Africans call for “repentance” by Episcopalians, whatever that means

textThere is an old saying among war correspondents who cover life in the Church of England.

The Africans pray, the Americans pay and the British write the resolutions. Or does the American wallet come first? I can’t recall at the moment, but the results are the same. The clever Brits almost always end up being the people who define what all the words mean and then they weave them into those all-important documents handed to the press.

Which means there is no way, no way whatsoever, to know if the following headline in the Guardian has any meaning — “US church ‘must repent’ for gay bishop decision.”

What does the word “repent” mean? I mean, what does it mean in the context of a British church in which there is no common definition — especially among people wearing purple — of what the word “sin” means? This isn’t the only word in this report by the omnipresent religion-affairs writer Stephen Bates that is blurry at this point, since the canon lawyers have not yet been deposed.

African archbishops intensified the threat to the unity of the worldwide Anglican communion last night, and increased pressure on Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, by insisting that the US Episcopal Church must be disciplined within three months unless it “repents” for electing a gay bishop.
Their demand preempts the meetings of the commission set up by the church last October in an attempt to avoid a split, which is not due to report until the beginning of next year.

The crisis arises from the election of Gene Robinson, a divorced father of two, living with his male partner, as bishop of the tiny diocese of New Hampshire.

Yes, yes — what does “discipline” mean? Oh, and does that have anything to do with changing the locks on the doors at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., or allowing priests who do not say the Creed with their fingers crossed to keep their pensions?

Aside from words that the British have not defined yet, the key idea in the Bates report is that the orthodox (small “o”) bishops of the Third World are continuing to say that they have no intention of accepting money from the American church’s endowment funds. The American church is declining in terms of members, but still has many large endowments left behind in faith by previous generations. Episcopal leaders tend to remind the Africans and Asians of this when theological disputes become heated.

At a meeting in Nairobi the archbishops, mainly from central and equatorial Africa, who have been among those most antagonistic towards homosexuality, also declared that they will refuse to accept any future funding from the US church. They insisted, however, that breaking away from the worldwide Anglican communion was not an option.

Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, chairman of the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa (Capa), said: “If we suffer for a while to gain our independence and our freedom and to build ourselves up, I think it will be a good thing for the church in Africa. We will not on the altar of money mortgage our conscience, mortgage our faith, mortgage our salvation.”

Stay tuned. This may be settled in a decade or two. (Episcopal News Service photo shows Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold of the Episcopal Church with Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria in March 2002.)

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Wooderson

    “We will not on the altar of money mortgage our conscience, mortgage our faith, mortgage our salvation.”

    If that isn’t the phrase of a Bishop, I don’t know what is.

  • Samantha

    Stephen Bates needs to be a little more thorough with his fact checking. He says:

    “Their demand preempts the meetings of the commission set up by the church last October in an attempt to avoid a split, which is not due to report until the beginning of next year.”

    In fact, the Lambeth (Eames) Commission is due to report to the ABC by the end of September, 2004.

  • David

    “The American church is declining in terms of members, but still has many large endowments left behind in faith by previous generations. Episcopal leaders tend to remind the Africans and Asians of this when theological disputes become heated.”

    I’ve seen other, similar allusions to an “extortion” like approach in dialogues between ECUSA based organizations and other entities who object to the ratification and consecration of the Bishop of New Hampshire but I have never heard or read of any specific examples.

    I have read about one instance when the Trinity Grants program declined to fund a provincial program in Rwanda because that province had established a “Mission” entity within the boundaries of an already established Anglican province. In reporting that decision, the director of the grants program EMPHATICALLY asserted that the decision making process IN NO WAY was linked to agreement on theological issues. Indeed, a number of Trinity Grants have since been made funding programs operating in provinces and dioceses that consider themselves to be in “impaired communion” (including Rwanda) with ECUSA and its constituent bodies.

    I wonder if there are, in fact, any instances of this type of simony?

  • http://getreligion.typepad.com/getreligion/2004/02/about_douglas_l.html Douglas LeBlanc

    In response to David’s question, I post this story that I reported in 1999. I’m sorry that It’s no longer available at what was once the Anglican Voice website.

    ‘Is my money also abominable?’:

    bishops exchange letters on Lambeth, aid

    by Doug LeBlanc

    Editor, Anglican Voice

    posted March 30, 1999

    The Lambeth Conference’s resolution on human sexuality presents a “considerable impediment” to funding a project in Uganda, one bishop has written to another.

    Bishop Ronald H. Haines of the Diocese of Washington wrote the letter to Bishop Eliphaz Maari, acting vice chancellor of Uganda Christian University, on Sept. 18.

    Haines wrote to Maari about one American’s response to the Lambeth resolution’s “rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture.”

