a Reflection on Primates and Meetings

The Most Rev. Stanley Ntagali

Archbishop of the Church of Uganda

7th September 2017

 

Retired Archbishop of Cape Town Desmond Tutu was once asked what holds the Anglican Communion together. He replied, “We meet.”

 

Archbishop Tutu is a global hero from his time as Archbishop of Cape Town during the apartheid era of South Africa and his steadfast witness to justice and truth. When Archbishop Tutu speaks, people listen. So, when he says that what holds the Anglican Communion together is that “we meet,” people listen. Likewise, people also believe that he must be speaking from a uniquely African perspective. Therefore, if African Christian leaders do not meet, the common conclusion is that they must be betraying not only their Christian commitment, but also their very African-ness.

 

In my mother tongue of Rukiga, we have a proverb that says, “Abarya kamwe,” meaning “one eats with those one agrees with or are in agreement with.” The Baganda say, “Oluganda Kurya,” meaning literally “Brethren eat.” Their saying has been shortened from the fuller proverb that says, “Because we are brothers, we can eat together.” The converse is also implied – “I cannot eat with my enemy or he who has betrayed me.”

 

The prophet Amos expressed it this way, saying, “Can two walk together unless they are agreed?” (Amos 3.3) Jesus follows in the tradition of Amos and conveyed the same idea through the imagery of the oxen yoke: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me…for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Two yoked oxen can only walk together if they are walking in the same direction. When they are yoked with Jesus and walking in the same direction as Jesus, then the yoke is easy; it is not a burden. When they are not yoked with Jesus and not walking in the same direction as Jesus, then the yoke chafes; it tears the skin; it wounds and causes bleeding.

 

In 2003, the Episcopal Church in America precipitated a crisis in the Anglican Communion by defying the advice, counsel, and pleas of every other Province in the Anglican Communion to not consecrate as Bishop a man living in a same-sex relationship. The Episcopal Church was warned that if they proceeded with the consecration, they would “tear the fabric of the Anglican Communion at its deepest level.” These are not my words. They are the words of all the Primates of the Anglican Communion, agreed unanimously at an emergency meeting at Lambeth Palace in 2003. The text of the statement is a matter of public record.

 

What did the Episcopal Church then do? They consecrated as Bishop a divorced father of two children living in a same-sex relationship. They betrayed the rest of the Anglican Communion. As predicted by the Primates, their action tore the fabric of the Anglican Communion at its deepest level.

 

Every attempt to repair the torn fabric and heal the betrayal has made the situation worse. Collective decisions made by the Primates sitting together have not been implemented by two different Archbishops of Canterbury or his staff. The Anglican Consultative Council has flagrantly disregarded the wisdom of the Primates. The inability of these so-called “Instruments of Communion” to bring healing and godly order to the Communion of Anglican Churches has created a vacuum for chaos to multiply and flourish. The “tear in the fabric” of the Anglican Communion has not been healed; in fact, it has gotten worse.

 

As both GAFCON and the Global South have recognized, the current Instruments of Communion are broken and are not serving the cause of Christ through Anglicanism.

 

Of the Anglican Communion, I’ve asked myself, “What do we have in common?” We no longer have a common Prayer Book. We do not all share the same common heritage tracing back to the Church of England – some Provinces were not evangelized by the Church of England. At times, I wonder whether we really share a common faith! If we are not walking in the same direction, then how can we walk together?

 

For the most part, all that remains in common are the robes and vestments worn during worship services. Perhaps we could say that we have a common interest in Wippells Vestment Company in London and C.M. Almy Vestment Company in New York. But, is this enough to hold us together? Is this enough of a reason to meet?

 

I will not be attending the Primates Meeting in October that has been called by the Archbishop of Canterbury because for me, as an African, “Abarya kamwe,” meaning “one eats with those one agrees with or are in agreement with.” Or, as the prophet Amos and our Lord Jesus said, “Can two walk together unless they are agreed?”

 

The Anglican Communion’s reason for being has much more substance than “we meet.” Yes, “we meet.” But, “we meet” because we have a common faith in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who is revealed in Holy Scripture and under whose authority all life is lived in abundance. “We meet” because we have agreed to be yoked to Jesus and to walk together on his narrow path that leads to life.

 

As the common faith of Anglicanism has eroded, if all that holds us together is robes, then surely, as Paul said of those who do not believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, “We are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15.19)

 

I believe, however, that we can do better than that. This is why I believe the relationships within GAFCON give us a glimpse of the future of an Anglicanism that “meets” because of a common faith in Jesus Christ and his Word, and a common mission to share the Gospel of Christ crucified and risen with the whole world. These things are captured very well in the Jerusalem Declaration and it’s why I believe its use as a unifying confession of faith is the future of global Anglicanism. “Abarya kamwe!”

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