Reformation redux?

Yesterday’s issue of The Monitor, Uganda’s government paper, had an article about the coming Lambeth Conference and the Church of Uganda. The article is revealing, though readers should beware of placing too much stock in the quotations, since journalism practices in East Africa differ considerably from, say, the New York Times.

The article is primarily about Uganda’s decision boycott Lambeth:

Ms Alison Barfoot, Archbishop Luke Orombi’s assistant in charge of international relations, said the Church of Uganda’s decision to shun the forthcoming Lambeth Conference “was to communicate that this [homosexuality disagreement] is a very serious issue. How else do we make our point known”?

How indeed? Perhaps by coming to the conference and speaking with others? I for one believe that Americans would benefit from hearing how a progressive stance has caused pain in Africa. While I do not believe that we should retrench, and I yearn for the full inclusion of GLBT people in all sacraments, I do think that ECUSA has often had an unhelpful attitude. Put simply, we’ve demonstrated typical American hubris in our ecclesiastical actions, much as we’ve done in our national foreign policy. “We consecrated Gene Robinson according to our rules, so you have to deal with it!” I wonder how different things would be if we had said, “We feel called to move forward with the consecration of Gene Robinson. We know this will be painful, and we’d like to hear what you think — and seek to find a way to live together. Oh, and here’s our Biblical rationale for what we’re doing.”

But, alas, we didn’t do that. And now Uganda is ready to step away from the Communion.

“Anglicanism is just an identity and if they abuse it, we shall secede,” [the Rev’d Canon Aaron Mwesigye] said. “Yes, we shall remain Christians but not in the same [Anglican] Communion.”

While some will rejoice to have these “troublemakers” gone, I believe our Communion will be diminished as another wound divides the Body of Christ. That said, this quote reveals much about our present troubles. Many of us would say that there is an Anglican identity worth treasuring and preserving, as one distinct expression of the Christian faith. It is not, to be sure, an anything-goes faith, but it is a comprehensive faith, able to hold together diverse expressions. Uganda may not manifest this, but neighboring Tanzania is a marvelous tapestry of evangelical fervor and catholic beauty. If we move away from an Anglican identity to an exclusivist (“You must agree with me to be in communion with me”), then Christendom has lost a reconciling tradition, and that is regrettable.

The article talks about Uganda’s plan to respond to the Covenant:

As it turns out, the planned conference will also consider the Covenant – binding rules to minimise turbulent effects of divisive issues such as homosexuality.

Uganda, however, has got a way around to have its views on the Covenant heard.

According to Ms Barfoot, Archbishop Orombi is due to summon theologians across the country to brainstorm on the document and their opinion will be forwarded to inform discussions at Lambeth.

On this one, I would like to see Canterbury be firm. If Uganda has something to say, they should show up and say it. It is not acceptable, in my view, to lob in a rhetorical hand grenade from the sidelines.

Hajji Katende of Makerere predicts a gloomy end to the raging crisis. “Homosexuality is going to be a very difficult issue to resolve and I think it will eventually lead to the break up of the Anglican Church, just like the Anglican Church initially seceded from the mother Catholic Church,” he said.

Homosexuality is certainly a difficult issue. But it should not be a Communion-dividing issue. At times, the conservatives have sought to say that homosexuality is not the issue, but rather the authority of scripture. That may well be a Communion-dividing issue. However, I have yet to see any Anglican groups maintaining fidelity to every word of the Bible. In Uganda, for example, I wonder how they reconcile their practice of ordaining women priests with the New Testament’s prohibition of women teaching in church. How can Uganda be on such good terms with Americans (and here I am speaking of the American Anglican Council) who have a nuanced view on divorce?

It seems that Uganda is ready to secede — and to start a new communion — over the issue of homosexuality. I grieve at this loss. For one thing, the Anglican Communion will lose the vibrant, spirit-filled expression of the Gospel found in Uganda. The Communion will be bereft of the tremendous work the church has done there to combat HIV/AIDS and to offer pastoral care to its sufferers.

What can we do? Perhaps more moderate Americans should find ways to travel to Uganda, to share in our common faith. Perhaps we should find ways to encourage Uganda to come to Lambeth. Lord, have mercy upon us all.

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