By Joseph Wandera
Decades of conflict within the global Anglican family are contributing to shifting Anglican identities.
A recent virtual meeting of the Anglican Church of Kenya’s House of Bishops “noted with concern the Church of England’s departure from the traditional Christian teachings on marriage.”
It also took note of the LGBTQ movement in Kenya, arising from a February decision by the Supreme Court of Kenya to allow the registration of a gay lobby group.
Consequently, the House of Bishops has established a working committee of four bishops to:
- Seek to strengthen ties with associations and movements such as the Global Anglican Future Conference, the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa, and the Global South Fellowship of Churches, which are of like mind with ACK in matters of faith and doctrine.
- Develop a position paper on how to relate to churches and/or provinces that have departed from traditional Christian teachings, but without relinquishing our rightful place in the Communion.
- Develop a position paper to guide the ACK’s response to LGBTQ issues with clear theological, biblical, sociological, psychological, and cultural bases.
The vast majority of Anglicans and even non-Christians in Kenya are shocked at the recent developments in our mother Church of England in allowing the blessing of same-sex relations.
The response of the church’s leadership and the country’s other leaders — including President William Ruto to the Supreme Court’s ruling — has been unequivocal in its condemnation.
While the ACK is an autonomous province, its filial affinity to the Church of England has been unassailable. Both old and young Anglicans identify with the Church of England, with a deep sense of gratitude for the Church of England’s mission in the past. Many Anglican dioceses in Kenya are in varied partnerships with dioceses in the Church of England, and other members of the Anglican Communion. Most desire to remain in communion.
The terms of reference for the bishops’ working committee clearly express this desire to remain in the Anglican Communion.
Yet, in the face of recent developments in the Church of England, this historical relationship is challenged. It is far from a “stable self with a package of unchanging values,” but rather is continually in transition.
In Kenya’s multireligious and multicultural context, the debate has taken an interfaith and intrafaith dimension: Anglican Christians are in dialogue with one another, but also engaged with members of other religious traditions, such as Muslims and African indigenous religions.
At a recent open-air thanksgiving public church service attended by hundreds of Anglicans and non-Christians in the Diocese of Katakwa in western Kenya, which I attended, a Muslim imam lauded Archbishop Jackson Ole Sapit for his strong condemnation of blessing same-sex relations. The governor for Busia County, Paul Otuoma — a Roman Catholic — similarly criticized pro-gay movements, saying that they contravened African culture and God’s laws of nature.
Lambeth Resolution I.10 on Human Sexuality recognized the existence of “persons who experience themselves as having a homosexual orientation,” seeking pastoral care within the Church.
While there are strong voices in the Church in defense of its traditional teaching on sexuality and marriage, unlike developments in the West, there is a deafening silence, even resistance, against any pastoral provisions for those who may be in same-sex relations. Because of the community stigma associated with same-sex relations, those in the Church who have some pastoral concerns choose to remain silent.
Our cultural situation is complex, as a few episodes can illustrate. In 2019, an LGTBQ activist planted a flag on Mount Kenya, Kenya’s highest mountain, and the second-highest mountain in Africa, after Kilimanjaro. The activist did this, ostensibly, to give symbolic voice to gay issues in Kenya.
Under the banner Booi wa Kirira kia Mugikuyu, loosely translated as “the convention for Gikuyu culture,” a rival group mobilized funds to scale the mountain and remove the flag. This group also performed Gikuyu indigenous cleansing rites, led by the tribe’s elders. The Gikuyu are Kenya’s largest ethnic community.
On January 6, Edwin Kiprotich Chiloba, a gay-rights activist, was found dead. Police reported that he had been strangled and his body stuffed in a metal box. As of now it is unclear whether there is a connection between his sexuality and his murder, but it has been suggested.
The bishops’ working group, and indeed the entire leadership of the church, ought to seriously and prayerfully consider pastoral interventions for violations of every kind to a section of the household of God, as part of our Christian vocation.
In Kenya, the debate is not just among Anglicans or even Christians. It concerns members of other faiths and government. The debate shapes how Anglicans are perceived and relate with members of other faith traditions.
The Diocese of Mumias, where I serve as bishop, is located in a region with some of the oldest presence of Islam in Kenya’s interior. Muslims are our neighbors in our daily interactions, and mosques dot our landscape. What happens in the Anglican Community, directly or indirectly, affects our relations.
Religious and cultural pluralism continue to be important in the political discourse on the LGTBQ community.
In all cases, one can see how agency plays out by both Christians and non-Christians, the community, and cultural activists.
Clearly, the Anglican Church of Kenya desires to retain its membership within the Anglican Communion, as expressed in the terms of reference during the House of Bishops’ meeting. However, in this continued belonging, the ACK is also clear that it will “maintain its inherited doctrine on marriage.” In reinforcing this position, the ACK seeks to associate more and more with like-minded associations.
From the drafting of the terms of reference for the bishops’ working group, I see some clear contours emerging. First, I envision a growing relationship of differentiation in the ACK’s relationship with the wider Anglican Communion. This differentiation may be seen as a calling in the present circumstances. Yet this emerging differentiation seeks to maintain, with gratitude, cherished historical links to the wider Anglican family.
Second, the discernment process could be seen as a statement against powerful homogenizing tendencies, currently emerging from within and without the church but also increasingly appropriated locally.
Finally, the debate illustrates how people and groups behave and construct their identities, demanding an opportunity to thrive without disconnecting from the global family.
The decision by the House of Bishops to seek clarity on how it will relate within the larger Anglican Communion is part of this continuing journey to seek creative responses on shifting Anglican identities in a rapidly transforming global cultural context.