For the immediate past Kaduna Diocesan Bishop of Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion, the Most Rev. Josiah Atkins Idowu-Fearon, the time of glory has come having just been appointed Secretary General of the Anglican Communion Worldwide, with headquarters at Lambeth, United Kingdom.
The position makes him the second in command after the Archbishop of Canterbury. Breaking a record as the first African to hold the position, Idowu-Fearon has had a number of other high profile albeit controversial achievements in his over half a century of dedicated service to the development of the Anglican Church not only in Nigeria but also across the world. He is expected to serve for an initial renewable period of seven years.
When at the height of the Kaduna religious riots of 2000, Idowu-Fearon, against all odds, established a centre for the study of Islam in his Kaduna Diocese, a cross section of his flock virtually demanded for his head, calling him all manner of names including that of a Muslim Bishop, infiltrating the Church of Christ.
That name tag has tended to accompany the Bishop over these years for a man who actually speaks Arabic apart from holding a Master’s Degree in Islamic Theology.
The valedictory lecture and send-forth ceremony for Idowu-Fearon and his wife, Amina, which held Saturday at the Jakaranda Farms, on the outskirts of Kaduna metropolis, attracted a number of dignitaries from within and outside Nigeria, Muslims and Christians alike.
Kaduna state Governor, Malam Nasir El-Rufa’i was there, along with former Governor Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi, Taraba state Governor, Dairus Ishaku, a former Military Governor of Edo state, Senator Tunde Ogbeha, and a former Minister of Defence, Gen. Theophilus Danjuma, among several others.
The Cleric-Scholar and Passion for Islam
Born on January 17, 1949 at Gerinye in Kogi state, Idowu-Fearon said he formally embraced the Christian religion in 1964. Originally enrolled in military school to train as a soldier, the passion to be a priest apparently overwhelmed all other aspirations and as Idowu-Fearon explained during his valedictory speech.
“In my fourth year, it had become very clear that the Lord was calling me to be a soldier in His Army, to the extent that in spite of a direct entry to the Nigerian Defence Academy, I was given a sympathetic discharge by the late Gen. Hassan Katsina, in Lagos.” The development, according to him, “turned out to be the channel through which the Lord saved me.”
Several years later and in the course of his pastoral training across many institutions, Idowu-Fearon said he developed a special interest for Islam, more so, at a time in Nigeria when the religious harmony that hitherto existed between Christian and Muslim communities went sour.
At the Immanuel College, Ibadan, Idowu-Fearon said he met a certain Dr. Stadey who introduced him to what he described as the world of Islam, and, as he put it, “my interest was aroused, I pleaded with the Lord for a scholarship to do some further studies in Islam and I felt the need to carefully study how the Koran presents the nature of Jesus Christ.” The quest later led to Idowu-Fearon’s Master’s Degree programme in, Islam and Muslim-Christian Relations, at Birmingham University.
From then on, he delved further into Islam and also studied the Arabic language in the process, at the University of Jordan, Amman, and, eventually turning the Bishop into a visiting Islamic lecturer and Faculty member at both the Wycliffe College, University of Toronto, Canada, and at the Canterbury International Centre, United Kingdom.
Back home in Nigeria and applying his various trainings to his primary assignment as Bishop in Kaduna and Sokoto, Idowu-Fearon ran into muddy waters as a number of his flock apparently could not explain how and why a Bishop can be “so close to Islam and Muslims.” This is aside the fact that the Nigerian Anglican community also has its fair share of divisions pertaining to certain ideologies in the Christian religion and Anglicanism in particular.
Perhaps, Voltaire’s philosophy may apply to Idowu-Fearon as it is dangerous to be right in matters on which the established authorities are wrong. As a Theology student and researcher, Idowu-Fearon is quite familiar with the concepts of Monophyisitism and Nestorianism, a twin Christology position that insists that Christ has only one nature as opposed to the traditional belief that Christ has two natures, one divine and the other human.
Moreover, as a self-confessed disciple of Richard Hooker who is believed to have laid the theological foundation for understanding of the church for Anglicans, Idowu-Fearon says he shares the concepts of the mystical church which is invisible and the visible church. For him, membership of the visible church is determined, among other things, the profession of the Lord Jesus Christ while only God knows those who belong or may eventually be part of the mystical church.
