Centrality of scripture in Islamic life

Seyyed Hossein Nasr notes that the Quran is the first and last thing that Muslims hear:

The two testimonies (shahadatan), one bearing witness to the Oneness of God and the other to the prophethood of the Prophet of Islam, both verses from the Quran, are the first words uttered into the ears of a newborn child and in most cases the last words uttered by a Muslim in the last moments of consciousness before death. 

Catholic corruption

The latest ongoing news out of the Roman Catholic Church about systemic sexual abuse have shattered any remaining good-will I had for that institution. On the theological front nothing has changed from the days of the Reformation and the critiques of the Reformers with regard to idolatry, superstition and justification. Sexual immorality amongst the clergy is not a new phenomenon, as Richard Sipe pointed out:

The first recorded church legislation about sex and sexual violations took place in 309 CE at a council of the Spanish churches in Elvira. (Laeuchli, 1972) It produced 81 canons; 38 had to do with sexual behavior. Priests and clerics, even if they were married, had to abstain from sex with their wives. A list of sexual sins of bishops, priests and clerics were enumerated—including sex with minor boys—and severe penalties were imposed.

Beginning with this document and continuing through every century up to our time, there is a continuous and uninterrupted pattern of legislation aimed at containing the scandal of sexual activity of priests—including sex with minors. (Doyle, et al. 2005)

Some of the documents that record the prevalence and scope of celibate violations are worth noting. The Book of Gomorrah by St. Peter Damian, (1051 CE) reported the sexual immorality of the clergy directly to the Pope. Peter strongly condemned the frequency of homosexual activity even with boys. In 1568 Pope Pius V wrote Horrendum in which he updated the legislation against clerical crimes where clerics solicit sex with men, women and young boys. Sacramentum Poenitentiae was an instruction that Pope Benedict XIV wrote in 1741 that addressed the problem of priests soliciting sex from people—including children—who came to them in confession. Between 1723 and 1820 CE, The Roman Tribunal recorded 3775 cases of clerical solicitation. Most prominent are the cases of seduction of young people in the confessional and in seminaries. (Haliczer, 1996)

Secret instructions have been sent regularly from the Vatican to Bishops around the world directing them in the correct procedures to process investigations and disciplinary actions against priests who sexually abuse. (1890, 1922, 1962, etc.) Church officials know and have known for centuries that some (a large proportion) of priests and bishops are sexually active, and some sexually abuse minors.

The historical record is obvious on this issue for those with eyes to see. The current situation makes sense of documents such as the Lollard’s Twelve Conclusions, the third of which says:

The Third Conclusion, sorrowful to hear, is: That the law of continence annexed to priesthood, that in prejudice of women was first ordained, induces sodomy in Holy Church; but we excuse us by the Bible, for the suspect decree that says we should not name it. Reason and experience prove this conclusion. For delicious meats and drinks of men of Holy Church will have needful purgation or worse. Experience for the privy assay of such men is that they like not women.

Many intelligent Protestants despair of the condition that they find in their local church and so they read of a splendid Roman institution, a dream-like place full of intellectuals, long history and beauty. I know because I have been down that road myself. Conjuring this fantasy church in their minds, they fly to Rome and make their peace with all kinds of theological errors. What they will find in Rome includes pitiful homilies, a lack of connection with local parishioners, and yes, the fear of sexual abuse for their children.

And yet I feel no sense of triumphalism in the Protestant world. I do not think we have the same size of institutional issues because we are smaller, more divided and do not possess the historical baggage of ingrained networks of perverts. However, there are examples too numerous to mention of predatory clergy, affairs, and abuse. 

In the case of Anglicanism, the continued silence in the face of complicity with wicked regimes in Africa is a grave evil. I see no movement on these issues from our leaders, if they are even aware of the problem. This will be shown to be a moral compromise as history unfolds, even though the church thinks it is fine now.

The effect of moral failures on the part of our institutions is to further isolate and atomize us. If I don’t trust the church, I stay home. Politics is a cesspool so why participate? Corporate environments are often full of cliques, injustice and foolishness, so we tolerate them at best. This leads to us withdrawing into a bubble of home, curated internet feeds and whatever else passes our time. I don’t have an answer for any of this, because it is so endemic, and I am sure nothing new either. In one sense we can thank the internet for shining more light than ever before on corruption in all walks of life, but it also hurts to be aware of it all!

The old “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” discussed our “circle of influence” and while it may seem hokey, I think it is true. All we can do is influence those around us by living an honest life ourselves, following the precepts of a wise life, and attempting to pass that on to the next generation. 

