Harare chancellor warns diocese

UPDATE: See this article in the October 19th issue of Church Times.

Bob Stumbles, chancellor of the Diocese of Harare, brings blessed clarity to the confusing saga of Bishop Nolbert Kunonga, the pro-Mugabe leader of that diocese, and makes it clear that the bishop is using the issue of homosexuality to divert attention from his personal misdeeds. Stumbles also makes it clear that the reports of the province's dissolution are in error. (For further background this 2005 article from Church Times and this letter by Stumbles from 2006.)

The saga of Bishop Nolbert Kunonga's efforts to take the Diocese of Harare out of the Anglican Province of Central Africa has been a twisted one from the beginning. Most recently, Kunonga, a supporter of Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe's bizarre policies, has attempted to use the issue of homosexuality as a smoke screen, claiming that he is breaking with the province over theological differences. Critics, however, argue that Kunonga is making this move because with the retirement of his protector Archbishop Bernard Malango, darling of American conservatives, Kunonga can no longer expect to escape facing charges in an ecclesiastical court.

Bob Stumbles, chancellor of Kunonga's own diocese, recently released a statement on Kunonga's conduct and its potential implications. The summary follows:


SUMMARY:

1. The issue confronting the Diocese of Harare is NOT one of homosexualtiy in the Anglican Church of Central Africa even though this issue challenges Christians throughout the world.

2. The purported "break away" by the Bishop of Harare from the Province of Central Africa cannot be recognised in the laws of theAnglican Church and any such move would result in a "schism",severing all ties with the world wide Anglican Communion.

3. Any person - clergy or laity - associating with this move would themselves also sever all ties with the Anglican Communion.

4. Resolutions of the Harare Diocesan Synod of 4 August 2007 in this regard are, for several reasons, severely flawed and any actionsflowing from these are invalid.

5. It cannot be claimed that the Diocesan Synod has given any mandate to any person to "withdraw the Diocese of Harare from the Province of Central Africa" - either while attending the Provincial Synod of 8 September 2007, or at any other time.

6. A "Special Synod", called for Saturday 20 October 2007 cannot legitimately be held because the required notice has not been given.

7. The question members of the Anglican Church (and any other concerned persons) must answer with God's help is, "Is this a genuine concern to protect the flock from error, or is it about power and money?"

Bishop Kunonga has not received an invitation to Lambeth 2008 and has close ties to the oppressive government of Zimbabwe.

(Some of our previous coverage on Kunonga can be found here and here.)

The complete letter follows - used with permission.

Bishop Kunonga, head of the Diocese of Harare has announced that he has withdrawn the Diocese from the Church of the Province of Central Africa (Province), which comprises all dioceses in Botswana, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe. His main issue with the Province is the stance he alleges it has taken on homosexuality. He says he will form a new Province (probably by dividing this geographical area of the Diocese of Harare into several smaller dioceses). This so-called new province would not associate with the existing Province. It would choose its own archbishop. The present Diocese of Harare would no longer be Anglican because it would unilaterally have severed all links with the present Province and with the Archbishop of Canterbury. It would not own the church properties in the Diocese as these belong to the Province according to the Acts of the Diocese. Is this what Anglicans in the Diocese seek?

The move will divide the Anglicans presently worshipping in the 5 dioceses of Zimbabwe. Those parishioners in the dioceses which remain within the Province, will still remain recognised as Anglicans. Those who are in the Diocese of Harare, Bishop Kunonga's intended breakaway diocese, could all, through the choice of their Synod and Bishop be ex-communicated from Anglicanism. The Bishop himself and all the priests of the Diocese of Harare run the risk of being accused of the offences of schism (acceptance of membership in a religious body not in communion with the Province); apostasy; wrongfully contravening laws of the Province and of conduct giving just cause for scandal or offence, or, otherwise unbecoming a clergyman. Resignation or withdrawal from the Province does not stop a court enquiring into these offences. If found guilty a sentence of ex-communication from the Anglican Communion and the stigma attached to this is possible. Talk of joining another Province in any other country will not change the situation. The Kunonga followers in his realm will still be non-Anglicans. They intend to ostracise themselves from the Province. They will in turn subject themselves to ostracism.

