UGANDA: CAPA Bishops Conference: From My Ear to Yours (2)
By David W. Virtue in Entebbe
August 26, 2010
The CAPA primates met with Rowan Williams in a closed-door session Tuesday night. It went on for many hours, but Williams got the message loud and clear - there will be no compromise on homosexual practice. None. When I tried squeezing an African Primate, not so much about the content of the meeting, but about the dynamics of the meeting and how Rowan responded, he simply said this, "When all was said and done, he was being Rowan."
WORSHIP. There is nothing quite like hearing more than 400 strong African voices raised in glorious harmony singing the great hymns of the church. Hymns stretch across the ages, cultures and time. No praise choruses here, just the grand hymns of the faith that have sustained Anglicans both Evangelical and Anglo-Catholic for generations. Tears came to my eyes as we sang one of my favorite hymns, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross by Isaac Watts (1674-1748), often referred to as the "Father of English Hymnody". One wonders if I will ever hear it sung again like this in my lifetime.
Here is the breakdown by numbers of the bishops who are here: 40 from Kenya, 8 from Indian Ocean, 180 from Nigeria, (the largest), 7 from Burundi, 12 from Central Africa, 8 from Congo, 3 from Egypt, 12 from Rwanda, 10 from South Africa, 39 from the Sudan, 23 from Tanzania, 35 from Uganda and 17 bishops from West Africa = 396 bishops. There are 30 plus additional people from aid agencies and a small number of media.
During a coffee break today, I met with a dozen Sudanese bishops all of whom read VOL. I was thrilled to meet them. They seemed very appreciative of VOL's ministry informing them about what is going on in the Anglican Communion. "We don't trust any other sources," they told me. When I think of the nasty, noisy American conservative Episcopal blogs that I live with like bad canker sores, it was a joy to sit down and talk with bishops from Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria and Rwanda who say VOL is their sole source of trustworthy news. An honor indeed.
Social issues are featured high on the agenda. The environment, poverty, HIV/ADIS and diseases of one sort or another are being addressed. However, one wonders if some of the speakers, many of whom are bureaucrats who struggle with resources, are adopting UN language to get UN dollars. Every Anglican province has an HIV office as well as development offices with huge staffs.
One of the criticisms of Episcopal Church bishops like John Chane of Washington and Tom Shaw of Massachusetts is that Africa is more concerned with homosexuality than the pressing issues of Africa. It is a lie, of course. It is the North American churches that are obsessed with homosexual behavior, not the Africans. Africans have no interest in the subject at all. They are being forced to address it precisely because it is being thrust upon them by the West's Culture Wars.
This conference is not shying away from addressing the subject, but this conference has dispelled forever the African church's alleged lack of interest on social issues that are tearing people apart including war and disease. Whole lectures have been devoted to HIV/AIDS, the environment, poverty, disease, war and the need for clean water and what local churches should be doing about it. One African bishop says he hopes to plant one million trees before he dies. (Has US Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori planted a single tree?) The Africans have the resources. What they need is help to mobilize and strategize them.
The problems are immense and the need is great. Many African nations have had a series of corrupt political leaders, which has made change difficult. Uganda is a case in point. The country has gone from Idi Amin to a solid Christian Anglican president today. Things can change. The church even has a provident fund for retiring clergy. No, it is not in the same league as the Church Pension Fund, but the African Anglican world is growing and changing. Constant whining about Western pansexuality will not hold them back. The evidence is in. The total Average Sunday Attendance (ASA) for the whole of North America wouldn't be one decent sized Nigerian diocese. So the question is: who should be listening to whom?
The deeper truth is that the axis of Anglicanism has moved from the Global North to the Global South. African Anglicans no longer need to go through Canterbury (if they ever did) to get to Jesus. In reality, Canterbury and Lambeth are historical relics and tourist attractions along with St. Paul's and Westminster Abbey. There is very little if any gospel being proclaimed there, hence the churches are empty. (The church hugging the walls of Lambeth Palace now sells plants and offers advice on herbal cures).
African churches are packed to capacity and overflowing. Evangelists vie for new converts often on opposing street corners. Anybody caught preaching on a street corner in England could get nailed for being either homophobic or Islamophobic.
By contrast, Africa will have 633 million practicing Anglicans by 2025. By then, the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada will cease to exist or be little more than a reverse Plunket Society for geriatric priests in need of colostomy bags held up by vague Unitarian beliefs.
There is enormous spiritual dynamism here. The Holy Spirit's presence is palpable.
Anglican leaders are facing challenges of marriage and divorce and occasional bad leaders. They address them all in the framework of the gospel. Charles Bennison, V. Gene Robinson, Mary Glasspool et al would not even be priests here, let alone bishops. These African leaders say these people need converting to Christ first. African bishops are horrified when they hear and read all about what is going on in North America. They shake their heads, put their arms around me and say, "We are praying from you and the Episcopal Church." Many of them openly weep at what is happening in North America and England. They can't find words to express what they see going on in the churches in Europe and North America. And they wonder aloud why it is that these nations that brought them the gospel, now has "another gospel" they do not recognize.
The Rev. Canon Grace Kaiso, General Secretary of the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa, made a pro gay comment to "New Vision" newspaper that has gotten him into trouble with the Primates here.
Asked whether homosexuality that has split the Western church from their African counterparts was on the agenda, Kaiso said the church was finding ways of advocating for change in the mindsets of those who purport to be homosexuals.
It is not God's will, Kaiso added, that people should live a hopeless life. "Change is possible in Africa but how can we achieve it? Our leaders use our money badly and fail to build hospitals, wells and roads. But since the church is everywhere, even where governments don't reach, we can use that strength to mobilize people."
Infuriated that he is sending mixed signals over homosexual behavior, Kaiso is being taken to task.
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