The international Anglican Church, a federation of 38 national churches, with 77 million adherents, chose Dar es Salaam, the ‘Haven of Peace’, as the gathering place to deal with the threat of schism facing it over homosexual priests and same-sex marriages as well as the issue of women bishops.
Just before the meeting began on February 14 the spiritual leader of the Anglicans, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, invoked the power of prayer to help him save the Church. The Guardian in Dar wrote of the biggest clash yet between ‘Global South’ conservatives in Africa, Asia and Latin America where the Anglican Church is growing and liberals in the more affluent West, where congregations are shrinking. Conservatives say that homosexuality is sinful and unbiblical and in December 2006 the Anglican Church in Tanzania had announced that it was cutting links with “bishops who consecrate homosexuals and ordain such persons to the priesthood.” The conservatives were described in an article by the Catholic writer Libby Purves in the London Times (which gave good coverage of the meeting) as the ‘illiberal, genitally-fixated wing’ of the Church. Liberal theologians suggested that the Church should focus on tackling poverty, AIDS and the challenge to Christianity from Islam.
Tensions had flared into a near revolt by the Global South in 2003 when an openly gay man, Gene Robinson, was named bishop in the US Episcopal Church. The traditionalist primates at the meeting in Dar were threatening to snub their U.S. counterpart Bishop Katharine Schori who was at the meeting supporting Robinson and same-sex unions.
The Global South set up camp in an Indian Ocean beachfront hotel to discuss the issues while next door the U.S. Episcopalians were doing the same.
TANZANIAN BISHOP PROTESTS
In December 2006, The Anglican Church in Tanzania announced that it was cutting links with ‘bishops who consecrate homosexuals and ordain such persons to the priesthood.’ It would no longer accept funding from dioceses in the U.S. Church.
However, according to the Episcopal News Service, Bishop Mdimi Mhogolo of the Dodoma-based Diocese of Central Tanganyika, in a January 26 Epiphany letter, questioned the legitimacy of singling out the Episcopal Church on matters of human sexuality when the issues permeated ‘all of our development and mission partners – churches, missionary agencies, governments and secular organizations.’ His letter was in part a response to the Tanzanian bishops’ December statement that had declared the province in a state of ‘impaired’ communion with the Episcopal Church – and had asserted that there had been a ‘failure to register honest repentance for their actions that were contrary to the dictates of Holy Scripture.’
Bishop Mhogolo wrote that not all Tanzanian bishops were of one mind. ‘The way we do God’s work is to strategise our mission and then look for resources for the mission,’ he said. ‘The recruitment of people, both within and outside the country, becomes part of our efforts in realising God’s mission…. We then ask ourselves, why should we single out the Episcopal Church and treat it differently?… We know that a substantial amount of money and funding that governments, churches, and missionary societies receive comes from gay and lesbian people.” He noted that in the Tanzanian cultural context “gay and lesbians are regarded as criminals punishable by long-term imprisonment…. We live in a country where gay and lesbians are violently persecuted, mistreated, hated and ostracized…. We as Black Africans know the hurts and permanent damage caused by our past experiences which still linger on to the present,” he said. “We have gone through all that and we know how it hurts… and we don’t want to go that way again.”
The Bishop said that it was with a clear conscience that his diocese continued to accept money from its liberal counterparts in New York. With individual donations of $50 a year, hundreds of Americans provided shoes, clothes, food and exercise books so that AIDS orphans in the Tanzanian diocese might attend primary school. “If a gay person wants to help an HIV orphan to go to school and you say: `No, I’m not going to receive that money, you are rejecting the person and you are rejecting an answer for the HIV person” he said. The Bishop said he opposed last year’s statement by his church because it did not reflect the realities of life in Tanzania where most of the population eked out a living on less than a $1 a day.
However, the Bishop sidestepped the issue of gay clergy. “Let the judgment be done by God, not by me” he said.
When Easter came the Bishop was reported to have been barred from conducting mass at the Cathedral in Dodoma. Three parishes in the Central Diocese had announced a total rejection of benediction, baptism and confirmation of their children by Bishop Mhogolo.
Although, according to the Guardian, the bishop actually stayed away from the cathedral on advice from the police on the eve of Good Friday, he maintained that his absence was in compliance with his work schedule, although acknowledging continued tension around the diocese. The bishop nevertheless admitted the existence of friction between him and some worshippers whom he alleged are supporters of his rival. “I know who is behind all this (his rejection)”, said the bishop. He added that a former high ranking church leader in the diocese he had accused of embezzling funds set aside for renovation of the house of the bishop, had instigated his downfall. “He goes around tarnishing my image but I am not worried as long as I stand for the truth” he said.
“It is not true that I support homosexuality”, the bishop complained. He said his comments on homosexuality implied that the church should not consider it as the greatest sin compared to robbery, corruption, adultery and others. Bishop Mhogolo reiterated that homosexuality has never been a problem to the church in Africa. There are so many other problems ranging from poverty, ignorance and diseases that the church in Africa could address instead of importing the issue of homosexuality which is a problem of the American church, he said.
Three days into their Dar meeting the bishops went to Zanzibar. President Karume in Zanzibar joined them for special prayers for unity and remembrance of the abolition of the slave trade. “I wish to make a special mention of the earlier church missionaries who contributed to the abolition of slavery in Zanzibar and East Africa and their establishment of care centres for freed slaves,” Karume said.
Back in Dar es Salaam the Archbishop of Canterbury had reminded his bishops of the need for humility in a veiled rebuke to those whose wrangling over gay clergy threatened to tear the church apart. “Very early in the history of the church there was a great saint who said God was evident when bishops were silent…. There is one thing a bishop should say to another bishop … that I’m a great sinner and Christ is a great saviour.”
However, the Global South primates decided not to celebrate the Eucharist with the Presiding American Bishop, as they continued to stand behind their September declaration that they would “not be able to recognize Katharine Jefferts Schori as a Primate at the table with us.” The “table” he noted, was the language used for an altar as found in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.
Australian Archbishop Aspinall was quoted as saying that the bishops had “frankly and passionately” discussed the state of the Episcopal Church. The views raised by the four American bishops ranged from pain and confusion on the part of those who did not share the majority position to criticism of “unwanted and uninvited” interventions by Global South primates in the United States.
However, “whatever happens, we still will be friends,” Archbishop John Chew of South East Asia said.
At the end of the meeting, according to the Guardian, with the main problem not resolved, the bishops issued an ultimatum under which the liberal bishops would be given seven months to prove that they had fully reversed their pro-homosexual agenda or face expulsion from the Anglican Church. The London Times reported that the Church then took another step towards its apparently inevitable schism. The US Episcopal bishops were reported to have rejected the ultimatum.