Month: December 2014

The challenge of getting Women bishop in Kenya.

Rev'd Libby lane

The appointment of the Revd Libby Lane as Bishop Suffragan of Stockport, the first ever woman bishop in the Church of England (CoE) will without doubt excite those who have pushed to have Women bishops in the Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK).

This news in equal measure will irritate conservative within the ACK who had clung to the robes of tradition as their excuse, now that the CoE ‘mother church’ has changed its long held position on women episcopacy. The import of this appointment is the springing of demands for the same action in the ACK by those who adjudged the moratoria on the women bishops concentration imposed by the house of Bishops and the provincial synod October 2014 a blockade.

I agree with many calling for women Episcopacy and I am convinced it will happen. I echo the words; ‘Be comforted’, ‘it will come.’ These were prophetic words Archbishop Desmond Tutu, wrote to the Archbishop of York, the Most Revd Dr John Sentamu, to, [as he puts it] ‘pour some balm’ on his ‘ ‘wounded heart’, when the General Synod rejected the proposals to ordain women bishops in November 2012. It has come at last! It will come in ACK too.

The possibility to have a woman bishop appears to divide opinions in the ACK with some feeling this is too early in the day and requires more time. The evangelical leaning bishops oppose it all together. A significant influential group thinks it is too late and should have followed the approval of the ordination of women into priesthood in 1990.

There is a growing feeling that the House of Bishops fumbled when it recommended to our provincial synod of October 2014 to issue ‘a Five (5) year moratorium on consecration of women Bishops to give time and opportunity for discussions and consensus. Why the retrogress? This once courageous and astute church whose leadership had been prophetic world wide seems to stumble at an hour of need.

There is concern that legal and constitutional citations could be an impediment to women episcopacy. According to the Article VI of our Constitution ON THE MINISTRY; Clause 4 and 5, there is a clear demarcation between the work of a Bishop and that of a Priest. In clause 4, the Bishop is referred to exclusively as male while in Clause 5, which deals with priests, the constitution recognizes that the holder of such office could be male or female.

But meeting in Nakuru under the chairmanship of the bishop of Nairobi, the chancellors [Church legal advisors] ruled that the incongruences had no weight and would present no legal impediment. Our church Constitution read properly did not explicitly bar women from being available to be elected bishops even though the language used did not consider women. They further observed that the Constitution of Kenya was against any form of discrimination based on gender in appointment to leadership position. They concluded that the church would lose against a litigant barred on gender grounds.

But in a bid to erase any grammatical ambiguities and to be clear Archbishop, the Most Rev Eliud Wabukala, wrote to the bishops of the Anglican Church of Kenya asking that they approve amendments to the language of the church’s constitution erasing any doubts that women priests are eligible for election to the episcopate.

There is a swelling tide in support for women bishops among Christians. Kenyan Anglicans are visibly ready for women bishops. Already the Diocese of Eldoret in its Synod sitting in December 2013 had approved overwhelmingly to elect women bishops. No one epitomises the mood of the support for women bishops than Rev Elijah Yego, an influential clergy of the diocese who was the face of opposition to women becoming priest, was unusually vocal in support for women bishops in this synod, having been won over by what he termed ‘their superior ministry’.

Another diocese, the Diocese of Maseno West in their August 2014 ordinary synod session, approved unanimously the ordination of women bishops. Justifying the vote the Bishop of Maseno West and Dean of the ACK, the Rt. Rev. Joseph Wasonga said the Kenyan church understood the ministry to be a functional office; “Ministry belongs to all who are baptised, be they men or women, and as such no one can deny the other an opportunity to serve in whatever capacity.” He said.

But the more significant development was the formal nomination of a woman priest Rev Canon Rosemary Mbogo, the Provincial Secretary of ACK and also chairman of NCCK, to vie for bishopric election in Embu. She was second clergy to be nominated after Rev. Dr. Lydia Mwaniki for Kirinyaga diocesan. Had she been successful we would have had our first Kenyan woman bishop in 2014 before the CoE.

Africa got its first female Anglican bishop on 18 July 2012. The Rt. Rev. Ellinah Wamukoya who was elected as fifth Bishop of the Diocese of Swaziland has roots in Kenya. She is married to Wamukoya Kadima a Kenyan agriculturist from Mumias diocese whose home is in Moi’s bridge Kitale, where she has established her home.

