Beautiful Botswana

“Listen to the majority African voice of grace.”
Pat Ashworth reports from the Ecclesiastical Law Society Conference
–The Church Times
Bishop Mwamba
Bishop Mwamba
Emphasising humility: Bishop Mwamba Photo by ian faulds

LOUD voices from Africa, aided by the “almighty dollar” and internet lobbyists, are distorting the true picture of what Africa’s 37 million Anglicans really think about sexuality and the future of the Anglican Communion, says the Bishop of Botswana, the Rt Revd Musonda Mwamba.

The Bishop, by background a lawyer and social anthropologist, was giving the keynote address to senior judges, lawyers, bishops, and clergy at the Ecclesiastical Law Society conference “The Anglican Communion: Crisis and Opportunity”, in Liverpool at the weekend. The minds of most African Anglicans were concentrated on life-and-death issues, and they were “frankly not bothered about the whole debate on sexuality”, he said.

In an incisive address, the Bishop concluded that the minority of Africans who had “the luxury to think about the issue” did not want to see the Communion disintegrate. They valued the bonds of affection, and would prefer to follow the process recommended by the Windsor report. He rebutted as “simplistic and a distortion of the truth” the belief that the African provinces were a monochrome body.

The voice many people heard was the Church of Nigeria’s, a conservative voice, which embodied various streams of influence, and echoed the cultural abhorrence of homosexuality. It was “a voice of protest, which advocates separation rather than reconciliation”. Perhaps unconsciously, it was also influenced by interfaith strife in the country.

Charting the history leading to Nigeria’s rejection of the primacy of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop said that the influence of the Primate of All Nigeria, the Most Revd Peter Akinola, went beyond Africa to the United States, where, through the creation of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), he had encouraged like-minded Episcopalians to cut ties with the Episcopal Church in the United States.

Bishop Mwamba described this as “a voice prepared to exclude those whose voices or views are deemed incompatible with the Bible, a voice relatively quiet in speaking out on life-and-death issues of poverty, AIDS, and responsible governance. But, having said all that, we must keep in mind that there are many bishops, clergy, and laity who do not accept all that this voice represents, and who nevertheless find themselves silenced.”

The Church of the Province of Southern Africa best exemplified the liberal voice, the Bishop suggested. Its bishops had recommended that questions of doctrine and morals should be handled through the structures of the Communion, and had concluded of “the mystery of human sexuality” that there was a need for deeper theological reflection and informing insights.

“The liberal voice in Africa sees the crisis in the Anglican Communion as diverting the attention of the Church from the major life-and-death issues in the world — hunger across the globe, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, HIV/AIDS, and other issues,” the Bishop said.

“The context in which the liberal voice speaks was born in the evils of the apartheid era. . . So the constitution of the rainbow people of South Africa is based on values of dignity, freedom, and equality, and does not permit ordinary citizens to discriminate against gays and lesbians.”

The moderate voice of Africa, “nicely snuggled between the liberal and the conservative”, was exemplified by the Church of the Province of Burundi. It had stated that it remained committed to the Anglican Communion on issues of sexuality.

Two factors influenced the tone and volume of the African voice, said the Bishop. The Global South as a body was concerned with a range of subjects, such as social action and global empowerment, and had been set up to address some of the power imbalances between North and South. But the Kigali communiqué proposing alternative Primatial oversight had caused “a theological earthquake measuring 8.6 on the Richter scale”.

The document claimed to be unanimous and to have the authority of Anglicans in the southern hemisphere, but had been “no more than Primates’ personal utterances”.

Numbers (Nigeria having “the largest number of Anglicans in the world”) and money could be seen to influence and even manipulate the situation. “The almighty dollar has been used to strengthen the voice and position of some African bishops, who have been invited to the States and given generous incentives. Very tempting for a bishop from a poor African diocese to be fêted and offered funds by the American hosts if he endorses the party line.
“One of the things which most amaze me in this whole debate is the manner in which lobbying in America has been used to influence opinion, decision, and relationship. It has resulted in the creation of a culture of ‘them’ and ‘us’, ‘in’ and ‘out’, and never the twain shall meet. The success of this lobby has been assisted mainly by the dissemination of information on the internet.”
The Bishop believed that “The scenario of African provinces splitting off as a whole to form an alternative Communion is, in my view, impossible.” The long history of Anglicanism had been possible only because of its capacity to embrace different views on matters of faith, practice, and spirituality. Reconciliation was the answer, he said, advocating humility as the missing factor. “The loud voices in Africa . . . could be playing a reconciling role. The Anglican provinces in Africa represent most of the Anglican traditions. Arguing for a middle way is true to the African tradition of seeking a via media.”

Bishop Mwamba was hopeful for the future: “I hear the voice of grace embraced by the majority of Anglican Africans. It is a still small voice. . . This is grace — the only way that can help us overcome the problems that bedevil our Communion today.”

The complete text of the bishop’s address is at:


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