No doubt, Bishop Kunonga, his vicar-general, the Very Reverend Harry Rinashe, the Registrar of the Diocese of Harare, Mr James Mutizwa, and other confidants and advisers to the Bishop are fully aware of the consequences and approve of the plan to sever complete relationship from the Province. But are the majority of Anglicans in the Diocese aware of the Bishop's ambition, and the effect it will have on the spiritual life of Anglicans? And were all members of the recently held Synod of the Diocese made fully aware of the plan before, during or immediately after the Synod session held in Harare on 4th August 2007? Do all Anglicans within the diocese meekly agree to be banished from the Province?

Apparently, only on the day Synod commenced were Agenda papers handed to most members. Consistent with past actions the Bishop, by handing out Agenda papers without the due notice period, ignored Synod rules and placed members at a great disadvantage. Indeed many were taken by surprise at the contents.

The Diocesan Laws specifically require members of Synod to have the Agenda papers, notices of motion and reports at least 18 days before Synod commences to ensure adequate publication and distribution of what Synod is to discuss. Members (the incumbent and the representatives elected by the Church Council or by Vestry in the case of parishes) are thus given time to read the papers, and meet with those congregations, vestries and other persons they represent to obtain their views. The Diocesan law calls on the Bishop, clergy and laity to "pass such Acts and do such other things as may be required for the order, good government and efficiency of the diocese." An implied condition is that all this must be carried out in a spirit of openness, truth, justice and righteousness.

By deliberately spurning the laws, the Bishop denied members the right to know and study the contents of the Agenda Papers before Synod. In effect therefore, the Anglican laity of the Diocese in particular were not informed of what was to be discussed at Synod.

It should also be noted that there have been no copies of the laws of the Diocese available for about 9 years. Many people are therefore ignorant of the way Synod should operate and of the duties and rights of Synod members. Moreover, many members were attending Synod for the first time and were not familiar with its meeting procedure. So it was inevitable that through ignorance of the rules and procedure some members' rights would probably not have been effectively exercised.

On the Synod Agenda, Item 8(b) was a "Pastoral" notice of Motion, "That the Diocese of Harare does not recognise homosexuality as an acceptable Christian norm and hence does not recognise marriages from such relationships." After much discussion, this was passed on a "voice vote", not a unanimous vote nor a two-thirds majority vote.
This resolution endorses the existing laws of the Church of the Province, which state the same belief in Canon 22, namely that "marriage, by divine invitation, is a lifelong and exclusive union and partnership between one man and one woman. The laws and regulations of the Province are based on this belief." Where then is this difference between the belief of the Diocese on homosexuality and that of the Province, which Bishop Kunonga harps upon and gives as a reason to break away from the Province?

Then there was a "voice vote" in favour of the agenda motion that "the Church of the Province of Central Africa is now faced with (sic) serious cracks due to diverse mindsets especially on the issue of homosexuality. This Diocese together with others does not condone homosexuality and on such we need to take a position."

The Diocese has no power to speak for other dioceses. The resolution does not state what position Synod should take but it is clear from the wording Synod did not give the Bishop authority to withdraw the Diocese from the Province. All notices of motion are placed on the agenda at the absolute discretion of the Bishop, so he approved the wording. The nature of the "serious cracks" is not disclosed. The motion says that the Diocese needs to take a stand; but does not say when nor what stand should be taken. Members of Synod would be justified in understanding that the stand had to be taken at Provincial Synod to rectify and repair the cracks; not that the Bishop was given absolute authority to drag the Diocese out of the Province. Furthermore, the resolution raises the issue of homosexuality but conveniently forgets the existence of Canon 22 enshrined in the laws of the Church of the Province, which supports the view of Synod.

There was yet another "Pastoral" Motion on the Agenda; 8(c) to the effect that amendments to the laws of the Diocese as proposed by various Ecclesiastical Divisions should be forwarded to the Registrar for finalisation. Again, the "voice vote" method was used to pass this resolution. This resolution is significant.

Almost incredulously, a resolution appeared after Synod, a resolution that had not been on the agenda. It is apparently attached to a letter of the 21st September 2007 written by Bishop Kunonga to Archbishop Malanga of the Province. It reads, "Harare Diocese Synod Held on 4th August, 2007. Under Pastoral Motions Item 8(c). This Synod unanimously agreed to make a Diocesan Act that with immediate effect the Diocese of Harare disassociates itself and severs relationship with any individual, group of people, organisation, institution, Diocese, Province or otherwise which sympathises or compromises with homosexuality. The House of Bishops consented." In the letter, Bishop Kunonga describes this resolution as "The full text of the Act as it was passed by Synod."

