Log into your member account to listen to this article. Not a member? Join the herd.

Anglican primates are engaged in a very public spat. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the Archbishop of Uganda, Stephen Kaziimba Mugalu, differ on the position of the Anglican Communion on same-sex relations. The primates’ tracasserie, has been public, tense, and is straining the bonds holding the Communion together.

In a public statement on 29th May 2023, Archbishop Mugalu declared his and the Church of Uganda’s (CoU) gratitude and unqualified support for Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023. The Act prohibits people from having same-sex sexual relations. It imposes sanctions on the promotion or recognition of same-sex relations and related matters, which, according to Archbishop Mugalu, are prohibited both in the scriptures and in Ugandan culture. But a dismayed Archbishop Welby, in a press release, urged Archbishop Mugalu to withdraw his public support of laws that criminalize LGBTI people. He wrote, “There is no justification for any Province of the Anglican Communion to support such laws: not in our resolutions, not in our teachings, and not in the gospel we share.”

Was Archbishop Welby returning a compliment? In February, Archbishop Mugalu rebuked Archbishop Welby after the Church of England’s (CoE) General Synod approved the blessing of couples in same-sex unions. He condemned Welby’s approval of a change in the Church’s marriage doctrine that allowed clergy to preside over blessings of same-sex unions of couples considered “married” by the British government. Further, the CoE synod approved supplementary prayers and liturgies for such occasions.

Archbishop Welby made a curious admission on the contentious issues of human sexuality: “None of us get this right and I am only too conscious of the failing of the Church of England…” For this reason, he invited his fellow disciples across the Anglican Communion to a dialogue and urged them to desist from homophobia, racism and all other “othering” of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

I see this primates’ tiff as an acute case of culture clash, given the global texture of the Anglican Communion. The primates differed in their interpretation of the CoE Synodal Resolutions and the Ugandan Anti-homosexuality Act. Despite both having cultural advisers, the contradictions were bound to erupt, because they became mutually puzzled by each other’s behaviour which was not according to expectations. William Blake captures this contradiction best in The Everlasting Gospel:  “Both read the Bible, day, and night. But thou read’st black where I read white.”

Each primate speaks to a different audience, both at home and abroad.

The Church of England’s resolutions of February 2023

During the 2023 General Synod, the CoE passed several resolutions to enable her clergy to perform blessings for same-sex civil partnerships and marriages. The resolutions removed legal impediments to the “solemnisation of same-sex marriage in the Church of England”. They achieved this without abandoning the traditional view of marriage as legitimate and honourable. In making these accommodations in practice, the CoE welcomed the LGBTI people and repented for the harm caused.

Archbishop Welby and the CoE received these changes as a fitting response to their social milieu where justice and fairness for LGBTI peoples is enshrined in the anti-discrimination laws. Same-sex civil partnerships and marriages are now permissible. Archbishop Mugalu, on the other hand, saw the changes as a contradiction. He wondered how the CoE could maintain traditional marriage as a lifelong union between one man and one woman and at the same time permit clergy to bless couples in same-sex relationships.

Archbishop Welby claimed the CoE laboured long on the need for change before arriving at the present position. It reached the conclusion having sought the mind of scripture while seeking to “not reject Christ and His authority”. So, to question these changes, argued Archbishop Welby, makes the CoE and Anglican Church abroad “a victim of derision, contempt, and even attack for being part of the perceived ‘homophobic church’.”

But Archbishop Mugalu and the CoU were worried. Rejecting the inherited teaching on marriage and the sin of homosexual practices would damage her witness. There was a reluctance to change, for any such shift might cause the CoU and other Anglican churches to be perceived as being part of what is called the “gay church”.

Thus, while Archbishop Welby rejected Archbishop Mugalu’s statements and the tag of a “homophobic church”, Archbishop Mugalu refused the association with Archbishop Welby’s position for fear of being labelled a “gay church”.

