Yesterday afternoon, I had a long conversation with a Tanzanian reporter. He interviewed me (as a parish priest in ECUSA) for a story he was writing, and then we just talked for a long time. Here's what was striking to me.
We don't share the same view of human sexuality; he said he basically agrees with Peter Akinola about the place of gays in the church. However, we kept talking. I asked him about people who come to church, and what they want in all this. He opined that most Tanzanians come to church to praise God, to hear God, and to grow in their faith. They are worried about their souls and salvation more than anything else, he said. I asked if it would be a problem if the US stayed in Communion -- if this particular society could tolerate being part of a global Communion where there is a more liberal presence.
This man said that he thinks church unity is more important. If the church fractures, then we lose credibility with Muslims. How can we say we are united in Christ if we cannot be united? This was fascinating to me, because the spin machine in the US tells us that any "taint" of homosexuality is a problem in this cultural context. And yet, that is not what I heard from at least this man. For him, the threat of schism is worse than Western liberalism.
I think we would do well to have more conversations with those in developing regions. I think this man was surprised in talking with me and others that we are both progressive and Biblical in our thinking. I learned much from hearing about the view of all this from an African perspective.
I'm not mentioning his name, because homosexuality is illegal in Tanzania, and I don't want any positive statements to get him in trouble.
On another note, the attached photo is of my hotel room bed. You'll notice the netting. That tells a bit of a story, I think, about what is really important. You see, that net can save my life and the lives of others. A simple net prevents most malaria, since malaria-carrying mosquitoes bite mostly at night. Most poor people do not have nets, and so they risk malaria needlessly. If they do get malaria, treatment is often prohibitively expensive. So that's something we could focus on in our Communion -- sharing resources to save lives.
I am 100% convinced that if we stopped posturing and started listening, we could get ourselves out of this Communion mess. I have no illusions that we'll agree, but I believe that what unites us is much stronger than what divides us.
I have long believed that the view of Africa as an inflexibly conservative place was wrong, and now my conversations are bearing that out. Please consider coming to Africa. Enjoy the beauty, love the people, admire the landscape, learn about poverty, and spend some money here. Most of all, love the people. They are the image of God, just as you are. And that, my friends, is an important reason to stay together in the Communion.