The year-old Anglican Church of North America, which has broken away from the Episcopal Church, has formed a New England Anglican diocese that is seated in my new town of Amesbury, Massachusetts. The split was most notably precipitated by the controversy surrounding Gene Robinson, the openly gay bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire. Others argue that the split is about more than just homosexuality; it’s about fundamental theological differences between the more theologically liberal Episcopalians and the more conservative Anglicans.
More likely, the split has been caused by an explosive combination of differing opinions on Biblical interpretation, the importance of the historical Christian tradition, and the debate surrounding the ordination of Gene Robinson. Beneath these theological debates, however, fester issues of class and post-colonialism.
Christians in Africa have found themselves tangled in a debate that is acted out primarily in the United States. Because of stronger cultural mores against homosexuality and also because of the history of conservative and fundamentalist efforts to evangelize Sub-Saharan Africa, African Christians have actively voiced their dissent toward homosexuality and toward what is viewed by some as the slippery slope of straying from a literal interpretation of scripture.
For westerners who stand with Gene Robinson and the growing number of open and affirming churches, advocating for equality demands a recognition that in the global church, they are the minority. To frame the conundrum simply in terms of us (educated, progressive) v. them (uneducated, un-progressive) reeks of elitism and a new iteration of colonialism.
Bill Murdoch, the new Bishop of the New England diocese of the Anglican Church of North America, previously served as the Bishop of the Anglican Church of Kenya Diocese of New England. He left the Episcopal Church and traveled to Nairobi in 2007 to be ordained under the Kenyan Anglican diocese. Murdoch knows the struggle surrounding homosexuality and Christianity personally – his younger brother is a gay priest in New England.
Bishop Murdoch told NPR that the Gene Robinson debate is very much in the past.His church plans to start community service programs and ministries for the poor. With hope, the new Anglican diocese will also bring a stronger connection to Christians in Africa. Murdoch serves as the Suffragan Bishop of All Saints’ Cathedral Diocese in Nairobi, Kenya. If Murdoch chooses to use that role as a continued way to build dialogue between Christians in Africa and North America, we will all benefit.
Here in Amesbury, an Episcopal church still meets just down the road from the newly formed Anglican diocese, and it continues to bless same-sex unions. Let us hope that here, too, there can be renewed dialogue between the Anglicans and Episcopalians.
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