Voices of Episcopal Split
Va. Traditionalist Represents Developing World
Friday, February 16, 2007
Shortly after becoming an Episcopal priest in the late 1970s, Martyn Minns visited Tanzania and was changed forever.
"I was just blown away by the faith, the commitment, the cost of being a Christian" on a continent where the religion's followers are an embattled minority in some places.
The image of an intense, miracle-working God worth fighting for has fueled the conservative Fairfax City priest for decades as he and those like him have felt increasingly sidelined in the Episcopal Church, with its progressive politics and sometimes staid worship style.
But the dry-witted native Brit isn't feeling isolated lately.
With bonds growing between conservative Protestants in the West and the booming, traditional Christian churches in the developing world, Minns has become an international power player. This week, the 63-year-old former Mobil Oil executive is in Tanzania at a meeting of top leaders of the Anglican Communion, which includes the Episcopal Church. He is there as an adviser to clergy from African, Asian and Latin American countries.
The notion of a 6-foot-4 white man from the affluent, suburban Truro Church in Fairfax representing the developing world may seem odd, but it is quite natural as U.S. conservatives seek support abroad.
Minns has quickly become one of the best-known, most colorful conservative Episcopal figures in the United States, leading 11 Virginia congregations -- including 1,300-member Truro -- in the past few months to leave the Episcopal Church to join the Church of Nigeria. In a twist on the paradigm, the congregations joined a Nigerian "mission" set up in the United States for conservatives; Minns is its bishop.
To his supporters, Minns's alliance with charismatic, deeply traditional African Christians is the way of Christianity's future, linking followers to the part of the world where Jesus is very vibrant -- not the coldly intellectualized God of the West. Minns ecstatically plays tambourine in church and is comfortable with faith healings and speaking in tongues.
But to his detractors, Minns is a divisive figure, exploiting a romanticized, oversimplified version of the developing world to pump energy into a conservative, anti-gay theology.
He is also a public face in the escalating property dispute between conservatives who left the U.S. church and Episcopal officials.
Regardless, some church observers view him as one who stands for those who look at Africa and see the early, passionate, embattled days of Christianity.
"Historically the church has prospered best when it's been a persecuted minority," said the Rev. Milind Sojwal of All Angels Church in New York City, where Minns worked from 1988-91.