[This is a bit long. A good summary is: on the issue of homosexuality, there are conservative, moderate, and liberal African Anglican Provinces. Within each Province, there are conservatives, moderates, and liberals on this issue. Sounds a lot like any Western church. All of us, particularly those who style themselves leaders of the Global South Anglicans, would do well to remember this.]
MAR. 26, 2007 -- The following is the text of a speech by Bishop Musonda Trevor Selwyn Mwamba of Botswana, delivered at the January 26-28 meeting ofEcclesiastical Law Society in Liverpool, England.
Far too many preachers and speakers find themselves in the position of having too much material and too little time in which to deliver it. One such preacher began his sermon with: “My dear friends, I feel somewhat like a mosquito in a nudist camp. There is so much to do and I don’t know where to begin.”
I feel the same way. Perhaps a little story out of Africa would be the ideal way to begin.
Once upon a time in an African forest a blind rabbit and blind snake met. And since they could not make out who the other was they decided to feel each other and say who they were. So the snake went first and begun to touch the rabbit. It said, “You are furly. You have long ears. You have a short stumpy tail. Ah! You are a rabbit. The rabbit responded enthusiastically, “Yes! Yes! Yes!”
Then the rabbit proceeded to explore the snake. It said, “You have a forked tongue. You are long and rather cold blooded. You have beady eyes. You are slithery and you have no means of self locomotion. Ah! You must be, you must be a Consultant”!!!
I should hastily add if they are any consultants in our midst that some of my best friends are consultants, lawyers, politicians and a few bishops.
I am most grateful for having been invited to present my views on the position of the African Church on the issues of homosexuality and same sex unions that have engulfed the Anglican Communion and threaten the survival of the Communion itself.
You know this issue of homosexuality is as old as the hills. I remember reading in the Guardian Weekly (UK) some years ago that in 1957, 50 years ago. The Wolfenden Committee, when about to publish its report on homosexuality and prostitution in Britain, realized it had no collective noun for prostitutes.
The Committee approached several eminent people for suggestions. “ A tray full of tarts”, was the chef’s offering. “ A fanfare of strumpets,” said the conductor. The poet said, “ an anthology of prose” and “ a novel of trollops”.
The Committee didn’t think much of these and turned to Sir Hartley Shawcross the distinguished lawyer. “Call them anything you like,” he said, “ but not on any account a firm of solicitors”.
Now, it would be presumptuous for me to claim that I know everything that is going on in the African church regarding these issues but they are so serious that they make us ask a fundamental question “where are we heading to in the Anglican Communion?”
In this paper I shall examine what we might call “a view from Africa”. The questions asked are: “Is there a unanimous view from Africa”? or “are there different voices”? “If there are different voices, what are they saying? And, of course, one of the most important questions is “How does the future of the communion seem from Africa?
A brief history of the Anglican Communion in Africa
The Church in Africa claims to have been planted in the first century of the Christian era, during the apostolic period. If the story of the Ethiopian eunuch is anything to go by, then it can be argued that he was the first African Christian. The missionary activities of St. Mark in the streets of Alexandria and that of St. Barnabas as well ensured not only the Christian presence in Africa but its permanence in historical records. Both the Egyptian and Ethiopian Churches kept the light of Christ burning on the African continent until the missionary era began in earnest in the 19th Century.
From the perspective of the Anglican Church, in the 19th and 20th centuries, the Church Missionary Society and the Universities Mission to Central Africa laid strong foundations planting churches in many parts of Africa. From its inception in the 19th Century to the present day, the Anglican Church in Africa has grown rapidly and constitutes today one of the fastest growing parts of the Anglican Communion.
