African bishops split over ‘ambushed’ agenda, but together on development

by
01 September 2010

by Pat Ashworth

AFRICANS must take their destiny into their own hands and address their own problems, bishops of the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa (CAPA) declared at the end of their week-long conference about effective leadership for sustainable development (News, 27 August).

The world must listen to the Churches’ unique voice, they say, in the first of two communiqués. One deals with the continent’s ills; the other, from the CAPA Primates, addresses the internal affairs of the Anglican Communion.

This second document, with its ringing endorsement of the con­servative Anglican Church of North America (ACNA), provoked a strong reaction from the provinces of Central Africa and of Southern Africa, which said that the majority of the provinces at the conference were being “ambushed”.

The 400 bishops, meeting in Entebbe, Uganda, acknowledged in their communiqué that, while “the centre of gravity of Christianity today appears to be shifting” to Africa, “the Church’s relevance and impact on global mission and to social, economic and political trans­formation of the continent remains a challenge.”

They said: “The Anglican Church in Africa must join the global movement that refuses to stay silent about the current socio-economic and political state of affairs. We should stop agonising over the de­plor­able state of African under­development and start organising towards a proactive, practical engagement with good governance and infra-structural development.”

The bishops call for an end to all forms of abuse and slavery, par-ticularly of women and chil­dren, and on national leaders to meet poverty-reduction targets. They vow to build on previous commit­ments to respond to HIV/AIDS, and, in collaboration with partners, to miti­gate climate change.

They identify the “existing in­herited model” of theological forma­tion and education as “in­adequate in addressing the emerging socio-cultural realities of the African Church”, and say they will develop curricula that will “em­power her leaders to be more relevant”.

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In their separate communiqué, the CAPA Primates declare that they have “appreciated the opportunity to engage face-to-face” with the Arch­bishop of Canterbury “in an atmos­phere of love and respect. . .

“We have come to understand the difficulties and pressures he is facing. He also came to understand our posi­tion and how our mission is threat­ened by actions which have continued in certain provinces in the Communion.”

The Primates describe the conse­cration of Canon Mary Glasspool in Los Angeles as “a clear departure from the standard teaching of the Anglican Communion as stated in Lambeth Resolution 1.10”. They warn: “We are also concerned about similar progressive developments in Canada and in the UK.”

The Province of Central Africa is listed as a signatory to the Primates’ document, which is declared to have been “agreed upon by the primates and the representatives of primates who were not able to attend”. It was confirmed on Wednesday, however, that Central Africa had not signed.

Central Africa and Southern Africa issued a statement that acknowledged that the ordination in the Episcopal Church in the United States of openly gay bishops had caused “severe strain” in the Com­munion; and that Canon Glasspool’s consecration had re­flected “a gross insensitivity to the feelings of the rest of the Com­munion”.

The statement continued: “Not­withstanding, the impression being created at the Conference that all Provinces in Africa are of one mind to abandon our relationship with TEC [the Episcopal Church in the US] is wrong. Painful as the action is, it should not become the present­ing issue to lead to the break-up of our legacy and this gift of God — the worldwide Anglican Com­munion.”

The two provinces make clear their opposition to ACNA: “ACNA has been successful in bringing together most of the splinter groups within the Anglican tradition. . . We do not support ACNA’s position for legitimacy through the elimination of TEC.”

They declare: “The majority of the African Provinces at this Con­fer­­ence are being ambushed by an agenda that is contrary to the beliefs and practices of our various prov­inces.”

Newspapers in Uganda quoted African bishops as “uniting to denounce homosexuality”. The Daily Monitor reported: “Despite pressure from the western world, African bishops have renewed their con­dem­nation of the practice of homo­sexuality in the Church.”

It quoted the Archbishop of Uganda, Dr Henry Orombi, as saying: “Homosexuality is evil, abnormal and unnatural as per the Bible. It is a culturally unacceptable practice.”

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The news story continued: “The anti-homosexuality voices from the bishops are a likely boost to pro­ponents of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill (2009) before the Ugandan parliament.” President Museveni of Uganda had told the conference, in the context of faiths recognising each other’s right to exist, that Christians should not “have one minute of time wasted” by those promoting prejudice.

