Tanzanian Bishop Mdimi Mhogolo of the Dodoma-based Diocese of Central Tanganyika, in January 26 Epiphany letter, questions the legitimacy of singling out the Episcopal Church on matters of human sexuality when the issues permeate throughout "all of our development and mission partners."
The letter was in part a response to the Tanzanian House of Bishops December 7, 2006 statement that declared the province in a state of "impaired" communion with the Episcopal Church in light of recent actions of General Convention and its response to the Windsor Report, which the statement called a "failure to register honest repentance for their actions that were contrary to the dictates of Holy Scripture..." (Full text) Mhogolo also acknowledged that not all the Tanzanian bishops are of one mind.
"The way we do God's mission is to strategize our mission and then look for resources for the mission," Mhogolo said in his letter. "The recruitment of people, both within and outside the country becomes part of our efforts in realizing God's mission. The material funding for God's mission impacts our goal to see God's mission is well resourced. [The Episcopal Church] with its relief and development agencies is only a small part of our funding and partnership organizations."
Mhogolo noted that the issue of homosexuality affects all of ACT's partner organizations, Churches, missionary agencies, governments and secular organizations. "We then ask ourselves, why should we single out [the Episcopal Church] and treat it differently?" he said. "We know that a substantional amount of money and funding that governments, Churches, and missionary societies receive, comes from gay and lesbian people."
He noted that in the Tanzanian cultural context "gay and lesbians are regarded as criminals punishable by long-term imprisonments. We also live in a country where gay and lesbians are violently persecuted, mistreated, hated and ostracised."
"We as Black Africans know the hurts and permanent damage caused by our past experiences which still linger on to the present," he said. "We have gone through all that and we know how it hurts. Once we were regarded like animals to be shot at, less than humans, to be turned into slaves and without God, to be taught the Western Christian gods. We have gone through that and we don't want to go that way again."
The full text of Mhogolo's letter follows:
Anglican Diocese of Central Tanganyika
P. O. Box 15, Dodoma, Tanzania
26 January 2007
Dear Friends in Christ.
Grace and Peace from our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
In our times, everybody is called to redefine himself/herself and the faith one holds. It is a time of great confusion. For those who wish to know our position on matters of our faith, here are our reflections as we try to 'be prepared all the time to answer anyone who questions the integrity of our faith.'
Our salvation comes from God through Jesus Christ, the only one 'full of grace and truth.' It is the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that draws us to God - the grace we receive unconditionally.
As we received grace, we too try to live according to His grace and become gracious in holding the truth, in how we treat other people and as we relate with one another.
The grace of Jesus Christ has called us not only to renounce evil [the expression of the Mosaic Law] but more so to bear the fruit of the Spirit of God which is 'love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility and self-control.' Our new life is characterized not so much by avoiding or renouncing evil and sin, but by actively doing what is good - a reflection of our new life in Jesus Christ. As notorious sinners used to run to Jesus for help, the Church too should become a safe place of refuge, a gracious space where sinners come. If sinners continue to reject and run away from the Church, we will soon know that Jesus is no longer there - in the Church!
Our mission statement expresses it well:
To communicate in word and deed the love of God to everyone in the Diocese, whatever their conditions might be, so that they may know him as Savior; Be committed to him as Lord; Rejoice together in the fellowship of the Spirit; Worship him as Father, And go out with this message of Jesus Christ's love to others.
We show our faith to our neighbors by our words, lives and deeds. The Church keeps on growing because of the witness of Christians expressed in their daily living. We firmly believe in the growth of the Church. If we stop growing, we will soon die. For us the growth of the Church is our life and service to the world.
Worship is also the life of our mission. The Church is there to give God the glory through worship and service. We are known by others as a worshipping community. We come together to worship and give thanks to God through Jesus Christ, by the power and fellowship of the Holy Spirit, for who God is and the way God has become in our lives. God receives our worship and renews us, comforts us and sends us into the world to live and worship God through lives of service and mission. Our lives become our daily offerings to God.