The Church of Uganda’support for the Anti-Homosexuality Act

Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023 prohibits any form of sexual relations between persons of the same sex. It also prohibits the promotion or recognition of same-sex relations and related matters. It imposes a long prison sentence for homosexual offences and life imprisonment for aggravated homosexual offences against the underage or the disabled. It also prohibits those convicted under the Act from working directly with children to aid the CoU’s mission to protect children.

Archbishop Mugalu supported the Act because, in his view, Ugandans consider sexual relations between persons of the same sex to be an aberration. The archbishop argued that the previous legislation, drawn from the colonial era, criminalized same-sex relations under the Penal Code Act of 1950. He was in favour of the Act’s strong anti-grooming measures and restrictions on promoting the homosexual lifestyle.

Rejecting the inherited teaching on marriage and the sin of homosexual practices would damage her witness.

But the Archbishop of Canterbury differed. Both he and the CoE believe that homosexual attraction is natural, not a matter of choice. It is, therefore, wrong for Uganda to criminalize people for being who they are. So, if the Church were to support laws forbidding partnerships between LGBTI people, its action would be unjust. And since the CoE believes this to be a clear injustice, its position should be reflected in the rest of its beliefs; it should become a moral and ethical force in the 21st century. Welby therefore called on the CoU to reject such “criminal sanctions against same sex attracted people”, instead affirming them as humans, because God’s love is the same for every human being, irrespective of their sexuality.

The CoU refused to be tagged as condoning injustice and claimed that it was advancing laws that protect human rights. The CoU said it had forced the government to replace the death sentence in the penal code and in earlier bills with life imprisonment. In addition, it was pointed out that the prohibitions against homosexuality in Uganda were mild compared to the laws in the Arabian Peninsula and in the Middle East.

The CoE noted a profound dislocation between the Church and the society we are called to serve. A dislocation not about their position concerning partnership or sexual expression, but a fundamental disagreement about justice and fairness. The society views the CoE as inhabiting a different moral universe.

The CoU refused to be tagged as condoning injustice and claimed that it was advancing laws that protect human rights.

But Archbishop Mugalu would never affirm LGBTI people, nor allow the CoU to normalize homosexuality. The defining mark of the CoU is the sacrificial blood of the Uganda Martyrs. Although their confession and baptism defined their faith, the young martyrs’ refusal to yield to the homosexual advances of their king and dying for it is legendary. Now faced with a similar challenge, how can the CoU betray them, or abandon the Lord Jesus Christ?

Why the primates’ clash?

There are two explanations for the archbishops’ clash: ethnocentrism as advanced by anthropologists like Paul Hiebert, and the psychological dynamics of culture clash as advanced by Glenn Adams and Hazel Rose Markus.

Whenever we find differences in culture, Paul G. Hiebert concludes, ethnocentrism occurs, “the tendency to judge other cultures by our own values and assumptions of our culture”. So, it becomes the norm to view one’s own cultural position as the most suitable. And this is mutual. For just as we judge others’ customs as crude, they feel the same about ours.

The divergence of the archbishops’ vision of human sexuality is unyielding. The tension stretches into their interpretation of the 1998 Lambeth Conference Resolution 1.10, the most cited Anglican authority on human sexuality that holds “homosexual practice as incompatible with scripture” and, therefore, the church “cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same-sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions.” Archbishop Justin emphasizes the resolution’s stand that “all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ”. He “calls on all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals”.

On the other hand, Archbishop Mugalu’s reading of the resolution supports the Uganda Anti-homosexuality Act, to the dismay of Archbishop Welby, who judges the Ugandan action as inhuman from the UK point of view. Archbishop Welby’s reading of the resolution is consistent with the CoE’s position, which embraces and welcomes LGBTI people, while Archbishop Mugalu judges it from his cultural point of view as compromising and contradictory.

For Archbishop Welby, to offer loving pastoral services to individuals made in the image of God is to affirm their value and identity. Supporting Archbishop Welby, the Archbishop of York laments existing laws that target people perceived to be different. According to the Archbishop of York, unloving laws that cause prejudice, violence, discrimination, and oppression are not rooted in the Gospel’s call to love our neighbours as Christ has loved us. Homosexual orientation is now viewed as being as normal as being left-handed in Western culture. It is nature. So, to discriminate on the grounds of sexuality is unlawful and deeply wrong. The CoE refuses to inhabit a different moral universe. A further reason to re-examine our scriptures and the tradition is to see if we can find a better way.

