The Living Church

Year Article Type Limit by Author

The Living ChurchOctober 17, 1999Let's Keep It Real by Benjamin B. Twinamaani219(16) p. 13-14

Ugandan bishops seem to be mentioned more often than others when it comes to the role of African bishops regarding the Lambeth Conference's resolution on sexuality.

Let no one be surprised or chagrined when in the near future African bishops insist on the excommunication of the Episcopal Church from the Anglican Communion on the issues of human sexuality.

For some reason I am yet to fathom, Ugandan bishops seem to be mentioned more often than others when it comes to the role of African bishops regarding the Lambeth Conference's resolution on sexuality. As a Ugandan priest serving in the Episcopal Church, I wish to enlighten the discussion with a few points:

The stand of the African bishops on sexuality was as much primed from their belief and understanding of scripture as it was from a cultural/world-view of human sexuality (this is not to give Bishop Spong's comments on African "superstition" any weight). In other words, if you had substituted the bishops at Lambeth for African political leaders, say, prime ministers or presidents, the result would have been the same, if not more stringent. If you had substituted African Moslem imams, the result would have been the same. If you had substituted African women feminist leaders, the result would have been the same.

It was not merely a vote from biblicist or conservative orthodoxy, but even more, in my opinion, a vote from a world-view/cultural understanding of human sexuality. The African bishops' stand also had an indirect "political" side, for if they had not made such a stand, none of them would have been able to face their sees, let alone stand and preach in their home churches. African Christians have definite ways of standing up to their bishops if the bishops are perceived to be in some error, notable examples being the closing of church doors to the bishops when they visit a parish, or even snatching away a bishop's crozier until he reforms.

The continuing and ongoing stand on sexuality by African bishops is founded on their understanding and experiences of sanctification. Most Episcopalians take baptism as the end all of requirements for inclusion in the body of Christ, but Africans see baptism as a mere entry point into the Christian family. The test of one's living membership is and remains sanctification, a word no one ever hears in the Episcopal church. In short, African bishops believe change is possible, nay, even demanded, by a living faith in Christ. One cannot claim "This is how I am and there is nothing anyone (God) can do about it." That sounds not only impossible and improbable, but incomprehensible to African ears, in light of their experience of the Christian journey, and its power to transform. The distinctive characteristic of a living Christian faith is a transformed life, marked by radical changed, that continue throughout one's life. This trait is so pervasive in African Christianity that one of the key ingredients in evangelism is the "personal testimony" in which the preacher calls people to witness their changes lives as proof of the validity of the gospel. One should expect any African bishop's stand on responsible sexual behavior to be stringent, because the African church lives with the impact of HIV-AIDS right in her face. Ironically, if African bishops knew the details and cultural ramifications of how straight sexuality among Episcopalians was played out, there would be another spin on the discussion. I can envisage African bishops declaring many expressions of heterosexual sex practiced in the U.S. to be incompatible with scripture, even more so than homosexuality!

Let no one be surprised or chagrined when in the near future African bishops insist on the excommunication of the Episcopal Church from the Anglican Communion on the issues of human sexuality, their close ties and linkages not withstanding. Standing for orthodoxy in clear, moral, Christian living is an ingrained trait in African Christianity that has even led some bishops to their deaths, and will not be compromised.

That brings us to the question of money. If one is to be honest, the overriding characteristic dynamic of the relationship between the Episcopal and the African Anglican churches may be perceived as financial. But that is not because Africans are easily bought by "sausage and cheese;" rather it is just that apart from money, the American church does not have much to offer the rest of the world in terms of gifts for Christian witness.

When African churches receive all kinds of gifts like ministry models/ methods, materiel or personnel, there is a tendency to mistake the depth of traditional African hospitality for Christian love. The two are different, but may look the same to an outsider. A lot of critical ministries in Africa would shut down without continued assistance from Episcopal sources. However, many times the African church receives all manner of assistance from all manner of sources within the Episcopal Church that are not adequate, or are mere Band-Aids, or are insultingly paternalistic and mere dumping of unwanted items, or are more of the "chicken feathers" instead of "the real chicken meat" that may be needed. The African church receives them all with equal humility and gratitude, because we have read our text of 2 Corinthians 8-9 well and we gladly obey. But we know the difference between what we are getting, what we really need, and what the giver could really give.

Finally, in keeping it real, we all know exactly whose soul has been bought and paid for by simple cash: It is the soul of the Episcopal Church. Which bishops or rectors or vestries are yanked around not by the mandates of the gospel, but by the conditions or threats attached to the value of their endowments or big-pledging members or whomever happens to hold the note on their church buildings? Who dances to the tune of a certain constituency and has to say whatever those on his or her support list wants to hear or risk losing their support? Not African bishops, I can assure you.

Some of us are watching closely to see how the fight for property and money turns out between the so-called "orthodox parishes" and their "liberal dioceses." If you claim you will stand for Jesus to the point of schism, why let a few buildings worth a few million dollars stand in your way? That may be selling your soul for wine, pate and cheese. On the other hand, if supporters of orthodoxy showed they were ready to pay the price of standing for the faith, including losing prestige, money and property, maybe some problems would be solved without having to rally African bishops for support from peer pressure. Orthodoxy is costly, and until one counts the cost in its various forms, one may not stand up to be counted. Discipleship at one's convenience is a caricature, and our skeptical culture can see through its pretensions and may not take any part of it. o

The Rev. Canon Benjamin B. Twinamaani is a priest of the Diocese of Kampala, Uganda, who has served various parishes in the Episcopal Church.