Whatever the arguments, for Idowu-Fearon, “in order to create and promote a culture of respect for differences within our Communion, I encourage our bishops in this part of the Communion to cultivate the habit of understanding other positions other than their own. Our bishops in Nigeria within their diocese should promote robust debates between the lay and ordained members and such will get the bishop well-informed.”
Blackmail, Mischief, in God’s Name
After his consecration in 1990 and given what he describes as his exposure and experiences which were compounded by his “undue” knowledge of Islam, Idowu-Fearon said his colleagues, fellow bishops, did everything possible to frustrate him in the course of his service. According to him, “my being elected as Bishop of Sokoto was seen by some in the then House of Bishops as a way of humbling me but God used our time in Sokoto to expose us to the international community.
And, when Kaduna Diocese was going to be vacant, efforts were made to send me to be bishop in Cyprus and the Gulf; this was to get me out of the country. The form was filled and my signature forged without my knowledge. In Cyprus for an interfaith meeting, the Lord revealed it to me through Australian missionaries who volunteered to host me for the conference and the plot was confirmed by the then Secretary General of the Anglican Communion.
After my first five years as the first ecclesiastical Archbishop of Kaduna province, again, the powers that be felt that I was too close to the then Archbishop of Canterbury and the Communion at large, that I was promoting Western relativism and that I was going to sell the province of Nigeria to the West. Two bishops were specially commissioned to sell me as a convert to Islam and that Fearon is a Muslim, drinking tea with the Sultan and that Fearon was promoting homosexuality in Nigeria.”
The Road to Lambeth
Idowu-Fearon’s journey to Lambeth as Secretary General at the Canterbury did not come on a platter of gold. Although he applied for the position, along with 31 others from various countries, Idowu-Fearon believes that God made it possible for him to use his undergraduate and graduate studies in the United Kingdom to make contacts that ultimately laid the foundation for his nomination after beating three other candidates who made the shortlist.
According to him, in the years after 1990, opportunities started to open up for him in Britain and the United States of America during which he served on various commissions within the Anglican Communion. Idowu-Fearon was a founding member of the Canterbury’s Compass Rose Council, a foundation member and one of the first three presidents of the Network for Interfaith Concerns.
He was also member of the 13-man committee of the Archbishop of Canterbury that looked into the responses to Lambeth Resolution 1; 10 of 1998 as well as member of the committee that produced the Windsor Commission Report of 2003. According to Idowu-Fearon, “as I was thinking and praying about taking an early retirement in order to spend the rest of my active life to build an army of well-informed and articulate Christian leaders to constructively engage their Muslim neighbours and build a culture of respect and peaceful co-existence, the Lord opened a new world of service to me.”
To Idowu-Fearon, a Toast -Senator Makarfi, former Kaduna state Governor
We have become very close since 1999 when as Governor of Kaduna state, I met with religious leaders and Idowu-Fearon was one of them. You are all witnesses to what we went through especially between 2000 and 2002. He was a reliable and dependable partner in the search for lasting peace, harmony and tranquility in Kaduna state and we have sustained that relationship since then.
I have already told him that between London and Nigeria is more or less between Abuja and Lagos. He is committed to Nigeria and he wants peace and tranquility for Nigeria. Physically he may not be resident here but I believe his heart and spirit will be here with us and he will continue to contribute his quota towards our development. He should continue to have faith in God and God that has taken him this far will continue to protect him and make him go even higher.
Rev. Dare Ajiboye, General Secretary, Bible Society of Nigeria
This is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes. It is our prayer that the Lord will give you courage and wisdom like Joshua and Solomon of old to lead the flock of God to an enviable height and to the Promised Land. There is no doubt that God has prepared and given you the ability to serve His people in this new capacity and at this point in time.
We encourage you to be more determined and courageous in fighting the good fight of Faith. The renewed task will no doubt further compound your busy schedule but God who has chosen you will give you the required strength, motivation and good health to do it faithfully as unto Him.
