(RNS) African Anglicans welcomed the appointment of a Nigerian bishop as the next secretary general of the 85 million-member Anglican Communion, even as others criticized the appointment because of his anti-gay comments.
Bishop Josiah Atkins Idowu-Fearon beat other applicants from Oceania, Asia, Europe and the Americas and will assume the mostly ambassador type post at a time when the worldwide communion remains estranged over homosexuality and same-sex marriages, especially in Africa.
“He is articulate and very well educated,” said Bishop Julius Kalu of Mombasa, Kenya, diocese. “His position on traditional Anglicanism is very firm. This is good for us.”
Kalu said the appointment had come at the right time, when African Anglicans needed a bigger voice within the communion.
“The church is growing fastest here,” said Kalu. “We also have the largest membership.”
Idowu-Fearon, who succeeds Kenneth Kearon, now a bishop in the Church of Ireland, is the first African to be appointed to the post.
But his appointment has also drawn sharp criticism from gay groups who pointed out that Idowu-Fearon has a history of anti-gay statements including speaking out in favor of criminalizing gays. Idowu-Fearon has since said he never supported the criminalization of the gay community and he will never support it.
“The church is called to love and protect everyone without discrimination, love the person, but hate the sin,” he said in a statement on April 4.
The Nigerian bishop also boycotted the 2008 Lambeth Conference, the regular summoning to Canterbury, England, of all the leaders of the Anglican Communion, which takes place once every 10 years. Instead, he attended the Global Anglican Future Conference in Jerusalem, a gathering of theologically conservative Anglican leaders, most of whom are opposed to the ordination of gays and lesbians.
African bishops hope Idowu-Fearon will articulate the position of traditionalists on gay matters. Others said he was picked in part because of his reputation as an expert on Christian-Muslim relations.
Recently, the persecution of Christians by Nigeria’s Boko Haram and Somalia’s Al-Shabab, have appeared more urgent to the Anglican leaders.
Idowu-Fearon has a Ph.D. in sociology from Nigeria’s Ahmadu Bello University, a master’s degree. in Islamic theology from England’s University of Birmingham, and a bachelor’s degree in theology from Durham University, also in England.