Our Unity in Christ
In Support of the Anglican Covenant
An Apologetic Series
By R. Mwita Akiri
We live in a world of God-given, non-accidental diversity. Some of this diversity is represented by our respective geographic, economic, cultural and social settings. Like it or not, Anglicanism is diverse, and Anglicans themselves are diverse. Our Christian experiences and understandings differ from one another, as do our approaches to hermeneutics.
We do not live in a world that allows us to confine ourselves within our own geographical, cultural and social contexts. The world we live in is a global village, and more than that, it has become a dot-com age. We have to relate with and to one another, within and outside our contexts.
Add to this another reality. The Anglican Communion is a family. Members of that family are found in thousands of cultures and locations. Yet it is common knowledge that relationships between and among the people of God have suffered greatly. Unfortunately, this context has made some of the members of the family suspicious of the intentions of the Anglican Covenant, especially regarding its notion of relational consequences. No wonder the charge has been made that relational consequences reveal the Covenant to be an unchristian text concerned with conformity and punishment, not mutual respect. I disagree. What would lead one member of the Anglican family to assume the worst about other family members’ intentions? Why are relational consequences considered a threat?
Another wrong approach to the Covenant comes from those who regard it only as a document of the majority of Anglicans living in the Global South, who would have members of the Communion family own up to their disruptive behaviors and actions. This disregards the fact that disagreements over issues such as the blessing of same-sex unions are also found within the Global South. Such disagreements among Anglicans have played a part in the proposal of an Anglican Covenant, but are not limited to one locale of the Communion.
It is important to remember that Africa, like other continents, is going through cultural, social, political and economic transformations. It would therefore be wrong for anyone within or outside Africa to suggest that Africa can cope better with conformity and punishment, if these were indeed the goal of the Covenant’s relational consequences.
Let us not forget that Africa owes much of its historical Christian background to the West. Its Christian outlook is as diverse as that of other continents. Nonetheless, it may well be true that in Africa the value of the family, the pride of belonging to the family, and the need for its members to live harmoniously, is a value that most cherish. Even new urban and rural or other social networks have not disrupted or diminished this reality.
Relationships are about interdependence as much as they are about independence. They are about the rights and freedoms of individuals as much they are about the considerations of the necessary harmony and survival of the whole family. Relationships are about mutual respect.
In most cases in Africa, all members of the family have the obligation and the desire to belong. Not many, even the rich and the powerful, can cope easily with consequences of behaviors and actions that might lead to social exclusions, whether forced or self-imposed. It is for this reason that the overwhelming majority of Anglicans and Episcopalians in some parts of the Anglican Communion, for example in Africa, find no fault with the notion of relational consequences, and see it as seeking to enhance accountability and mutual respect.
The Rt. Rev. Dr. R. Mwita Akiri is the founding Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Tarime, Tanzania. He is also a Research Professor of African Church History and Missiology at Wycliffe College, University of Toronto, since 2007. He is a member of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) and the Advisory Council of the Anglican Health Network.
The Living Church launched Our Unity in Christ, a series of essays supporting the proposed Anglican Covenant, in February 2011. An introduction and complete index to the series are available here.