The Anglican Church of Kenya has distanced itself from claims that the global association of one of the largest Christian denominations could disintegrate at a crucial meeting next January.
There have been divisions, especially on the issue of gay marriages, prompting recent pronouncements by the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the spiritual head of the church, that the 80-million-member church would be better off forming a loose association.
So divisive has the issue of gay marriage and gay priests become within the church that Rev Welby has acknowledged that it is impossible to agree on a way forward for the church.
When American churches started ordaining openly gay bishops in the last decade, with Gene Robinson being a prominent pioneer, the conservative members of the church — mostly from Africa and Asia — came together and formed the Global Anglican Future Conference (Gafcon), which seeks to uphold what they say are the true teachings of the Christian faith.
But Archbishop Eliud Wabukala told the Sunday Nation yesterday that any impending split is not a Kenyan affair as those were internal conflicts among the churches in North America.
“Those are internal affairs in the North American churches. I wish you could get in touch with the Archbishop of Canterbury as we are not involved in any way,” said Rev Wabukala.
He said that despite having an Anglican communion, every province — or country — is guided by its own constitution in terms of discipline and laws.
On the issue of homosexuality among priests that has hit the local church in recent weeks, he said the discipline of the clergy should be based on morals and teachings of the church.
“How the church conducts its business is engraved in the Church constitution and everybody must adhere to it,” he said.
In a previous interview with the Sunday Nation, the Kenyan primate had said the homosexuality debate was the opening bait for an even more sinister motive against the church and Christianity in general.
“At the heart of it all is the impending rejection of God’s word and God’s authority,” he said, calling the move a resuscitation of the biblical “Original Sin” in the book of Genesis.
But the Anglican church in Kenya has in recent weeks been embroiled in a controversy of its own.
Early this month, the Mt Kenya West Diocese expelled five priests who were under investigations for allegedly engaging in acts of homosexuality.
The five were excommunicated after investigations by a tribunal formed by the church.
Back to recent suggestions, the Archbishop of Canterbury has summoned all of the 38 leaders of the national churches of the Anglican communion to a meeting in January, where he will propose that the communion be reorganised as a group of churches that are all linked to Canterbury but no longer necessarily to each other.
He believes that the Anglican community, still the third largest Christian body in the world after the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Church, has become impossible to hold together due to arguments over sexuality and has for the last 20 years been completely dysfunctional.
The Archbishop hopes that by doing this, the Anglican faith can again focus on issues that concern all its members world-wide such as climate change and inter-religious violence in sub Saharan Africa, southern Asia and the Middle East. The Archbishop believes these issues are more urgent than wrangling about sexuality.
At the heart of the issue is the Rev Welby’s belief that he cannot leave his eventual successor in the same position of “spending vast amounts of time trying to keep people in the boat and never actually rowing it anywhere”.
The Archbishop’s proposals represent a complete abandonment of the strategy pursued by his immediate predecessors, Rowan Williams and George Carey, both of whom were committed to getting the liberals and conservatives to work together globally.
But in a sense it is acknowledging reality. A large, formal schism has already taken place in the United States and Anglican churches of Nigeria, Rwanda, and Kenya have all established what they call missionary congregations to take worshippers away from the liberal churches.
Asked whether this represented, if not a divorce, a legal separation, a close to the Archbishop said: “It’s more like sleeping in separate bedrooms.”
Rev Welby acknowledges that the January invite, which will bring together all the heads of other Anglican churches – some of whom have not spoken directly to each other for more than a decade – to what will be a make-or-break meeting in Canterbury.
The aim will in effect to not only acknowledge the rift within the church but effectively formalise it by scaling the Anglican communion back into a loosely linked organisation.
The Archbishop is said to accept that his initiative may fail, triggering a permanent schism.