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Last Updated: Friday, 31 August 2007, 10:56 GMT 11:56 UK
Kenya consecration deepens Anglican rift
By Alex Kirby

The consecration by Kenya's Anglican Church of two US bishops raises the temperature of the rancorous dispute dividing the two wings of the 70 million-strong Church:
William Leo Murdoch holds the bible at All Saints Cathedral, Nairobi, Kenya, during the Service of Consecration and Installation
The bishops will be under Kenyan jurisdiction but serve in the US
liberal Anglicans, who are happy to accept gay and lesbian people as bishops, and traditionalists, who are deeply opposed.

But what Kenya's Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi has done is not simply about homosexuality.

It goes to the heart of the way the Anglican Church sees itself.

Anglicans, like Catholic and Orthodox Christians, cherish the unity of their Church above almost everything else.

And the focus of unity is the bishop.

A very large part of the reason for having bishops at all is to give physical form to the Church's unity.

Symbolically, emotionally and in most of the ways that matter to believers, bishops are there to show that the Church remains united.

Heading for anarchy?

So when one bishop (in this case Dr Nzimbi) acts in a way that undercuts the authority of another bishop, it is the clearest possible way of emphasising the Church's disunity.

Kenya's Archbishop, Dr Benjamin Nzimbi
Dr Nzimbi's actions have raised doubts about Anglican unity

What Dr Nzimbi is saying, in effect, is that he knows better than the US bishops about the pastoral needs of their people.

The two new bishops promised to "serve the international interests of the Anglican Church of Kenya, to serve clergy and congregations in North America under the Kenyan jurisdiction".

It is a formula which ignores the fact that none of the Anglican Communion's member churches has any international interests of its own.

All are - in theory - united in working for the interests of the Communion itself.

And the claim that there are North American Anglicans "under the Kenyan jurisdiction" is breathtaking in the way it opens the door to ecclesiastical anarchy.

No doubt Dr Nzimbi believes the consecrations are in the best interests of Kenyan Anglicans, and of their fellow believers elsewhere in Africa.

In fact they look very unlikely to be anything of the sort.

'Extraordinary obsession'

The battle over homosexuality for the soul of Anglicanism is sometimes portrayed in crude racial terms.

Former South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu
The church has been fiddling whilst, as it were, our Rome was burning
Desmond Tutu

It is seen as a neo-colonial battle in which liberal Westerners try to impose their doctrines on faithfully traditional Africans.

That stereotyping ignores the reality of the many Western Anglicans who are viscerally opposed to homosexuality, and also the many Africans who think the Church has more radical things to worry about.

One prophetic Anglican who argues in that way is Desmond Tutu, the former archbishop of Cape Town and Nobel peace laureate.

He told the BBC World Service in May that the debate on gay clergy and same-sex marriages had become "an extraordinary obsession" for Anglicans.

The Church, he said, had "been fiddling whilst, as it were, our Rome was burning, at a time when our continent has been groaning under the burden of HIV/Aids, of corruption."

Dr Tutu's views are shared by many Anglicans - in Africa, as well as in the West. They will have been saddened by the Kenyan consecrations.

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