We are here not for ourselves, but for others. Our mission is to make God known in people's lives and to show them how God creates, upholds and nourishes each person. We try to express Jesus Christ in the sufferings and challenges of our communities. We cry with those who cry and bring hope for a better future to those who suffer. We share the sufferings and hurts with the people we serve and become a prayerful sign before God on behalf of them all. We also work for the hope of glory in trying to transform the lives of our people regardless of their color, gender, religion, sexual orientation and social status.
In this effort, we have friends who work with us in health and medical work, primary and secondary schools, HIV/AIDS programs, Water, Food security, Agriculture and livestock, Christian education and TEE.
We have friendly governments who work with us, such as the governments of UK, Australia, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, France, Holland, and the US.
We also have friends from secular organizations, such as Oxfam, Care International, Intermon, VSO, Peace Corps, Water Aid, the French ADEN and Resource Center.
We have friends in Christian organisations working with us, from such as CMS UK, CMSA, NZ CMS, Crosslinks, CBM, and NZ Board of Missions, ECUSA, USPG, The Anglican Church of Canada, and German CFI, DU, EED, and Bread for the World, Christian Aid, ERD, the Diocese of New York and the Diocese of Atlanta.
We have societies of friends such as Friends of Mvumi Hospital, Friends of Buigiri School for the Blind, Friends of Mvumi Secondary School, Friends of Msalato Theological College and Friends of DCT.
In addition, we are approached by friends through the internet who come to work with us in our schools, development work and in our hospitals.
We work together with all the above organisations, governments and people in trying to realise the Millennium Development Goals and transform the lives of our people for God's sake. We see God working in peoples' lives using all our partnerships to realise His reign in our world. We believe God works outside the Church as much as in the Church. For this reason we too have widened our partnership to work with all people with good will for God's mission in the world.
In this we value and cherish our independence and interdependence. We are a Church with all the rights, privileges and grace we have in Jesus Christ. We are an African Church that has come from Western Christian exploitation through slavery, colonialism and paternalism. We know how the Bible has been used in the past to terrorize our people, our cultures and the values we hold dear; questioning the dignity of our being and our faith in God, as though we were made a little less than in the image and likeness of God. We still know how the Bible is used selectively to affirm people's intrinsic understanding on the place of women in the society, the Church and
Christian families; and Women's ministries and ordination, in the Church.
We value our freedom in Jesus Christ and protect it with all the power of the Holy Spirit. We will not relapse into being held captive again by anybody, even by a brother or sister in Christ. We are responsible and accountable to God in Jesus Christ as much as any other diocese or individual.
It is in this confidence that we also express our interdependence with others as equals. In our interdependence, we can share our lives with others, learn from others, and share our people skills, knowledge and resources with them. We are very open to working and living together as brothers and sisters of the Faith, and with those of other faiths.
Respect, love, freedom and dignity for all are values we hold dear in our interdependence and partnership. As much as we do not choose friends for others, we too hold dearly our freedom to choose our friends. We too don't choose our friends lightly. We do not work with racist Christians, be they Southerners or Northerners, Easterners or Westerners; whether they are Bible believing or Liberals, Evangelicals or Charismatics, Orthodox or Conservatives, Black or White, Yellow or Purple. We will not work with anyone who questions our dignity, our intelligence, our spirituality and the integrity of our faith in, and the freedom we have in, Jesus Christ.
We also do not work with those who put strings to their skills, money or knowledge, those who tell us to sing their songs instead of singing ours; those who give help and demand our support and those who wish to propagate their agendas instead of standing for ours. Insisting that we behave this way is another form of slavery and Christian colonialism.
It is only in our mutual respect and love that we come together and work together for the benefit of the society we serve under the overarching mission of God. We have partners from different backgrounds - Roman Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Uniting Churches, Pentecostal churches, Anglicans, Episcopalians, Lutherans, House Churches and Charismatic Churches. We also have people of other faiths such as Moslems, Hindus and African Traditional Religions who work in our schools and hospitals.
