Interview with ArchBishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon of Nigeria.

I was fortunate today to get some time with Bishop Josiah as he passed through Sydney. Many thanks to Madeleine Collins of SydneyAnglicans.net for including me in this time. I commend the following to you for your attention. Bishop Josiah sat on the Eames Commission and has many helpful things to say. In particular he gives an interesting insight into the comparison between how homosexual behaviour and polygamy are treated in the West and Africa and has some striking clarity on how things may progress. There are three people present: Madeleine Collins (MC) David Ould (DO) Bishop Josiah (BJ)

MC I wanted to ask you about the links between Moore College and your Province in terms of the PTC course.

BJ When I first visited that was 1999 I came then as a Synod speaker, a guest. The then principal, Mr Jensen (ed. now Archbishop Jensen of Sydney) finally accepted my theology and invited me to Moore College. [ed. the reader should note the twinkle in +Josiahs eye as he says this!] So I had coffee with the faculty. I thought, I must be special! The whole faculty? and he said, yes! Lets go for lunch. Peter Bolt, who was then in charge of PTC (Preliminary Theological Certificate), was asked to take me around and show me what he had. So he just took me and I saw, you know, the list of the courses and the subjects and I said, gosh!Look, I had just been struggling to write a syllabus for lay education in Kaduna diocese and I said gosh, this is heaven-sent!So I fell for it immediately and I think in the year 2000 we got it going, mainly amongst my evangelists. Evangelists are important and not really trained workers. They actually do the real job of church-planting in the rural areas. And because of the responsibility given to them we felt very strongly that the diocese needed to be equipped. So with the arrangement, students were then coming from here [Sydney] – they were coming twice a year (its a long way). However, within the first two, three years we discovered that the students we send in, evangelists we send into the seminary for their selection conference, usually come within the first five! So the impact has been so remarkable that all the evangelists have now enrolled and some of the bishops have been asking me, “what is the secret” and as a result of that one of my own priests who was elected bishop last year, Bishop Gurga who is in Zampara (another state) we now have Rick from England who organizes and does the teaching in that area of Nigeria. So we are sort of spreading out. We are spreading out without any advertisement the students are our advertisement.

MC and is that due to the take-up of the PTC course?

BJ Yes!

MC Are you here in Sydney to encourage further links or…?

BJ I was invited by Fusion International and the Archbishop said lets have the Archbishop as our guest so Im actually staying with the Archbishop at Bishopscourt. Its a privilege to enjoy the facilities there. And since then weve had a series of meetings to formally sign this partnership between Sydney Diocese, Moore College and Kaduna Diocese. We did that two days ago, we had about three hours meeting here just trying to formalize it, I can tell you. What that actually means is that Sydney will assist Kadunadiocese and, eventually, the Province in preparing evangelists for theological training. By that I mean to go to the seminary.

MC So will you have your evangelists coming over here?

BJ No. What it means is that they will do the PTC course in three stages; first 6 books, the next six books, and then the third and final six books and after each stage theyll be given a certificate. My plan is, which they agreed (+Peter Tasker, on behalf of the Diocese, Alan Höhne, on behalf of Moore College) – the plan is that by 2008 I will want to have produced 200 students who will have gone through the PTC course and theyve made that possible by accepting to bring them in three times in the year. Sydney Diocese will pay their transportation and pay for their feeding. Thats their assistance.

DO Who will be teaching the course?

BJ Well, two of my priests have Masters, one came to Melbourne Ridley College and he came here to Sydney for an introductory course how to do PTC. The other also has a Masters in theology and philosophy from the University of Josse, Nigeria. Moore College have accepted the two of them. Now in addition Rick, who was a student here and now he lives in London, whos been doing the course will still be coming with some students from the UK.

DO Tell us, whats distinctive about the material from Sydney, particularly from Moore College, that made you decide thats the way to go out of all the resources you could have chosen?

BJ Well, the Introduction to the Bible is the sort of thing I love because I was brought up that way at Durham, I read theology at Durham. So we see the theology is balanced, the biblical component is good, and the student work is beautiful. So rather than sit down and begin to do something in the Diocese… I havent seen anything similar to that in my context so Moore College fits in because the material isgrounded in the scriptures and the problem with Christianity in Africa is that there is no serious biblical content its a big problem.

MC Will this course help you evangelists come to grips with the growing problem of Islam and help them to defend against that?

