The tension that currently exists inside the worldwide Anglican Communion is undeniable. But what many don’t realize is that it is as much about how its unforeseen legacy of unbridled missionary efforts expanded into the Third World as it is about the conservative arm of the Church repudiating homosexuality.
But the two feed off each other with Gene Robinson, the ninth bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire in the Episcopal Church of the U.S (ECUSA) and the first openly gay non-celibate priest in the episcopate.
Ever since his consecration, he’s been the Church’s fall guy.
By pitting marginalized groups like gays and Africans against each other, the Church masks the geopolitics of race and power while bating homophobia.
Does this scenario sound familiar?
When the liberal wing of the ECUSA consecrated Robinson, the Anglican’s Global South – comprised mostly of Third World countries in Africa, South America, and Asia – did not embrace the Church’s radical shift from a religion of personal transformation to a faith of personal affirmation. For the Global South, that shift raised not only questions about theological belief, but also about their ecclesiastical power within the Church.
With centuries of Anglican missionaries traversing worldwide into the hinterlands and jungles of Third World countries to transform heathens of indigenous religions and fertility cult practices into good Christians, its globetrotting evangelizing carried not only racist and homophobic messages that had strong theological holds on its colonial subjects, but it also brought the notion of power to disenfranchised countries that wanted in the Anglican ecclesiastical fiefdom.
One sign of entry is an invitation to Lambeth conferences. They are once-a-decade global gatherings of Anglican archbishops and bishops that once upon a time functioned as the Church’s only white male club of heterosexual power brokers. They ignored, without moral compunction, its missionary churches.
But things changed. And when they did, they changed not only radically but also racially.
“In 10 years, when African bishops come to the microphone at this conference, we will be so numerous and influential that you will have to recognize us,” said Joseph Adetiloye, a retired official with the church in Nigeria, at the 1978 Lambeth Conference, according to The New Yorker.
While the U.S has, at best, approximately 2.2 Episcopalians today, the center of Anglican gravity is neither here nor in Britain, but in Africa. There are approximately three million in Kenya, and nine million in Uganda. But those two countries combined do not come close to the 20 million in Nigeria, making Peter Akinola, the archbishop there, one of the most influential men in the Anglican Communion.
A vociferous opponent of gay and lesbian civil rights, Akinola has used Robinson as his whipping boy to flex his muscle as a sign of African power in the Anglican Church as well as to expand his missionary power by capitalizing on the theological schism that has developed.
“Granted, the American society as a super-power is in the forefront of human adventure. However, in this case of human sexuality, it is nothing but adventure in ungodliness. For people like Gene Robinson, who was married for years with children, to wake up one morning and discover that they are homosexuals is nothing but adventurous promiscuity and unfaithfulness. The Church condones that at her own peril. If this is not yet clear to many today, it will surely be tomorrow,” Akinola wrote in The Kairos Journal, an online Christian publication.
By installing Bishop Martyn Minns of Virginia, a white man, as the new leader of the so-called Convocation of Anglicans in North America – a Nigerian Anglican body in the U.S. comprised primarily of American Anglican and Episcopal churches that have disaffiliated from ECUSA – Akinola’s U.S. influence now competes with that of Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori, the first female presiding bishop of the ECUSA. She unwaveringly supports Robinson.
“If we are not willing to re-examine our assumptions about who is in and who is out, I don’t think we are adequately faithful in our spiritual journey,” Schori told the Boston Globe.
The Lambeth Conference has always been about who’s in and who’s out. Where Lambeth could once summarily dismiss the voices of bishops from Third World countries, it can no longer do so because their numbers are overwhelmingly important to the life of the Anglican Communion.
But Robinson is now a lone voice in the wilderness among bishops. And the Church’s decision not to invite him to the 2008 Lambeth Conference cements Robinson’s status as a fall guy. It’s also a way for the Church to avoid addressing its heterosexism head on.
“I have to reserve the right to withhold or withdraw invitations from bishops whose appointment, actions or manner of life have caused exceptionally serious division or scandal within the Communion,” said the archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, according to the Associated Press.
And indeed, Williams does reserve that right, but it comes at his own theological hypocrisy of once expressing liberal views on homosexuality. After all, he once said, “If the Church’s mind is that homosexual behavior is intrinsically sinful, then it is intrinsically sinful for everyone. It is that unwillingness to come clean that can’t last. It is a contradiction.”
Let’s hope that Williams, one day, will come clean. â€¢