Nzimbi: “No repentance, no Lambeth”
*The story first appeared in Kenya Weekly, a magazine I contribute to.
In just under eight weeks, over 600 top clerics from the worldwide Anglican Communion shall be congregating in Lambeth, England.
The once-a-decade congregation serves to contemplate the Anglicans’ future in view of its mission to a changing world, as well as formulate policies for its engagement with wider Christendom and the world as we know it.
However, the 600 clerics – representing about 70 per cent of the Communion’s leadership – will be without the remaining percentage of their own, who will have congregated in Jerusalem, Israel, beforehand in a doctrinal protest against the former.
The dissident clergymen, representing over 30 million believers in the 70-million-person worldwide Communion, will be protesting at the continued ordination of gay clergy in the global North and their participation at Lambeth.
“Theological convictions, not bruised feelings, will prevent at least three provinces from attending the 2008 Lambeth Conference,” Primate of the West Indies Archbishop Drexel Gomez was reported as saying by a religious website mid last month.
In an interview, the West Indian stated “there are at least four provinces in Africa that have either said they will not attend or are still considering if they will attend, but there are three who said they will definitely not be attending.”
A few weeks ago, the Anglican Church of Kenya joined Gomez’s list of Nigeria, Rwanda and Uganda to complete his initial list of the African suspects ahead of Lambeth 2008.
Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi told a recent press conference in Nairobi that the Anglican Church of Kenya still does not recognize gay Anglican Bishop Canon V. Gene Robinson, and would not play ball with Canterbury’s vacillations on the vexing issue of sexuality within the Communion.
And in an exclusive interview with this writer, Archbishop Nzimbi, a leading voice in the conservative wing of the Communion, declared that he has since signed up on the Global Anglican Future 2008, the rival caucus that will be meeting in Jerusalem.
“Resolution 110 of Lambeth 1998, which I attended, was quite clear that homosexuality is incompatible with Scripture. The position of Orthodox Anglicans – of whom I’m part – on this matter hasn’t changed and isn’t about to change,” he said.
The primate said the controversy is a symptom of deeper decay in a Communion he says is now ripe for revival.
“Homosexuals need pastoral care. The word of God offers transformation to their situation, as it indeed does to us all. Lambeth 2008 should have been about a return to God in view of these realities, yet it’s obvious that won’t be the case. Canterbury has sanctioned homosexuality. We cannot be going there to keep up with its theological gymnastics,” he said.
He revealed that he’s among those actively organizing the African protest against Lambeth 2008.
“Anglicans in Latin America are with us. A good number of dioceses in Sydney, England, North America, Central and Southern Africa will also be joining us in Jerusalem. We want to look into the future of this Church. The future is hidden in the word of God, not the revisionism we are witnessing in parts of the Communion,” he said.
In a sign that the controversy could strain relations between the conservative and liberal wings of the Communion even further, the primate warned: “Jerusalem will, for us, be a new way to look at the Communion. We want to grow towards the right direction in light of Scriptures. We want to change the world by preaching the Gospel, not allow the world to change us by us pleasing it. Going forward, repentance on this issue is the only thing that will make us one.”
Archbishop of Sidney Peter Jensen, one of the organizers of Jerusalem 2008, says their decision had become inevitable, following the global North’s disregard of resolutions on Scripture and human sexuality arrived at Lambeth 1998.
“Such has been the fall-out that it is now clear that we will never go back to being the Communion which we once were. There has been a permanent change. We live in a new world. Some American Anglicans are as committed to their new sexual ethics as to the gospel itself, and they intend to act as missionaries for this faith, wishing to persuade the rest of us. The problems posed by the American church are not going to remain in North America,” he says.
He continues: “Several African Provinces have indicated that they will not be attending Lambeth, because to do so would be to acquiesce with the North American actions. They are not ending the Anglican Communion, or even dividing it. They are simply indicating that the nature of the Communion has now been altered by what has occurred. They see that since the American actions were taken in direct defiance of the previous Lambeth Conference, the Americans have irreparably damaged the standing of the Conference itself. They asked without success for the Conference to be postponed. They do not think that this Conference is what is needed now. To attend would be to overlook the importance of the issues at stake.”
