Oh, dear: Bishop Robert Ihloff of Maryland disinvites Abp Kolini of West Africa, and my impassioned response
[Akrofi is one of the seven idiots who walked out of Communion, but that doesn't justify Iholff's actions; if he was still willing to come, I would have let him come. Jesus said to love your enemies; it heaps burning coals on their heads.]
+Ihloff's letter (posted on Titus 1:9):
The Most Reverend Justice O. Akrofi
Archbishop of West Africa and Bishop of Accra
Bishopscourt, P.O. Box GP 8
February 17, 2007
It is with sadness that I need to rescind my invitation to you to be with us in late March into early April, 2007. Yesterday I learned you were one of seven primates who have boycotted the Eucharist at the Primates Meeting in Dar es Salaam, and +Peter Akinola’s statement on behalf of the seven of you is in all the newspapers. I have received a number of emails from clergy in this Diocese expressing their disapproval of your action. The Diocesan Council met today and agrees that you cannot be welcomed in Maryland under the circumstances. For my own part, I am disappointed you would use the Holy Sacrament of our Lord’s Body and Blood as a political tool—I had assumed you sacramental theology was more thoroughly Anglican. Mostly I am sorry after so many years to end our personal relationship on this note.
It is obvious to everyone here that it would now be completely inappropriate for you to celebrate the Eucharist at our Cathedral on Palm Sunday. Surely, many parishioners would protest you visit by not receiving Communion from you. Since I do not allow such behavior in this Diocese, I cannot encourage it by your presence. Clearly it would be inappropriate for you to preach Tuesday in Holy Week to a combined group of Lutheran and Episcopal clergy, since you do not even share Communion with other Anglicans. Finally, it is sadly clear to Nancy and me that your presence at my retirement celebration is out of order as well. I give thanks for the eight years we have been in relationship; we have many friends in Accra and in Ghana, and I am aware that there are a number of them who will be shocked and grieved by your behavior. I have always shared honestly with you (even though I have not felt in the past two years you have been so honest in your sharing) and want to say we have great affection for the +Justice we knew in those earlier years. Since becoming Archbishop, you have changed and I do not feel I know you anymore.
I am not at this time calling for an end of the Companion Diocese relationship, although this development puts that relationship at risk. I am content to let the Holy Spirit guide our Dioceses into appropriate discernment (a discernment which will take place after my retirement and without my input). As a Diocese, Maryland is committed, as am I, to the continuation of projects already begun in Accra and relationships in Accra which I and many others here cherish. Our special Lenten offerings will go to assist children in your Diocese, I continue to be very supportive of Ghanaian Mothers’ Hope spearheaded by Debbi Frock, and we celebrate our ongoing Cursillo commitments.
Let me assure you I am not angry as I write this but deeply disappointed. The Diocese of Accra and its parishes remain on our Diocesan Prayer list from week-to-week, and you will remain in my prayers and those of our Diocesan family. Please continue to pray for us. There was much I had hoped to show you and tell you in your upcoming visit, much we had hoped to plan together, especially as it relates to youth ministry, a high priority for both of our Dioceses. Perhaps some of that can continue in some different form; personally, I am sad that I will not be a part of it.
Your faithful brother in Christ,
The Right Reverend Robert W. Ihloff
Bishop of Maryland
My (unsolicited) response:
Dear Bishop Ihloff,
I read your letter disinviting Archbishop Akrofi to your Diocese and to your retirement party, at the decision of yourself and the Diocesan Council. I know you did not ask for my advice, but here it is anyway: this action was irresponsible, gives a poor impression of Episcopalians, and makes the current situation worse.
I have no idea why Abp Akrofi would plan on coming to Maryland if he had decided to walk away from Communion with our Presiding Bishop, but that's irrelevant. If he was willing to come regardless, we would have had an opportunity to engage with him. If Maryland Episcopalians did not come to Communion with him, he would have had an opportunity to see for himself the hurt which his actions, and those of his colleagues, had caused Episcopalians. Who knows, at Lambeth or the next Primates' Meeting, there might only have been six Primates walking out: the seven who did this time minus Abp Akrofi. It should have been his decision whether or not to come, and whether or not to listen. It should not have been the Diocese's decision.
Additionally, there is a power dynamic at play. Akrofi is a Global South Anglican. His country has been colonized by Western nations, and Christians there have been denied a voice and access to institutional power for years. Our country continues to colonize Africa and other nations, economically, culturally, politically, and sometimes militarily. I know the Episcopal Church has often been at the forefront of fighting colonialism and its effects. But, your act of disinvitation comes from a superior to an inferior, in terms of nationality. It reinforces the power differential between our nations. It will only add to the hurt that the Global South Anglicans feel. Jesus, the one we follow, would have had none of this. He came to level differences in power, not to reinforce them.
I am not writing to excuse Abp Akrofi's decision to join his colleagues and refuse Communion with our Presiding Bishop. It was reprehensible. Having been born in Singapore (although I was confirmed as an Episcopalian), I have already written to Abp John Chew of SE Asia to express my anger. The problem is, disinviting Abp Kolini is not that different from him walking away. We are hurt and angry, but Christians love and are loved enough to overcome anger.
Yours in Christ,
Canterbury House, University of Michigan Episcopal Student Ministry