Anglicans & Africa (Updated)

My sole personal experience of African Anglicanism came in the person of one of my preaching students. He was already a priest in the Nigerian church, in the US to improve his theological training. Passionate, intelligent, he was an amazing preacher; my class learned a great deal from hearing and responding to his sermons. His best sermon–I forget the text–was on the connection between the call of the Gospel and the rule of law. This took most of the class by surprise. Whenever Gospel and law are connected in American preaching it tends to be about legalism or attempts of one political part or the other to make a selective reading of a text. Not in this case. He wasn’t pushing a party agenda–he was pleading for law. He explained a bit about the African context at the conclusion of the sermon. We in the US take the rule of law for granted. He couldn’t. Not where he was from. Pleading for the rule of law was essential for him because it was so often denied in the political culture he was from.

(And yes, for the record, he also shocked them when one student asked him his views on homosexuality and he expressed his utter disgust…)

It’s this reality of life on the ground in Africa that so often we miss in our electronic debates–and it has truly profound implications on what we do. For instance, As the center of gravity in the Anglican Communion shifts southward, how aware are we making ourselves of what is going on in Africa? How many of the self-styled “orthodox” know what the major political and social issues are in Africa–and how their ecclesial allies are coming down on them?

This has now come to a head.

The crisis in Zimbabwe is reaching a breaking point with President Mugabe attempting to extend his corrupt rule yet again. There’s a story here about the brutal suppression of non-violent protests. I kept reading about “bishops” speaking out against Mugabe and his regime–and I kept hoping they were Anglican. I was wrong. No, as CNN reports here, it was an Easter message from Roman Catholic bishops across the country.

What is the response of the Anglican bishops? Dr. Chilton writes about it here at the Episcopal Cafe. This is what conservative Anglicans are pinning their hopes to. Does this look like the Gospel?

(n.b.: Don’t mistake this for a whole-hearted embrace of Mugabe’s opposition either–I don’t know their politics nearly as well as I’d like. I’m equally guilty of not knowing African current events as well as I should. It should be obvious, though, that Mugabe’s oppression which has been censured by not only Western human rights groups but also other African groups and governments is beyond the pale.)

UPDATE: I am more than happy to report that Stand Firm has called attention to this matter. I applaud Greg Griffiths for calling this to the general attention and condemning the Mugabe regime. There are some who dispute the level of the letter’s support for that government but the important thing is that the issue is being aired.

13 thoughts on “Anglicans & Africa (Updated)

  1. bls

    It’s true that contexts are very different, and that we really have to make an effort to educate ourselves about what’s going on in the rest of the world.

    Americans are very, very insular these days. It’s really a travesty – but of course our news media feeds us a steady diet of pap, and we have to read other sources to get any sort of information. (Unfortunately, many of those sources exhibit quite a bit anti-American bias! So it’s something of a nasty circle.)

    I like your point about Law, though; we take a lot for granted here.

  2. Derek the Ænglican

    I’ve always said that the recent contested presidential elections were the greatest sign of the success of the American system. No breakdown in law & order, no tanks in the streets, no clashes between opposing supporters… We don’t realize how good we’ve got it.

  3. Caelius Spinator

    This came to a head some time ago, when the AMiA arose in the wake of the Rwandan genocide. The only difference here is that the Roman Catholic Church is clearly providing a godly counter-witness.

  4. bls

    I agree, D. And what that actually shows is that our system is now a ingrained habit of life for us.

    Nobody even considered doing any of those things, in fact. But getting to that place took 200 years – and it’s not guaranteed that the chaos and tanks won’t happen, either.

  5. Derek the Ænglican

    Very true, bls…

    That’s some chilling reading, Caelius. I wonder how well known these deeds are among our “orthodox” brethren.

  6. *Christopher

    Zimbabwe has been a concern for some time and Anglican bishops there have unfortunately been implicated in this mess also for some time, and I was deeply troubled by Cantuar’s seeming “pass” on the situation when he visited not too long ago. Sadly, the situation in implication of bishops, not necessarily similarity, reminds of Rwanda. I’m relieved to see some Christians speaking up no matter their tradition.

    I hope above all else we can be more discerning to recognize that Africa is quite a lot of different peoples and customs with a variety of stabilities/instabilities, issues and concerns. (It’s strange how in multicultural talk in the Bay Area, people do this with Europe–as if Germans are French, but would never do this with Latin America or Africa.) Nigeria is not say Tanzania, nor is Nigeria singluar (something much recent discourse tends to do under the assumption that bishops there represent all Nigerians) and each has problems and issues that are not necessarily the same. That’s why I’ve tended to avoid GS/GN language. Some places in Africa, like Botswana have quite stable governments and relatively decent economies, others are what we might term “failed states” without importing either the Bush judgment in such matters or solutions.

    Unfortunately, one of our biggest problems here in the US is how little news is available in the mainstream. I check out German and British news as sources that provide a little more about places other than ourselves, but it’s not enough.

    And we do take our rule of law for granted, though these days with discourse polarized and a seeming failure of checks and balances, I’m watching a lot more closely.

