Episcopal dioceses and churches, including the country’s wealthiest parish in New York, are cutting off contributions to some African dioceses over disputes on homosexuality, Scripture and internal turf wars.
Trinity Episcopal Church on Wall Street this summer turned down a $146,000 grant request from the Anglican Province of Rwanda.
Before that, the Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota had cut off a Ugandan ministry and the Episcopal Diocese of Washington informed a Ugandan bishop his opposition to homosexuality was an “impediment” to receiving money.
“This has happened to many other African countries and African churches,” said Anglican Bishop John Rucyahana, reached in his Shyira diocese in Ruhengeri, Rwanda. “Our opinion and independence of mind is being choked by the gifts of money. That is manipulation and dehumanizing to think we will do what people want because they have money.”
Well-endowed Episcopal churches and dioceses have funneled funds to Africa for years, as long as the Africans remained amenable to Western innovations such as women’s ordination. The U.S. Episcopal Church is the richest province in the 63 million-member Anglican Communion.
Then came a watershed event: the August 1998 Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops in Canterbury, England, where African bishops provided the crucial swing votes on a resolution rejecting homosexual practice. Liberal Episcopalians were incensed.
A month later, Washington Episcopal Bishop Ronald Haines informed Ugandan Bishop Eliphaz Maari that the African votes had torpedoed a grant from his diocese to Uganda Christian University in Mukono, which depends heavily on international funding.
The diocese has a “significant gay and lesbian community” with deep pockets, Bishop Haines wrote Bishop Maari, and the Lambeth sexuality resolution had created a “sharp negative reaction” among them.
In the summer of 1999, a Ugandan priest overseeing an outreach ministry to eight poor African countries saw his funding cut off and his clergy standing in the Diocese of Minnesota suddenly revoked.
The Rev. Gabriel Odima, executive director of the St. Paul, Minn.-based Mobile Outreach Ministry, claims that Minnesota Bishop James Jelinek took out his frustrations with African bishops on him. Bishop Jelinek reportedly told Mr. Odima he sharply disagreed with how Africans voted at Lambeth.
The diocese contests this story, saying its actions have nothing to do with sexuality issues. Although the bishop “is pretty pro-gay and -lesbian,” said one official, the diocese claims the real problem is a lack of financial accountability at the ministry.
Mr. Odima denies this. “We lost $100,000 a year from Minnesota. We are still trying to recover from the shock of it. I talked with some African bishops recently and found this has happened elsewhere. One bishop from Uganda was banned from a church in London because of his position. The liberal dioceses are using their checkbooks as a card to play against us.”
Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey has termed all Lambeth-linked withholding of aid “immoral and deeply un-Christian,” as has the archbishop of Singapore, the Right Rev. Yong Ping Chung.
“I am very outraged that money and resources provided by God for the world church is being controlled, manipulated and applied as a pressure point to poorer churches to comply with the will and agenda of the givers,” Archbishop Yong said last week. “I suspect that more pressure will be applied and more money will be used as the battle for the truth of the Gospel intensifies. The whole intention is to silence any voice that dare to speak up against the mighty donors.”
The Rev. Stephen Noll, a Pennsylvania priest serving as vice chancellor of Uganda Christian University, says the withholding of funds is “common knowledge” among Africans. Rwandan bishops, he added, have taken the hardest hit from U.S. dioceses because of their strong stance on sexuality issues.
“What Haines did was an isolated threat,” he said. “But this decision by Trinity Wall Street was the first of its kind in that they were so explicit about why they were doing it.”
What nettled the Trinity parish were the actions of three Rwandan prelates: Archbishop Emmanuel Mbona Kolini and Bishops Venuste Mutiganda of Butare and John Rucyahana of Shyira.
These men, along with two retired American bishops and Archbishop Yong, took part in a June 24 ceremony in Denver. There, four American priests were consecrated as new bishops in the Anglican Mission in America, a conservative offshoot of the 2.3 million-member Episcopal Church. In January 2000, two other priests were consecrated as bishops at a little-publicized ceremony in Singapore.
Both actions infuriated Trinity Wall Street, a 304-year-old parish at Broadway and Wall streets in New York that is one of the world’s richest churches.
The week after the Denver consecrations, Trinity Wall Street slashed a $146,000 grant request from the Anglican Province of Rwanda, then posted its decision in a letter on the church’s Web site (www.trinitywallstreet.org ).
“Your archbishop and two of your bishops are actively working to promote schism within the Episcopal Church in the United States,” wrote Trinity program associate Judith Gillespie. “We have reached the difficult decision that Trinity Church cannot provide support to a church that undertakes such divisive activity.”
Trinity Wall Street spokesman John Allen said church members supported the decision, pointing out the church was funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars to other African causes.
“We decided to make a decision affecting the dioceses that took this action,” he said, referring to the Denver consecrations. “The grant was to the province of Rwanda and Kolini is head of the province.”
Bishop Rucyahana said the Rwandans will not change their theology.
“Certainly we need the money,” he said, “but not the type of money that diverts us from the call of Jesus. We are not willing to bow before the apostasies and heresies that will deny who we are in the Lord Jesus Christ.”
A year ago, he added, a trio of three Tennessee dioceses that had been contributing to Rwandan Anglicans since 1979 cut off their funding as well. A retired Tennessee bishop confirmed this took place.
“It sure raised some questions as to why now,” said the Right Rev. Alex Dickson, former Episcopal bishop of West Tennessee. “We were giving to them for a long time and then [Africans] participated in the ordinations in Singapore. Then the money stopped. The two coming near each other makes me wonder.
“Even to the Africans, $1,000 is big money,” he said. “Rwanda is an economy building itself up after genocide and the diocese has an orphanage of 600 orphans. All available funds go to support those orphans, so if something is taken away, the Rwandans will take money out of their own living expenses.”