Bishop Elinah Wamukoya

Bishop Elinah Wamukoya

Those within the church who want more time have viewed women bishopric to be an issue of Doctrine and Order in the church. This therefore requires consensus by the Bishops, a process that should be prudently taken. I have difficulty to separate women episcopacy issue from ordination of women into priesthood. The Lambeth Conference, in 1978, had already resolved that it was acceptable for member churches to ordain women if they chose. A long and engaged effort at Communion-wide consultation over the issue of women in the episcopacy gave rise to a report, endorsed by the Communion’s archbishops, to maintain communion as far as possible even while various churches carried on with different practices.

It was this framework that saw in 1980, the Anglican Church of Kenya agreeing in principle that women could be ordained, allowing also that each diocese remain autonomous in taking up the issue. That year, the Bishop of the Diocese of Maseno South in the Anglican Church of Kenya ordained the Rev Lucia Okuthe as priest.

I found it ironical that Kenya which ordained women ahead of the Church of England, did not begin ordaining women priests until 1994, has not articulated and prepared for women episcopacy. The Anglican Church in Australia and the Church of Southern Africa who now all have women bishops made women priests after Kenya.

Women bishops are likely to widen the already growing chasm within the more conservative Evangelical wing of the church which is gaining influence. Attempts to reach consensus among our dioceses will be a challenge. But a more daunting task will be to agree with other provinces we are in working relationship with who do not ordain women like Church of Nigeria. We may be wise to adopt the posture that each diocese is autonomous in taking their own decision on the issue, like we did on ordination of women in 1980 and avoid stifling those who have resolved to support women episcopacy.

We however need to be very cautious of being cajoled into walking away from our convictions on this because of other provinces. Bishop Bill Atwood, Bishop of the International Diocese of the Anglican Church in North America [ACNA], warned that the direction Kenya takes will impact on other provinces in the Global Anglican Future Conference (Gafcon ). Writing in Global View this October Atwood reported that : “…bishops warned of taking action that would be in opposition to Nigeria’s position…that a decision to include women as bishops at this time would also be damaging to the Anglican Church in North America because it is such a high priority for a significant number of leaders.”

We should rather err on the side of caution rather than risk in these associations. Ephraim Radner a professor of historical theology at Wycliffe College, Toronto Canada,observed that; “Within North America, churches like the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) that have separated from the Episcopal and Canadian churches, are moving in a direction that may well prohibit women’s ordination altogether.”

Radber warned that “the already existing divide between these groups and Canterbury is likely to widen,…ordained women in ACNA and in other evangelical churches may well decide that their own vocations are better pursued back within Church of England-related Anglican churches, and one may see a strengthening of conservative female leadership there”.

We cannot abscond from responsibility of solving the issue of our own women. ACK should give premium to the voice and advice of professor Michere Mugo, Meredith Professor for teaching at Syracuse university, who writes, ” women are indispensable resource in society, constituting major driving force in every aspect of human development.”

She invites us to fight for “women inclusion in this historical process, reiterating the absolute need for their full participation, representation and empowerment in all areas of life. By insisting on locating women at their marginalisation, silencing, impoverishment and disempowerment are major barriers standing in the path of potential human development, globally, but more so in Africa, which represents the most oppressed of global humanity”.

The situation in the ACK reminds me of the counting game often played by young girls to foretell their futures …The “tinker, tailor, soldier sailor” rhyme; When shall we have a woman bishop? This year, next year, sometimes, never!

Bishop Ellina Wamukoya

Bishop Ellina Wamukoya

Canon Francis Omondi is a priest in the anglican church of Kenya All saints Dioceese. opinions expressed here are his own.

Living Between Advents: Immanuel through Terror!

Living Between Advents: Immanuel by Rev. canon francis Omondi

We are called to live between Advents. Christ’s first coming which we celebrate every Christmas (First Advent) should give us a great sense of preparedness for the Second Advent. Meanwhile the Advent promise should sustain us in the in-between period with its great pressures. Here is the promise: God is with us, so that we might live. God is with us, so that we might believe. God is with us, because it is hard to believe, and God knows it!

