The Rt. Rev. Mdimi Mhogolo, Bishop of Central Tanganyika, has written a most remarkable letter, first posted by Ann Fontaine and then picked up and published in its entirety by Jonathan, the Mad Priest.
It is worth a complete read.
The ideal of Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in the Body of Christ, an idea that came out of the 1963 Anglican Congress (hopefully not the last such Congress), has increasingly been upstaged by more strident voices wanting something more organizationally solid to work with, like, say, a covenant. But the major problem about MRI is not that it wasn’t a good idea, but that it was never really tried. As part of a report from the Standing Commission on World Mission I wrote an essay, “MUTUAL RESPONSIBILITY AND INTERDEPENDENCE IN CHRIST (MRI): A VISION MISLAID?” You can read it HERE: (pgs 8-10)
Now in Bishop Mhogolo’s letter I am pleased to note that the vision has not been mislaid at all, but is in fact alive and well.
Here are a few snippets from his letter:
He begins by affirming the self knowledge as a community that has come from the experience of the faith in spite of colonialism, paternalism and slavery.
“We are a Church with all the rights, privileges and grace we have in Jesus Christ. We are an
We value our freedom in Jesus Christ and protect it with all the power of the Holy Spirit. We will not relapse into being held captive again by anybody, even by a brother or sister in Christ. We are responsible and accountable to God in Jesus Christ as much as any other diocese or individual.”
Interdependence then grows from this autonomy of historical experience and witness in place.
“It is in this confidence that we also express our interdependence with others as equals. In our interdependence, we can share our lives with others, learn from others, and share our people skills, knowledge and resources with them. We are very open to working and living together as brothers and sisters of the Faith, and with those of other faiths.
Respect, love, freedom and dignity for all are values we hold dear in our interdependence and partnership. As much as we do not choose friends for our partners, we too hold dearly our freedom to choose our friends. We too don't choose our friends lightly. We do not work with racist Christians, be they Southerners or Northerners, Easterners or Westerners; whether they are Bible believing or Liberals, Evangelicals or Charismatics, Orthodox or Conservatives, Black or White, Yellow or Purple. We will not work with anyone who questions our dignity, our intelligence, our spirituality and the integrity of our faith in, and the freedom we have in, Jesus Christ.
Mutuality works together with interdependence as a safeguard of the autonomy that each church has, while nurturing the wholeness of the body:
“We also do not work with those who put strings to their skills, money or knowledge, those who tell us to sing their songs instead of singing ours; those who give help and demand our support and those who wish to propagate their agendas instead of standing for ours. Insisting that we behave this way is another form of slavery and Christian colonialism.
It is only in our mutual respect and love that we come together and work together for the benefit of the society we serve under the overarching mission of God.”
He then lays out the possibilities for mission that is mutual and interdependent, while respecting the experience of the community in place, and from that concludes that it would be wrong to out of hand dismiss the mutual engagement in mission of others on the basis of concerns about gay and lesbian persons:
“The way we do God's mission is to strategize our mission and then look for resources for the mission. The recruitment of people, both within and outside the country becomes part of our efforts in realising God's mission.
The material funding for God's mission impacts our goal to see God's mission is well resourced. ECUSA with its relief and development agencies is only a small part of our funding and partnership organizations.
The issue of homosexuality with its various understandings is not only an ECUSA issue, but involves all of our development and mission partners. If one is realistic, the issue of homosexuality and their money affects all our partner organisations, Churches, missionary agencies, governments and secular organisations. We then ask ourselves, why should we single out ECUSA and treat it differently?
We know that a substational amount of money and funding that governments,
Churches, and missionary societies, comes from gay and lesbian people.
We live in our cultural context where gay and lesbians are regarded as criminals punishable to long term imprisonments. We also live in a country where gay and lesbians are violently persecuted, mistreated, hated and ostracised.
We as Black Africans know the hurts and permanent damage caused by our past experiences which still linger on to the present. We have gone through all that and we know how it hurts. Once we were regarded like animals to be shot at, less than humans, to be turned into slaves and without God, to be taught the Western Christian gods. We have gone through that and we don't want to go that way again.”
And then Bishop Mhogolo reaches the conclusion that genuine Mutuality and Interdependence in the Body of Christ calls us to:
“We hold the Gospel of grace and love where all people are welcomed, loved, cared for and treated with dignity. We preach a Gospel of restoration, reconciliation, love, peace, grace and healing. Many people are already feeling bad, hurt, disoriented, frustrated and bitter. We do not want to make life worse for them; instead we provide spaces for grace, love, and care to grow, and healing to take place for all.
For this reason, we will continue to welcome all our true brothers and sisters, children and adults, adolescents and mature, black and white, African American and White Americans to work and have fellowship with us; as much as we also welcome all Christians from the rest of the Christian world, both Anglicans and non-Anglicans; Christians and non-Christians.
If Episcopalians visit us, we ask them to honor and respect our Faith, our cultures, our traditions and our way of life in Jesus Christ. People or mission partners do not come to change us. They come to appreciate, share and learn of our faith, our Christian culture we have developed and our way of life as we work together for the
We are not a closed Church where we reject some and welcome others. We are an open Church where even our enemies can find food, love, care and shelter. We always try to become like Jesus Christ our master, to everyone who comes into our home.
The issue of homosexuality is not fundamental to the Christian faith, although many try to make it that way!! We would have become wiser if we had learned how the Roman Catholic Church, the Lutheran World Federation, the Presbyterian Church, the Reformed Churches and the Society of Friends are dealing with the issue. We are in a mess because we do not want to learn from other world Christian Communities!!! The source of our faith and mission in God is Jesus Christ. If someone has a different understanding on the essence of our faith, then we all should be alarmed. But as long as individual Episcopalians hold the one, holy, Apostolic and Catholic Faith, who am I to pass judgment now that they are not my brothers and sisters in Christ?”
Bishop Mhogolo is living the vision of Mutuality and Interdependence in the Body of Christ in a way that I had thought was not possible. He restores my faith in the possibility of a Communion based on something deeper than a covenant of straw.