Times was founded in 1863 as what it claims is “the world’s leading Anglican weekly newspaper.” According to its website, it aspires to “the balanced and fair reporting of events and opinions across the whole range of Anglican affairs.”