Today, I can assure you that Anglican Christians in Africa speak with one voice in professing that Jesus Christ is their Lord and personal Saviour and that they have been called by God into his Kingdom. The impact of the Anglican Communion in the life of ordinary Christians and the society has been tremendous in areas of education, provision of health services, democratic values, a deep spirituality based on the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ and above all the unity of God’s people across ethnic, tribal, national and regional boundaries. But beyond this, through their membership in the Anglican Communion, Anglican Christians in Africa are united with their brothers and sisters across the globe as they strive to work together to proclaim the Kingdom of God with its message of love, forgiveness, compassion and care. Some of our provinces cut across national boundaries and they create and foster a truly united spirit of all who confess Jesus Christ as Lord and God. This is the unwavering spirit of our people and here they speak with one voice. We derive our spiritual strength in our unity as Anglicans in the Communion.
The Anglican Communion in Africa since the events of 2003 in America
The events that led to the present crisis in the Anglican Communion are clear to everyone and we shall not belabor the point. Our focus is on Africa where some of the strongest criticisms have come which threatens the existence of the Anglican Communion as we know it today.
The Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams recently said that ‘ECUSA is not a monochrome body, and contains ‘a full range of conviction’. I agree but would also draw a parallel with Anglican provinces in Africa. The African provinces are not a monochrome body as popular belief would suggest. There are different points of view in the various Africa provinces. To think that there is one view is simplistic and a distortion of the truth. We need therefore to give space and credit to the diversity embraced by the African provinces.
I submit to you that there are three voices expressing different views in regard to their relation to the Communion. Here is a brief overview of some of the different voices and the theological basis on which they are based as well as the factors that seem to inform their decisions.
In trying to make sense of these voices I am reminded of some wise words that Mr. Justice Holmes, once said in regard to the life of the law.
He said, “The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience. The felt necessities of the time, the prevalent moral and political theories, intuitions of public policy avowed or unconscious, even the prejudices which judges share with their fellowmen, have had a good deal more to do than the syllogism in determining the rules by which men should be governed. The law embodies the story of a nation’s development through many centuries, and it cannot be dealt with as if it contained only the axioms and corollaries of a book of mathematics.”
This judicious comment is applicable to theology. Our understanding of faith and its expression is formed through experience within a given context. Consequently, the African voices reflect their context.
1. The Conservative voice:
(a) The Anglican Church in Nigeria
The first African voice we consider is what we may call the conservative voice. The Anglican Church in Nigeria best exemplifies this voice. The Nigerian Church strongly believes that the issue of homosexuality in the Communion is a cancerous growth which needs to be removed in order to save the Communion from collapsing. It’s a voice of protest and one which advocates separation rather than reconciliation.This is the voice that many people hear coming out of Africa. If we have to put a face to this voice then it would be that of the Metropolitan and Primate of All Nigeria, Archbishop Peter Jasper Akinola, CON, DD.
The position of the Anglican Church in Nigeria is well known. It has spoken out loud and clear against homosexuality and same-sex marriages or civil unions. The Nigerian church broke relations with ECUSA after it consecrated an openly gay man, Eugene Robinson of New Hampshire, as a bishop in 2003. The Nigerian church also broke relations with the Anglican Church of Canada after the diocese of New Westminster blessed civil unions of gay couples.
This conservative voice emphasizes the Bible over tradition. It opposes anything that is incompatible with the Bible and to this conservative voice homosexuality is contrary to the Bible. The inspiration behind this conservative voice is not only the Bible but other factors kick in such as cultural, religious and legal considerations.
Homosexuality in most African societies is seen as an abomination. Zimbabwe's president Robert Mugabe claimed homosexuals were "worse than pigs and dogs. It is perceived to be against the order of nature. Sex is between man and woman. Not man and man or woman and woman. So in African culture homosexuality was not talked about and any expression was suppressed. In Uganda, for example, the practice – referred to as "carnal knowledge of another against the order of nature" - has been outlawed by president Museveni, it is also illegal in most African countries. "
So the conservative voice echoes the cultural abhorrence of homosexuality. The conservative voice also echoes the political and legal context in which it speaks.
