THE PRIMATES’ SQUABBLES: Same sex tiff dividing the Anglican Communion

By Canon Francis Omondi, PhD.[1]

Did the Archbishops have to squabble? Anglican primates are engaged in a public spar. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and Archbishop of Uganda, Stephen Kaziimba Mugalu, differ on the position of the Anglican Communion’s on same sex relations.  The primates’ tracasserie (Fr.), has been public, tense, and strains the bonds holding the Communion together.

In a public statement on May 29th, 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 practicing same sex sexual relations. It sanctions promotion or recognition of same-sex relations and related matters, which, according to ++ Mugalu, are prohibited in both the scripture and Ugandan culture. But a dismayed Archbishop Welby, in a press release, urged ++ Mugalu to withdraw his public support for laws that criminalized the LGBTQ+ 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 ++ Welby was returning a compliment? In February, ++ Mugalu rebuked Welby after the Church of England’s (CoE) General Synod approved blessing couples in same-sex unions. He condemned ++ Welby’s approval of a change in the Church’s marriage doctrine.  By allowing clergy to preside at Blessings of Same-sex Unions, for couples considered “married” by the British government. Further, CoE synod approved supplementary prayers and liturgies for such occasions.

The 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 got mutually puzzled at each other’s behaviour, not according to expectations. The William Blake (in Everlasting Gospel p.231) captures this contradiction best: “Both read the Bible, day, and night. But thou read’st black where I read white.”

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

The Primates’ Altercation

The Church of England Resolution in February 2023

During their 2023 General Synod, the CoE passed several resolutions to enable her clergy to perform public services of blessing for same sex civil partnerships and marriages. The resolutions removed legal impediments to “solemnisation of same-sex marriage in the Church of England.” They achieved this without abandoning the traditional view of marriage as legitimate and honourable (Croft 2022, p. 23-4) In making these accommodations in practice, the CoE welcomed the LGBTQ+ people and repented for the harm caused.

++ Welby and the CoE received these changes as a fitting response to their social milieu where Justice and fairness for LGBTQ+ peoples is enshrined in the anti-discrimination laws. Same sex civil partnerships and marriages are now permissible. ++ Mugalu 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.

++ Welby claimed the CoE labored long on the need for change before arriving at the present position. They reached the conclusion having sought the mind of scripture and “not reject Christ and His authority”. So, to question these changes, argued ++ 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 ++ Mugalu and the CoU were worried. Rejecting the inherited teaching of marriage and the sin of homosexual practices would damage her witness. There was a reluctance to change, for any such shift might render the CoU and other Anglican churches as beingpart of what is called the ‘gay church’.

While ++Welby rejected ++ Mugalu’s statements and the tag of a ‘homophobic church’, ++Mugalu refused the association with ++Welby position for fear of being labeled the ‘gay church’.

The Church of Uganda Support for Anti-Homosexuality Act

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

++ Kaziimba Mugalu supported this ACT because in his view Ugandans consider sexual action between persons of the same sexes a social abrasion. 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 favor of the ACT’s strong anti-grooming measures and restrictions on promoting the homosexual lifestyle.

But the Archbishop of Canterbury differed. He, and the CoE believe that homosexual attraction is a given, not a matter of choice (Croft 2022, 19). It is wrong for Uganda to criminalize people for who they are. So, if the Church supports laws forbidding partnerships for this group of people, their action ought to be unjust (Croft, 19) Since the CoE believes this is clear injustice, it should reflect in the rest of itsbeliefs. Thus, become a moral and ethical force in the 21st century. So, Welby called on CoU to reject such “criminal sanctions against same sex attracted people”. Instead, they should affirm 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 they were advancing human right protection laws. The CoU said they forced the government to replace the death sentence in the penal code and earlier bills with life imprisonment. In addition, it was pointed out that the Ugandan homosexual prohibitions were mild compared to laws in the Arabian Peninsula and the Middle East.

The CoE noted a profound dislocation between the Church and the society we are called to serve. A dislocation, which is not about their position concerning partnership or sexual expression, but a fundamental disagreement about justice and fairness. The society sees theCoE to inhabit a different moral universe (Croft 2022, p. 20).

But ++ Mugalu would never affirm LGBTI people, nor allow the CoU to normalize or be purveyors of 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 was legendary.[2] 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. One advanced by the anthropologists like Paul Hiebert (1997), ethnocentrism, and the psychological dynamics of culture clash as advanced by to Adams and Markus (2004).

Whenever we find differences in culture, Hiebert (1997, p. 53-9) concludes, ethnocentrism occurs “the tendency to judge other cultures by our own the values and assumptions of our culture.” So, it becomes a norm to view one’s own cultural position as the most suitablethan others. And this is mutual. For just as we judge other’s customs as crude, they feel the same about ours.

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

So, ++ Mugalu’s reading of the resolution supported the Uganda anti-homosexuality Act, to the dismay of ++Welby, who judged the Ugandan action from the UK point of view, as inhuman. ++ Welby reads the resolution consistent with the CoE’s position, embracing and welcoming to LGBTI, which ++ Mugalu judged from his cultural point of view as compromising and contradictory.

