Africa won't join church split

The Anglican Church in Southern Africa is unlikely to join the split from the mainstream church following the emergence of the conservative Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (Foca) faction at the Global Anglican Future Conference (Gavcon) in Jerusalem last month.

Foca includes evangelical Anglican bishops from the United Kingdom and the United States as well as archbishops from South America, Australia, Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania, who have chosen to cut ties with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, over his perceived permissiveness in relation to the forces of “militant secularism and pluralism” created by a “spiritual decline” in emerging economies, the Guardian reported.

Williams, the leader of the Church of England which heads the worldwide 77-million strong “Anglican communion”, hit back at the breakaway faction, saying they lacked “legitimacy, authority and, by implication, integrity”, the Guardian reported.

The Anglican Bishop of Port Elizabeth, Bethlehem Nopece, who attended the conference, said the Southern African diocese was already overwhelmingly conservative, as the last vote by synod, which took place three years ago, revealed. “We voted that we do not accept homosexual practice, what we do accept is celibacy, even if a person is homosexual in orientation,” said Nopece.
“Those who lobby for homosexual priests to be ordained do not want a split within the church, but want to push the church to accept it.”

Janet Frisk, a theology lecturer at Rhodes University and an ordained priest, said the move by Foca was motivated by power rather than by doctrine. “Peter Akinola, [the archbishop of Nigeria and a vocal Foca member], has, for the past 10 years, been making moves to become another power base in the Anglican Church,” she said. “It is about Africanisation, but in some ways it is about blatant power, and the gay thing is just a presenting cause. Gay people have been getting ordained forever, the only reason it’s an issue now is because gay people openly living with their partners are being ordained. It is [ostensibly] about sexuality, but not really [so].”

Frisk’s position was echoed by Wilson Sichebo, the bishop of Bulawayo, who said his parish remains loyal to the mother church headquartered in Canterbury. Sichebo, who is also the president of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches, said that what is sad about the whole affair is that the split is not caused by differences in doctrine, but by what he called the lust for “power and recognition”. Sichebo said there was space for difference within the Anglican Church: “What is the business of the church if we can’t mix with those who are different from us?” He also said the divisions were distracting the church from the real issues it should be confronting, such as providing access to antiretrovirals for those who are HIV-positive, supporting victims of violence and fighting poverty on the continent.

In a short email response to queries from the Mail & Guardian Trevor Mwamba, the bishop of Botswana, insisted that “there is no split” within the Anglican Church. However, responding last year to the consecration of anti-gay clerics from the US by Bernard Nzimbi, head of the Anglican Church in Kenya, Mwamba recalled the positions reached at the Lambeth Conference of 1998, which recognised that there are people “who experience themselves as having a homosexual orientation”. This conference decreed that the church commits itself to “listen to the experience of homosexual persons”.

While it rejected “homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture” it called on “all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all, irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals”.

The conference, though, could not “advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordain those involved in same-gender unions”.

In his comments last year Mwamba described the decision by Nzimba and others to consecrate clergymen from the US as “highly regrettable” as it violated the “ancient principle of provincial autonomy by intervening in dioceses and provinces other than their own”.

Mwamba likened such actions to “pouring fuel on a fire” and called for “space to cool down”. He urged African bishops to “be careful they are not dragged into fighting proxy wars” and said they should focus on “playing a reconciliatory” role in the church.

Kwanele Sosibo

Kwanele Sosibo

Kwanele Sosibo studied journalism at Durban's ML Sultan Technikon before working at Independent Newspapers from 2000 to 2003. In 2005, he joined the Mail & Guardian's internship programme and later worked as a reporter at the paper between 2006 and 2008, before working as a researcher. He was the inaugural Eugene Saldanha Fellow in 2011.
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