For example, the Nigeria government is in the process of debating a bill which will criminalise same-sex marriage, as well as the "Registration of Gay Clubs, Societies and organizations" and "Publicity, procession and public show of same-sex amorous relationship through the electronic or print media physically, directly, indirectly or otherwise", on penalty of up to 5 years imprisonment.
Archbishop Akinola has welcomed and defended this bill. In Februaryy 2006, He issued a communique on behalf of the Church of Nigeria Standing Committee stating "The Church commends the law-makers for their prompt reaction to outlaw same-sex relationships in Nigeria and calls for the bill to be passed since the idea expressed in the bill is the moral position of Nigerians regarding human sexuality."
The conservative voice is, perhaps unconsciously, also influenced by interfaith strife. Nigeria is a country split between Christian and Muslim population – this is undoubtedly a factor in the Church wanting to maintain a conservative position on personal and sexual morality as defense against Muslim attacks of permissiveness.
So, the tenor of the conservative voice embodies various streams of influence. The result of the conservative voice is that it has declared the existence of an impaired communion with its counterparts and talks of splitting from the Anglican Communion if the erring provinces do not repent.
The Church of Nigeria two years ago amended its Constitution by redefining its relationship to the Anglican Communion by replacing all former references to "communion with the See of Canterbury “ with "communion with all Anglican Churches, Dioceses and Provinces that hold and maintain the 'Historic Faith, Doctrine, Sacrament and Discipline of the one holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church'."
The implication of this is that it rejects the primacy of the See of Canterbury which is regarded in the Anglican Communion as one of the defining characteristics of Anglicanism.
The Constitutional change also allowed the Church of Nigeria to create convocations and chaplaincies of like-minded faithful outside Nigeria. This effectively gave legal teeth to the Convocation of Anglican Nigerians in Americas (CANA).So, Akinola’s influence goes beyond Africa to the USA where he has encouraged like-minded Episcopalians to consider cutting ties with ECUSA and organizing themselves under the banner of the Nigerian Anglicans with their more literal views on the Bible.
(b) The Church of the Province of Uganda
Apart from the Church of Nigeria, the Anglican Church in Uganda has also taken a strong stand against the issue of homosexuality. In 2003, the House of Bishops officially broke communion with ECUSA and a year later the Provincial Assembly affirmed that position.
Recently, the Archbishop of Uganda, the Most Revd Henry Orombi, stated that he will not sit together with Katherine Jefferts Schori at the forthcoming meeting of the primates in Dar-es-Salaam Tanzania next month.
(c) The Church of the Province of Tanzania
Mention should also be made here of another strong voice of protest from the Province of the Church in Tanzania. On Decemberr 7, 2006, the House of Bishops of the Anglican Church in Tanzania issued a statement saying that its “communion with the Episcopal Church (USA) is severely impaired in the light of the 75th General Convention’s response to the Windsor Report.
This is the conservative voice from Africa. A voice prepared to exclude those voices or views deemed incompatible with the Bible and its position. A voice relatively quiet on speaking out on life and death issues of poverty, AIDS, and responsible governance.
We must bear in mind that within this voice they are bishops, clergy and laity who do not accept all that this voice represents who are silenced and carried away by a strong undertow.
B. The Liberal Voice
The Anglican Church in Southern Africa
The second African voice we explore is what we may call the liberal voice. The Church of the Province of Southern Africa best exemplifies this voice. And the Most Rev. Njongonkulu Winston Ndungane, the Primate of the Province of Southern Africa is the face to this voice.
A statement of the Synod of Bishops of the Church of the Province of Southern Africa issued in Septemberr 2003 on the divisions in the Anglican Communion around issues of human sexuality, and concerning homosexuality in particular sums up the liberal voice.
Let me share this statement with you. Inter alia, the statement acknowledged the deep divisions of conviction and understanding in the Communion since the Lambeth Conference of 1998 and that the Bishops of the CPSA themselves were not of one mind on these important matters as well.