On his return from Entebbe, Dr Williams praised the African Churches for focusing on develop­ment questions. “Their willingness to do so has been welcomed by other Churches and politicians in the region and internationally, as they recognise that the African Church has the willingness and the skills to make them best placed to set their development agenda,” he said.

CAPA, which is chaired by the Archbishop of the Indian Ocean, the Most Revd Ian Ernest, was forced to apologise to Archbishop Orombi for any embarrassment caused by his acceptance of a $25,000 grant from Trinity Grants (USA) towards the conference. The Province of Uganda broke communion with the US Episcopal Church in 2003, and resolved to accept no money from it.

Archbishop Ernest’s letter regrets that the grant has “created a taint in our otherwise healthy working relationship”.

www.africanbishops.org

www.anglicancommunion.org/acns

African Churches wrestle with their missionary inheritance

The public agenda for the conference was set by its theme: “Securing the Future: Unlocking our priorities”. Africa, the Bishop in Egypt said, “groans under the weight of conflicts, epi­demics, and poverty”. So the conference pro­gramme was primarily about mobilising episcopal leadership to tackle those things that its chairman, the Archbishop of the Indian Ocean, the Most Revd Ian Ernest, said “hinder our ministry as a Church, such as poverty, disease, and corruption”.

The public agenda for the conference was set by its theme: “Securing the Future: Unlocking our priorities”. Africa, the Bishop in Egypt said, “groans under the weight of conflicts, epi­demics, and poverty”. So the conference pro­gramme was primarily about mobilising episcopal leadership to tackle those things that its chairman, the Archbishop of the Indian Ocean, the Most Revd Ian Ernest, said “hinder our ministry as a Church, such as poverty, disease, and corruption”.

Many spoke of the impact of HIV/AIDS in their diocese. Climate change also featured: as one speaker said, it is something that “will kill more Africans than malaria or AIDS”.

Many spoke of the impact of HIV/AIDS in their diocese. Climate change also featured: as one speaker said, it is something that “will kill more Africans than malaria or AIDS”.

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As always in the Anglican Com­munion these days, however, there was a parallel agenda. The majority of bishops present were from Nigeria and Uganda, which, with Rwanda and Kenya, boycotted the 2008 Lambeth Confer­ence; while only a few South African bishops came to Entebbe. A second communiqué was issued by the Primates themselves, calling on African Anglicans to dissociate themselves from the Episcopal Church in the US.

As always in the Anglican Com­munion these days, however, there was a parallel agenda. The majority of bishops present were from Nigeria and Uganda, which, with Rwanda and Kenya, boycotted the 2008 Lambeth Confer­ence; while only a few South African bishops came to Entebbe. A second communiqué was issued by the Primates themselves, calling on African Anglicans to dissociate themselves from the Episcopal Church in the US.

Throughout the Conference, the American bishops created by some African provinces were much in evidence. News reports by the conservative Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) have made much of the way that its Archbishop, the Most Revd Bob Duncan, was treated as a fellow-Primate and seen alongside the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Throughout the Conference, the American bishops created by some African provinces were much in evidence. News reports by the conservative Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) have made much of the way that its Archbishop, the Most Revd Bob Duncan, was treated as a fellow-Primate and seen alongside the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Leaked reports suggest that some Primates told Dr Williams that “we will have nothing more to do with a Western Anglicanism that has embraced a variety of unbiblical pansexual behaviours that have no basis in holy scripture.”

Leaked reports suggest that some Primates told Dr Williams that “we will have nothing more to do with a Western Anglicanism that has embraced a variety of unbiblical pansexual behaviours that have no basis in holy scripture.”

British Anglicans should surely give thanks for the growth and vitality of African Churches at a time when we often find ourselves struggling. Yet, for all of us, there is the danger of superficiality. One Nigerian bishop told me: “Our church is five miles long, but only a quarter of an inch deep.” Numbers are not everything.

British Anglicans should surely give thanks for the growth and vitality of African Churches at a time when we often find ourselves struggling. Yet, for all of us, there is the danger of superficiality. One Nigerian bishop told me: “Our church is five miles long, but only a quarter of an inch deep.” Numbers are not everything.

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We should also rejoice that their faith leads them so directly to tackle the social and even political issues that confront Africa today. Theirs is a holistic gospel, which must take root in the communities they serve.

We should also rejoice that their faith leads them so directly to tackle the social and even political issues that confront Africa today. Theirs is a holistic gospel, which must take root in the communities they serve.