For Protestants who care about the loving God with our minds (which should be all of us) there are deep wells of intellectual material that are mostly untapped. I think most Protestants who convert to Rome are unaware of the historical intellectual resources available to them from the past four centuries. Places like the Davenant Institute and the Calvinist International provide books and articles about historic Protestant theology. Biblical resources abound in our day. Unfortunately, it is on you to do the work and not give up and erect a fantasy church in your mind.

Laurent Mbanda praises Paul Kagame at GAFCON

Archbishop Mbanda speaks to GAFCON

GAFCON’s latest conference in Jerusalem (2018) won nearly universal praise from orthodox circles within the Anglican Communion, and rightfully so. However, the perennial problem of Westerners not having any idea what goes on in Africa reared its head when Archbishop Laurent Mbanda of Rwanda delivered a talk called “God’s World.”

Mbanda, an outspoken fan of Rwandan dictator Paul Kagame, was made Archbishop this year. In his presentation to GAFCON he said, “…forgive me but I also love our President.” Mbanda told a story about Paul Kagame in the context of telling orthodox Anglicans to reject money and buildings from heterodox branches of the church. He said:

I love the country of Rwanda, and forgive me but I also love our President. Some time back there was an embargo on the country of Rwanda where they were saying that they need to freeze all the moneys that were given to the country. And I got that inspiration in me, he said, our President said, “With the little money that we are giving that seems like IV coming in to us, can we sell who we are, can we sell our identity?” And the people of Rwanda said “no.”

The little money that was coming from the countries that were trying to help the country, within a short time, in a time of six months I believe, Rwanda started what they called, the Dignity Fund, and that fund raised more money than those countries were giving us within six months. (applause)

And I know sometimes that we are tempted with that money that comes from those places, that makes us sometimes sell our soul. There is no way we should be afraid of saying, “keep your money,” of saying, “keep your buildings,” of saying, “keep what you have, we have Jesus and will proclaim him faithfully in our nations.”

This story was greeted by applause, as the GAFCON delegates presumably knew little to nothing about the actual circumstances mentioned. Let’s look at the facts behind this glowing story from Abp. Mbanda:

The Rwandan government established the Agaciro (Dignity) Fund after donors froze an estimated US$75m in aid, following the publication of a UN report in mid-2012 that claimed to provide evidence of Rwanda’s support for the M23, a rebel group in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The Rwandan government denied the charges.1)The Economist

As a refresher, Rwanda supported M23, a military group that was essentially an extension of the Rwandan military attempting to detach the Congo’s Kivu provinces from the DRC. M23 buried people alive, raped, tortured, slaughtered and kidnapped children to be soldiers. All of this was supported by previous Rwandan Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini as well as retired Bishop John Rucyahana.

As a result of this, Western nations decided to slap Rwanda’s wrist and froze some aid, which is vital to Rwanda’s poor economy. This of course infuriated Paul Kagame who then trumpeted the Dignity Fund as a defiant jab at the Western powers he relies on.

Bringing this back to Archbishop Mbanda: he is telling a story to GAFCON about the loss of money due to very real war crimes and using it as an example of how to stand up to the man. He can rely on Western ignorance to get away with storytelling like this. In fact, GAFCON’s media arm subsequently linked to his presentation on Twitter, Facebook and other platforms. Indeed, GAFCON has made Mbanda a leader of the movement, something which should trouble Anglicans.

References   [ + ]

1. The Economist

Why wasn’t there a vote at the ACNA College of Bishops meeting?

Reading through documents from the 2018 Provincial Council meeting, I came across this report about ecumenical relations, which includes some news of interest in the section on dialog with the Polish National Church (PNCC). It says:

The second meeting was largely overshadowed by the College of Bishops Statement on Ordination of Women released by the ACNA on September 7, 2017. The Prime Bishop of the PNCC attended this meeting and related his surprise and regret that the ACNA bishops decided to continue to ordain women given the statements that it is a “recent innovation to Apostolic Tradition” and that there “is insufficient scriptural warrant to accept women’s ordination.” The PNCC co-chair told the ACNA co-chair that the PNCC was seriously considering terminating this dialogue. The ACNA co-chair reassured the Prime Bishop and the PNCC co-chair that this statement is not a final decision and that a call for a full vote regarding women’s ordination would be requested at the next ACNA College of Bishops meeting in January, 2018. The Ecumenical Dialogue Commission will meet via telecom on February 7, 2018 at 2:00 PM to discuss the outcome of this vote. If the outcome is anything other than a full repudiation on women’s ordination, the PNCC plans to terminate ecumenical discussions with the ACNA and look for another Anglican Church with which to seek intercommunion.

