Elusive Communion

By Battle, Michael | The Christian Century, September 4, 2007 | Go to article overview

Elusive Communion


Battle, Michael, The Christian Century


THE CONFLICT in the Anglican Communion over homosexuality is usually represented as a split between the U.S., British and Canadian churches on the one hand and the rest of the Anglican world on the other. Often cited is the 2004 statement issued at a meeting in Nigeria by the Anglican Primates of the Global South, representing 18 Anglican provinces. The primates declared their "unequivocal opposition to the unilateral decision" by the Episcopal Church in the U.S. to consecrate as a bishop a man living in a same-sex partnership. "This deliberate disobedience of the revealed will of God in the Holy Scriptures is a flagrant departure from the consensual and clearly communicated mind and will of the Anglican Communion," declared the primates.

Given that more than half of all Anglicans live in the global South (there are more Anglicans in Kenya--3 million-than there are Episcopalians in the United States--2.2 million), the rift in the Anglican world seems dear.

But it is a mistake to treat Africans as unanimous on this issue. There is considerable difference between Anglicans in central Africa and those in southern Africa, a difference that can be traced in part to the traits of the original Anglican evangelizers. Countries like Nigeria and Uganda were evangelized by the theologically conservative Church Missionary Society, while southern Africa was evangelized by the high-church, theologically liberal United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel.

That helps explain why Desmond Tutu, for example, is an outspoken advocate of including gays and lesbians fully in the church. Tutu is also shaped by his response to apartheid in his country, which made him vow never to make moral scapegoats or single out any human identity as inferior.

Taking a similar position is Barney Pityana, a candidate to be the next archbishop of Cape Town. And Christopher Senyonjo, retired bishop of West Buganda, has defended the lesbian and gay organization in Uganda called Integrity-Uganda.

In May, 35 lesbian and gay leaders from West African Christian groups met in Lome, Togo. They came from Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Mall, Senegal and Togo; they were Anglican, Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, Presbyterian and Roman Catholic. …

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