So it is from this context that our response to ECUSA is expressed.
The way we do God's mission is to strategize our mission and then look for resources for the mission. The recruitment of people, both within and outside the country becomes part of our efforts in realising God's mission. The material funding for God's mission impacts our goal to see God's mission is well resourced. ECUSA with its relief and development agencies is only a small part of our funding and partnership organizations.
The issue of homosexuality with its various understandings is not only an ECUSA issue, but involves all of our development and mission partners. If one is realistic, the issue of homosexuality and their money affects all our partner organisations, Churches, missionary agencies, governments and secular organisations. We then ask ourselves, why should we single out ECUSA and treat it differently?
We know that a substantial amount of money and funding that governments, Churches, and missionary societies receive, comes from gay and lesbian people.
We live in our cultural context where gay and lesbians are regarded as criminals punishable by long term imprisonments. We also live in a country where gay and lesbians are violently persecuted, mistreated, hated and ostracised. We as Black Africans know the hurts and permanent damage caused by our past experiences which still linger on to the present. We have gone through all that and we know how it hurts. Once we were regarded like animals to be shot at, less than humans, to be turned into slaves and without God, to be taught the Western Christian gods. We have gone through that and we don't want to go that way again.
We hold the Gospel of grace and love where all people are welcomed, loved, cared for and treated with dignity. We preach a Gospel of restoration, reconciliation, love, peace, grace and healing. Many people are already feeling bad, hurt, disoriented, frustrated and bitter. We do not want to make life worse for them; instead we provide spaces for grace, love, and care to grow, and healing to take place for all.
For this reason, we will continue to welcome all our true brothers and sisters, children and adults, adolescents and mature, black and white, African American and White Americans to work and have fellowship with us; in the same way we also welcome all Christians from the rest of the Christian world, both Anglicans and non-Anglicans; Christians and non-Christians.
If Episcopalians visit us, we ask them to honor and respect our Faith, our cultures, our traditions and our way of life in Jesus Christ. People or mission partners do not come to change us. They come to appreciate, share and learn of our faith, our Christian culture we have developed and our way of life as we work together for the kingdom of God on earth.
We are not a closed Church where we reject some and welcome others. We are an open Church where even our enemies can find food, love, care and shelter. We always try to become like Jesus Christ our master, to everyone who comes into our home.
The issue of homosexuality is not fundamental to the Christian faith, although many try to make it that way!! We would have become wiser if we had learned how the Roman Catholic Church, the Lutheran World Federation, the Presbyterian Church, the Reformed Churches and the Society of Friends are dealing with the issue. We are in a mess because we do not want to learn from other World Christian Communities!!! The source of our faith and mission in God is Jesus Christ. If someone has a different understanding about the essence of our faith, then we all should be alarmed. But as long as individual Episcopalians hold the one, holy, Apostolic and Catholic Faith, who am I to pass judgment now that they are not my brothers and sisters in Christ?
I wish you every blessing from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
NB. We are also aware of the statement of the House of Bishops of the Anglican Church of Tanzania that expresses a severely impaired relationship with ECUSA, and that no money will be received by the Anglican Church of Tanzania from ECUSA and its entities that condone homosexual practices.
My understanding is that the statement of the House of Bishops, though it carries a lot of weight, it does not express the will and wishes of the whole Anglican Church of Tanzania. It is only when the other two Houses, namely the House of Laity and the House of Clergy are involved in the thinking and decision making that the statement becomes the whole Anglican Church of Tanzania.
Besides, any statement should reflect the dynamic and real life of the Church concerned. Since the Statement did not express the real life of the Church - i.e. some dioceses have had and continue to have links with ECUSA, and others do not; some dioceses are sympathetic with the Anglican Network and AMIA, whereas other dioceses have had major disagreements with them over the ordination of women; the statement then equips our Archbishop and the General Secretary to work on our provincial common ventures.