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That they may be one: Anglican interdependence and clergy education in the Church of Uganda

Education, Anglican interdependence, and ecumenical cooperation were at the front of my mind after the most recent Lambeth seminar on Mission Theology in the Anglican Communion. The Rev. Griphus Gakuru, a Ugandan theologian who serves as vicar at All Saints, Stechford (Diocese of Birmingham), presented a paper at Lambeth Palace on March 16: “The Church of Uganda and Speaking Truth to Power: Lessons from Nathan the Prophet.”

Gakuru defined speaking truth to power as “affirming the fundamental values of the Kingdom of God that are … under threat from illegal or unconstitutional government activity.” Such prophetic speech may come, it seems, through direct advice or through writing, preaching, and public speaking. Gakuru laid out a number of challenges to the Church of Uganda’s ability to speak truth to power, such as religious division, ethnic sectarianism, and problems internal to the church’s governance and training for clergy. Finally, as his title intimates, Gakuru offered the prophet Nathan’s relationship with King David as a particular biblical model suitable for emulation (see 2 Sam. 7:1-17; 2 Sam. 11: 27b-12: 25; and 1 Kgs. 1:5-2:10). Gakuru considers Nathan as an example because he sees similarities between the Church of Uganda in contemporary society and the “setting in life” (sitz im leben) of the biblical text.

During the seminar, what especially caught my ear was the often tortuous relationship between Ugandan Anglicans and Roman Catholics, which has healed considerably in the last 50 years. Gakuru discussed some of their differences in detail, not least in material resources, training facilities, and educational standards. Since nearly the beginning of Christian mission in Uganda, Anglicans have generally held more property, had a larger share in elite society, and, especially in the early days, failed to invest in education. In contrast, Roman Catholics have been poorer, slightly more numerous, and focused more on extensive training for their clergy. The results of these imbalances are many, but one of them is seen in the relative lack of trained theologians and educated clerics among Anglicans.

Gakuru argued that this generally poor standard of education, among other factors, has hampered the ability of Anglican bishops and priests to offer moral guidance to the nation and confront abuses of power — with notable exceptions, such as Bishop Janani Luwum — despite their historically privileged position. Gakuru noted that the Roman Catholic Church has thus taken the lead in many instances, not least through the vehicle of the Uganda Joint Christian Council, formed in 1961 by Anglican, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic cooperation.

A necessary Anglican supremacy?

Since the seminar, I have had a series of questions and thoughts, some of which I will discuss here. First, is it necessary that Anglicans lead the way in speaking truth to power, or might they humbly look to their Roman Catholic brethren for guidance? I wondered whether Gakuru presumes that Anglicans must form their own path. There might be issues with either approach: on the one hand, I wonder how much one must assume the necessity of continued Anglican supremacy, when Roman Catholics have much to offer; on the other, I can perhaps detect concern about the content of Catholic teaching in Gakuru’s paper. If I may read between the lines (and footnotes), he appears to worry that their approach focuses too much upon abstract formulations of Catholic social teaching, as opposed to directly biblical models; their approach is thus disconnected from the life and culture of Ugandan Anglicans, who desire a “Bible-based” approach.

The former approach can be seen in the pastoral letters issued by the Ugandan Conference of Catholic Bishops, which are of considerable quality and speak at a relatively high level, while urging local clergy to study the documents and communicate their main points at Sunday services. It’s a trickle-down approach to theological wisdom.

For example, their document for the 2011 general elections does not fail to offer guidance, as well as a history of elections in Uganda. But this guidance takes the form of citing The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church on fostering democratic participation (7.1), along with asserting the role of the church as “the conscience of the nation” (8.1). The document then offers some specific recommendations — regarding electoral reform, voter education, media freedom, the military, and executive authority (9-20) — but the explicit theological contribution is fairly limited. Section 8.2 is among the most theological:

The Church is an institution outside government that gives voice to members of the society by raising their concerns. Like its founder, Jesus Christ, the Church leads the people of God, sanctifies them and encourages them to use their prophetic witness in the world. Among many other duties, the Church owes its existence to provide services which are essential to the people. The Church has, therefore, always played a prominent role in pressing for positive change. It works and acts in the name of God and on behalf of the people of God. Therefore, every Ugandan (male, female, adult and child) has a right to be heard in the Constitutional and other electoral process debates. All people in the country must freely and through Constitutional means share their ideas on what they would like to see in the country’s electoral process.

In such a situation, I can see how Gakuru’s model, rooted directly and obviously in Scripture, possesses the virtue of simplicity and directness, suitable for various educational levels. This is not to dismiss the Roman Catholic documents, which offer considerable political sophistication, but to note the difficulty of direct application, even in educated circles.

Education: Anglican, Roman Catholic

I still wonder about ecumenical cooperation. My question here is rather like one I raised in my last response to the Mission Theology seminar (“Pentecostal/Anglican cooperation? New horizons in mission”). In Uganda, there is perhaps a stronger possibility of Anglican-Roman Catholic joint efforts than Anglican-Pentecostal (for reasons outlined by Gakuru in his paper).

Doubtless, ecumenical cooperation in education has its perils — I know them intimately, as someone formed in two institutions that rely on ecumenical teaching partners for ministerial training — but it promises much as well. If, as Gakuru notes, Roman Catholics have a better educational infrastructure and perhaps more functional international links to enable resourcing, might the Church of Uganda learn to lean on them to some degree? What prevents Ugandan Anglicans from studying theology with Roman Catholics?

Even Gakuru’s desire for biblical models and better biblical teaching seems clearly felt in African Roman Catholic circles. I note, for example, an announcement from the website of the Roman Catholic conference of bishops in Uganda, regarding a recent event (March 13-19):

The Biblical Apostolate Center (BICAM) of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) is organising a Workshop for Seminary professors in Africa on the need to establish a course on Biblical Apostolate in major seminaries and religious formation houses on the continent of Africa. … About 25 participants comprising bishops, priests, lay people and Biblical Lecturers of Seminaries from seven of the eight regions of SECAM will take part in the Workshop. Its main objective is to permeate and better prepare future pastors and ecclesial actors in [the] biblical animation of all pastoral work.

Yet this continent-wide Roman Catholic effort raises another issues for me: How might Anglicans better exhibit Communion-wide interdependence and mutuality in education? Whenever I hear about the challenges of education around the Communion, I feel a sense of shame. There ought to be more circulation of teachers and teaching resources throughout the Communion: frequent visiting lectureships around the Communion with true exchange between seminaries, theological colleges, and other training institutions in various countries (not just North to South, but “everywhere to everywhere”); as well as funds for education, donating and writing books, planning new seminaries and universities, and investing in primary and secondary education.

I have been heartened by the goals of the Mission Theology project to support and publish the works of new “doctors of the Church,” but we also need simply to help pastors in a better way — throughout the Communion. No doubt the conflicts of the last 13 years have prevented many such efforts; but it’s time to wake up and realize that such conflicts will not be resolved immediately. They cannot be allowed to form barriers for the mutual strengthening of the Body of Christ around the globe.

If I may slightly misapply the words of Pope Paul VI (speaking of Anglicans and Roman Catholics) to our own situation, we must learn to “walk as if we are one,” even educationally. This is not to pretend that our differences are insubstantial. They are not. But there are many ways to rebuild trust and demonstrate good faith in order to make dialogue possible, and new educational links are surely among them.

We are one body of Christ, and we must learn to depend on each other. Truly, in this as in many situations, we cannot say “I have no need of you” (1 Cor. 12:21).

Other posts by Zachary Guiliano are here. The featured image comes via the Church of Uganda’s website.  


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