Equally, we should rejoice that they are no longer spin-offs from the Victorian missionary age, but Churches growing in confidence and developing their own style. I cannot help thinking that they will be better able to do this without Western donors and American con­servatives trying to influence their agendas. Such points of inculturation also raise ques­tions about worship: the conference drew on the inheritance from 19th-century hymnody, much of it Revivalist, and even more what might be called American “charismatica”. There was hardly anything representing African culture.

Equally, we should rejoice that they are no longer spin-offs from the Victorian missionary age, but Churches growing in confidence and developing their own style. I cannot help thinking that they will be better able to do this without Western donors and American con­servatives trying to influence their agendas. Such points of inculturation also raise ques­tions about worship: the conference drew on the inheritance from 19th-century hymnody, much of it Revivalist, and even more what might be called American “charismatica”. There was hardly anything representing African culture.

The conference raised two other issues, which may also be seen in the context of the Victorian missionary inheritance. The first was leadership: excellent Bible studies by Dr Zac Niringiye, an Assistant Bishop in the diocese of Kampala and formerly with CMS, called on the bishops to exercise their power more as servants than the kind of authoritarian episcopacy that came with the missionary age. He spoke openly of the conflicts that exist within some dioceses, especially when bishops are being appointed. He even dared ask whether the absence of women was one cause of the problem.

The conference raised two other issues, which may also be seen in the context of the Victorian missionary inheritance. The first was leadership: excellent Bible studies by Dr Zac Niringiye, an Assistant Bishop in the diocese of Kampala and formerly with CMS, called on the bishops to exercise their power more as servants than the kind of authoritarian episcopacy that came with the missionary age. He spoke openly of the conflicts that exist within some dioceses, especially when bishops are being appointed. He even dared ask whether the absence of women was one cause of the problem.

Yet the greatest bid for power came again from the Primates themselves: as at the GAFCON meeting in 2008 (News, 4 July 2008), and the Global South Encounter in Singapore this year (News, 30 April), these leaders are calling for the Primates’ Meeting (rather than the more representative Anglican Consultative Council) to determine the future of the Communion. They believe that the proposed Anglican Covenant needs to be strengthened by such centralised authority. Yet it is doubtful whether they will be willing to attend the next Primates’ Meeting, given the suspicions many of them have about the current leadership. So the Archbishop of Canterbury, under attack by conservatives and liberals alike, is caught between a rock and a hard place.

Yet the greatest bid for power came again from the Primates themselves: as at the GAFCON meeting in 2008 (News, 4 July 2008), and the Global South Encounter in Singapore this year (News, 30 April), these leaders are calling for the Primates’ Meeting (rather than the more representative Anglican Consultative Council) to determine the future of the Communion. They believe that the proposed Anglican Covenant needs to be strengthened by such centralised authority. Yet it is doubtful whether they will be willing to attend the next Primates’ Meeting, given the suspicions many of them have about the current leadership. So the Archbishop of Canterbury, under attack by conservatives and liberals alike, is caught between a rock and a hard place.

The second issue connected with their missionary heritage is how far these bishops are in danger of repeating the mistakes made by those a century ago who believed they alone had the whole truth, and should therefore impose their beliefs on the whole world Church.

The second issue connected with their missionary heritage is how far these bishops are in danger of repeating the mistakes made by those a century ago who believed they alone had the whole truth, and should therefore impose their beliefs on the whole world Church.

When the Archbishop of Uganda says that this is the time for African Anglicanism to “rise up”, and for representatives of the continent to be able to go to other places in the Communion with “fresh wine from new wine-skins”, there is both the promise of a worldwide community in which everyone now has gifts to bring and things to learn, but also the grave danger of what might be called a “reverse Christendom”, which can only threaten the Communion itself.

When the Archbishop of Uganda says that this is the time for African Anglicanism to “rise up”, and for representatives of the continent to be able to go to other places in the Communion with “fresh wine from new wine-skins”, there is both the promise of a worldwide community in which everyone now has gifts to bring and things to learn, but also the grave danger of what might be called a “reverse Christendom”, which can only threaten the Communion itself.

The Rt Revd Michael Doe is the general secretary of USPG: Anglicans in World Mission.

The Rt Revd Michael Doe is the general secretary of USPG: Anglicans in World Mission.

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