by Mindy Belz
Jesus asked His disciples, "What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A man clothed in soft garments?" John the Baptist, of course, was no such man, and neither are World magazine's 2006 "Daniels of the Year," Peter Jasper Akinola and Henry Luke Orombi. Their biblical stands are making a difference not only in Africa but in the United States, as the crisis in the oldest American denomination reaches its climax.
At twilight the marabou stork still sits atop the tallest tree on Anglican Archbishop Henry Orombi's compound in Kampala, waiting for prey to come into view. Inside his home the archbishop is talking about other flesh-eaters. He is describing the scene when Uganda tyrant Idi Amin sent men for Orombi's lifelong mentor, then-Archbishop Janini Luwam. "16 February, 1977," he says, as though it were yesterday. "From this place, from where we are sitting, they took him and killed him."
Luwam was a popular clergymen, "a passionate preacher, a great pastor gifted in engaging people," according to Orombi. Luwam spoke out against Amin's murderous regime, attracting international attention. One night armed men from the defense ministry showed up just under the stork's tree with a political prisoner. His hands had been nearly cut off at the wrist but left dangling and bleeding as a way to lure Luwam from the house. When the archbishop came out, they beat him with gun-butts and demanded to search his home for weapons.
"They forced him to go everywhere-the chapel, the bedrooms-under the pretext of looking for guns," said Orombi, a seminary student at the time who had spent five months working for Luwam. "Finally they came to this room and on the table was a Bible. This is my gun,'" Luwam told the men. Not long after, Idi Amin's men shot and killed Luwam.
Orombi, too, was arrested during Amin's regime, held in prison for assisting a church operating underground. He was released unharmed. Orombi became the leader of Uganda's Anglican Church in 2004. He and his family now live in the home that was Luwam's.
Orombi and his counterpart in Nigeria, Archbishop Peter Akinola, are among conservative prelates under fire from church leaders in the United States, Canada, and Europe. Their particular crime is aiding and abetting congregations in the United States in quitting the United States' oldest Protestant denomination. Those congregations no longer want to submit to radical interpretations of Scripture, including the ordination of gay clergy.
The conflict spiked in 2003 when the Episcopal Church consecrated the openly gay bishop from New Hampshire, Gene Robinson. The gulf has only widened since, moving the Worldwide Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church is part, to a likely split.
The latest development: Several dozen U.S. churches have asked for "alternative oversight" from Orombi, and the number grows almost daily. On Dec. 2 California's San Joaquin Diocese-with 48 parishes and 7,000 members-became the first diocese to take the first of two steps toward ending affiliation with the Episcopal Church. More recently, congregants at two of the nation's largest and wealthiest Episcopal congregations, Truro Church and The Falls Church, both located in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., voted to leave the denomination and to seek alternative oversight from the Anglican province headed by Akinola.
The two congregations include leaders of government agencies, members of Congress, Washington journalists, and think-tank presidents. Past attendees include George Washington and George Mason. Truro's property is valued at $10 million; The Falls Church, $17 million. Episcopal diocese leaders insist that property belongs to the diocese, while the churches rest on Virginia court rulings indicating it belongs to churches-hinting at the legal and financial battles the theological rift will inspire.
Lending official oversight to what promises to be a bumpy transformation will be Akinola and Orombi, along with other prelates. With accelerated secession from the Episcopal Church underway, how did African clergymen with tribal roots and histories steeped in internecine conflict arrive in the middle of a crisis affecting a worldwide church of 77 million, whose birthright flows from the Anglo-Saxon halls of Canterbury?
Can such prelates, one a carpenter and the other a high-school dropout who failed at becoming a mechanic, reach Anglicans in affluent nations while shepherding local church members whose yearly per capita incomes average out to $550? In countries where indoor plumbing and 24-hour-a-day electricity aren't yet standard?
In Africa 10 of 11 provinces have declared themselves in "impaired communion" with the Episcopal Church since the consecration of Robinson. They are joined by other provinces in India, Southeast Asia, and South America. Over half of Anglican archbishops around the World have declared that the U.S. church's long drift away from biblical authority means they will not recognize as a legitimate Anglican leader U.S. presiding bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori. She voted for the consecration of gay bishop Robinson and has approved "same-sex blessings" that are tantamount to gay marriage.
The archbishops who oppose her represent 70 percent of Anglicans Worldwide. The Nigerian church alone-with attendance at 20 million-dwarfs the Church of England's attendance at 1.7 million, the Episcopal Church's 2.2 million, and the Anglican Church of Canada's half million.
Mindy Belz is the editor of WORLD magazine.
Used by permission. © 2006 WORLD magazine, all rights reserved.