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Bishops bring African issues to the fore

By Michelle Gabriel
7/31/2003
[Convention Daily]  As the Episcopal Church debates sexuality issues, the Archbishop of South Africa, Winston Ndungane, stressed his unwavering support of the church’s legislative processes and the decisions that will be made in Minneapolis at a Thursday afternoon news conference.

“Who am I to question the people of the United States about how to interpret God’s message?” he said. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for the [consent] processes that take place [at convention].”

Ndungane was joined by the Bishop of Liberia, Edward Neufville, Canon John Kanyiwa, the general secretary of the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa (CAPA), and Nema Oluku, coordinator of the CAPA AIDS program. Although gay and lesbian initiatives were major points of interest throughout much of the conference, the panel reminded attendees that health and human justice issues have the same resonance in Africa as sexuality has had throughout this convention.

“If I can shout it from the rooftops, Anglicans are obsessed with sexuality,” Ndungane said. There are many important issues in the world, issues about life and death. I sometimes feel that this is an agenda that seeks to distract us.”

Neufville spoke about the difficulties his absence from Liberia poses to his ability to minister to the people there.

“I have no way of accessing my country because airports are closed,” he said. “It is difficult for me to do anything on this side [of the world]. This is why we are stressing the audience of [President Bush] as a peacekeeping source.”

When Kanyiwa returns to Liberia, he said his first action will be to “assess the extent of the damage to institutions, assess the problems and to see how we can respond to them – not just the [Episcopal] Church of Liberia, but the people of Liberia.”

Kanyiwa said hundreds of Liberians die each day of diseases such as cholera or diarrhea, and most of the country’s doctors have fled because of the war. “The Episcopal Church [of America] can respond to this urgent situation and provide food and medicine to [help us] survive,” he said.

Another issue that plagues Anglicans in Africa is tension between Christians and Muslims. Kanyiwa said that Christian-Muslim relations varied from country to country, but that the dialogue between the two groups is “easy” when Christians are the majority in the country. The dialogue becomes more difficult in African countries where there is a Muslim majority.

“Islam itself as a religion is not a problem,” Kanyiwa said. “But Islam, politicized, is a problem.”

Oluku spoke about the AIDS initiatives in Kenya, which she said she hopes will be as successful as those in Uganda have been. But fighting AIDS requires great changes in the lifestyles of the people, which can be difficult to maintain, she said. Oluku asked that people remember the children orphaned because of the AIDS pandemic in their prayers.

Amid discussions of the dire poverty and crippling diseases that plagues Africa, Ndungane stressed the importance of understanding and respecting the problems Anglicans face worldwide – whether they are struggling with gay and lesbian issues or inequality or hunger. “What we lack today in our world of controversial issues is listening with empathy and with one’s heart,” he said.