Homosexuality Dispute Could Cut Attendance at Key Anglican Meeting

Stephen Mbogo | Correspondent | Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Homosexuality Dispute Could Cut Attendance at Key Anglican Meeting

Nairobi, Kenya (CNSNews.com) - Some sections of the global Anglican Church opposed to the consecration of homosexual bishops will stay away from next summer's Lambeth Conference, a once-a-decade meeting of bishops from around the world, Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi of Kenya has confirmed.

The conference in England is where policy issues that will guide the Anglican Church for the next decade are decided.

"Some provinces [country branches] are saying they will not attend a meeting where decisions are agreed upon but are not implemented," Nzimbi told Cybercast News Service in an interview. "We agreed [at the last Lambeth, in 1998] that we should delay the consecration of gay bishops but the American church went ahead and did it."

He said the reason given by those thinking about or planning to stay away is that the homosexuality issue has splintered the unity that bound the Anglican Communion together. "Our unity is based on common faith in Jesus Christ but gay priesthood has broken that so we may have nothing in common."

Nzimbi did not name the countries or regions that may refuse to attend.

He said the Anglican Church in Kenya would make its decision by December. He did feel, however, that participating and having dialogue would be better than declining to attend altogether.

Church leaders opposed to the ordination of homosexuals would be eager to meet with like-minded bishops at the conference and decide the way forward on the issue, he added.

"The main issue is interpretation of the Bible. The Anglican Church needs revival because of many issues [in dispute], but consecration of gay bishops was the breaking point," Nzimbi said.

Nzimbi was a leading critic of the 2003 ordination of Gene Robinson, an openly homosexual Episcopal clergyman, as bishop of New Hampshire. The Episcopal Church (ECUSA) is the U.S. branch of the Anglican Communion.

The debate has continued since then, with African leaders' remaining firm in their opposition to ordination of homosexuals and church blessing of same-sex unions. American clergymen opposed to ECUSA's liberal stance have been looking for leadership elsewhere.

Two weeks ago, Nzimbi consecrated two U.S. priests, Bill Atwood and William Murdoch, in the Kenyan capital Nairobi in the presence of other conservative bishops from mostly southern hemisphere countries.

The two will now serve their congregations in Texas and Massachusetts under the jurisdiction of Nzimbi. The action defied an appeal by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams -- the titular head of the world's Anglicans -- who worries that such steps could cause the already fragile Anglican Communion to shatter.

The last Lambeth Conference, in 1998, was dominated by the homosexuality row. Although Williams, who hosts the gathering, says he wants the 2008 conference to focus on training for effective mission, the unresolved sex issue is promising to feature strongly.

In an apparent attempt to prevent this, Williams has not invited to the 2008 conference either Robinson or an American priest who leads a splinter group of conservative American Anglicans under the leadership of the Archbishop of Nigeria.

Conservative American priests have already been consecrated in Uganda, Rwanda and Nigeria too. Of 77 million Anglicans, about a half of them are based in developing countries, in many parts of which homosexuality remains taboo.

ECUSA bishops said last March that the involvement in U.S. church affairs by foreign churches' bishops had "violated our provincial boundaries and caused great suffering and contributed immeasurably to our difficulties in solving our problems."

A religious scholar here said the African churches' position would be good for the church's missionizing work in Africa.

Dr. Wafula Muyila, a teacher in the department of philosophy and religious studies at the University of Nairobi, said the African Anglican leaders' stance sends a message to the denomination around the world.

"The African leadership of the church seems to be telling the world that religious issues are conservative, not dynamic as some would like to say," said Muyila.

He said African Anglicans are also indicating that they are ready to forgo financial and other support from parts of the church that they feel are not respecting biblical teachings.

"This boldness and commitment is good for increasing the spread of the religion in the continent," he said. "People respect that and will support it."

Outside the Anglican Church, meanwhile, debate rages on in parts of Africa where governments are working to reform legal systems to decriminalize homosexual behavior, which currently is legal only in South Africa. Pressure groups are emerging in countries like Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria and Zimbabwe to promote a homosexual-rights agenda.

Prisicah Nyokabi of the Kenya chapter of the International Commission of Jurists said it was wrong for African Anglican leaders to discriminate against their homosexual colleagues.

"Human rights issues are not divisible," she said. "The church has a right to decide what is good for the congregation but should do that without interfering with the rights of an individual."

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