  7. obadiahslope

    I am not sure if caelius is drawing a link between AMiA and bisops involved in genocide or not.The Rwandan genocide took place in 1994. AMiA was founded in 2000. What happened in the meantime is a fair question.
    The Province of the Episcopal church of Rwanda describes its own history in this way.”The Episcopal Church of Rwanda has become a pillar of hope and reconciliation to the millions of Rwandans who were affected by the 1994 genocide. The genocide that left the Church in shambles took it almost five years to recover from the wounds of war and genocide. Presently, the Church has made good path for unity and reconciliation among the Rwandans. Evangelization has opened gates for spiritual healing and social development. As it is prescribed in the book of Luke 9:6, the Disciples left and traveled through all the villages preaching the good news and healing people.
    However, the spiritual healing prompted the youth to form reconciliatory clubs aimed at imparting messages of love, faith, and unity to the Rwandans”
    It is a resurrected church.
    Here is how Lord Carey told the story: ‘In the mid 1990s the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury was confronted with an unparalleled crisis after the genocide in Rwanda. I was among the first western leaders on the scene after the conflict, which resulted in a conservative death toll of some 800,000 victims, with many more dying as a consequence of injuries and the rape of thousands of women, leaving them suffering from HIV/AIDS. Four Anglican bishops, including the Archbishop, were in exile after the conflict – alleged to be complicit in the genocide. The remaining Church leaders appealed to me to help them get the Church back on its feet.
    I visited this demoralized and disgraced church – certainly not alone in its failure to lead, because all mainstream churches in Rwanda were involved in that shameful episode. I recall the difficult decisions I had to make, with the support of canon lawyers, in deciding what right I had to intervene in matters that concerned a separate Province. The crisis led to new developments in the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury which were set in law at a later Anglican Consultative Council at Panama. I recall a painful meeting with Archbishop Augustin, Archbishop of Rwanda in the VIP lounge at Nairobi airport where I had to plead with Augustin to surrender his office. He had fled the country immediately the rebel forces under Paul Kagemi had entered Rwanda, and now the Anglican Province of Rwanda was leaderless. My advice to him was direct, yet I trust sympathetic. ‘Augustin, you must return to your people and lead them’.
    ‘But they will kill me’ he said, with tears in his eyes. ‘Augustin’, I repeated, ‘A shepherd is only defined by the office he has of leading the sheep. Your people need you and if you will not return they are without a focal point. Return if you are a true shepherd, surrender your office if you are afraid’. We talked for what seemed like hours. He clung to an office that he had let down by clinging too closely to political power. It took another six weeks of pleading and pressure by myself and others before the reluctant Archbishop surrendered his office, so allowing the healing to begin in a broken and penitent church. That the Rwandan church today is now stronger and growing is largely because of the faithful leadership of bishops, clergy and laypeople who kept the faith through that bitter and terrible episode.
    In short, it became apparent that a role for the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primates and the Anglican Consultative Council was being forged for states of emergency like these. The nature of our Communion, with its semi-autonomous structure of decision making, means that states of emergency in many countries ( and Zimbabwe, is a recent example) will require close consultation and personal ministry not always fully supported by legal structures at the time. Fast footwork and close collaboration will always be needed.”
    The bishops (which included catholics) who fled were captured and put on trial. Here is a news report of one of those trials:

  8. Caelius Spinator

    obadiahslope, I know very well that the present leadership of the Church of Rwanda, especially those involved in the AMiA (whose origin is actually c. 1997), were out of the country during the genocide (and of course not involved). My point was that this broken and repentant church was within three to six years reveling in its righteousness. On one hand, their promotional material was condemning the Episcopal Church, but you could read about the trials of their former bishops in the New York Times. Their penitence really didn’t come through.

  9. obadiahslope

    Do I think that those who are critical of (for example) the diocese of Sydney of which I am part revel in their own righteousness, when they are critical of us? No. One can disagree with someone without beliving that one is supremely righteous. Or revelling.
    I would not look in the New York times for evidence of the penitence of africans. Or in the Cape Argus for penitence of Americans. it is a very odd place to look. Penitence does not travel very well through the media – and I work in it.

  10. Caelius Spinator

    A church in communion with us declared our vineyard their mission territory. That’s not mere disagreement. They were claiming we had shipwrecked in the faith.

  11. obadiahslope

    It is a very serious disagreement or dispute to be sure. And it is not helped by posts like number 3 above. Surely this is a time to speak calmly however strong our feelings are. You are normally a responsible commentator: in my view you have not held to your normal standard in this thread.

  12. Caelius Spinator

    You’re right. I apologize. The implications of #3 were overboard and frankly became worse as the thread ran on.

    So I actually read the Pastoral Letter on Stand Firm. When and why did the U.S. Government promise to pay compensation to the white farmers? I was under the impression they were British colonists or their descendants.

  13. obadiahslope

    Thankyou. And let me add my tiny voice to protest the Zimbabwean situation. Even the conservative government of my country, Australia, is urging protest, the cessation of cricket tours and the like.

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