The statement outlined the areas of agreement amongst the Bishops. These are the areas. The bishops were of one mind in their desire to be loyal to the mind and heart of our Lord Jesus Christ as well as respect for the Scriptures as the authoritative foundational text of their Faith in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They were of one mind in their desire to search and interpret the Scriptures under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, “bringing the grace and truth of Christ to this generation” as well as their respect for each other’s integrity of faith, and each other’s commitment to this search together. They were of one mind in their desire to dialogue and facilitate such dialogue and listening among all their members. The bishops were particularly determined to ensure that members of both homosexual and heterosexual orientation (and practice) were included in such dialogue. They were of one mind in their belief that this is how Jesus would want them to handle this divisive, emotive, and as yet unresolved issue. Concluding the areas of agreement the statement highlighted the bishops conviction that God was leading his Church, and would in his loving way and time bring the Communion through to his light and truth.
The statement then addressed the actions already taken by some Provinces and expressed the mind of the Bishops on these actions in four clear statements.
First, that “the Lambeth Conference is, for the Provinces of the Anglican Communion, the highest body which has over time helped both to reflect and evolve the teaching and policy of our Church on issues of doctrine, faith and morals. As such it behoves all Provinces to treat its decisions with solemn respect.” This is the position of the Church of the Province of Southern Africa and shares the concern of the Archbishop of Canterbury, when he said in a letter to 38 Primates, that “any individual Diocese or even Province that officially overturns or repudiates this Resolution (of the Lambeth Conference) poses a substantial problem for the sacramental unity of the Communion”.
The Bishops acknowledged that the Lambeth Conference is not a Legislative Body. It does not purport to lay down “Anglican Law” or “Rules” for the Provinces.
Thus, while most may regard it as profoundly regrettable, and even undermining of our Communion, for any Province to act contrary to the Resolution in question, it cannot be said that they are acting uncanonically.
Secondly, they stressed that as a Communion of Provinces it was fundamental to our life as Provinces in one Anglican Communion, that we respect the autonomy of each Province. Accordingly they endorsed the resolution of the Lambeth Conference of 1988: which states “This Conference… affirms that it is deemed inappropriate behaviour for any bishop or priest of this Communion to exercise episcopal or pastoral ministry within another diocese without first obtaining the permission and invitation of the ecclesial authority thereof.” (Resolution 72.2 of 1988).
Thirdly, the bishops urged the need to respect the integrity of the processes in each Province acting in accordance with their respective Canons and Constitutions.
Finally, the bishops recommended that the issues of doctrine and morals which have arisen, and which are so disturbing to so many of our people across the Communion, must be handled through the structures of our Communion: the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primates’ meeting, the ACC, and the Lambeth Conference.
The penultimate section of the statement focused on what they termed the mystery of human sexuality. The bishops were of the view that there was a great deal that needed to be learned concerning the gift and mystery of human sexuality, and therefore supported all efforts to promote further study and research. This they counseled needed to go hand in hand with deeper theological reflection on the Scriptures, as well as reflection on unfolding insights into human nature created by God.
The statement also gave support to Archbishop Njongonkulu’s call for an All Africa Conference on Human Sexuality.
In conclusion the statement called and I quote, “on the Provinces, Bishops and Dioceses, and in our Parishes, to be focusing more on God’s Mission to the poor and needy “at our gate”. We are confronted with life and death issues affecting the overwhelming number of our people. We need to be bringing the hope and healing of Jesus to God’s people. Let us look to ourselves as we ponder the challenge of Jesus, spoken to us in Matthew 25:31-46. This is how God will judge his Church, including ourselves.”
The liberal voice in Africa sees the current crisis in the Anglican Communion as diverting the attention of the Church from the major life and death issues in the world. These include, hunger across the world, the Israeli Palestinian conflict, the HIV and AIDS pandemic, debt and others.
