Three Episcopal Church Leaders Attempt to Assess the Divide with African Anglicans

Three Episcopal Church leaders have reported holding “candid and substantive” meetings about the current division in the Anglican Communion over human sexuality on a recent trip to East Africa. They met with primates, a number of bishops, and other church leaders from three Anglican provinces.

The Rt. Rev. John B. Lipscomb, Bishop of Southwest Florida; the Rt. Rev. Theodore Daniels, assisting Bishop of Texas; and the Very Rev. Titus Presler, dean of the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest (ETSS), said they traveled as individuals and on their own initiative from July 22 through Aug. 1 to the provinces of Burundi, Kenya and Rwanda.

Although not an official diplomatic overture of the Episcopal Church, the precise nature of the trip is ambiguous. It was taken “with the full knowledge and support of our Presiding Bishop,” according to a letter Bishop Lipscomb wrote to members of his diocese prior to his departure, and at least some expenses from the trip, including plane fare, were paid by the national Episcopal Church. In letters Dean Presler and Bishop Daniels sent to the Africans seeking formal invitations, they signed them as members of the national Executive Council. During the meetings, however, the three repeatedly stated they were traveling on their own as individuals. In one case, it was only their “unofficial” status that made conversation possible, said Dean Presler.

“We were not an official delegation of any group or structure in the Episcopal Church,” Dean Presler wrote. “Thus the discussions were not intended to yield any decisions or negotiated conclusions … As three individuals who hold diverse views about homosexuality, we united in appealing for the continued unity of the Anglican Communion amid the current discord.”

Although appreciative of their effort, the Most Rev. Emmanuel Kolini, Archbishop of Rwanda, told The Living Church that members of the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa continue to stand behind a 1998 Lambeth Conference resolution which stated that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian belief and practice. “Repentance by General Convention” is the only option that will lead to a restoration of communion between the Episcopal Church and the Church of Rwanda, he said, and added that apologies without repentance by individuals are insufficient and meaningless.

When asked in Kenya for specific examples of how the General Convention decisions had affected their own Church, at least one Kenyan declined to provide the Episcopalians with any details because of his concern that the Episcopal Church would lose focus and use its time and resources to try to fix the identified symptoms rather than the root cause of the crisis.

“We are heartbroken because we have lost you as brothers and sisters in Christ,” the Kenyans said. The Episcopal Church does not have consensus in its own house to normalize homosexual behavior for Christians and the Anglican Churches of Africa are tired of attempts to impose that view on others, they added.

“It was clear to us that the Episcopal Church’s sexuality decisions have affected African Anglicans on the ground, as well as leaders,” Dean Presler said. “We heard reports of some members leaving the Anglican Church, of clergy experiencing deep anguish, and of complications in Christian-Muslim relations. Even accounting for the disproportionate coverage that international media give to events in the U.S.A., the intensity of some African Anglicans’ feelings suggested to us that the global aspects of Anglican life may be more prominent in their sense of church identity than it is in the sense of church identity of many American Episcopalians.”

-The Living Church