If there were any doubt about the importance of one subject at the Lambeth Conference held in July/August and attended by 650 Anglican bishops from around the world, this was allayed by a glance at the Church of England Newspaper of July 25 while the conference was going on. There were no less than seven articles touching on homosexuality under such headings as ‘Call for gay bishop to resign rocks Lambeth,’ ‘Lambeth legitimacy called into question,’ ‘Tribunal over police action on gay policy,’ ‘a legacy from Newman to Lambeth,’ ‘Tense times behind the scenes…’ Those against ordination of gay priests were quoted as saying that in some places (particularly in Asia and Africa) the church was being ridiculed as ‘the gay church’ and that membership was suffering. Homosexuality was said to be seen by some as a new form of colonialisation which could lead to sexual licence.
As I entered the room where the Britain-Tanzania Society was entertaining to lunch a dozen Tanzanian bishops attending the conference, I was immediately approached by Bishop Godfrey Mdimi Mhogolo of the Diocese of Central Tanzania. He wanted to speak to me about errors in the article ‘Avoiding Schism in the Haven of Peace’ in Tanzanian Affairs No. 87. I was equally keen to meet him, as the article had given the impression that he was probably not as hostile to homosexuality in the church as many of his fellow Tanzanian bishops and I wanted to find out where he was on this controversial issue.
The article had said that Bishop Mhogolo had been barred from conducting mass in the cathedral in Dodoma because of some of his views on homosexuality but, he said that, in fact, the friction in his church had been fomented by a former leader of the church whom the Bishop had charged with embezzlement. This had created antagonism, but the person concerned had subsequently been found guilty and was deposed after three years of court proceedings from the Diocese to the House of Bishops.
Bishop Mhogolo did not go along with the claim by some African heads of state that homosexuality did not exist in their countries. He said that homosexuality was a big concern in Tanzania because it was found in prisons and boarding schools and it was even possible to find boy prostitutes on certain streets in Dar es Salaam. He was very concerned about the spread of HIV/AIDS in the country and talked about all the other challenges (beyond homosexuality) which Tanzania faced. He pointed out that, of the two weeks in Canterbury, only two days were being given by the bishops for discussions on the homosexuality issue. There were many other concerns that the Bishops deliberated on to better equip them for mission and ministry. He went on to say however that the homosexual issue deserved much more debate than it had had during the last thirty years in Tanzania compared with the wide ranging discussions that had taken place in America.
He then brought in a new angle by saying that the issue should be treated like polygamy.
I asked if the Bishop thought that in 20 years time in Tanzania homosexuals would still not be able to take up positions in church leadership. He said that it was unlikely that there would be a change. In any case, nothing could be done at present to change the situation as homosexuality was illegal in Tanzania.
I then met Bishop Charles Kija of Shinyanga and asked him whether he was a traditionalist on the homosexual issue or a liberal. His response was immediate and effective. He said “I came here” meaning that, unlike a number of Ugandan and Nigerian bishops, who were boycotting the conference largely on the homosexual issue, he was prepared to talk about it. “This boycott does not help to solve the problem. It is better to talk” the Bishop said. He went on to say that homosexuality was not biblical and was not good and was something that was learnt.
I referred to the question of polygamy and he said that in Nassa, in the Lake region, polygamists had set up their own denomination (Batolamhali in Kisukuma) as long ago as 1952. The Bishop felt that homosexuals should set up their own church.
Discussion about homosexuality in the Anglican Church seems likely to continue as the British media retains its intense interest in the subject. On August 4th the Guardian’s front page headline read ‘Archbishop blames liberals for church rift – consecration of gay clergy must stop to end Anglican crisis says Williams’. The Archbishop was said to have blamed liberal North American churches for causing turmoil in the Anglican Communion by blessing same-sex unions and consecrating gay clergy as he attempted to chart a way out of the crisis. “If North American churches do not accept the need for moratoria on same-sex blessings and the consecration of gay clergy we are no further forward. We continue to be in grave peril” the Archbishop was quoted as saying.
Three days later the main front page article in the Times was headed: ‘Archbishop believes gay sex is as good as marriage – Williams’s letter supports “loving relationships.”’ Extracts: ‘The Archbishop believes that gay partnerships pose the same ethical questions as those between men and women. In a letter written eight years ago he had said that scriptural prohibitions were addressed to heterosexuals looking for sexual variety. “An active sexual relationship between two people of the same sex might therefore reflect the love of God in a way comparable to marriage if, and only if, it had about it the same character of absolute covenanted faithfulness”. He added however that as a church leader he had to take account of the traditionalist view.
In its final coverage of the conference the Times wrote: ‘The Archbishop of Canterbury raised hopes that he could hold the Anglican Communion together as the Lambeth Conference ended without schisms or open rebellion. He told Anglican bishops that the ‘pieces are on the board’ to resolve the wrangling over homosexuality. He advocated the concept of a global church of interdependent communities but conceded that there was much work to be done before Anglican difficulties over gays were over’ – Editor.