This View from Fleet Street column by Stephen Bates of the Guardian appeared in the CEN on Friday 3 March. It is republished by permission of the Church of England Newspaper.
“There is always something new coming out of Africa,” wrote Aristotle more than 2,000 years ago and he didn’t mean new in a nice way. To him it meant strange and undesirable.
I hope more than a few Anglicans would agree with him at the moment. Scarcely a week seems to pass without some new scandal, some outrageous statement or appalling behaviour coming out not of sundry regimes, militias, or armed factions, but from an institution that is fast becoming equally corrupt, the Anglican Church itself.
These are not just any old Anglicans but bishops and archbishops, with scarcely a peep coming out of anyone, least of all their allies in the evangelical constituency, with only a few honourable exceptions. For the rest it is almost as if embarrassment, political correctness and maybe even the fear of upsetting those on the same side in the gay row causes a reticence that is close to cowardice.
Two recent, egregious, examples: last week our old friend Archbishop Akinola waded into the inter-religious violence in Nigeria with all the abandon of a man waving a lighted match near a pool of petrol, threatening Muslims that they did not have a monopoly of violence. Who knows what the effect, but shortly afterwards Christian mobs in Onitsha started hacking people to death with machetes. The only people I can find who condoned the Archbishop’s remarks were on American blogsites. Even his fellow bishop Cyril Okorocha thought he was being inflammatory.
Akinola’s hot on the Bible but he doesn’t seem to have read the Beatitudes recently. Of course Christians were already under attack from Muslims but that’s no excuse. The injunctions in Matthew 5 really take on their meaning when they are most difficult.
This of course is the archbishop who has just ostentatiously praised the Nigerian government for introducing draconian and inhumane legislation against homosexuals, thereby breaking that great holy writ of conservative evangelicals, Lambeth 1.10, but that’s old news.
Let’s take as our second example one of Akinola’s allies, the Archbishop of Central Africa, the Most Rev. Bernard Malango, another primate who is quick to criticise the gay mote in England and America but slow to recognise the beam in his own eye.
He’s the man who recently absolved, without trial, Bishop Nolbert Kunonga of Harare. The list of 38 charges against the good bishop, who is a crony of Robert Mugabe, brought against him by his own black parishioners, include little matters such as incitement to murder, intimidation, ignoring church law, mishandling funds and proselytising for Zanu PF from the pulpit. He has also occupied a farm and evicted 40 families from a local village. A couple of months ago he even licensed the acting vice-president of Zimbabwe Joseph Msika, a man on record as saying that whites are not human beings, to act as a deacon of the church.
Archbishop Malango decided Kunonga had done nothing wrong after the case faltered in Zimbabwe, because of a little spot of harassment and intimidation. Thanks to that, he has not a stain on his character and is going round saying the charges were all got up by whites.
But that’s not all Archbishop Malango’s been up to. He’s also been persecuting the Rev. Nicholas Henderson, the London vicar who was chosen last summer as Bishop of Lake Malawi by members of the diocese impressed by his many years of close association and work with them.
Henderson was rejected by the archbishop as being of “unsound faith” because he had been secretary of the Modern Churchpeople’s Union, a body so subversive that it has been undermining the church for only the last 108 years.
There were also unsubstantiated smears about the vicar’s sexuality, allegedly poured into the archbishop’s ear by conservative evangelicals and bloggers – they’d certainly know all about him – which were so devastating that even Mr Henderson’s own assurances of his theological, ethical and sexual orthodoxy and, perhaps more to the point, the support of his impeccably evangelical bishop, Pete Broadbent, were not enough to save him.
Mr Henderson has recently been back to Malawi but was told he should not enter a church during his stay. Local Anglicans have been demonstrating in his support and insisting they want him rather than an old buddy of Malango’s whom the archbishop wishes to instal instead.
Now these men have all been very hot on western decadence. They want the American Episcopal Church, and especially Gene Robinson, banned from the next Lambeth Conference, though I don’t think Robinson has ever threatened violence against anyone.
All I know is that if Rowan Williams bans the bishop of New Hampshire but extends invitations to men such as Akinola, Malango and Kunonga, Anglicanism will have ceased to be a communion worthy of the name. It will be, to coin a phrase, spiritually dead.
Stephen Bates is religious affairs correspondent of the Guardian.