BJ Yes, in that the course will give them a good foundation for theological training in our seminary. For you to be able to hold a meaningful dialogue with a Muslim you must know your own religion. The Muslim respects the Christian who knows the Bible and is able to not argue but present his position. That is one thing that Moore Colleges PTC course will give. However, Moore College does not have the Islamic component and that is what I will be teaching because I have a centre for this study in Christian-Muslim relations in Kadunawhere I teach basic Islam and Christian-Muslim relations because my approach is not the confrontational one. History has proved that that approach has never paid, it has never worked to be confrontational. Rather I practice the Irenic approach; know this religion, know the culture of your people, and be able to present your position and at the same time listen to the Muslim present his position. What I generally do, and this is what I teach all the students who pass through my institute (in that centre we have produced 60) what I do is I take a Muslim, I take him on: “your book says, there is no compulsion in religion. What does that mean in the light of what is happening to us” So you put the Muslim on the defensive he has to be apologetic.

DO You’re obviously in the thick of it in Nigeria. Here in the West we think we have a problem with Islam but on reflection we really dont, do we? (Although the problem is growing). What is maybe the one thing that want to say to Westerners that they must understand about Islam that will help them?

BJ If I am to address Christian readers, which is what you expect me to do, I will say this: First and foremost Christians in the West need not to be ashamed of being Christian. If you say that you are a Christian, you have a world-view. So in the West our appeal to the Christians is that they should take their profession of the Christian faith very seriously. What do I mean by that? Firstly, in their attitude to life; there is so much relativism in the West and religion is not being taken seriously. People believe they are post-Christian. I think the West needs people who think seriously about going back to Biblical principles. When you begin to do that the Muslim will begin to take you seriously. The way things are now, do you know what they are saying to us? They are ridiculing us in Africa and in the Southern Hemisphere, “what are you guys doing? Those that brought Christianity to you, they no longer practice it so why dont you embrace Islam?” So our appeal to Christians in the West is that they should take the Christian faith seriously. Number two: the leaders in the West should not brand Muslims as terrorists. It does not help. They should see them as human beings, to be loved. When you accept the Muslim as a human being to be loved youve pinned him or her down. He will listen to you, because you see we need Muslims to help counter those who are politicians, terrorists, who do these things in the name of Islam. I am not saying there is no violence in the Quran there is! But it depends upon the people you are dealing with. We do this all the time in Nigeria. It boomerangs, but we wont stop because you see we have no justification for being violent and it is by love that you can win the heart of a Muslim. So Christians should come out and say we are Christians, we have our culture that is based on the scriptures; this we do, this we dont do. You see if you have even five Muslims amongst a thousand they will still want to live as Muslims unashamedly Muslim but Christians will say OK, in the name of being politically correct… and I think this is a challenge.

DO What are the key issues to which the Muslims in Nigeria are pointing and saying, “there, they are being hypocrites!”?

BJ When Christian leaders make statements (because we live in a global world where you have internet… everything, even what Im saying now will be seen by someone…)

DO I guarantee!! Within 24 hours!

BJ When Christian leaders say something like, “Resurrection Jesus, he didnt rise, its an idea”, Muslims find that very difficult and we say “there is no Resurrection, there is no Christianity”. Muslims now say, “hey! Where did you get your Christianity from? Look at those who actually brought the faith to you!” So when Christian leaders begin to deny the essentials of the Faith, they say, “Jesus wasnt really God or He didnt die on the Cross” these are the kind of things that we find in the Quran! So Christian leaders make statements to affirm what is in the Quran, they make evangelism very difficult for us. Number two: you see in the area of morality. This is where I am a little bit uncomfortable with the West (we have problems in Africa we will talk about this eventually), something like same-sex; the Quran condemns it. There are about 14 passages in the Quran that talk about homosexuality or lesbianism; simply, God does not like it. It comes under what they call haran: something God hates and the punishment is with God the Quran doesn’t tell us what the punishment is. Anything under haran a Muslim is expected not to do it. Now you have Christians who say “I am homosexual and I want to live this way and I want to promote it” – this is where we have problems.

MC For example, Gene Robinson.

BJ Yes. You see that for us is a big, big problem. Why is it a problem? The Bible, the way that we understand it, is very clear: adultery, fornication, lying they are all together termed as sinful. Now when you begin to flag something the Bible says is sinful it works against it. So now we have no gospel! What do you want to preach?!

MC And does it also hurt your witness to Muslims?

BJ It does! Because Muslims, they dont flag it. They see it as something that God says you shouldnt do and they try as much as possible not to do it. Now, it is more complicated for us in Africa. My tribe, for example, if I feel attracted to you as a man then I know I have a problem. For us in Africa it is a spiritual problem. And before you guys brought Christ to us this was the way that we saw it. Now you brought the Bible to us, the Bible confirms the position we had before Christianity came and now you are turning it the other way and saying, look, its wrong in the Bible. You see, that makes it doubly difficult for us. The other thing you guys say in the West is you allow polygamy. Look: for Africans polygamy is part of their culture. But, homosexuality is not a part of your culture, we know that its not a part of the Western culture. Polygamy is part of our culture. And you see the debate (and now Im speaking specifically within the Anglican Church) the debate began in 1887 and in 1888 the Lambeth Conference decided, I think, that the wife [of the polygamist] could be confirmed, the man not. And they kept debating it until 1988 it took 100 years before they finally agreed.