No such vote was called, so was the bishop who said there would be a vote mistaken in his assumption, or did things start in that direction and get diverted?

A REC recollection on holy orders

After reading my last post, a clergyman with the REC wrote about what REC bishops told their people regarding what to expect from the task force on holy orders. He writes:

At an REC Diocese of Mid-America synod that occurred shortly after the ACNA holy orders committee was established, Bishop Roy Grote (diocesan bishop and REC presiding bishop at the time) stated that we all (in the REC) know what the correct answer to the issue is, and with Bishop Hicks (REC bishop) as the committee’s head, we could be pretty certain what the end result would be.

A year or two later, Bishop Grote again addressed this at a diocesan synod. He again stated that we all know what the end result will be. In 2016, at the REC Diocese of the Central States synod (just a few weeks before Bishop Grote died), he said again that we knew what the result of the committee’s work would be, but that the committee was only going to provide a report to the bishops, who would then have to make decisions.

From the beginning of this process, Bishop Grote indicated the purpose of the committee was to work through the issue and provide a recommendation to the bishops. He was very clear that a recommendation would be forthcoming, not a simple jumbled report that surveyed the spectrum of positions. This was also affirmed by Bishop Hicks, who was in attendance at one of the DMA synods when Bp. Grote spoke about it.

This is consistent with what several clergy have said over the years.

Bishop Iker on holy orders in 2014

One bone of contention among those in the ACNA who are opposed to women receiving holy orders is that many believe that their bishops promised them when ACNA was founded that the issue would be dealt with, presumably favorably, in time. In contrast, the pro-WO folks point to ACNA’s Constitution and Canons and say, “this was the deal from the beginning.” The pro-WO folks also ask where the evidence is that Archbishop Duncan or others ever intimated that WO was only a temporary measure? While I have heard second-hand accounts from the beginnings of ACNA that claim such assurances were floating around, I have not seen any written confirmation of this claim.

I recently came across this sermon from Bishop Jack Iker. He preached it on February 21, 2014, several years after the formation of ACNA, but it does indicate what his thinking was at that time, which was that when the task force reported back to the bishops, it would be decision time:

But on a more serious note, there are some serious tensions and differences that we must address in our future life together in ACNA. I will comment on them very briefly. The biggest one, of course, is the issue of the ordination of women to the priesthood. It is not sufficient to simply say: “Well, some bishops do it and some don’t.” I am pleased that Archbishop Duncan has appointed a Theological Task Force on Holy Orders, which is now addressing this issue that some have called “the elephant in the room.” A final report is expected in January 2016, and then it will be decision time. I would simply observe that anglo-catholics and the REC stand together here. Those who do not ordain women make up a majority of the College of Bishops, and we see the ordination of women presbyters as a departure from the witness of Holy Scripture and the apostolic practice of the ancient Church. Pray for God’s guidance as we seek to resolve this deeply divisive issue, in the interest of deepening our unity in Christ. (emphasis mine)

We can parse his words and say that “decision time” just meant the ball would be in the bishop’s court, but I think the thrust of his thought was that things would move in a certain direction. The frustration of Bishop Iker recently is understandable given that this was his understanding.

Crackdown on churches in Rwanda

If I told you about a government that recently shut down 714 churches and asked you what country you thought it was, you might say China or Iran, but you would be wrong. That government was in fact Rwanda, where these churches were closed for “operating below the minimum required standards.” Not only did the Kagame regime shutter these churches, it arrested the following church leaders for ”assembling without permission”: Bishop Innocent Rugagi, Pastor Charles Rwandamura, Pastor Fred Nyamurangwa, Reverand Emmuel Ntambara, Pastor James Dura, and Pastor Emmanuel Kalisa Shyaka.

David Himbara wrote about this latest madness here, and the New Times has a story on it here. Curiously, the East African story cites rising cases of fraud as the reason for the crackdown.

Kagame mouthpiece and retired Anglican bishop John Rucyahana is of course all in favor of these shutdowns, saying:

“The work of the Lord is not inferior that it can be done in sub-standard places. It has to be safe for occupants,” he said.

Bishop Rucyahana pointed out that Rwandans ought to confront and castigate religious leaders they find to be manipulative or operating below required standards.

“Why should we wait for the government to close down these churches? The government has a lot to do in other aspects of development. As Christians we should know what is the standard and acceptable for a place of worship and confront and avoid religious leaders who do not. We should also do the same for those we consider to be manipulative religious leaders,” he said.

David Himbara refutes this nonsense, saying:

The hygiene justification for closing churches is bogus. The entire Kigali City is unhygienic — with open sewers running through homes and neighborhoods. A city of over one million, Kigali does not have a sewage system. There is no treatment plant — raw sewage is dumped into the national and regional water systems.