The context in which the liberal voice speaks was formed in the evils of the Apartheid era which sought to discriminate and dehumanize people. Within this context and experience arose a voice of people steeped in black and post-colonial theology, the theology of liberation, and black consciousness.
In the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu: “The Jesus I worship is not likely to collaborate with those who vilify and persecute an already oppressed minority.... I could not myself keep quiet whilst people were being penalized for something about which they could do nothing, their sexuality. … To discriminate against our sisters and brothers who are lesbian or gay on grounds of their sexual orientation for me is as totally unacceptable and unjust as Apartheid ever was.”
The Constitution of the rainbow nation of South Africa is based on values of dignity, freedom and equality and does not permit ordinary citizens to discriminate against gays and lesbians. Human rights and equality in South Africa’s Constitution obviously influences the churches theological thinking on gender and sexuality. There is another subtle influence that of the concept of Ubuntu which simply means that a person is a person because of others or the community. In other words all people are equal.
The liberal African voice as exemplified by the Church of the Province of Southern Africa acknowledges and gives thanks to God for the role played by gay and lesbian members and encourages the welcoming and affirmation of all members regardless of their sexual orientation, in all the churches of the CPSA.
3. Moderate voices
(a) The Anglican Church in Burundi
The third African voice we discern is the moderate voice. Nicely, snuggled between the conservative and liberal voices. The Anglican Church in Burundi is a good example of this moderate voice in the Communion. In their statement on the issue of homosexuality and same sex-unions, the church has categorically stated that they remain committed to the Anglican Communion and to endeavouring to work with all the Primates who have been entrusted with the leadership of its provinces. In the statement they also indicated that they are committed to the Gospel imperative to maintain unity and communion that is rooted in truth and love. They emphasised their theological understanding of the authentic nature of the Church as being one, holy, catholic and apostolic and affirmed their loyalty to the authority of Scripture and the traditional teachings of the Church.
They expressed their hope in prayer that ways will be found to move forward with renewed commitment to “keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
Although the Anglican Church in Burundi abhors the events that led to the present crisis in the Communion they have expressed the need to continue to prayerfully encourage understanding and dialogue and re-assess structures and ways of drawing closer to each other rather than walking apart. Their position is one which seeks reliance on the Holy Spirit that will lead to repentance, forgiveness, revival, and healing and urge others in the Communion to work for a Church characterised by justice, and compassion that strives to be a sanctuary of care where truth can be told in love so that Christians can walk together in a way that honours the name of Christ and witness to his reconciling love in a hurting and fragmented world.
Here ends the lessons on the African voices.
There are two factors I seek to draw your attention to that directly or indirectly are influencing the tone and volume of the African voices. The first factor or voice is that of the Global South. The Global South as a body is concerned with a range of subjects, such as social action and economic empowerment. It came about to address some of the power imbalances between North and South that exist within the Church. So the rationale for its existence is commendable.
A worrisome development is the issuance of the Kigali Communiqué by the Primates of the Global South in September 2006 in Rwanda. This caused a theological earthquake measuring 8.6 on the richter scale. It evoked mixed feelings across the Anglican Communion reflecting both the extreme right and extreme left of Anglicanism.
The communiqué claimed to be a unanimous statement presumably speaking for a majority of Anglicans who live in the southern hemisphere!
In the communiqué, the Primates noted that they had asked the Global South Steering Committee to develop a proposal identifying the ways by which an Alternative Primatial Oversight can be set up within the Anglican Communion in order to oversee the work of some of the dioceses in the USA which are not happy with the existing Primate and other bishops. They also indicated that at the next meeting of the Primates in Februaryy 2007 some of the Primates would not recognize Katharine Jefferts Schori as a Primate and that others would be in an impaired communion with her as a representative of the Episcopal Church in the USA. In this regard, they suggested that another bishop should be present at the meeting so that they could listen to the voices of the dioceses which, in their estimate, abide by the teaching of the Communion.
There are some comments i would like to make regarding this communique.