We come into this year’s Advent season grieving. The brutal killing on Saturday 22nd November of 28 people and again on Tuesday 2nd December of 36 Christians in Mandera at the hands of Alshabaaab has shocked and frightened us. Here were Christians who had selflessly served the Muslim community, giving essential services mainly in education and health, whose dream of joining family for Christmas was cruelly cut off. These tragedies do test our trust with the Advent promise.
36 christians brutally muddered by alshabaab
The promise of Immanuel was GIVEN to a reluctant king Ahaz of Judah in his crisis of faith. It is a story of national crisis and a king’s gut-wrenching fear. Here is the story:
Two neighbours to the north: Israel, with its capital in Samaria and Syria, with its capital in Damascus, are forming a coalition. Their kings, Pekah and Rezin, are vassals of the mighty Assyria. They have surrendered tribute, dignity, and human life. They want to put off the yoke of oppression. They press Ahaz to join them and commit Judah’s armies to their rebellion. He refuses. They respond with aggression. The year is 734 BCE the troops of Israel and Syria invade Judah (cf. 2 Kings 16:5). The prophet Isaiah shows Ahaz the future. God has already decreed against their plan and they will disappear from the pages of history. Only one thing only is needed. Believe. The call to faith is hard to answer. God knows that if he (God) stops talking, Judah doesn’t have a chance. The power of God would be too incredible to believe if there weren’t signs of it everywhere.

But there is tension in Ahaz. He must make political judgments that will lead to national security, health and life. External threats to national security seem to require military or diplomatic resolutions. Alliances with foreign nations might lead to worship of their gods. Seeking help from nations more powerful than Judah might signal lack of faith in Judah’s God. He is caught in the horns of dilemma.

Ask a sign of me, says God (Isaiah 7:11). Anything. What can you imagine? Lift your face, lift your mind, lift your hope upward, and I will show you a sign there in the sky. “And the Lord kept talking to Ahaz (Isaiah 7:10).

In an apparent act of faith Ahaz refuses both to ask for a sign nor to join the alliance with Israel and Syria. On the surface the refusals sounds righteous, but Isaiah sees through Ahaz’s pretence of faith and calls him out of his unbelief (cf. Isaiah 1:14). He seeks a practical option, Ahaz already has a plan and does not want to believe. It is easier to sell himself to Assyria than to wait for salvation from God. But God still gives even when we will not ask. “Therefore the Lord will give a sign to you.” It is a sign of salvation. It is still a sign of God’s power to save. It is a security for every promise, even when faith fails.

Look, says Isaiah. “Here: a virgin is pregnant, and she is giving birth to a son. And she will call his name ‘God is with us’” (7:14). This unprecedented miracle should have convinced Ahaz of God’s ability and power to rescue Judah. The mention of this name in the land should be the ground of all life and hope: God is with us.

Malcolm Muggeridge, the cynical British journalist who found faith in his later years, rightly admonishes us that: “Every happening, great and small, is a parable whereby God speaks to us, and the art of life is to get the message.” We should look at our persistent challenges here in this light. We live in the trauma of survival, uncertain of what awaits us. There seems not to be an end of this in sight.

Survival is a privilege which entails obligations. We must find for ourselves as survivors how to do our duty. Is there a way I can be a mouthpiece of those who did not survive, I want to keep their memory alive, to make sure the dead live on in that memory thereby seeking justice and not vengeance.
families of those whose relatives were killed
I firmly believe that God is calling us to walk the parallel rails of deeper awareness of the trauma and pain of terror on one hand and deeper resolve for progress on the other. Side by side God can use these two rails to propel us to a hopeful future of this country.

The daily death of our brothers and sisters has laid open these wounds of terrible pain. One could have been lulled into initially seeing this as a news story within a news cycle. It is not and it will continue. As a matter of fact today 2nd Dec, 36 more Christian quarry workers were brutally murdered 15km from Mandera. These massacres force us to see that in reality this is an old story within a recurring cycle.

In the images of the 28 bodies and today’s 36, it is too easy to project a son, a husband, a neighbour, and a colleague. They are rested with God and await the Second Advent. While who are grieving we still need to say with a strong voice that we recognize our country needs to be roused to better listen, to more fully understand, and to more deeply mourn. Living in Advent will ridicule the terrorists since our faith defies toucher and death. He promised persecution to his followers, because he himself was persecuted. For us now “Christian living” will be boldly living a life for Christ in the face of death.

Hopefully as we grow as a multi-religious mosaic and we will see things more clearly and feel things more deeply.

Debating whether the killers are true Muslims or not, is not a fruitful line of argument. We may not dispute Alshabaab’s own claim to be Muslims and they have been motivated by Islamic teaching and history. It is true that Muslims opposed to Alshabaab are equally in danger. On 8 December 2012, the Kamakunji MP Yusuf Hasan of Somali heritage was injured, together with several others in a blast in an Eastleigh mosque, having been deemed a hinderance to Alshabaab agenda. We do know also that the selective and deliberate killing of Christians is a piercing reminder that we are disproportionately more likely to be killed than our Somali and Muslim counterparts. Muslims of this country have been peaceful and have lived harmoniously with non-Muslims in all corners of this country. But these latest atrocities has left us puzzled and seeking to know the truth.