At the heart of the divide in the Anglican Communion’s approach to pastoral care for LGBTI people is a mutual pervasive process of devaluing the non-dominant group in contact with the more dominant group. These differences are cast as the result of negative shared tendencies rather than as a matter of divergent life experiences.

The Archbishop of Uganda holds a different logic of loving pastoral care for LGBTI people. Such services, argues Archbishop Mugalu, must be understood as guiding sinners back to God’s love through repentance. The CoU holds that God condemns all sexual sin: fornication, adultery, polygamy, bestial acts, paedophilia, and homosexuality. Repentant sinners can receive God’s love by confessing the wrong done and changing their lives. The CoU’s model of care and love is found in the example of Jesus’ treatment of the woman caught in adultery. Jesus said to her “Go, and sin no more.” Since God cannot bless what he calls sin, God wants to free from bondage those caught in sexual sin. The CoU has therefore developed pastoral healing ministries and recovery centres, where LGBTI people can find healing, forgiveness, freedom, and hope.

For Archbishop Welby, to offer loving pastoral services to individuals made in the image of God is to affirm their value and identity.

Culture reveals the psychological dynamics underlying the divide. When change comes, we are asked to examine cultural practices and institutions to foster a more inclusive, equal, and just multi-cultural society. The culture cycle offers insight into the primates’ clash.

Adams and Markus observe that culture comprises explicit and implicit patterns of historically derived and selected ideas and their embodiment in institutions, practices, and artifacts. Hence, the culture cycle is conceived as a multilayered, interacting, and dynamic system of ideas, institutions, interactions and individuals.

Conceptually, the culture cycle represents the dynamic process through which the cultural and the psychological interact and mutually make up one another.

Hazel Markus and Alana Conner show culture as a system of four dynamically interacting and interdependent layers. Here, culture is composed of the ideas, institutions, and interactions that guide and reflect individuals’ thoughts, feelings, and actions. The culture cycle can either start from the left hand or the right hand. The two archbishops seem to start the culture cycle from opposite ends.

Starting the culture cycle from the left, one begins with ideas, then the institutions and interactions that influence the individual. Consequently, cultures shape the self. For a person thinks, feels, and acts in ways that reflect and perpetuate these cultures. This appears to have been Archbishop Mugalu’s and the CoU’s starting point. Since Ugandan culture frowns on homosexuality, this norm determines how individuals in that culture respond to the demands of LGBTI people. So, according to Anita Among’, Speaker of the Ugandan Parliament, the Anti-Homosexuality Act “captures the norms and aspirations of Ugandans, for the House legislates for the citizens”. How, query’s Archbishop Mugalu, can the CoU embrace and normalize same-sex relations against their will, culture, and religious beliefs?

Joining the culture cycle from the right is reflected by individuals participating in and creating (i.e., reinforcing, resisting, and/or changing) cultures adopted by other people, in the present and the future. This is the point from which Archbishop Welby and the CoE seem to have started from in the cycle. The CoE adopted an embracing posture, following the individual experience of the young generation that has grown up in a UK society where homosexual orientation is normal. These individuals were previously rejected by the Church. So, for most of their lives, members of this generation have endured deep hurt and distress emanating from a sense of rejection and unworthiness at the hands of their own church, while finding acceptance and affirmation in the wider society. The CoE perceives this dislocation as a fundamental disagreement over justice and fairness, and thus transcending sexual expression and partnerships.

How, query’s Archbishop Mugalu, can the CoU embrace and normalize same-sex relations against their will, culture, and religious beliefs?

Taking a position against homosexuality in the Ugandan society makes the CoU, and therefore Archbishop Mugalu, a moral voice. But taking a similar position would place the CoE in dissonance with the society it aims to serve.