First, not all Primates associated themselves with the Statement. The Archbishop of Cape Town, for example, did not endorse it and was of the view that there was a deliberate intention to undermine the due processes of the Anglican Communion and the integrity of the instruments of Unity. He called for patience in resolving the present crisis and appealed to his brother Primates to step back from the brink at which the Kigali Communiqué had placed the Anglican Communion calling for a spirit of tolerance and grace in the face of pains of divisions among the Primates.
Secondly, the Primates seemed to have gone ahead of everybody as there was no apparent consultative process that fully engaged the laity, clergy and bishops in the debate within the Global South.This is essential in the current crisis before a final decision is taken on these weighty matters. Surely Primates do not have sole monopoly on wisdom and knowledge. Although some would like to think so!
In a presidential address delivered by the former Archbishop of Sydney and Primate The Most Revd Sir Marcus Loane, he said, “The trouble is that the Bishops are not the Church. The Church is made up of people: it is governed by an elected General Synod; when the synod is not in session, its Standing Committee acts on its behalf. That is as democratic a system of church government as can easily be devised, but it makes it impossible for the Church to speak with a single authoritative voice.
Therefore what the Primate should choose to say, or what the Bishops decide to say may be no more than a personal utterance and may command no more support than those whose views it happens to reflect.”
From this position the Global South’s pronouncement are no more than “Primates utterances” provoking deep thought. For the fundamental and indispensable element of our Anglican identity is that we are both episcopally led and synodically governed.
The other factor influencing the voices from Africa is numbers and the almighty dollar!
These factors can be seen to influence – and at times bring pressure to bear, or even manipulate the situation. Where does ‘power’ lie in the present debate? The provinces in Nigeria have collectively the largest number of Anglican members in the world – more than the Church of England and ECUSA combined! America has long been generous in its hospitality and support for African church projects and its leaders, however, in the current situation, the almighty dollar has been used to strengthen the voice and position of some African bishops who have been invited to the States and given generous incentives. Very tempting indeed for a bishop from a poor African diocese to be feted and offered funds by his American hosts, if he endorses the party line!
One of the things that amazes me in this whole debate is the manner in which lobbying, very perculiar to America, has been used to influence opinion, decisions, and relationships, which results in the creation of a culture of ‘them’ and ‘us’, ‘in’ and ‘out’, and never shall the twain meet. The success of this lobyying has been assisted mainly by the dissemination of information on the internet.
THE African Future
Well then, from this overview it is apparent that the, “view from Africa” varies depending where you stand. The answer to the question, “Is there a unanimous view from Africa”? is no. And the answer to the question, “are there different voices”? is yes. We now know what the voices are and what they are saying and now we address one of the most important questions “How does the future of the communion seem from Africa?
Here I shall share with you my “personal utterances” or reflections. A realistic picture of the future of the Communion from Africa is that it will continue renewed in faith and mission by reassing the present structures and instruments of unity.
The African Provinces are not a monochrome body and the scenario of the African Provinces spliting off as a whole from the Communion to form an alternative Communion is in my view impossible. The only likely possibility in the unlikely event of this happenning is one or two African provinces spliting to align themselves with similar minded provinces.
However the Communion will continue and these are my reasons.
The first point we must understand is that the majority of African Anglicans about 37 million of them are frankly not bothered about the whole debate on sexuality and gay bishops, impaired communion and so forth. A fact not lost on the Windsor Commission who recognized the existence within the Anglican Communion of a large constituency of faithful members who are bemused and bewildered by the intensity of the opposing views on issues of sexuality. This group embraces worshippers who yearn for expressions of communion which will provide stability and encouragement for their pilgrimage. Their voices have been eclipsed by the intensity of sounds on opposing sides of the debate.
