Samuel Kobia announced in February that he would not seek a second term as general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), the largest Christian ecumenical organization.
The decision was unexpected, said the Institute on Religion & Democracy's James Berkley, who attended the WCC's February central committee meeting in Geneva.
However, Berkley said some WCC staff had complained about Kobia's lack of leadership and direction. Kobia's decision came days after he acknowledged that his 2004 doctorate had come from an unaccredited institution. The state of Louisiana ordered Fairfax University to discontinue operations in 2000. It now operates out of the Cayman Islands.
Kobia had also been under attack from Lutheran Bishop Martin Hein of Germany for allowing the 349-member ecumenical body to maintain too low of an international profile.
"The central committee received this news with regret, but accepts the decision of the general secretary," WCC central committee moderator Walter Altmann said in a statement.
Kobia, a Kenyan Methodist, was elected in August 2003 and was the first African to lead the WCC. A majority of WCC member churches are located in the Global South.
"Was [Kobia's decision] a disappointment? I'm sure it was for some on the committee," said WCC director of communications Mark Beach. "They accepted his decision and are moving forward with a search committee."
The question now, Berkley said, is whether the council will choose its next secretary from the Global South or from Europe, which provides much of the WCC's income.
Kobia's current term ends in December. The WCC will meet in September to appoint an acting general secretary starting in 2009.
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