And he says: “The Anglican Future Conference (in Jerusalem) is not designed to take the place of Lambeth. Some people may well choose to go to both. Its aim is to draw Biblical Anglican Christians together for urgent consultation. It is not a consultation which can take place at Lambeth, because Lambeth has a different agenda and far wider guest list. Unlike Lambeth, the Future Conference is not for Bishops alone – the invitations will go to clergy and lay people also….It gives an opportunity for many to draw together to strengthen each other over the issue of biblical authority and interpretation and gospel mission.”
Reactions against Jerusalem 2008 have continued to stream in from far and wide.
“The sooner these pre-modern, homophobic provinces set up their own fundamentalist church the better for those left. It’s the only logical solution. A split. It should be welcomed and celebrated,” read a comment on one of the websites trying to rally support for Lambeth 2008.
Another one said: “The tragedy here is that the Africans will look so stubborn and ignorant in the history of Christianity. Much as the Roman church looks in its persecution of Galileo. And our American fundamentalists look in their denial of evolution. And our current President in his refusal to fund stem cell research. What is it about religion in general that makes it so backward for so long after the reality changes?”
Yet another one said: “With regards to the future of the Anglican Communion, I wish we would give far less press to those who are not going to Lambeth and far more to those who are. The future of the Communion is in their hands, not the hands of those who stay away. Let’s not let the non-attendees even think they can influence the outcome if they aren’t there.
In Kenya itself, a consensus is emerging in a fringe wing of the Church’s leadership that the ACK’s interests would best be served at Lambeth as opposed to Jerusalem.
A leading clergyman, who spoke to Kenya Weekly on condition of anonymity, said the ACK should demonstrate a readiness to re-engage the global North on the matter and not shy away from it.
“Lambeth is one of the symbols of unity in the Communion and its resolutions over the years have had a binding effect on us all. We chide the US and Canadian churches for playing fast and loose with such resolutions reached in 1998 plunging the Communion into such unprecedented chaos. But for the Kenyan protest to go the way it has, although it will show the strongest disdain for the actions apparently affirmed by Canterbury, it will harden the position of the liberals who will be at Canterbury giving them an easy time through resolutions that may be more damaging than we already have for no voice of descent will be there should this thought come up again for discussion,” he says.
And he warns: “It will be leaving the communion, allowing the liberals to drive the church where they want. Those not attending will in a way have said that they are out. I would that they were at Lambeth and made it hard for the liberals with reason of their position and votes. They would like they did in Tanzania, who once refused Communion and sought to bring their brothers back from the brink. They will out of their own accord have broken away from the Communion.”
He then asks: “Will the boycott of Lambeth mean refusal of contact with all associated with the liberals’ position? How will the ACK argue the recent welcome and Communion shared with the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu when he visited us, who will be in Lambeth and has had warm fellowship with the US wing? What about our brothers and sisters in Tanzania and Congo who will be attending Lambeth 2008, yet are not in support of its position on sexuality?”
The clergyman is part of a group within the ACK that feels the Communion in the global North would be justified if it considered ordaining rebel bishops in Kenya in view of country’s messy politics in which the Church has come out battered, in retaliation at a similar act by African Anglicans over homosexuality in the global North.
“Sins committed by our own through tribalism and corruption would not give us the moral standing to judge others in the way we have. What if the liberals also chose to make bishops of people here? Our leaders have bundled out of the church bishop-material, some more worthy than themselves. Let us all re-examine the ground of our being Christians – Grace alone!” he says.
Archbishop Nzimbi told Kenya Weekly it does not worry him that liberal Anglicans could ordain liberal clergy in Kenya.
“I know there are some liberals within us, and I am currently processing homosexual allegations raised by an Anglican congregation against one of our clergymen. Liberals here can go ahead and be ordained by their friends in the West, but orthodox Anglicans like me will not sanction the move,” he says.
The Nairobi-based clergyman in issue was exposed by his congregants, who sought the archbishop’s intervention.
It remains to be seen what will become of him – a first in the Anglican Church of Kenya – as both Lambeth and Jerusalem beckon.
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