African Anglicans flex their conservative muscle

Sydney, Australia -- On the face of it, it's an unlikely meeting of minds. The Anglican Church of Uganda and the diocese of Sydney may be part of the Anglican communion which claims 77 million members worldwide but they are, after all, of disparate culture and heritage, and at opposite ends of the world.

Yet their mutual fidelity to orthodox biblical teachings has placed them at the centre of conservative resistance to the US church's stand on homosexuality and made them leaders of what is now being termed Anglicanism's New Reformation.

Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi, Anglican primate of Uganda, prefers the word partnership to alliance when speaking of his new friendship with the Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Peter Jensen.

In Australia as a guest of the Sydney diocese, he is so impressed with Moore Theological College, Newtown, he is discussing the possibility of sending postgraduate seminarians for study, as well as conducting joint missions with Sydney parishes in Uganda.

As a further sign of his approval he thinks Jensen would make a good Australian primate to replace the retiring Dr Peter Carnley.

"I think he's an honest man, a man who loves God," Orombi says.

Orombi's endorsement contrasts with his strong denunciation of the US Episcopal Church, which he accuses of departing from historical Christian teachings with its consecration of an openly gay bishop two years ago.

The Ugandan church subsequently severed ties with the US church, resulting in the loss of scholarships and financial aid, barred the US church from sending an official delegation to Orombi's enthronement as archbishop, and then threatened to walk out on the Anglican communion unless the Americans repented and apologised.

But when 35 Anglican archbishops met last month - Orombi was one who refused to take communion with offending church leaders - it was the US church that was asked to do the walking. The Americans were asked to quit a key representative body until 2008.

"The language is flowery, the meaning is ... we suspend you," Orombi told the Herald yesterday. "But it's put in the most beautiful language that the English would like to put it. It's a polite way of saying, 'please leave the room'."

Orombi speaks from a position of growing influence, having helped channel discontent among conservative dioceses mainly in Africa and Asia into action against the US church that even the Archbishop of Canterbury was forced to accept with an air of resignation.

He also comes from a position of numerical strength, with the Anglican churches of Uganda and Nigeria making up almost 50 per cent of the world's Anglicans.

As Orombi views it, it's the US church and other Anglican liberals that are on the outside looking in. Anglican conservatives are mobilising worldwide, marking a return to the purity of biblical teaching and breaking free of the strictures of denominational consensus.

"The problem with Anglican communion is you are talking about a big family; and the family is like a body," Orombi says. "If this little finger is aching then the whole body feels the pain and that's really why we have the problem. So when this finger is cut then we say, how should we heal it. Should we heal it by treatment or should we amputate it so that the body can heal. That's the question."

But there can be no reconciliation without the liberal North Americans repenting - and that means abandoning the openly gay bishop of New Hampshire, Gene Robinson.

"If Gene Robinson is going to the next Lambeth [conference] then we aren't going, and if we don't go there is no Lambeth."

Robinson's sin is to be openly gay. While progressives argue a church tradition of inclusiveness, Orombi has taken a hard line on gay issues. In Uganda, homosexuality is a crime punishable by life imprisonment.

Homosexuality, the archbishop says, contravenes Biblical teachings that go back to the first God-sanctified man-and-woman union of Adam and Eve, and are reinforced in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah and the words of the apostle Paul. It was a "misuse of sexual organs" as God designed them, and society's "stamp of approval doesn't make it normal".

But a Melbourne Anglican, Dr Muriel Porter, said yesterday that the "second-order" issue of homosexuality should not govern who is acceptable to the worldwide Anglican faith and it was time for "good people" in the church to speak out.

The same international church resolution of 1998 which called for a ban on the ordination of gays also called on Anglicans "to minister pastorally to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals".

"I would like to ask the Archbishop of Uganda and his church if they have launched an all-out offensive against his Government to change the law so that homosexual people are not facing life imprisonment," Porter says. "That is the very least they should be doing if they are requiring the US church to take action against Gene Robinson."

In drawing a line in the sand on homosexuality, however, Orombi says there are greater principles at stake, namely the defence of the apostolic traditions of his faith.

If the Anglican communion is to continue to be "alive, vibrant and growing" it cannot afford contradiction in its biblical messages, he says.