If this divide is to be bridged, then the Anglican Church must examine the interconnected and shifting dynamics that make up the culture cycle and afford certain ways of being while constraining others. We need to recognize that to foster more inclusive, equal, and effective institutions and practices, the deeper work will involve changing how cultures construct the meaning and nature of social group differences themselves.

We can exploit the power individuals have to shape their cultures through their actions, as we focus on how cultures shape people.

We disagree, but are not divided

 What is God saying to us Anglicans now?

The Anglican Communion may not be divided for now, but it will wither on the vine and die unless these fierce disagreements are attended to. It is possible, in the words of E. Nader, that the Anglican Communion is approaching the moment of its collapse, trailing in the dust of a British Empire whose robes are now tattered and thrown into the heap of history. Our generation is called to act to maintain the communion for the sake of the “wider church” and the world.

Since the dissonance in human sexuality ruptured, the Anglican Communion has presented two divergent visions, one based on doctrinal unity defined by the traditional teaching of the faith received, the other on progressive reforms anchored in Anglican unity and God’s providence, expressed in the Nicene Creed, the one holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

Archbishop Stephen Mugalu, together with his brother primates from what they have termed the Orthodox Provinces, is persuaded that only doctrinal purity and safeguarding the traditional faith will unite the Anglican Communion. Their commitment to sever the relationship with the Archbishop of Canterbury at the April 2023 Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) IV meeting in Kigali, Rwanda, should be understood as the shifting dynamics of the Church’s “serial” development observed by professor Andrew Walls.

Walls noted that as the Church moved away from its Mediterranean centre, she experienced multiple and major demographic and character shifts that brought her to its present form. With every demographic shift, the dynamic centres moved alongside the energy and the informing cultural orientations.

Together with other archbishops from the Global South, Archbishop Mugalu claims to represent 85 per cent of the Anglican Communion, which projects the demographic shift Walls mentioned. They are now asserting dynamism as they seek to shape the Communion by infusing new energy with their cultural orientation.

The Anglican Communion may not be divided for now, but it will wither on the vine and die unless these fierce disagreements are attended to.

The 2023 GAFCON IV commitment is a departure from their 2008 commitment not to leave the Anglican Communion. Then, they demanded repentance from Archbishop Rowan Williams for not sanctioning the Episcopal Church of the United States of America (ECUSA), which had violated the guidance of Lambeth Resolution 1.10. by consecrating an openly gay bishop in 2003. The inaction of Archbishop Williams led to the Archbishops from the Orthodox Provinces boycotting Lambeth 2008, and to the formation of GAFCON.

The Archbishops of the Orthodox Provinces see the CoE’s decision to bless couples in same sex unions as a betrayal of the historic faith and cannot in good conscience follow a leader whose fidelity to the faith they question. As a result, they have resolved not to recognise this Archbishop of Canterbury as their Primus inter Pares. If this threat is carried through, the primates would have dismembered one of the key instruments of the Communion. Archbishop Mugalu and the team will remain in the Communion only if the CoE repents for advancing false teachings. But they have offered to pray for the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Church of England to repent, in line with Revelation 2:5b: “If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” But the CoE is not willing to repent and is open to progress to advance their witness.

Anglicans, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, who see unity as God’s providence, see God’s movement as one singular act. This is where God gathers the Church and all creation to himself. This vision is embodied in the Anglican Communion Covenant, part of which states: “In the providence of God, which holds sway even over our divisions caused by sin, various families of churches have grown up within the universal Church in history. Among these families is the Anglican Communion, which provides a particular charism and identity among the many followers and servants of Jesus.” We can call the Church “one, holy and apostolic” only where the Church shows these realities as pertaining to God, describing how God works and moves to his unifying ends.

How well this common vision of the Anglican Communion matches God’s actual identity — the “it is finished” identity of Jesus Christ by which God orders the history of creation, is subject to our interpretation. “We are not divided, but we disagree, and that is very painful,” Archbishop Welby conceded to the CoE’s General Synod.