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UGANDA: The Wind of Change: All Africa Bishops Conference

UGANDA: The Wind of Change: All Africa Bishops Conference

by Charles Raven
August 25, 2010

In February 1960, British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan delivered his historic 'wind of change' speech in Cape Town, heralding the end of Great Britain's colonial presence in Africa. Fifty years on, there is a spiritual 'wind of change' blowing in Africa which promises to end the predominance of London based institutions in the leadership of the Anglican Communion and the current All Africa Bishops Conference in Entebbe convened by CAPA (the Council of the Anglican Provinces of Africa) provides the clearest evidence yet of this change in the spiritual weather.

It must have seemed to Lambeth strategists that the Archbishop of Canterbury's presence at this high profile African conference with an agenda dominated by uncontroversial humanitarian issues would be a golden opportunity to portray the Anglican Communion as back to 'business as usual' after Rowan Williams' decision to invite the consecrators of Gene Robinson to the 2008 Lambeth Conference led to the principled absence of some 230 mainly African bishops.

If so, they badly misjudged the mind of the conference. After the first day, the public relations dream is threatening to turn into a nightmare and Dr Williams may well by now be wishing that he had stuck to being a merely virtual presence by video as at April's South to South Encounter in Singapore. Press reports coming out of Uganda will make grim reading in London; Dr Williams is described as 'the centre of attraction for the media at the conference' because of his 'open support' for homosexuality and Uganda's Prime Minister bracketed the practice together with terrorism and corruption.

And it is not only the Archbishop's views which are being challenged; as Christianity's centre of gravity shifts to the Global South his historic claim to leadership of the Communion is no longer being taken for granted. For instance, the chairman of the Council of the Anglican Provinces of Africa, Archbishop Ian Ernest, said 'Christianity did not begin in Britain; we should counteract false ideologies that creep into the church and blur the truth' while Uganda Archbishop Henry Orombi spoke of the need to re-evangelise England, describing the Church of England as 'an ailing church in need of guidance'.

However, the leader of this 'ailing church' has not shrunk from offering guidance to the African Bishops. In his sermon at the opening Eucharist, Dr Williams recognised that we may well be in the 'African century of the Christian Church' , but his advice to the assembled bishops showed that he is unwilling to embrace all that entails.

Reflecting on Jesus as the Good Shepherd (John 10), he notes that the sheep follow Christ because they recognise his voice, which he takes to mean 'addressing what is most real and alive in them' and goes on to warn about the temptation 'to ignore the deepest and sometimes the most difficult questions in people's hearts and minds', yet in an African context that is precisely what his sermon does by skirting round the 'most difficult' if not 'the deepest' issue of homosexuality.

Worse, on this particular subject it is impossible for this Archbishop of Canterbury, as a shepherd of the people of God, to speak to 'hearts and minds' because he has taken it upon himself to split off his personal views on homosexuality from the teaching he upholds by virtue of his office. Since one can only speak to hearts and minds from the heart and mind this entails that Rowan Williams can only speak on this subject in the way he thinks a bishop should when he is not speaking as a bishop.

The other main lesson he draws from the example of the Good Shepherd is that of not abandoning the flock when danger threatens, as does the hired hand. 'We cannot', he says, 'refuse to take risks alongside our people and to take risks for them - to put ourselves and our comfort at risk for the sake of the community's life'. I wonder what Archbishop Robert Duncan, seated for the service with other Archbishops, made of those words? The Province he leads has come into being as a direct result intervention led by Africa after Rowan Williams' failure to offer any meaningful protection to the churches now under his oversight, many of which have suffered the litigious depredations of the 'wolves' within TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada

In fairness to Dr Williams he does acknowledge that 'we are all –myself included - painfully aware of how often we try and step aside from the risks our responsibilities bring', but if this is truly the case, an encouraging sign of true repentance would be to take steps to recognise the ACNA forthwith.

But whatever might now be done, it seems very difficult to imagine that the formal structures of the Anglican communion can be sustained for much longer. Speaking in Canada last year Archbishop Duncan : said

'In the year 2000 the Archbishop of Canterbury was the second most important Christian leader in the world. In a short space of time that office has utterly been diminished. It shows that the British model of Anglicanism has failed. The new Canterbury will be in Africa' The confidence being displayed by the leadership of CAPA in this conference, not least in receiving Robert Duncan as an Anglican Archbishop, is a clear sign of that Anglican future.


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