Last week (September 11) I posted the following comment in an article titled, “Hatred at the doorstep, signs in the sky.” “The Province of Central Africa is a mess. The Dean is cast out, the bishop –elect of Lake Malawi is cast out, the Bishop of Harare is accused of complicity in criminal actions of the President of Zimbabwe, and the whole Province is set to split into three provinces.”
There have been conflicting stories about the state of the Province, but my sense is that what I said is true.
The Harare Herald has now twice in the past week published stories affirming that the Diocese of Harare has broken with the Province of Central Africa. The story of Saturday, September 15th, also confirms the breakup of the Province, and continues the publication of articles filled with hate mongering comments reportedly from Anglican Clerics.
Episcopal News Service gives one rather positive story of the events of the Province of Central Africa Synod. Archbishop Malango was interviewed by David Virtue and gave a second reading. A third reading comes from The Church Times. The Harare Herald we have the fourth account, this time from an interview with the Bishop of Harare. Changing Attitudes has now reported on the matter.
The Harare Herald is considered a mouthpiece for the government and therefore not particularly easy to trust. But in this case the story is more or less in line with some of the remarks made by the other writers. Here is what seems to be the case:
(i) The Diocese of Harare is quitting the Province of Central Africa, thereby raising questions about the disillusion of the Province. The ENS article reported leaders of the Synod saying that if Harare wants to go it can go, but that this does not mean all of Zimbabwe goes. The Bishop of Harare seems to think otherwise. The Archbishop, according to the interview with David Virtue, says both: “First of all, let me say the province is intact. We have not fallen apart or cracked up as one African newspaper reported we had. However, we have decided that come January of 2008 we will become three new provinces and we have set the wheels in motion to do that.” The upshot seems to be - no, we are not now broken up, but we shall be.
(ii) Bishop Mwamba has been relieved of duty as Dean of the Province of Central Africa. Whether or not he was fired, the Archbishop again had the definitive word: “He was simply not re-elected, and there is little likelihood he will now become the new archbishop of the province because of his liberal views.” The Archbishop said, “My disappointment is that one young man, now a former dean (Mwamba) got ideas that are not in line with my own thinking which as you know are very orthodox and conservative. His liberal ideas were quite disappointing coming at the end of my ministry.” Mwamba’s possible reelection was thwarted by the Archbishop and it would appear that he is no longer a player in provincial affairs.
(iii) According to the Harare Herald, the Bishop, Nolbert Kunonga, is ready to form a new province in Zimbabwe. He says, “We are out of the Province of Central Africa right now, we are going to form a new province. It’s true that there are five here in Zimbabwe. Three of them -- that is the Diocese of Manicaland, the Diocese of Harare that I lead and the Diocese of Central Zimbabwe -- are very clear and resolute, very firm that they reject homosexuality.”
The Bishop of Harare’s interview, if correctly reported, is profoundly disturbing, not only because of what it reveals of the bishop’s blatant hatred of homosexuals but because of his use of charges of homosexual behavior or support as political weapons against his enemies.
There are currently five dioceses in Zimbabwe: Manicaland, Harare, Central Zimbabwe, Matabeleland and Masvingo. According to the Bishop of Harare the first three are “very clear and resolute, very firm that they reject homosexuality.” The other two are questionable.
The Bishop of Harare is quoted in this article as saying, “The Bishop of Botswana, Trevor Mwamba, as it emerged in the Episcopal Synod before the Provincial Synod, was that he was an avowed sympathiser, compromiser and advocate for homosexuality…”, “he is an avowed homosexual or he is convinced about his position. At a later point in the interview he is asked, “Q: Are you prepared to name the Zimbabwean bishops dabbling in homosexuality?” and answeres, “A: For some reason, I can’t mention them, but we were surprised, this is why we were saying we were surprised in the Provincial Synod in the Province of Central Africa. Certain manifestations showed us that not all the five bishops are together. They joined in ridiculing us. I mean for the moment I will leave it there, but I want to repeat that Manicaland, Harare and Central Zimbabwe are together against homosexuality but I was surprised by the stance that was taken by the other two at the Provincial Synod.”
So the bishop is busily making accusations that some bishops are “avowed” sympathizers, compromisers, advocates, dabbling in homosexuality. While he can’t name names, he makes it clear who they are. In the very homophobic context in which this article is written, these are politically charged statements the purpose of which is to criminalize his opponents.
What the article does make clear, if accurate, is that the reports that “all is well in the Province of Central Africa” is untrue. The Bishop of Harare believes it is broken. The Archbishop of the Province can only say it will end in three Provinces replacing the one.
This is a mess, and likely to get worse. And through it all there will run a stream of remarks such as those of the Bishop of Harare, that “Homosexuality is an abomination, unnatural, sinful and intolerable. So we continue to emphasise that reject it totally with no reservations.” The Diocese of Nike says, according to an account in the Lagos Vangard, “… described same sex marriage as "devilish and a deviation from the Holy Scriptures" which it said is the anchor of the Anglican faith. It called on the Christian faithful to shun such practice in view of the punishments awaiting the perpetrators.”
African prelates are being reported across Africa making strongly anti-homosexual statements. These reports mostly rest secure in the arms of a public and political world where they are considered appropriate and quite reasonable. In several instances they affirm the relation between church and state and lend moral weight to the actions of political figures who want, of course, to appear as fine moral agents themselves. But the insidious character of these remarks is that they serve to make hate mongering against gay and lesbian persons the norm, and makes them social scapegoats. No matter that the President of Zimbabwe is so terrible that the Archbishop of York finally has to speak out against him. No matter that the bishop of Harare is closely aligned with the President, that he is not invited to Lambeth. No matter that the Archbishop of Nigeria’s own anti-homosexual remarks are echoed by other bishops in Nigeria. The fact is that the words are out there, put in the mouths of Anglican bishops, and simply in the air and on the page.
Bishop Orama may not have said what he was reported to have said. I continue to hope not. I have commented in another posting that I believe him to be a man of considerable courage. But other bishops have said what they said and their remarks are published without any direct or indirect retraction at all. More importantly the publication of those statements identifies Anglican voices with profoundly intolerant and homophobic attitudes in Africa.
Where is the voice of the Church in mid Africa that says the Church is appalled by the level of hate-mongering in the press, by the statements of those bishops who are quoted, by the general willingness to publish without objection remarks that homosexual persons are unfit to live, deserving to be punished and an abomination?
Where is the voice that says gay and lesbian persons are real, worthy of our respect and love, and children of God, and that hate mongering is unchristian and unhealthy in any society?
Would such a voice make the Harare Herald?