Seth Mwaniki @MwanikiM
Confusion, pandemonium, defiance!
These negative attributes now threaten to tar the Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK) today.
And it all stems from a 2015 case that saw the suspension of three Mount Kenya West Diocese pastors over allegations of homosexuality.
The three, John Gachau, Paul Warui and Maina Maigua, however, not only successfully contested the sack, but the Nyeri Labour Relations Court also awarded them salary arrears and damages totalling Sh6.8 million.
But while the ACK may be able to meet the financial order, it is the restoration directive that has left the church leadership at crossroads. On the one hand, it wants — has to — obey the law of the land. On the other, that law counters a doctrine of the church. Its a classic catch-22 situation.
Speaking yesterday, the ACK primate Jackson ole Sapit said the church will obey the court order and work with the three priests. But he also said there are limits to their abilities.
“We will do as the court has ordered, but it must also be known that the Church leadership cannot force its followers to be shepherded by a person they don’t want,” he said.
And there lies the elephant in the room for the three priests because even the law of the land cannot bind the congregation to a preacher. And what is a clergy without the congregation?
But even as Ole Sapit made his views known, the embattled clerics have since been reinstated and posted to new stations in Othaya sub-county. But furious faithful in Witima, Thunguri and Kariki Anglican churches would have none of it and kicked them out on Sunday. They claimed the priests had tarnished the Church image by taking it to court, but it is the homosexuality issue that appears to breed the most ire.
In fact, it is a contention that has left the giant Anglican Church split right down the middle,pitting African clerics against mostly their European counterparts.
It all erupted when Jeffrey John, an openly gay priest, was elected Bishop of Reading, in the United Kingdom in May 2003. But strong opposition before he could take up his post persuaded him not to not proceed with the appointment.
However in 2004 he was installed as Dean of St Albans where churches, however, withheld contributions to protest the appointment. Many more churches were to follow suit in protest.
The divide in the Church got so bad that a group of conservative parishes in US and Canada broke off and formed the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). Most of Africa followed suit telling off the mother church in England for admitting gay priests in the ranks. In 2013, Archbishop Eliud Wabukala, then the Primate of the ACK “denounced a decision by the Church of England’s House of Bishops to allow gay priests to become bishops.” He also opposed priests being allowed to enter into same-sex civil partnerships saying the Church of England “seems to be advancing along the same path as the US Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada which he accused of promoting ‘a false gospel’.”
In Nigeria, Archbishop Peter Akinola called homosexuality “a perversion of human dignity. In March 2009, the Church declared itself in full communion with ACNA.
“The Anglican Church of Tanzania believes that homosexuality is contrary to the teaching of the Word of God. It is a sin,” Archbishop Donald Mtetemela said responding to the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson in November 2003.
The contentious issue, once considered a preserve of the urbanised population,however, seems to have infiltrated right into the heart of usually conservative congregants in the village.
Ole Sapit advised followers in the Mount Kenya Diocese to steer clear of the debate on the three priests, saying silence will deny the three an agenda that has kept the church in the limelight for wrong reasons.
“The only way to bring this matter to an end is to remain silent because advancing the debate on the same will put you in the same level with those against us,” he said in Nyeri during a pastoral visit to the diocese.