The assumption of good faith

In his response to the GAFCON statement, Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, urges his readers to accept the good faith of bishops who have begun claiming parishes in other churches as their own. Given their track record, this is difficult to do. Here is one example among many.

Consider Bishop John Bryson Chane’s op-ed in the Washington Post on February 26, 2006 in which he wrote:

Archbishop Peter J. Akinola, primate of the Church of Nigeria and leader of the conservative wing of the communion, recently threw his prestige and resources behind a new law that criminalizes same-sex marriage in his country and denies gay citizens the freedoms to assemble and petition their government. The law also infringes upon press and religious freedom by authorizing Nigeria’s government to prosecute newspapers that publicize same-sex associations and religious organizations that permit same-sex unions.

Were Archbishop Akinola a solitary figure and Nigeria an isolated church, his support for institutionalized bigotry would be significant only within his own country. But the archbishop is perhaps the most powerful member of a global alliance of conservative bishops and theologians, generously supported by foundations and individual donors in the United States, who seek to dominate the Anglican Communion and expel those who oppose them, particularly the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. Failing that, the archbishop and his allies have talked of forming their own purified communion — possibly with Archbishop Akinola at its head.

Now consider the response of the Rev. Martyn Minns, who was then the rector of Truro Parish in Virginia, who wrote to his parishioners saying:

What about Archbishop Akinola? What are his views? As far as I know Bishop Chane has never attempted to contact him to find out. Archbishop Akinola has not spoken publicly on the proposed legislation and has not thrown his “prestige and resources behind the new law,” as Chane insinuates. He is presently working overtime to lower the religious and ethnic tensions in Nigeria and to care for those who have been traumatized in the recent strife. He is not seeking to victimize or diminish anyone. He is primarily an evangelist and a pastor whose desire is to see all people come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. His opposition to ECUSA’s repudiation of traditional Biblical teaching on human sexuality is a matter of record and a viewpoint that is supported by the vast majority of Christendom. However, the idea that he is looking to establish a ‘purified communion’ bankrolled by cabal of conservatives in the USA has no basis whatsoever and is surely the product of an overheated episcopal imagination.

We learned from subsequent statements and actions that Archbishop Akinola held exactly the views Bishop Chane described, and, after GAFCON, we now see that he is indeed, attempting to establish a purified communion with himself at its head. We also know that the now-Bishop Minns was involved in these plans all along.

As for Minns’ portrait of Akinola as a reconciling figure, Muslims in Nigeria may regard him rather differently. But that is another matter.

There is a distinction to be drawn between sincere conviction and good faith. Acting out of sincere conviction, one can excuse one’s self from operating in good faith. It may be that Archbishop Williams’ willingness to assume good faith on the part of those who have conspired against his leadership since he refused to recognize a separate American province in the wake of the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson, has contributed to the difficulties in which he now finds himself.

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