For ++ Welby, offering loving services and pastoral services to individuals made in the image of God is to affirm their value and identity. And supporting ++ Welby, the Archbishop of York (ABY), lamented existing laws that target people perceived to be different. UnlovingLaws that cause prejudice, violence, discrimination, and oppression, according to ABY, are not rooted in the Gospel call. The call to love our neighbors as Christ has for us. Homosexual orientation is now viewed as normal as being left-handed in most 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 (Croft 2022, p. 20).

At the heart of the divide, in the Anglican Communion’s approach to pastoral care for the LGBTI people, in a mutual pervasive process of devaluing the non-dominant group in contact with the more dominant group. These differences either are cast as the result of negative shared tendencies, rather than as a matter of divergent life experiences (Graham et al., 2012).

The archbishop of Uganda held a different logic of loving and pastoral care for LGBTI. Such services, argued ++Mugalu, must be understood as guiding sinners back to God’s love through repentance. The CoU holds God condemns all sexual sins, such as fornication, adultery, polygamy, beastly acts, pedophile, and homosexuality. Repentant sinners can receive God’s love by confessing the wrong done and changing their lives. Their 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 those caught in sexual sin and lies from bondage. The CoU has therefore developed pastoral healing ministries and recovery centres, where LGBTI people canfind healing, forgiveness, freedom, and hope.

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 (2004, p. 341) observed, 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, 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. (See figure below)

The culture cycle adapted from Markus and Kitayama (2010).

Markus and Conner (2014) 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 cyclecan either start from the left-hand or the right-hand. The two archbishops seem to start in the culture cycle from the opposite ends.

 Starting the culture cycle from the left, one begins with ideas, then 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 ++ Mugalu and the CoU starting point. Since the Ugandan culture frowns on homosexuality, this norm determines how individuals in the culture respond to the demands of the LGBTI people. So, the anti-homosexuality ACT, according to Anita Among’, speaker of the Ugandan Parliament, “captures the norms and aspirations of Ugandans, for the House legislates for the citizens.” How query’s ++ 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., reinforce, resist, and/or change) cultures adopted by other people, in the present and the future. This is the point ++ Welby and the CoE, seems to have started from in the cycle. The CoE adopted an embracing posture, following the individual experience of the young generation who have 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 the sense of rejection and unworthiness at the hands of their own Church, while they found acceptance and affirmation in the wider society. The CoE perceives this dislocation as a fundamental disagreement over justice and fairness, thus transcending sexual expressions and partnerships.

Taking a position against homosexuality in the Ugandan society makes the CoU and therefore ++ 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 AC must examine the interconnected and the 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, 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. It is possible, in the words of E. Nader, the Anglican Communion is approaching a moment of its collapse, trailing dust of a British Empire whose robes are now tattered and thrown into history’s heap. Our generation is called to act for the sake of the “wider church” and world to maintain the communion.

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 and anchored Anglican unity on providence of God, expressed in the Nicene Creed, the one holy, catholic, and apostolic.

Archbishop Stephen Mugalu, together with his brothers primates from what they have termed orthodox provinces, is persuaded that only doctrinal purity and safeguarding the traditional faith will unite the Anglican Communion. Their commitment to sever 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 shift dynamics observed by professor Andrew Walls (2002) of the church’s “serial” development.

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

Archbishop Mugalu, together with other archbishops from the Global South, claim to represent 85% 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 2023 GAFCON IV commitment is a departure from their 2008 commitment not to leave the Anglican Communion. Then, they demanded repentance from that Archbishop Rowan Williams for not sanctioning 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 ++ Williams led to the Archbishops from the orthodox provinces boycott of Lambeth 2008, and 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 Peres. It this threat is carried through the primates would have dismembered of one of the key instruments of Communion. ++ Mugalu and the team will remain in the Communion only if CoE repents for advancing false teachings. But they offered to pray for the Archbishop of Canterbury and 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.” CoE are not willing to repent and are open to progress to advance their witness.

Anglican who sees unity as providence of God, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, sees God’s movement as one singular act. This is where God who gathers the Church and all creation to himself. This vision is embodied in the Anglican Communion Covenant part of which state: – “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 of our interpretation. “We are not divided, but we disagree, and that is very painful.”Archbishop Welby conceded to the CoE’s General Synod.



[1] About the author: The author is a Priest of All Saints Cathedral Diocese of the ACK, a Canon of the All-Saints Kampala Cathedral of the Church of Uganda. He is Adjunct Lecturer at St. Paul’s University Limuru, Research tutor at Oxford Center for Religion and Public life and Part-time Lecturer at South African Theological Seminary. Dr. Omondi is a Member of Society for Practical Theologian South Africa (SPTSA)

[2] APPENDIX: Resolutions of Sections and Regions referred to in Subsection (f) of Resolution I.10 (Human Sexuality) Resolution V.35 from the West Africa Region (a) (iv)

Also published In The Elephant:


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