But the full text of the Pastoral Motion 8(c) deals with finalising the Diocesan Acts not severing relationships. Moreover, the resolution sent to the Archbishop cannot have been passed under 8(c) because it is not relevant to the original motion. It cannot be held to be an amendment to the Acts of the Diocese with immediate effect or at all because such a motion has to be approved by at least two- thirds of the members of the Synod and it is not possible to say beyond doubt that on a "Voice Vote" there was such a majority. There were abstentions and the number of these silent voices may have been substantial. For the same reasons the vote cannot be said to be unanimous. Incidentally, no amendments to the Acts shall take effect at all, let alone immediately, until approved by the Provincial Synod or any authority appointed by it.

Every notice of motion, which does not appear on the Synod Agenda, must first be submitted in writing to the Bishop and, by implication, read out to the Diocesan Synod if the Bishop accepts the substance of it. Was the wording of the resolution sent to the Archbishop read out to members of the Synod? Were all the members aware of the contents?
Was this resolution voted upon and if so was there a vote count to make sure two-thirds of the members were in favour of the wording?
And why does Bishop Kunonga deliberately write that the motion sent to the Archbishop is the full text of 8(c) on the Agenda when it is not?

No resolution shall have any force if it is contrary to or in conflict with any laws of the Province of the Church. The resolution sent under cover of the letter of 21st September is in conflict with those laws. It is therefore invalid.

If indeed the "off the Agenda resolution" was lawfully passed by Synod, which is questionable, it has several flaws. Nowhere does it categorically empower the Bishop to sever relations with the Church of the Province of Central Africa. Had that been the intention of Synod the resolution surely would have said so. Instead, It set out that the Diocese is to disassociate itself and sever relationships from whomsoever sympathises or compromises with homosexuality; a very general wide-sweeping statement. Firm evidence of sympathy or compromise by any person or organisation should be brought to Synod for debate, and only then would Synod be in a position to vote on whether or not it should sever its relations with that specified person or organisation. The Synod of the Diocese has not stated that the Province itself allied itself to, sympathised or compromised itself with homosexuality. Canon 22 clearly shows what the stance of the Province is on one man one woman marriages.

Whereas Bishop Kunonga in his letter of 21st September to the Archbishop categorically states the Harare Synod unanimously mandated him to withdraw the Diocese for the Province, in fact he has no mandate. The conclusion is that he has no right to pull all the Anglicans of the Diocese out of the Province, thereby taking away their Anglicanism.

It is clear the Bishop himself no longer wishes to be associated with the Province. To be true to his convictions he has the opportunity to tender his resignation both as bishop and as priest. Indeed, he should do so as he continues to break his solemn oath whereby he promised and consented to be bound by and to govern the Diocese in conformity with all the laws and canons of the Church of the Province of Central Africa. He no longer intends to be bound by these.
Alternatively, at least two bishops of the Province may make representations to the Archbishop or the Dean of the Province to have Bishop Kunonga resign his See.

Finally, it has been heard that a "Special" Synod is being contemplated. As the Registrar, Mr Mutizwa knows, for it to be valid, the rules insist on at least 90 days notice being given to members and the subjects on the agenda for debate should be notified well in advance to Synod members. There is no distinction made between a Special and an ordinary Diocesan Synod. The reason for this meeting should be published forthwith so that members are not again taken by surprise, and may call for a secret ballot by Houses if they desire.

The sad saga of the Bishop's apparent ambitious autocracy continues.
Anglicans in the Diocese of Harare and elsewhere have the right to speak out instead of passively holding their breath and closing their eyes to what may lie ahead through default.

Bob Stumbles
Chancellor, Diocese of Harare
Deputy Chancellor, Anglican Province of the Church of Central Africa.

14 October 2007

Comments (1)

Two thoughts come quickly to mind. First, can we get this Chancellor to reiterate from his conservative Anglican province to our conservative dissidents the statement that a diocese cannot act contrary to the canons of a province? Can we get him to challenge insursions of some of the other African provinces on this point? Perhaps with his solid Central African credentials they'll listen to him.

Second, if I recall correctly from the difficulties with the episcopal election in the Diocese of Lake Mali, the Constitution of the Province of Central Africa (unlike most provinces) does include a provision for appeal to Canterbury for mediation and resolution. Will they invoke that, I wonder? I'm sure Archbishop Williams is praying that they won't....

Marshall Scott

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