Rev. Dr. Owe Boersma, Secretary, European Liaison Committee, Association of Protestant Churches and Missions, Germany
In the light of the excellent work which you have been doing till today, bringing together people of different faiths to live together in peace, even against popular mistrust and ignorance, gives us the confidence that the Anglican Community will be glad to have a person with such skills and experience.
Rev. Dr. Olav Fyskse Tveit, General Secretary, World Council of Churches, Geneva, Switzerland
Your exceptional record of devoted work on Christian-Muslim relations is a specific gift you bring to your new role. Developing the role of churches as peace-builders and dialogue partners in a time when religious-motivated violence is causing devastation to so many is an urgent demand for us all as faithful Christians. I pray that your wisdom and experience will inform not only the activities of the Anglican Communion in this regard but the wider ecumenical family as well.
Muslims and Christians must unite to fight secularism, Idowu-Fearon says
Coming from the north, do you have some members of your family who are Muslims?Yes, I have some distant members of the family who are Muslims and as a young man, some people tried to initiate me into certain things, some of them fetish, without the knowledge of my mother but I came to Christ at the Nigerian Military School, Zaria in my second year in 1964 and since then, I decided to rely on Jesus Christ alone and no other.
I once saw you clutching Dan Bown’s Davinci Code. Some people believe that the book is a direct attack on the Church of Christ. Do you hold that view too?
The book is an attack on the church because Davinci is totally against the fact that Jesus Christ lived and died as we read it in the Bible. That book must have been inspired by the Devil and it is coming direct from the pit of Hell, against the Gospel. And, that is why I consider this fighting within the church as a waste of time.
Instead, we should come together and be aware of the fact that secularism has become a religion and it is very strong and some of the promoters control most of the media. Christians ought to come together, forget whether we are Roman Catholic, Pentecostal and all others who worship God, the Christian way and join hands with the Muslims who are also fighting secularism. That is my mission.
Do you not think that some of the issues you raised in your valedictory speech may actually be responsible for certain disagreements you have with some of your colleagues. Issues as, the visible and invisible church and the concepts of Monophysitism and similar high-sounding words which may not make meanings to an ordinary member of the church?
You see, in the Anglican understanding and Roman Catholics also have similar understanding too and that is why the Roman Catholic is one church. But the Anglican Church is a group of churches, 38 different churches coming together and that is why it is a communion. We don’t have a centralized government or authority like the Pope, for the Catholic Church.
That is the problem the Anglican Church is facing. When we talk about the invisible church, it means Heaven and only God decides who goes there and you do not need to discipline anybody. From the Bible, we believe that whoever believes in Jesus Christ and takes him as the Lord and Saviour and you are baptised, that person is a Christian and belongs to the visible church.
In this visible church, you also have liars, thieves, you have adulterers, cheats and you cannot disown them and say that they are not members of the church because all they need is a confession to believing in Jesus Christ as Saviour. The Bishops and other priests are there to guide the visible church and teach them what the Bible says.
But irrespective of going against certain injunctions, you do not have the right to say that they are not members of the visible church. If for example somebody is a serial adulterer, you can suspend him from the church for a while, to correct him or her. In the invisible church, you do not need bishops or priests because God alone decides who become members. But we need the visible church to remind us of the invisible church because in the final analysis, everybody wants to be in the invisible church.
On the issue of Monophysitism, I did not want to go further because if I did, some people would throw stones at me but there are some Christians who still believe in Monophysitism. Members of the Coptic Church are Monophysites, they believe in one nature of Christ. But the orthodox position is two natures of Christ, the human and divine, not conjoined. In other words, Jesus is 100 per cent divine and 100 per cent human but only God knows how it is like that. Anglicans, Catholics, Presbyterians, we believe in the two natures of Christ.
Is the controversial Centre for Islamic Studies which you established in the Diocese likely to survive your exit?
Yes. In fact, I signed a contract this morning (Monday), recruiting two Muslims and two Christians who have Masters Degrees in Islamic Studies, to teach at the centre and I will be paying them from my pocket. They will continue to run the certificate and diploma programmes there. So, the centre will continue and we are going to use the lower part of the new house being built and I am putting up a full library there and the chapel will serve as classrooms until I retire.