DO thats quite a listening process!

BJ Exactly! Even with that decision in the Anglican Church of Nigeria a polygamist is a member of the church but he has no leadership role no bible studies are allowed in his home. To make matters worse he is not allowed Communion. The same thing with people who are divorced. We are not saying we are perfect but you see there are standards if we say we are Christians, there are certain standards we have got to keep and that is a problem were having with our brothers and sisters I want you to mark my choice of words, our brothers and sisters. The homosexual we love it is the act…and flagging it. If they are prepared to accept it as the Bible says: this is an unnatural thing, there will be no problem. So there is the problem, and it is negating our ministry.

MC I wanted to ask you about the recent Global South Communiqué. Do you agree with the recommendation, as I understand it the Global South is saying to our brothers and sisters, you’ll need to form your own structures away from ECUSA?

BJ Well, thats the position our Primates have taken. I think I would want to add that yes, I will support it however we have a ministry to them because they are brothers and sisters.

MC Liberal Americans?

BJ Yes, we have a ministry to them. It is our mission field. If a child of mine decides to misbehave: yes, I will condemn what he has done but I will keep talking to that child. You see this is my personal position. It is good because the more we cohere the stronger our voice, however we have a ministry to our brothers and sisters who refuse to accept the Windsor Report. By the way, I served on the Windsor Commision.

DO Does that make you slightly different to some of your brother bishops?

BJ No, its the same! Im only taking it further. I accept it, however we have a ministry to them because we cannot write them off.

MC Your Primate, Peter Akinola, has he not said that he would not accept Katherine Jefferts-Schori at Lambeth?

BJ That’s difficult for all of us.

MC Is that part of the ministry, meeting her?

BJ Well, that’s difficult for all of us. You see the way we see that election has got nothing to do with the human sexuality thing. We feel they’re saying, “look, this is America, this is what we want, you either take it or leave it!” and to us that is arrogant, its arrogance and even within my family if my wife or I decide to be arrogantthere is a point where you say, thus far and no further. It is that arrogance we cannot take the whole world! Its got nothing to do with the sexuality thing. And of course she doesnt hide her theological position so it makes it very difficult for us.

DO If things stay as they are and Lambeth 98 comes along and lets say Robinson and Jefferts-Schori are invited do you feel able to take seats at that conference?

BJ No. No we dont. We’ve made our position very clear.

DO So what will happen?

BJ We don’t know, but as far as the Anglican Church in Nigeria is concerned the decision is that we are not going. It’s just not right! Unless there is an agreement… Windsor is the bottom line but these guys are not accepting Windsor so we feel there is nothing to discuss, there is nothing to discuss.

DO And its not as though Windsor is very conservative is it? You’ll know that theres been criticisms of Windsor from Sydney that it doesnt go far enough.

BJ Exactly, and we have accepted it. The Primates in Africa we have accepted Windsor as the minimum.

MC But you have said that the Anglican Church in Nigeria won’t withdraw from the Communion.

BJ No, thats clear – we are not withdrawing! They have to leave!

MC How will you communicate that?

BJ By protest. We maintain the Anglican theological position and we remain Anglicans but if those who have actually walked away are invited… since we are Anglicans we are not going to come.

DO So what do you have to say to our friends who are in North America who are struggling particularly in the Episcopal Church but also in Canada?

BJ Well, firstly they need to know that they are not alone. You see the position they find themselves in is almost the same as the position we Christians find ourselves in in the Muslim parts of Nigeria because we are vilified, we are treated as second-class citizens. Its exactly the same but in a different way. So they need to keep together. They need to eschew their minor differences especially in the United States. They need to ensure that and actually come together and cohere to have a common voice. Two: they need to take mission seriously amongst the other side. Its important and Ive not been hearing people talk about that. It is a mission field. They should leave us in Africa, we can come to a place like Sydney. We can work together but let them do mission its a mission field. They need to see their brothers and sisters as those that need to come to Christ and accept Christ.

MC The politics must be overwhelming. Maybe its overshadowed that?

BJ Thats right. It has. What they are hankering for now is recognition by Lambeth and so with these politics people are not thinking about the opportunities for Mission. I know its tough its as tough as our situation. The only difference is I cannot see any revisionists carrying a cutlass or gun and killing, or burning their places of worship. The physical destruction they are not suffering but the mental torture is there..

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