Saturday, February 10, 2007

NY Times: Seeking a Bigger Anglican Tent in Africa

The New York Times published a profile today of the Archbishop of Capetown, Njongonkulu Ndungane. Here are some excerpts:

Archbishop Ndungane (pronounced un-dun-GAN-ee), who succeeded Archbishop Desmond Tutu just over a decade ago as the leader of southern Africa’s four million Anglicans, is pleading for acceptance. In Archbishop Tutu’s mold, he argues for a broad-tented church in which believers of various stripes live in harmony.

“The marks of our church are grace, tolerance and living with difference,” Archbishop Ndungane, 65, said at the church’s whitewashed estate here, outside Cape Town. “We need to make a distinction between issues that are fundamental to the faith and second-order issues. This is not a church-dividing issue.”

His stance is deeply influenced by his own country's past. The experience of apartheid, and knowing first hand the experience of oppression, and connecting this with the power struggles withing the Anglican Communion is apparent. The article describes this connection between his imprisonment and his vocation.

Three years later, handcuffed and chained, he was shoved off a ferry onto Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela and many other activists were imprisoned, a place he describes as hell on earth. There, as he pushed wheelbarrows in searing heat under the watch of sadistic guards, he wrote, he discovered his calling as a priest.

While his Church's stance towards the ordination of gay and lesbian Christians is more conservative than the practice in a few of our dioceses--although on paper not all that different from the official stance of the Episcopal Church--he refuses to lets these kinds of differences stand in the way of his living in Communion with others, even Anglicans who are different than he.

At the last high-level meeting, in Northern Ireland in 2005, some African archbishops refused to take communion with Frank Griswold, then the presiding American bishop, to protest Bishop Robinson’s consecration. Archbishop Ndungane said he was “very, very saddened” by that reaction.

The conclave in Dar es Salaam, which opens Feb. 14, will be his last as archbishop. He plans to retire next year after his successor is elected.

His supporters say they expect him to work with others behind the scenes to avoid an even more serious rift this time. Should those efforts fail, the archbishop said, he is fully prepared to speak out.

The Archbishop understands that reconciliation requires both truth-telling and an abiding hope that rests in Christ. He wrote this in response to the Global South communique of September, 2006.

Two weeks before our meeting in Kigali, the Synod of Bishops of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa issued a statement which spoke of the gift of tolerance and grace in the face of the pains of divisions among ourselves with which we have had to deal in our past. The breadth of current divisions also find expression within our Province. Yet we remain convinced that what unites us far outweighs what divides us, and that we must therefore both choose and strive, with deep sacrificial love, for the Anglican Communion to remain united.

Our God surely is a God of surprises. As one of my predecessors as Archbishop of Cape Town said, 'God still works his purposes out, in spite of the confusions of our minds.'

I pray that his work and example will prevail over anger and stridency next week.

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