African outrage over civil partnership decision

Howls of outrage and disbelief from the Anglican Churches of Africa and Asia have greeted last month’s decision by the House of Bishops to end the ban on clergy in gay civil partnerships from being appointed to the episcopate.

Archbishops representing a majority of the active members of the Anglican Communion have urged the Church of England to pull back, saying the bishops’ decision violates international Anglican accords, creates moral confusion over church doctrine and discipline, holds the church up to ridicule, and will provide Islamist extremists a further excuse to persecute Christian minorities.

The 12 Jan 2013 statement by the nine primates of the Global South Coalition follows critical responses from the Archbishops of Kenya, Uganda and Nigeria.  Archbishop Nicholas Okoh of Nigeria said the bishops of his church had agreed to break with the Church of England should the English bishops’ decision be implemented.

“Sadly we must also declare that if the Church of England continues in this contrary direction we must further separate ourselves from it and we are prepared to take the same actions as those prompted by the decisions of The Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada ten years ago.”

Archbishop Stanley Ntagali of Uganda said the decision “to allow clergy in civil partnerships to be eligible to become Bishops is really no different from allowing gay Bishops.  This decision violates our Biblical faith and agreements within the Anglican Communion.”

The decision to permit partnered gay clergy to serve as bishops “only makes the brokenness of the Communion worse and is particularly disheartening coming from the Mother Church,” he argued.

The Archbishop of Kenya, Dr. Eliud Wabukala concurred, saying the announcement “will create further confusion about Anglican moral teaching and make restoring unity to the Communion an even greater challenge.”

The “proviso” that clergy in civil partnerships remain celibate is “clearly unworkable. It is common knowledge that active homosexuality on the part of Church of England clergy is invariably overlooked and in such circumstances it is very difficult to imagine anyone being brought to book,” the archbishop said on 6 Jan.

However, “the heart of the matter is not enforceability, but that bishops have a particular responsibility to be examples of godly living,” he argued.   “It cannot be right that they are able to enter into legally recognised relationships which institutionalise and condone behaviour that is completely contrary to the clear and historic teaching of Scripture” and the teaching of the church.

“The weight of this moral teaching cannot be supported by a flimsy proviso,” Archbishop Wabukala said.

African objections were not to the appointment to the episcopate of men who had a same-sex sexual orientation, but to those clergy who had contracted a gay civil partnership being appointed to the episcopate. The proviso that such relationships were celibate only when they involved the clergy of the Church of England was preposterous, one African bishop explained.

The Global South archbishops added this decision was “wrong” and had been “taken without prior consultation or consensus with the rest of the Anglican Communion at a time when the Communion is still facing major challenges of disunity.”

“The Church, more than any time before, needs to stand firm for the faith once received from Jesus Christ through the Apostles and not yield to the pressures of the society,” the archbishops said.