THE Archbishop of Canterbury has called on African bishops to listen more to the people they lead, and to put themselves at risk for the sake of their flock, as he addressed the first All Africa Bishops’ Conference to be convened in six years.
In his sermon at the opening eucharist on Tuesday, at the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa (CAPA) gathering in Entebbe, Uganda, Dr Williams said: “We listen to Jesus, and then we must learn to listen to those we lead and serve; to find out what their own hopes and needs and confusions are. We must love and attend to their humanity in all its diversity, so that we become better able to address words of hope and challenge to them. We cannot assume we always know better.”
Although he did not mention homosexuality, many of his audience interpreted his words in that context.
Afterwards, the Archbishop of Uganda, the Most Revd Henry Orombi, who is hosting the conference, said that he welcomed Dr Williams’s attendance. “We are going to express to him where we stand. Homosexuality is incompatible with the word of God.” The Anglican Communion was already broken, he said.
The chairman of CAPA, the Archbishop of the Indian Ocean, the Most Revd Ian Ernest, told a press conference: “Today, the West is lacking obedience to the word of God. It is for us to redress the situation.” He said that he had severed all ties with the Anglican Churches in the United States and Canada because of their homosexual clergy.
Dr Williams also spoke of Jesus’s sharing the dangers faced by his flock: “We cannot refuse to take risks alongside our people and to take risks for them.” He went on to link this with “personal integrity in Christian leadership”, as a witness against corruption in political leaders. “We must go on seeking to model a leadership that is self-giving, humble, and yet clear and authoritative.”
Dr Williams also mentioned the African Churches’ “energy and growth and vision”, but warned: “If the Churches of Africa are going to be for this time a city set on a hill, how very important it will be for the health and growth of all God’s churches throughout the world that this witness continues at its best and highest.”
More than 400 bishops are attending the conference, a quarter of the delegates from Uganda itself.
The country’s proposed Bill against homosexuality has met with widespread criticism in the West. It proposes the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality”.
Delegates heard many speeches critical of homosexuality. While most bishops stood to applaud, the Archbishop of Canterbury and his two aides stayed seated throughout, it was reported by the New Vision news website in Uganda.
Bishops seek African focus
by Michael Doe
SIX years ago, all of Africa’s Anglican bishops met in Lagos, Nigeria, and complained that the Archbishop of Canterbury had not accepted their invitation. They are meeting in Uganda this week, with Dr Williams present, but — given the events of the intervening years — not all of them are happy that he is here.
Although every Anglican province is represented, the majority of bishops here — as in Africa as a whole — are from Nigeria and Uganda, where there has been the most public dissociation from the Anglican Communion, including the 2008 Lambeth Conference, and especially from the actions of the Episcopal Church in the United States.
Some Primates, including the Archbishop of Cape Town, the Most Revd Thabo Makgoba, are conspicuous by their absence. But seated very publicly among the Primates is the former Bishop of Pittsburgh (News, 26 September 2008), the Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America, the Most Revd Bob Duncan.
In his opening address, the Archbishop of the Indian Ocean, the Most Revd Ian Ernest, called on his fellow bishops to stop wasting time on agendas that come from elsewhere: the African issues that needed to be addressed in the light of the gospel were poverty, moral decadence, and social conflicts.
At the same time, he denounced actions of the Episcopal Church in the US, which, he said, had shattered the Anglican Communion.
He called for new structures that would make the Communion “more credible and representative for the majority”. Those who could not accept fully the proposed Anglican Covenant should no longer be seen as full members, he said.
Health, conflict-management, and theological education are among the main issues that the Conference will go on to discuss until it ends on Sunday.
The Rt Revd Michael Doe is General Secretary, USPG: Anglicans in World Mission.