We should note that the aggression on Kenya this time is external, under the hands of Alshabaab from Somalia. We need to be wary of the development of these networks within Kenya. Crisis Group Briefings reports of 24-September 2014 [Kenya; Alshabaab closer home] and of June [Somalia; Al-shababaab, pp7-8] points to a growing movement which has led to crisis within Islam; “the steady entrenchment Wahabbism in the Muslim constituency in Kenya which ‘has certainly brought tension between older ‘Muslim’ elites who are closer to the Kenyan establishment, and the new, more politically assertive and outward- looking ‘Islamist’ ulama (scholars and religious authorities). The routine argument is that the growing influence of Wahhabism has provided the ideological groundwork for the progression to violent activism.’”

This report elaborates that “Ideological differences are increasingly acute and (partially) reflect the growth of Wahhabism (an orientation of Salafism) at the expense of traditional orientations – often termed ‘Sufism’ – especially in north-east Kenya and on the coast (arguably where Sufism was more entrenched). Wahhabism’s core message is an implicitly political critique of the secular, nation-state government and while it does not preach violence per se, it informs much of the core theological outlook of the Salafi-jihadi trend, including al-Qaeda.”

Whether one could link these directly though is moot and sharply divides opinions. We have demanded to see a more common Kenyan Muslim stance on the extremist action. The fact that mosques can be taken over from within by extremist groups, should solicit action of mainstream Kenyan Muslim organisations, so that their message should hold appeal has wider significance for county and national government.
grieving relatives
This however is not without its challenges. Some Wahhabi clerics have spoken out against Al-shabaab at great personal risk to themselves. Sheikh Mohamed Abdi Umal a rare Salafi-Wahhabi ulama, a popular and prominent Somali cleric based in Eastleigh received death threats from Al-Shabaab after issuing a fatwa (judicial opinion) that decried the Westgate attack and declared it haram (unlawful). In a 14 May 2014 speech, the then Al-Shabaab emir, Ahmed Abdi Godane, called on Muslims in Kenya to ignore what he called ‘evil scholars’.

In the soul-searching taking place throughout the country, there are hints that this could be a defining moment for the second rail: namely greater resolve for progress. We who have borne the brunt of victimisation because of faith must avoid the temptation of collective guilt on the Muslim population in this country. While opposing the the World Jewish Congress’ threats of unpleasant consequences for all Austrians in case Kurt Waldheim were elected the country’s president in 1987, Simon Wiesenthal, expressed his conviction on individual guilt and utter rejection of collective guilt or threats.

He said, “It took quite a long time – maybe a year – before I could bring myself to reject the idea of collective guilt. You must understand. When you come out of the concentration camp and see that no one is still alive – you don’t take the time to really think things over. At that time I felt that everyone was guilty, including those who were not involved at all, even those in other countries, who had been indifferent because they were not bothered by the Nazis themselves.” [In Zeugen des Jahrhunderts. Jüdische Lebenswege, p.78. Trans. from German.]

Collective threats are incompatible with our Christian ethics: they ignore the fact that these very Christians have been victims of collective threats and collective accusations. We must believe only in individual guilt, not in collective guilt and I share this opinion with the whole civilised world.There is no justice without the truth. We should never accuse anyone to aid terrorism without being in possession of conclusive evidence of his/her guilt in the form of witness testimonies or other documentation.

Let us move in our imaginations to Carthage, in the year 410. When St. Augustine received the news that Rome, the great Rome, has been sacked and the barbarians had taken over, his first thought was to reassure his flock. “If this catastrophe is indeed true,” he told them, “it must be God’s will. Men build cities and men destroy cities, but the City of God they didn’t build and cannot destroy. The Heavenly City,” he continues, “outshines Rome beyond comparison. There, instead of victory, is truth; instead of high rank, holiness; instead of peace, felicity; instead of life, eternity….. Thus we come to see that in our fallen state, our imperfection, we can conceive perfection. Immanuel, the presence of God among us in the lineaments of Man, we have a window in the walls of time, which looks out onto this Heavenly City.”

There is much more to the story of Immanuel. It is our story too. I invite you to open up to how this proclamation reveals the persistence of our God who knows how we struggle with faith and will give any sign, any grace, to help us believe and live.

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