The Rt. Rev. Foley Beach, a former Episcopal priest, is both the chairman of the GAFCON Primates Council and the archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America. On the third day of the five-day GAFCON conference in Kigali, Rwanda, he sat down with TLC Associate Editor Kirk Petersen for an exclusive interview. The transcript has been lightly edited.
The Archbishop of Uganda came out a few weeks ago in support of the anti-homosexuality legislation that’s pending in that country, with some draconian penalties, not just for being homosexual, but for speaking in support of gay rights. As Chairman of GAFCON, I’m wondering, where you stand on that legislation?
I think first, I’m not Ugandan and I’m not African. I’m from the United States. Personally, I couldn’t support something like that, but I don’t live in Uganda. I think one of the mistakes we make as Westerners, and even as modern Christians, is we tend to impose our 21st-century understanding of whatever it might be on everybody else. But there’s a whole other culture here, a whole other worldview, a whole other realm of reality. It’s so different from ours. And so we condemn it when we don’t really understand it. I don’t understand their culture enough to be able to really comment on it. I know, as an American, I wouldn’t approve that.
After the interview, he added that the Ugandans don’t think of consensual sex when they hear the word homosexual; they think of rape. And this stems from the Martyrs of Uganda, young men who were put to death in the 19th century for refusing to have sexual relations with the king. The Martyrs of Uganda are recognized on June 3 of the Episcopal calendar.
The [ACNA] College of Bishops a year ago came out with a pastoral letter that made it very clear that gay people were seen as tempted to sinfulness, and not as people who are inherently evil because of their orientation. In response to that, the Archbishop of Nigeria said “the deadly virus of homosexuality has infected ACNA.” How are relations between you and the Archbishop of Nigeria?
We get along great. I think, again, it’s a cultural thing. I don’t want to say this in any kind of derogatory way, but they don’t understand same-sex temptation like we do. They hear that word and they recoil.
You’ve touched a couple of times now on Western sensibilities versus the African experience. Within GAFCON, ACNA is small compared to the African provinces. How is it that you, as an American, come to be the leader of what is an overwhelmingly African organization, in terms of sheer numbers?
I have no idea. I guess they felt they trusted me. Maybe they felt God was calling me to do this. My term ends at the end of this conference. Personally, I did not want to do it. I’ve always felt someone from the Global South should be leading it. But they convinced me otherwise, so I was willing to serve. I’ve seen my role not so much as to be the focal point, but to try to empower them to lead and serve, and try to stay out of the way.
Switching to your ACNA hat for a moment, the Anglican bishop of South Carolina and the Episcopal Bishop of South Carolina have met together along with their staffs. Is there anything you can tell me about that specific situation? And more broadly, what do you think are the chances for ACNA and TEC to evolve into a mutually respectful, ecumenical relationship, given all the hostility of the past?
Regarding South Carolina, I think they’re just acting like Christians. We’ve seen from a lot of the Episcopal bishops, in response to questions we’ve asked or attempts to get together — it’s almost as if there’s a cancel culture mentality, and [they think] “we can’t have anything to do with them.” To be honest with you I, think it’s going to take some time. In the ACNA we now have more people in our churches that were never in the Episcopal Church than were in the Episcopal Church. They don’t know all this history.
You’ve mentioned that your experience with Episcopalians is that sometimes they don’t want to have anything to do with you. Let me turn that around. I was asked several times before I came here to affirm the Jerusalem Declaration, which I’m not personally prepared to do. My purpose here is to be a neutral observer. Is that the best way to approach a gathering like this? The message that I hear is, if you don’t agree with us on this, we don’t want you in the room.
The whole purpose of GAFCON was to gather people that are like-minded, to have people that are walking in the same direction. This is not a place where we’re coming to debate the basics of the faith.