by Mindy Belz
Editor's note: With signs abounding that the Episcopalian Church in the U.S. is splintering over the official attitude of welcoming practicing homosexuals as church leaders, World editor Mindy Belz checks out the "African connection" to which dissident congregations are turning for oversight.
Radical Episcopalian church leaders in the United States, like Bishop John Chane of Washington, D.C., accuse Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola and others of trying to walk away with the denomination. Akinola says it is the Episcopal Church "which has chosen to walk apart." Embracing open homosexual practice among clergy "negates our understanding of Scripture as historically understood by the church. It is a departure from all that we stand for," he told World.
Radical church leaders also seek to frame the debate in cultural terms. They charge that Akinola opposes homosexuality because that is culturally safe in his mostly Muslim Nigeria. They blast him for supporting a gay-marriage ban currently under debate in Nigeria. "We are only asking that we be allowed to do this in our own context, which is admittedly different to that of most of the World," said Robinson.
Ugandian Archbishop, Henry Orombi says homosexuality is "nothing new" in Africa. The Ugandan church has a century of martyrdom behind it, and the first Anglican martyrs in 1886 were burned to death in large part because they refused the homosexual advances of the king. And "we don't spare the polygamists," Orombi said, noting that he himself is from a polygamist family. "I understand what it is to live within a polygamist marriage, and I'm not going to condone it because I know it is not within God's will."
Sexual practices that depart from Scripture, Orombi said, "are not a boxed-up thing for the Western World. It's a human failure to understand God's primary design and His calling on us . Do you think the prostitutes are so happy because they are there where they are? This is the injustice of humanity. We tell them it is sin. We don't want to call it anything else. The problem in America and the Western World is they don't want to call it sin. They want to give it another name. We don't want this."
Both Akinola and Orombi say the debate over sexual morality is an outgrowth of a larger and long-standing issue. "What God says is evil, they say is righteousness. Where we see Scripture, they see the dictates of modern culture coming first," said Akinola.
Orombi said the debate about sexuality has become "more an intellectual exercise, when what is at stake is the teaching of the Word of God." Decades of liberal interpretation of biblical texts and church doctrine, he said, have "separated the Scriptures from the power of God's hands" in ways detrimental to American church life.
"It is difficult to be proud and to be confident to proclaim the truth of what the Scripture is. I think lack of confidence about the Word of God in America comes from an interpretation where the Bible is not the ultimate truth," he said.
The Anglican crisis has arisen alongside a megashift in church demographics. Already more than half of the World's Christian population resides in the global south, and at current rates of change four out of five Christians by 2050 will live outside the traditionally Christian West. And where the church is growing fastest, it is speaking with an increasingly conservative and orthodox voice-startling a Western church bathed in Enlightenment sophistry and deconstructed Bible texts.
Global south churches, according to retired archbishop of Southeast Asia Datuk Yong Ping Chung, "emerge out of missionary efforts built on the uniqueness of Christ and the authority of the Bible. Some live in very, very difficult lands and are challenged all the time. This gives personal conviction and a foundation on which to believe. English, Canadians, and Americans are very well off and many of their churches have huge inheritances-they can afford not to win souls."
Standing for biblical authority has not been without cost, including financial. Orombi told World his province turned down $400,000 a year when it declared impaired communion with the Episcopal Church. Episcopal headquarters at that point offered to triple its giving but Orombi refused. "Do they think this church runs on money? And if it did run on money, would American money solve our poverty in this country?" Orombi says conservative churches in the United States have made up some of the difference.
Asked how much it cost the Nigerian church, Akinola is quick to answer: "As far as I am concerned, nothing. The church that we inherited was a church that was vastly dependent on Western aid and what we now call handouts. As a result, the church was not able to determine what was available for local resources. No more."
Martyn Minns, rector at Virginia's Truro Church, is at the center of the tilting power structures. In August he became missionary bishop of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, established by the church of Nigeria to provide oversight sought by Truro and other churches. Minns has known Akinola since seminary days. "In a real sense we are learning what it means to be a global community, learning from folks we've been thinking need our church. What God is doing is getting our attention and moving us out of our narrow parochialism and cultural ghetto."
Mindy Belz is the editor of WORLD magazine
Used by permission. © 2006 WORLD magazine, all rights reserved.