NAIROBI: Gay issue rips Anglican Church down the middle
By Lillian Aluanga
NAIROBI, Kenya (12/25/2005)--As the year draws to a close the subject of homosexuality continues to be a thorny issue for the Anglican Church.
Never in the history of the 450-year-old church has it witnessed such turbulence as that triggered by the controversial 2003 election of a gay priest in the US as Bishop of New Hampshire, a move that has alienated the church in the west from its African, Asian and Latin America counterparts who are opposed to same sex unions.
The Anglican church leader and Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has his work cut out for him in the new year as he struggles to hold together the 70 million strong Anglican Communion, the third largest family of Christians in the world after the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox. The Anglican Communion is a worldwide organisation of Anglican churches. Although each church has its own legislative process and overall Episcopal leadership headed by a local primate, the Church of England is still regarded as the 'Mother church'.
During his visit to the country in July, Williams evaded the controversial debate and instead concentrated on the role of the church in addressing conflicts in the Great Lakes region.
Kenya's Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi and Nigeria's Archbishop Peter Akinola have openly castigated their western counterparts for their support of gay ordinations and have led the continent's rejection of "western liberalisation which has brought satanic practices into the church".
Reacting to Gene Robinson's ordination Nzimbi said, "The devil has entered the church. God cannot be mocked. Consecrating a confessed homosexual as bishop is an insult to God and to the church". Since then divisions in the church have deepened, even as Canadian Anglicans began blessing same sex marriages, while Britain gave a nod to clergy allowing them to enter civil unions. This has angered 'conservatives' in the church who argue that these practices contravene the teaching of the Bible.
Williams, at a meeting in London last month of the church's governing synod, called for reconciliation among factions, an appeal which appears to have been rebuffed by almost half of the world's Anglican archbishops.
The latter, in a strongly worded letter to Williams, attacked his leadership and demanded that he take action over "unrepented sexual immorality in the church".
Headed by Nigeria's Archbishop Peter Akinola, 17 of the church's 38 archbishops told Williams to crack the whip on "errant clergy".
The letter read in part: "We wonder whether your personal dissent from this consensus prevents you from taking the necessary steps to confront those churches that have embraced teachings contrary to the overwhelming testimony of the Anglican communion."
Williams has served as the Archbishop of Canterbury since 2002. Even though he is the religious head of the Church of England he has no formal authority outside the country but is recognised as the symbolic head for the worldwide Communion.
However, not all churches in the West support the ordination of gay clergy. In October, the Anglican Church in Australia's main city of Sydney, voted to reconsider its links with the Church of England, backing concerns raised by Nigeria over the ordination of gay clergy and same sex unions.
An Episcopal congregation in Virginia left the US church to affiliate with an Anglican diocese in Uganda, joining a list of more than 10 Episcopal congregations which have switched jurisdiction to that of the Anglican province of Uganda.
The African church, with its 12 provinces and more than 40 million members, has come out strongly in its refusal to have anything to do with dioceses which support gay unions.
In September, the Church of Nigeria synod revoked its links with the See of Canterbury, setting the stage for a potential split in the Anglican Communion.
Earlier this month, the Anglican Church in Malawi, with close to two million followers, rejected the appointment of a liberal British vicar as one of the country's three bishops because of his support for gay rights.
The Kenyan province, with over three million followers, has stopped receiving any form of funding from its Western counterparts who embrace gay unions.
To further register their disgust, the ACK has suspended sending their clergy to train in churches allied to gay ordinations.
Nzimbi, at a consultative meeting ahead of 2008 Lambeth Conference in Northern Ireland, made it clear that the church in Kenya would not compromise its stand on same sex unions.
"We don't want their money if that is what it will take to remind them of the role of the Church to preach the Great Commission. What kind of gospel are they preaching now saying that there should be union of people of the same sex?"
The Lambeth conference is held after every 10 years to review the church's doctrines and make development plans.
The subject of gay clergy within the Anglican Communion is likely to dominate debate during the meeting. In Africa only Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa appears to view the matter of homosexuality in the church from different lenses. An individual's sexual orientation, he opines, should not be used as a yardstick to measure one's relationship with God.
The Anglican Communion traces its origins to the 16th century when it became a separate movement in 1534 after England's King Henry VIII broke away from Rome.
Kenya's first Anglican missionary was Dr Ludwig Krapf who arrived in 1884 in Mombasa.
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