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What is really going on now in Zimbabwe

27 September 2007

Bishop Kunonga’s attempts to break from his province are part of his wider desire for supremacy, says Trevor Mwamba

‘Homosexuality was a cover for the real underlying issue: a quest for power’

AS Mark Twain said, after hearing in 1887 that he had been classified as dead: “The report of my death was an exaggeration.” In the Zimbabwean paper The Herald of 15 September, under the heading, “Homosexuality is an abomination”, there appeared an obituary for the supposedly dead Church of the Province of Central Africa.

It proceeded to make a false and hurtful allegation about my being an “avowed homosexual”. This is libellous, and, to borrow from Mark Twain, the report of my homosexuality is a gross exaggeration.

In the same vein, The Herald had run a story on 10 September “Homosexuality breaks up Anglican province” (News, 21 September). This is also a gross exaggeration.

Much toxic misinformation about the alleged break-up of the Church of the Province of Central Africa has flooded various websites and print media. The reality is that the province, which covers Botswana, Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, is strongly intact.

A strange thing happened on 8 September. The day began like another ordinary day for most delegates at the synod of the Province of Central Africa, in Mangochi, Malawi. But, during the day, an attempt was made to sneak in the issue of homosexuality under the innocuous agenda item: “This Synod to resolve that the Church of the Province of Central Africa be dissolved.”

The delegates were dismayed that, in effect, the issue being raised was that the province had somehow become pro-homosexual overnight. This was a shock for most, who, until then, had believed that all the bishops, clergy, and laity in the province were of one mind on homosexuality: that the province held to the Lambeth Conference 1998 Resolution 1.10, as well as the Windsor process, which calls for listening, dialogue, and reconciliation.

Now the diocese of Harare was trying to convince the synod that the province was pro-gay. Consequently, the diocese of Harare announced that it was pulling out of the province to safeguard its faith and principles.

The provincial synod summarily dismissed the issue of homosexuality as something concocted by the diocese of Harare. To underline its stance, it unanimously adopted a resolution reaffirming Lambeth 1.10 and the Windsor process. It stated that the Bishops would be attending the Lambeth Conference in 2008.

The diocese of Harare tried to spin the yarn to the synod that it had the support of the other dioceses in Zimbabwe, but it soon became apparent that this was not the case. The Bishop of Central Zimbabwe, the Rt Revd Ishmael Mukuwanda, issued a statement denying that his diocese was supporting Harare “in their breakaway bid from the Church of the Province of Central Africa. This is completely untrue and irritating.”

AFTER THE synod, the Bishop of Harare, the Rt Revd Nolbert Kunonga, announced that his diocese was still going to pull out of the province. Such an action has no legal basis in the constitution and canons of the Church of the Province of Central Africa. All the dioceses are legally and materially bound to the province.

Such an alteration can be possible only under the Fundamental Declarations of the Church of the Province of Central Africa, if, inter alia, the following due processes take place: an amendment needs to be proposed, which would have to be provisionally approved by the provincial synod (having previously been approved by the synod of each diocese in the province). This would have to be confirmed by the provincial synod by a two-thirds majority of those present, and subsequently endorsed by the Archbishop of Canterbury as not affecting the terms of communion between the province, the Church of England, and the rest of the Anglican Communion.

This has not been the case with the diocese of Harare. It would appear that legal advice was not solicited, or, if it was, it has been completely ignored.

The announcement by the Bishop of Harare is tantamount to a schism. The next logical step is for him to resign. The schismatic group should not be under any illusion in thinking that it has any title to the properties and various trusts legally vested in the diocese of Harare.

Bishop Kunonga offers another reason for pulling out of the diocese. In its report of 15 September, The Herald quotes him as saying: “ . . . the province is very weak. The mechanisms are there, instruments are there, but there are no powerful or strong users of the constitutions and canons.”

This seems ironic, as, when he was on trial for a number of serious charges (including incitement to murder), he benefited enormously when the Archbishop of Central Africa, the Most Revd Bernard Malango, flagrantly short-circuited the due process of law by dismissing the case (News, 25 November 2005). There was no compliance with the constitution and canons of the province then.

Perhaps we are all to blame. As Bishop Kunonga says, the weakness has always been in the church leadership. There is now an urgent need for decisive leadership that is able to comply with the constitution and canons.

most delegates at the provincial synod realised that homosexuality was a cover for the real underlying issue: a quest for power. The vicious slanders that are being spread to tarnish the reputations of some bishops are intended to ensure that, when the electoral college meets to elect the next Archbishop of Central Africa, these bishops will stand little chance of success.

  Reflecting on what is happening in our province and in the Communion in general makes me realise that we need to refocus on the mission of the Church. As the Lambeth Conference 1998 wisely reminded us: “Mission is God’s way of loving and saving the world.”

During this trying period, we must stand together and advance the word of God, through actions of forgiveness, compassion, and tolerance towards one another. Only in this way can we reclaim in humility the mission that has been entrusted to us.

The Rt Revd Musonda Trevor Selwyn Mwamba is the Bishop of Botswana.

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