NAIROBI, Kenya (RNS) — Conservative Anglican archbishops in Africa are challenging a decision by the Church of England to allow clergy to bless same sex couples’ marriages, warning that the move puts the worldwide Anglican Communion in further jeopardy.
The leaders are reacting to the Feb. 9 vote at the Church of England’s General Synod to permit the offering of prayers and liturgies at civil marriages. The compromise measure included the church’s desire to “lament and repent” its failure “to welcome LGBTQI+ people and for the harm that LGBTQI+ people have experienced — and continue to experience — in churches.”
The church has not changed its doctrine that marriage is a lifelong union between one man and one woman, but the archbishops of Uganda, Kenya and Nigeria are rejecting the decision to bless the unions as contrary to the teaching of the Bible.
The Church of England joined the Episcopal Church of America, the Anglican Church of Canada, the Church in Wales, the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Episcopal Church of Brazil and a few other member churches in recognizing all civil marriages.
The archbishops, who together represent more than 35 million Anglicans, posted their responses to the Church of England’s decision on their diocesan websites.
“The Church of England is very good at making contradictory statements and expecting everyone to believe both can be true at the same time. That’s what they have done with this decision,” said Archbishop Stephen Samuel Kaziimba Mugalu of Uganda in his statement.
Kaziimba said that despite the English church’s insistence that it was not changing its doctrine on marriage, it is doing exactly that, the only significant difference being the terminology of wedding versus a service of blessing.
“The Church of England … has now departed from the Bible and their message is the opposite,” said Kaziimba. “They are even offering to bless that sin. That is wrong. As the Church of Uganda, we cannot accept that. God cannot bless what he calls sin.”
After the Episcopal Church in America supported the installation of Bishop Gene Robinson, a gay man, as a bishop of New Hampshire, Kaziimba said, the Uganda province broke fellowship with the American church and has since maintained it was the latter that left the Anglican Communion.
“We are not leaving the Anglican Communion; we are the Anglican Communion,” the Ugandan primate said, referring to the Global Anglican Future Conference, known as GAFCON, and the Global South Fellowship of Anglicans, coalitions of socially conservative Anglican dioceses that formed in response to LGBTQ acceptance elsewhere in the church.
“There is no way we are walking together,” said Kaziimba. “These are the provinces that have walked away, but we pray for them to repent.”
In his statement, Archbishop Jackson Ole Sapit, the primate of the Church of Kenya, attributed the move to “the unfortunate rise of devious liberal churchmanship within Anglican Communion.”
Said Ole Sapit: “We make a humble request to these churches: Wake up! Strengthen what little remains, for even what is left is almost dead.”
According to Archbishop Henry Chukwudum Ndukuba of Nigeria in a statement on Sunday (Feb.12), “History is about to repeat itself. The Anglican Church is at the threshold of yet another reformation, which must sweep out the ungodly leadership currently endorsing sin, misleading the lives of faithful Anglican worldwide.”
The primate urged the GAFCON diocese and other orthodox groups within the communion to remain resolute in defending the faith.
The news from England pleased LGBTQ activists in Africa, including some who are Anglican clerics.
The Rt. Rev. Christopher Senyonjo, a former bishop in the Anglican Church of Uganda and a founder of Integrity Uganda, an advocacy group for LGBTQ people, said the Church of England had allowed the blessing of partnerships, not marriages.
“It is expected that when two people come together in a love relationship, they are going to have children, but as time goes on, it is realized that two people can be in love when they are not going to have children. I think that’s where we have to think hard about what human sexuality really is,” Senyonjo told Religion News Service in a telephone interview. “We should not just condemn the action (by the Church of England) without a very careful consideration of what love relationship is.”
The Rev. Michael Nzuki Kimindu, a former Anglican priest who is now president of Other Sheep Africa, a Christian organization that advocates for LGBTQ rights in Christianity and Islam, criticized the African hierarchy’s attempt to paint the Church of England’s action as a Western anomaly.
“Homosexuality is not a Western issue,” Kimindu told RNS. “It is a human condition found in every culture, geographical area and religion. It’s just fair that people should understand that it is not going anywhere no matter how much we bury our heads in the sand.”