Interview with Bishop Bill Atwood: Why the US Needs Orthodox Bishops

 

This article appears in the Church of England Newspaper of September 14, 2007, page 12

 

One hundred years ago, Western missionaries were sent to Africa to convert the heathen and spread the gospel of peace. But now the tide has turned, according to conservatives, after a bumper crop of US priests were consecrated in the heart of Africa this month. Their mission? To head back to the States and minister to Anglicans disillusioned with the increasingly liberal Episcopal Church which, they claim, tore the Communion asunder with the consecration of a gay bishop in 2003.

consecration KenyaLast week the Churches of Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda all consecrated their American ‘flying bishops’ on African soil ready to send them back to troubled traditionalist congregations in the US.

The Church of England Newspaper managed to catch up with one of the newly consecrated Kenyan bishops, the Rt Rev Bill Atwood, and asked him a few questions. Bishop Atwood was consecrated alongside Bishop William Murdoch and is now back in the United States ready to commence his ministry. We asked him, in view of the ongoing ‘process’ within the Anglican Communion, whether proceeding with appointing these new bishops was not a little hasty. “The Primates of the Anglican Communion acted unanimously to call on the Episcopal Church to conform to Anglican teaching and practice by September 30,” he answered.

“Well prior to that date the House of Bishops decided that they did not need to wait until September 30 to decline to conform to what was asked. The Executive Council refused to conform as well.” He continued: “In addition, numerous dioceses have already indicated that they intend to proceed with the same agenda that has already caused the ‘fabric of the Communion to be torn’.” He added: “We are, essentially past September 30 already.” But, we asked, if TEC are barred from the Anglican Communion, or similar, will traditionalists not lose some of the moral high ground in the debate? “No,” Bishop Atwood affirmed, “The consecrations were the logical extension of the call in the Dar es Salaam Communiqué for care to be provided for the faithful.

“When one looks at those who were consulted and those that came to Nairobi, it is clear that a consensus among Global South leaders was reached about the consecrations.”

And what about Archbishop Rowan Williams stance in all of this, has he not sided with the traditionalists so far? “Archbishop Williams joined in with all the Primates of the Communion in affirming historic Christian belief in Dar es Salaam,” he replied. “It is interesting (though sad) that all the Primates of the Communion could unanimously agree on the content of the Communiqué in (and from) Dar es Salaam, but that agreement has not produced any amendment of life or change of agenda from the Episcopal Church. “Those in leadership in the Communion (including the Archbishop of Canterbury) have been undermined by the actions of the Episcopal Church.” But, we asked Atwood, has Dr Williams even been consulted about these recent appointments? “I know that his office was informed, but I do not know of any response,” he said. Many critics feel that consecrating these US bishops in Africa is schismatic and separatist. But what does Atwood feel about this view? His answer suggested that there is more at stake here than first meets the eye-it is not just a gay issue. “What is going on is a clash of worldviews,” he answered. “One is an historic Biblical world view and the other is a post-modern progressive worldview. “The Biblical world view begins with God and his revelation to the world in Scripture and in Jesus Christ. We are called to conform to God’s revelation.

“The post-modern progressive worldview begins with ‘us’, and applies moral relativism with man as the judge of propriety.” And how will inter-Anglican relations look after the deadline, set in Dar es Salaam, which called for a response from TEC before September 30 promising not to appoint another gay bishop? Is this the end of the Anglican Communion? “The Communion was torn in 2003,” Bishop Atwood states. “The only way to restore it is to restore Biblical (Anglican) teaching, discipline, and practice; and move forward with those who are willing to consult and mutually submit. There was an unprecedented level of consultation, collaboration, and agreement leading up to the Nairobi and Uganda consecrations.”

He added: “Because of that, we pray that they will be fruitful.” As he returns to the US to prepare for his ministry, together with fellow Bishop Murdoch, he will have oversight of 32 US congregations. Likewise the Ugandan bishops also consecrated last week will oversee 33 US congregations. Times are strange in the Anglican Communion and many are highly critical of these latest appointments. Many Anglicans fear the power of the Global South Church, and feel that the Archbishop of Canterbury has not done enough to deal with them. The Rev Martin Reynolds, a gay priest in South Wales, told this paper that he feared at least 10 more western bishops were lined up for similar African consecrations. He says that the breakaway church has had scant regard for the directions of Canterbury. These latest appointments graphically show an increasing dichotomy between those loyal to the Windsor process and those who, like Bishop Atwood, have simply ‘had enough.'