In a police state like Rwanda, things like this usually have another reason, but we may never know it in the West.

 

Who will be the next Archbishop of Rwanda’s Anglican Church?

Rwandan Anglicans will soon have a new Archbishop, and because of historic ties to North American Anglicans, this individual should be of concern to us. On November 18 an article by Godfrey Ntagungira appeared on KT Press about the election of the next Anglican Archbishop in Rwanda. The article said:

The Rwanda Anglican Council of Bishops is scheduled to vote for a new leader in January 2018 as the incumbent Archbishop Onesphore Rwaje retires.

Corridors of speculation are buzzing over who will replace the 64 years old Archbishop Rwaje.

According to church leaders, in the Anglican Church, no bishop is allowed to serve beyond 65 years of age. Thus, many archbishops hold that title for less than ten years.

Born on June 6, 1953, Bishop Rwaje took over from Archbishop Emmanuel Korini on December 2010.

But who is the potential successor?

Four bishops have been subject to suggestions. The current favourite is Louis Muvunyi, Anglican Bishop of Kigali Diocese, followed by Dr. Jered Kalimba, Bishop of Shyogwe Diocese, Nathan Gasatura, Bishop of Butare and Bishop Alexis Bilindabagabo of Gahini.

Muvunyi 56, apparently the youngest of all was ordained as a pastor in 1997 and later that year was appointed youth pastor in the Diocese of Kigali.

He holds a bachelor’s Degree in Theology from Uganda Christian University – Uganda and a Master’s Degree from the International Christian College in Scotland.

Bishop Muvunyi served as the principal of Kigali Anglican Theological College. He was consecrated as a Bishop of Kigali in December 2010 succeeding Archbishop Emmanuel Korini who retired at age 65.

Unfortunately Muvunyi might not be on the list to choose from. An informed source told KT Press that when church elders approached him he said he had personal issues which can’t allow him to take up the position.

KT Press established that when Muvunyi declined, eyes turned to Dr. Jered Kalimba, Bishop of Shyogwe Diocese who is a respected theologian in the Anglican church of Rwanda.

Rt. Rev. Dr. Jered Kalimba 60, Bishop of Shyogwe Diocese holds a PhD in theology. He is a respected theologian with a voice of authority.

An inside source says Bishop Kalimba is trusted and many believe he can provide the inspirational leadership or the intellectual agility and self-confidence that the Anglican Church needs.

The public opinion says the bishop is highly educated and has an outstanding character of humility and likes to have peace with everyone. Other sources say he takes wise decisions.

For Gasatura 61, Bishop of Butare Anglican Diocese, he is known for his record as an African activist for human rights.

He is a strong advocate of unity and reconciliation.  He has served in different capacities –first as a missionary and later as an Anglican vicar in Burundi.

In Rwanda he first served as board chairman of the National Aids Control Commission (CNLS).

He also worked as a resident representative of the World Health Organisation in Rwanda, and marketing and international relations director of World Vision international.

Bilindabagabo 63 is the current bishop of Gahini, Eastern Rwanda.

He directs much of his energy into ministries focused on orphans, education, reconciliation, and economic development.

He is the founder of a foster care organisation called Barakabaho (‘Let them live’) Foundation.

He is also known as the founder of a Christian Movement for Evangelisation, Counselling and Reconciliation (MOUCECOR) that he started in 1992. Sources say Bilindabagabo has shown interest to run as archbishop.

According to Archbishop Rwaje the time frame for the election is not yet out.

“I can feel a lot of speculation and rumours going around leading up to the day when the next Archbishop of Rwanda will be revealed but the truth of the matter I can’t comment on that issue,” Bishop Rwaje told KT Press.

The Archbishop confirmed that the decision is expected early January 2018.

This article seems to have provoked something of a firestorm within the House of Bishops, because on December 6th a follow up article appeared, with a new candidate:

On November 18th, KT Press published a story listing four candidates the Rwanda Anglican church had lined up from which the next Archbishop may be selected.

However, senior leaders of the church were immediately summoned to a crisis meeting because the story had seemingly pre-empted the list of candidates yet it was meant to remain a top secret until a formal announcement.

A source privy with internal dynamics of the Anglican Church told KT Press that during the crisis meeting the Bishops did not hold views about the story.

“Some were very angry with the story and wanted an investigation conducted on the leakage while others were flexible saying the church cannot keep reacting to every story because there are many media outlets that report repeatedly about the church,” the source said on condition of anonymity due to sensitivity of the matter.