The majority of African Anglicans are not bothered because their minds are concentrated on life and death issues of HIV and AIDS, poverty and drought, malaria, dying from starvation and not what the church thinks about sexuality or what colour your pyjamas are! The debate on sexuality is a non – issue for most of our people. And I suspect that for the millions of poor Anglicans Africans in the villages they are not even aware that this controversy is raging on! That’s the first point I want to make.
The second point I want to make is that the minority of Africans who have the luxury to think on this issue don’t what to see the Communion disintegrate, because they value the communion and its bonds of affection, and would prefer to follow the process recommended by the Windsor Report. They are also indifferent to the pronouncements purportedly made on their behalf as they are rarely consulted.
The long history of Anglicanism has only been possible because of its capacity to embrace different views on matters of faith, practice and spirituality.
The labels bandied about of conservatives, liberals, moderates are a simplification of a much more complex situation. We wear all these labels depending on the situation.
But whatever label we may wear its okay. It speaks of diversity and the unity in diversity as Anglicans is that we must all learn to live together.
The late Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie, wrote in a foreword to a book, Grow or Die in 1981, that “…no single form of Christian experience, conviction or organisation is going to prevail over others. Conservative and radical, contemplative and activist, pietist and social reformer, all must learn to live together. They may and should see much to criticize in their own and others’ position. The critical faculty must not be lost. Reverence for truth must still be paramount. But all must learn to live together, for in religion, as in all else, the same things do not appeal to everybody”.
It was a wise observation that is still valid now. The learning to live together means discovering mutual respect and understanding for one another in the way we believe and see things. The crisis in the Anglican Communion gives us all an opportunity to rediscover our relationship with God, ourselves, and each other. And this is only possible by cultivating the gift of humility.
A story is told of famous old priest was being introduced to a congregation by the parish priest who waxed more eloquent by the second:
“We are about to hear from a man of such wisdom that even the most learned sit at his feet; of such kindness that even children flock to him for advice; with such a keen understanding of human problems that men and women bare to him their innermost secrets; a man of such…such…at this point, the old priest tugged at the sleeve of the parish priest, whispering, “ And don’t forget my humility”!
“Don’t forget my humility”. We need to organise an , “Anglican Communion on Humility Conference”! Think of humility as an attitude or spirit of how we see people and the world in general. Humility is seeing, knowing and understanding people with reverence, a sense of wonder, respect and appreciation. It is honouring the person and life by not imposing our ways on them. It is this humility that is a missing ingredient in the war of views on sexuality. We seem to have forgotten that in God’s grace there is no space for arrogance, the holier than thou attitude and judgemental spirit. There is however a lot of space for the spirit of humility which inspires us to be open to learning, growth and being enriched by other encounters.
In humility we must maintain the unity of the Church which is non-negotiable. It is a calling for the leadership of the Church to work hard for the maintenance of the unity of the Anglican Communion through the Archbishop of Canterbury, Lambeth Conference, Anglican Consultative Council and Meeting of the Primates.
The pursuance of this unity should be done graciously. As you are aware the 75th General Convention of ECUSA in Resolution A165 affirmed their commitment to the Windsor process. I agree with the former Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold’s remark in his communiqué of 28th September 2006 that such a process calls for patience and rules out actions which would pre-empty their orderly unfolding.
One is reminded of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the King sitting as a judge orders the jury to consider their verdict even before the trial has began. And the Rabbit hastily interrupts, “Not yet, not yet! There is a great deal to come before that!”
Yes, there is a great deal to come from the listening process and so we all need patience the solution will not come today or tomorrow but most likely within the next 20 years or God’s time because God who was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, is also here today working for reconciliation in the Anglican Communion as we embrace different views of our faith. Reconciliation is the answer.
Up to now, some strident voices in Africa have threatened the Anglican Communion with schism, insisting that some provinces be expelled from our world-wide fellowship. Yet such voices because of the very diversity and strength of the Anglican churches in Africa, should be playing a reconciling role, in which Africa’s voice is bringing about reconciliation rather than splitting the Communion.