    “One gay person said to me, ‘If I am an abomination, is my money also abominable?’ As a diocese we would like to be in a greater partnership with brothers and sisters in Africa, but for the present time we have a considerable impediment presented by the Lambeth decision,” Haines wrote.

    “I would welcome any insight that you can give me because we sincerely want to be in partnership, but there is no way we can be in partnership without gay and lesbian people being involved on our side,” Haines added in the letter. “Our diocese consists of baptized people who are seeking to follow the Lord Jesus. We do all we can not to exclude anyone and to be inclusive even as we seek to grow from grace to grace. The Lambeth resolution is seen here as highly exclusive. Your insight would be greatly appreciated.”

    Haines said in a telephone interview that he has written similar letters to several other bishops.

    “I’ve had dialogue with several bishops over there, by letter, and it hasn’t slowed down our grant-making. But we have talked to each other, which is important,” Haines said.

    African bishops “tend to say we have many differences, but we also have many needs, and I agree with that,” Haines said. “We need to hear each other as we address the needs.”

    The two bishops met while Maari visited the United States in June 1998, and again at the Lambeth Conference.

    Maari said he has not received any funds from the Diocese of Washington.

    “It was very clear to me and to others that unless we supported the gays’ cause, we can’t expect support from congregations in the Washington diocese,” Maari said in a telephone interview.

    In his response to Haines, Maari reaffirmed his support of the Lambeth resolution but also expressed support for further discussion.

    “Many of us were rather worried that the Anglican Communion might be divided over the issue, but we were greatly relieved and thank God that such a crisis never occurred. In spite of the Resolution the Communion still holds together. This gives more opportunity for dialogue and who knows what further revelation God might shed on this matter.”

    The full texts of Haines’ letter and Maari’s response follow this report.

    Maari said he found Haines’ letter ironic in light of widespread accusations that conservative Episcopalians bribed African bishops during the Lambeth Conference.

    “We feel insulted for someone to say we were bought,” Maari said. “Our Christian conscience is a matter of life and death. I would like anybody to point out anybody who gave me a single dollar at Lambeth.”

    Maari said the 461-student school has received support from St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Morristown, N.J. (Diocese of Newark), and from the Diocese of Long Island.

    At best, Maari said, the university has received only about one twentieth of the nearly $3 million it seeks for scholarships, construction and expansion of the campus library. The $3 million request would cover improvements in four academic years, beginning in 1998-99 and ending in 2001-02.

    Anyone who wishes to support the university may send donations to Uganda Christian University, Account Number 10831035, c/o Citibank N.A. International Private Banking, Citicorp Center, 153 E. 53rd St., New York, NY 10043.

    Bishop Haines’ letter to Bishop Maari

    September 18, 1998

    The Rt. Rev. Eliphaz Maari

    Vice Chancellor

    Uganda Christian University

    P.O. Box 4

    Mukono

    Uganda

    Dear Bishop Maari:

    It was good to see your letter of July 8th when I got back into the office following Lambeth and some holiday time. I also am aware that you have written to the Rev. Geoffrey Price at St. Paul’s Church and I do believe they have an interest in at least a portion of your project.

    I hope I may now speak in candor as a brother in Christ. The Lambeth Conference was both an exciting witness of the diversity of the Anglican Communion, but also its resolution on human sexuality has created a sharp negative reaction amongst a significant number of clergy and lay leaders here in the Diocese of Washington. I believe the feeling in this diocese is reflected in most of our urban diocese. We did not hear each other very well at Lambeth across cultural lines.

    While I hold what I believe is a high biblical theology and a conservative one, my priority is to express biblical truth with liberal love. I do not believe that we were able to hear each other and come to a common definition of homosexuality. In the broader picture, I don’t believe that we were able to deal candidly with the ethical and moral norms of heterosexuality. Scripture says what scripture says and I have no desire to change it or to give it some ingenious interpretation. Scripture also says what it says about the divine right of kings, forbidding contraception, divorce and the charging of interest and accruing interest, etc., etc. I have said to the flock here that homosexuality was discussed through the principle of scriptura sola where revelation was confined to scripture. Heterosexuality and other subjects were not so treated. We obviously had to interpret beyond scripture in matters of the ethical challenges posed by high-tech, global finance and debt and euthanasia, just to name a few subjects. The singling out of gay and lesbian people for some particularly hurtful rhetoric has caused deep concerns in this diocese.

    Our cultural situation is that this city and diocese has had a significant gay and lesbian community for decades. Over the years many of those individuals have been faithful members of many of our congregations. There are gay and lesbian people at all levels of leadership and decision making in the church, in the government and in the military. That is not to say that they are identifiable by their lifestyles because they are not. They hold the same social and Christian values as anyone else. We have a common expectation of gay and straight people, namely that they will either lead a chaste life or be in a monogamous relationship. In other areas we expect all Christians to be forthright, honest and equitable in their dealings with others, with power and with money. The most oft quoted phrase of the Vision Statement of this diocese is that we are a Christian community . . . “where all are accepted and none are despised.” That is far from saying anything goes. We have high standards of ethics, morals and behavior, but it is consistent for all people. I realize that concept is quite abstract to many in other parts of the globe. I can only share with you and others that I see the gift of the Spirit and dedication to ministry exhibited as much in gay people as I do in straight people. The gay and lesbian community has been particularly graced with the gift of generosity. That leads to some of our present difficulty.

