By Jim Naughton
Who are the intended audiences for Archbishop Peter Akinola’s visit to Virginia today?
That seems unlikely. Almost four years after the General Convention which confirmed V. Gene Robinson’s election as the Bishop of New Hampshire, Akinola has managed to win the loyalty of fewer than one third of one percent of the Church’s congregations, despite a well-funded, high profile campaign. And the more the media sees of him, the worse he looks. It is hard to live down interviews like the one he gave to The New York Times last December in which he told a reporter he had recoiled on the one instance he was informed that he was shaking hands with a gay man. Even Time magazine, once his principal American cheerleader, has turned a more critical eye on him. Compare last year’s tribute to him in the Time 100 with this year’s more neutral piece.
Rowan Williams? Perhaps. If Akinola thought the Archbishop of Canterbury’s approved of his visit, he obviously miscalculated. But if he were expecting Williams to disapprove, either privately or publicly, and decided to go ahead anyway, he may have decided either that he didn’t think Williams would dare to try to discipline him in any way, or that he didn’t care whether he was disciplined or not.
Akinola’s visit certainly makes it harder for Williams to justify excluding Episcopal bishops from next summer’s Lambeth Conference if he invites the Nigerian church. But if he doesn’t invite either province, the conference becomes notable primarily for who is absent. So Williams, despite registering his disapproval, is left with a poor choice of either challenging Akinola, who is ready to split the Communion, or acknowledging, through the lack of any further statement, that Akinola is leading the Anglican dance. Williams may be hoping that Akinola is overplaying his hand in a way that will alienate all but a handful of his closest allies within the Anglican Primates Meeting, and that this will make it easier to isolate him in the future, but it isn’t clear that Akinola cares.
(Tobias Haller and Martin Reynolds also believe Akinola may have overplayed his hand. See their comments on Thinking Anglicans.)
The third potential audience for today’s installation is Akinola’s various rivals for influence on the Anglican right in this country. For reasons that aren’t obvious to outsiders, the Nigerian initiative (the Convocation of Anglicans in North America) and the Rwandan initiative in the United States, (the Anglican Mission in America) have not joined forces. Several leaders of the AMiA have expressed discomfort about Akinola’s visit to Virginia today. Leaders of the Anglican Communion Network (Episcopal bishops who wants their organization to be declared the true Anglican presence in the United States and the 14 other countries in which the Episcopal Church is active) are also keeping their distance. Only Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh is making the trip, and he doesn’t seem entirely enthusiastic about doing so. As leader of the Network, Duncan is an unenviable position. If he joins forces with Akinola, he not only loses control of his movement, but opens himself to presentment in the Episcopal Church. If he doesn’t follow the archbishop’s lead, he loses a patron and will find his role diminished within Communion politics.
While all of this plays out, Episcopalians will get up tomorrow morning and go to church, most without giving today’s events a second thought–or perhaps even a first. What may be most remarkable about today’s installation, is that it creates few additional difficulties for the Episcopal Church—its ostensible target—and many for the various parties who have been Archbishop Akinola’s allies and enablers all along.
Jim Naughton is editor in chief of Episcopal Cafe.