The Anglican provinces in Africa reflect most of the Anglican traditions – Catholic, Evangelical, Liberal and Charismatic. Southern Africa is progressive, Uganda and Kenya more conservative Evangelical, Central Africa, following its UMCA and USPG heritage, traditional Catholic.
Arguing for a middle way from the extremes, which is our situation in Africa, is being true to the Anglican tradition of seeking the via media. For example, in Southern Africa, the Anglican Church has held together despite huge diversities, not just of race, but of ecclesiology and theology, culture, language – and all under the most intensely divisive political system. Whether the issue was economic sanctions, army chaplains in Namibia, or the ordination of women, they stuck together, not unwillingly but joyfully sharing in the family of the Church, the kingdom of God, to which they knew they all belonged.
They have much to teach us. Our energy should go in strenghthening the many things we have in common rather than focusing on matters on which we differ.
The African perspective also recognises that the individual finds his/her identity within the community; and the community is more important than the individual. This insight is helpful at a time of exaggerated emphasis on individualism in the west. Globalisation means that no region or province can act unilaterally – either the US or regions of Africa. The whole Body of Christ is affected by the actions of one part. In a symphony, the various instruments and sections of the orchestra are designed to play together, such that the full melody is heard. This is unity in diversity.
The wonder of God.
In humility we need to see the Mystery and wonder of God’s kingdom. The core mission of the Church is the enlargement of God’s kingdom on earth. A kingdom where everybody has a place at the table of God. Everybody is welcomed and accepted. Everybody is affirmed. So the mission of the Church is to draw our attention to the dimensions of the Kingdom of God which are immense.
In breadth and length it embraces every tribe, every nation, every colour, every language on the face of the earth.
Why do we keep thinking separation? Could it be it’s because we have lost sight of the height and depth of the kingdom which is just as great – the kingdom within, the infinity of God in us, the wonders of union with God in prayer and sacrament and the realm of silence. We think too small in our inner world just as we think too small in the world around us. We are baptised into something larger, all of us. God help us to live into that. God help the leaders of the church to see the full dimensions of the kingdom, the large picture, and deliberately set out to include, to heal, to reconcile a broken church in a broken world.
I strongly believe through initiatives of collaboration encouraging linkages amongst dioceses in the USA, UK, Asia and Africa which are different from each other; and clergy working in a different cultural context from their own; exchange of visits to create the opportunity for a deeper understanding and appreciation of one another; the issues threatening to divide us can be resolved. Understanding breaks down walls and builds love and friendship.
So, as an African I believe that the future of the Communion is good. We have heard some powerfuls voices speaking on our behalf but there is a voice of grace embraced by the majority of Anglican Africans. It is a still small voice that believes in the beauty of diversity without trying to force people to be square or round. You may not have heard it loudly because many of people go about faithfully living out their christian lives prayerfully, patiently, in a spirit of forgiveness, in a spirit of repentance and reconciliation. This is grace. The only way that can help us overcome the problems that bedevil our Communion today. It is this still small voice that in the Communion will prevail. The voice of grace.
What is vital for all of us, is in all humility, to allow the God’s grace to work in us so that we can be able to work out with patience, prayer, faith, repentance and forgiveness our own salvation and that of the Communion. This will require a tremendous amount of hope against hope and I am sure we shall succeed to hold the Communion together.
For as St. Paul says we are not people without hope. For we walk by faith, not by sight. The Anglican Communion is a great treasure to us and we carry this treasure in our earthen vessels to show that the transcendent power belongs to God. It is true that we shall be afflicted in every way in this crisis, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair, excluded by others in the Communion but not forsaken by God, struck down but not destroyed for we shall always carry in our bodies the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies to the world in the imperfection of our human nature.
There is much to be thankful for to God. May our prayer be to paraphrase the late Lord Runcie that “O’ God we lose not the critical faculty. Supremely reverence the truth and all learn to live together in the knowledge that in religion, as in all else, the same things do not appeal to everybody”.