    One gay person said to me, “If I am an abomination, is my money also abominable?” As a diocese we would like to be in a greater partnership with brothers and sisters in Africa, but for the present time we have a considerable impediment presented by the Lambeth decision. In the area of grant making, I do not believe there will be any impact upon African Palms or the Companions in World Mission. Both of them operate with their own Board of Directors. On the other hand, the Diocese of Washington received a major legacy called the Soper Trust. We use all of the income from the trust for grants and we had been looking into some grants for Africa. With the Soper Trust we are able to make grants in the $5-20,000 range and extend them over several years. There probably would not be more than one grant made per year, but it could make a difference. We are trying to form an additional coalition with St. Paul’s Church, Rock Creek, so that we can use our finite resources to the best advantage of God’s kingdom. I do not speak at all for St. Paul’s, Rock Creek, but I can say that our Soper grants must be approved by the Bishops and Council. Bishops and Council as reflected in this letter are gravely concerned about where the Lambeth decision leads us.

    I would welcome any insight that you can give me because we sincerely want to be in partnership, but there is no way we can be in partnership without gay and lesbian people being involved on our side. Our diocese consists of baptized people who are seeking to follow the Lord Jesus. We do all we can not to exclude anyone and to be inclusive even as we seek to grow from grace to grace. The Lambeth resolution is seen here as highly exclusive. Your insight would be greatly appreciated.

    Yours in Christ,

    Ronald H. Haines

    Bishop of Washington

    cc: The Rt. Rev. Jane Holmes Dixon

    The Rev. Geoffrey Price

    Bishop Maari’s letter to Bishop Haines

    10 October 1998

    The Rt. Rev. Ronald H. Haines

    The Bishop

    Diocese of Washington

    Episcopal Church House

    Mount St. Alban

    Washington, DC 20016-5094

    USA

    Dear Bishop Haines

    Thank you for your letter of Sept. 18, 1998, which I received yesterday.

    I am really sorry to hear that the Lambeth Conference Resolution on human sexuality was not well-received in your diocese and that it might affect our partnership.

    Many of us were rather worried that the Anglican Communion might be divided over the issue, but were greatly relieved and thank God that such a crisis never occurred. In spite of the Resolution the Communion still holds together. This gives more opportunity for dialogue and who knows what further revelation God might shed on this matter.

    Personally, I believe both groups either for or against the Resolution were sincere. I am glad they spoke their mind because hypocrisy is dangerous and does not promote mutual understanding. I wish to remind you that in spite of that Resolution, love for homosexuals and lesbians was emphasized.

    Most of African Bishops believe that gay orientation is part of our fallen human nature due to Original Sin and that one can be redeemed by the power and grace of God through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. At Lambeth, we were convinced by evidence of living testimonies by non-Africans whose gay orientation had been transformed by Jesus Christ. Even in Africa we have similar testimonies. This experience is scripturally based. I appreciate the value for continued friendly dialogue with open minds, ears and hearts to allow God’s truth, through His Holy Spirit to convict us, teach us, guide and convince us. This should apply to all areas where Christians find themselves in disagreement.

    Finally, as regards our application for financial support for the University Projects I leave it entirely to you and the members of Soper Trust and St. Paul’s Church, Rock Creek, to decide.

    As long as we still claim to belong to the same communion and the same Lord Jesus Christ our partnership still remains in spite of our disagreements provided we are sincere and honest with each other.

    We can only hope and pray that through dialogue we shall increasingly come to a better understanding of each other. In the meantime, I wait to hear a response to our requests.

    Yours in Christ

    Rt. Rev. Eliphaz K. Maari

    AG Vice Chancellor

    cc: The Archbishop Livingstone Mpalanyi-Nkoyoyo

    The Rt. Rev. Jane Holmes Dixon

    The Rev. Geoffrey Price

  • http://patrickrothwell.blogspot.com Patrick Rothwell

    “I wonder if there are, in fact, any instances of this type of simony?”

    Robert Mercer, the retired Bishop of Matebeleland (Zimbabwe) (now the head of the Anglican Catholic Church of Canada) made similar accusations back in the 1970s and 1980s. He said that certain grants made by the national Episcopal Church body had strings attached, namely that the recipients would be supportive of women’s ordination. Those who could be counted on to support the innovation got the money, whereas those who did not – would not.


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