- Anglican Archbishop of Southern Africa, Njongonkulu Ndungane, yesterday went on distance to hard-line viewpoints on homosexuality, issued by his Nigerian colleague, Archbishop Peter Akinola. Mr Ndungane said he could not see how the appointment of a gay bishop in England could affect his church district.
In a statement from the Archbishop Ndungane of Southern Africa, the anti-gay perspective of the Church of Nigeria was indirectly but strongly rejected. "The issue surrounding the appointment of [the gay Canon] Jeffrey John as a suffragan bishop affects, in the first instance, the diocese of Oxford and the Church in England, not the Church of the Province of Southern Africa," Mr Ndungane said.
He thus took the opposite stance of his Nigerian counterpart, Archbishop Peter Akinola, who recently threatened to split from the Anglican Church Community over the increasingly liberal views on homosexuality in European and North American churches, which he calls "heresy".
In particular the approval of same-sex marriages by the Anglican diocese of New Westminster in Canada had caused furious reactions in many of the conservative church communities in developing countries. Archbishop Akinola already has severed relations with the New Westminster diocese. Further, the appointment of a gay bishop in New Hampshire (USA) had been protested. A similar appointment in England was seen as too much by conservative churches.
Archbishop Ndungane, meanwhile, does not share this view. He says he has "tremendous respect for the Bishop of Oxford" (England), who had appointed Mr John. There was no reason for the Church of Southern Africa to question his deeds.
Further, "issues raised in New Westminster and New Hampshire are matters for the concern of the ecclesiastical province of Canada and USA respectively," said Mr Ndungane. "In all these issues we don’t have the full facts so any response will depend on information we are yet to receive from the primates concerned," he added, with a direct address to Archbishop Akinola and other critics.
Archbishop Ndungane was one of only four Primates of the Anglican Church in Africa not to sign a protest letter that strongly condemned the same-sex marriages arranged by the church in New Hampshire. "The recent action of the Bishop of New Westminster displays a flagrant disregard for the remainder of the Anglican Communion," the letter signed by 14 Anglican Primates said.
The Nigerian Primate meanwhile, leads the protest movement in the Anglican Church. He now urges "Anglicans worldwide to join in condemning these unscriptural actions in a bid to save the communion from heresy."
- Our boldness in condemning the spiritual bankruptcy of [the rich churches in Europe, America and Canada] must be matched by our refusal to receive financial help from them, said Mr Akinola in a letter to members of the Church of Nigeria. "This means that we must become self-reliant as a matter of urgency so that we will not only meet our own needs locally, but also those of our poor African brethren who have long depended on handouts from the rich churches of the Western World."
He finds no support from his Southern African counterpart. "Our province is certainly not considering breaking communion with any other province," says Archbishop Ndungane. "There has been mention of a possible schism but I can assure you the church has withstood far worse without falling apart. The doomsday prophets also predicted a schism over the ordination of women and were proved wrong," he added.
Mr Ndungane said he agreed fully with the Archbishop of Canterbury, who heads both the Church of England and the international Anglican Communion. The Archbishop in a letter earlier this week said it "would be a tragedy if these issues ... occupied so much energy that we lost our focus on the priorities of our mission." He announced a pastoral visit to West Africa within few weeks, reminding of the true problems of the region, "afflicting millions - violent conflict, epidemic disease, instability and poverty."
Also the Southern African Primate urged church leaders to focus on more important questions than human sexuality. "We are faced with matters of life and death," he reminded his colleagues. "Seventy-five percent of the world's people who are living with HIV or AIDS are in sub-Saharan Africa. People are constantly dying and being infected and there are severe cases of poverty, many people go hungry every day and there are instances of children taking turns to have breakfast. We have a divine mandate to save lives and evangelise every generation."
- These are but some of the urgent matters that require our attention, said Mr Ndungane, "and I pray to God that we can focus in a more concentrated way on the divine imperative: to give hope to the hopeless, help to the helpless and healing to the wounded, the sick and the lost."
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