The source further revealed that during this crisis meeting, it was unanimously agreed that all four candidates mentioned in the earlier story would not be part of the selection list. Instead they decided to front a new candidate Rev. Dr. Laurent Mbanda, Bishop of Shyira Diocese.

In the past months, incumbent Archbishop of Rwanda Onesphore Rwaje has been hinting on the fact that an announcement on who would replace him was imminent and could come January 2018.

“The final decision is yet to be announced but the process normally involves extensive consultation, analysis of the role and challenges the new archbishop is likely to face, every candidate has to be vetted first” the source said.

Whether our story will change the earlier arrangement and selection of the new Archbishop or not, remains to be seen when the final announcement is made.

But who is Bishop Rev. Dr. Laurent Mbanda?

His name popped up after those earlier proposed were critically assessed but were found to have shortcomings yet the KT Press story had also pre-empted the secret list.

Our source conversant with the church said that although the formal appointments process has not yet been launched, Bishop Mbanda’s name increasingly has been coming up in Church corridors of power as someone with experience and charisma to lead the Church.

Bishop Mbanda is one of the most experienced and educated bishops in the Anglican Church of Rwanda. Although he has impressed a number of bishops who participate in the selection process, Some Anglican believers say he is not popular.

Mbanda was born in Rwanda and spent most of his childhood in Burundi. He joined Compassion International in 1993, where he held a number of positions in the ministry, including Vice President of the Africa Region and Vice President of Program Development.

He also serves as Vice Chairman of the Global Board of Directors for Compassion International and he is a Board Chair for Food for the Hungry. Previously, he also served on the Board of International Justice Mission and Chaired the Board of Kigali Institute of Education in Rwanda.

He is a graduate of Kenya Highlands Bible College. Mbanda also holds two masters degrees in Arts in Missiology from Fuller Seminary’s School of World Missions and a Master of Arts in Christian Education.

How Previous Candidates Were Screened 

In November Louis Muvunyi, the Bishop of Kigali Diocese was told that he was being lined up as candidate for the top job followed by Dr. Jered Kalimba, Bishop of Shyogwe Diocese, Nathan Gasatura, Bishop of Butare and Bishop Alexis Bilindabagabo of Gahini.

According to the constitution of the Anglican Church of Rwanda no bishop is allowed to serve beyond 65 years of age. It has been a tradition that candidates for the Archbishop position are mostly appointed when they are at least 60 years so that they could serve for 5years.

A thorough screening had been conducted before the list of the previous four bishops was made. But the KTPress story has apparently placed the Church in a tight spot as the House of Bishops had to review the earlier suggested list.

A source told KT Press that Bishop Muvunyi excused himself from standing citing personal reasons. Another reason he gave is that there are more senior bishops that he thought deserved this chance.

An inquiry on candidate Dr. Jered Kalimba the current Bishop of Shyogwe Diocese indicates he fits within the required age bracket since he is aged 60 years.

However, the source also said that Bishop Dr. Kalimba’s popularity ratings were very minimal despite being well educated with a PhD in theology. He also enjoys respect among other bishops but may not qualify due to private undertakings that require his regular attention which could affect his commitment to the strenuous responsibilities of the postion.

Among the candidates, the source says that it is only Bishop Alexis Bilindabagabo of Gahini who has shown interest to run for the position. He has the experience but within the church corridors of influence, his views and approach is not convergent with those of his peers and has attracted a number of criticisms.

The source also told KTPress that Bishop Bilindabagabo does not fit well within the age bracket required of candidates. He is aged 63.

Lastly, candidate Bishop Nathan Gasatura of Butare diocese is also remaining with only three years to retire which could impede his candidature.

George Conger must have queried the Church at this point, because he put out a brief post on the subject that same day:

The Rwandan press reports the bishops of the Anglican Church of Rwanda have begun deliberations on electing a new primate for the East African Church. The Most Rev. Onesphore Rwaje, Primate of Rwanda, will turn 65 in 2018 and must step down from office. The Kigali Times has floated the names of five serving bishops as potential candidates to replace Archbishop Rwaje. However, the church will not comment on the deliberations other than to point to the requirements set forth in the canons. Past practice suggests the new archbishop will be a senior member of the House of Bishops at least sixty years of age. Before the election is held the bishops will undergo a consultative process examining the current conditions and needs of the church and wider Rwandan society and put forward a consensus candidate. The election could take place as early as January 2018.

I will write a follow-up post soon that describes what we can know of these men in the West and why we should be concerned about the seeming front-runner, Bishop Mbanda.

Bishop Chuck Murphy dies

After a battle with brain cancer, Bishop Chuck Murphy has died. He was a key figure in the realignment of Anglicanism in North America.