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Anglican - Lutheran Relations in Tanzania

  A Talk for the Anglican - Lutheran Society Annual General Meeting on March 7th, 2009 by Bishop Michael Westall

The headquarters of the Diocese of South West Tanganyika, which I attempted to look after for a few years until August, 2006, is in Njombe, a district capital on the plateau which lies behind the Livingstone Mountains, mountains which rise out of Lake Malawi (or Lake Nyasa as the Tanzanians call it). Njombe is not a very prepossessing town. It has one tarmac road, the main road running from Makambako, about 60 kilometres to the north, to Songea, about 280 kilometres to the south. The road slopes quite sharply upwards from north to south, and as you climb the hill, you pass on your right the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Diocese of Njombe, the Lutheran Cathedral of the Diocese of Southern Tanzania of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania, followed by the Anglican Cathedral of the Diocese of South West Tanganyika of the Anglican Church in Tanzania. There are other churches: the Assemblies of God, Moravians, Seventh Day Adventists, Presbyterians led by missionaries from Korea and others, but it is the Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Anglican institutions which strike the eye as you walk up the hill. This may be accidental, but these are the three denominations which have significant work in most parts of the country.

Lutherans and Anglicans both have histories of some 150 years in East Africa. Both began without much real success. The first efforts of the Lutheran missionaries of the Hermansburg Society in the 1850s produced little result, and the first Anglican attempt, under the auspices of the Universities Mission to Central Africa and led by Bishop Mackenzie ended in tragedy. The Anglicans thereafter withdrew from the interior and made Zanzibar their headquarters. The island, which is overwhelmingly Muslim, still has the oldest Anglican Cathedral in East Africa on it, built on the site of the old slave market.

Since then both churches have spread under the leadership of a variety of mission boards and societies. In the case of the Lutherans the Berlin Missionary Society began work in Tanzania in 1891, the US Board of World Missions in 1922. The Danish Lutherans and others have begun work more recently. On the Anglican side, the Universities Mission, having withdrawn to Zanzibar, began work on the mainland opposite, later in Masasi in the south and later returned to Lake Nyasa (Lake Malawi), while the Church Missionary Society opened up work in Morogoro and especially the Dodoma area (with early mission stations at Mpwapwa and Kongwa) and from there spread especially to the Lake Tanganyika and Lake Victoria areas.

The result is that, apart from the Roman Catholics, the Lutherans and Anglicans are the only two churches with a presence in all parts of the country. Other churches, even the strongest such as the Moravians and Mennonites, are essentially regional, the Moravians especially in Tukuyu, Mbeya, Sumbawanga and Tabora, the Mennonites on the east side of Lake Victoria. Other western Protestant denominations, such as the Methodists, Baptists and Presbyterians are not strong in Tanzania, though they are in other parts of Africa. More recently Pentecostal churches have arrived, but these have tended to poach the disaffected in the mainline churches rather than to evangelise new Christians.

Anglicans and Lutherans are present in most parts of the country, but they are unevenly spread; and because of the areas in which in the earliest missionaries began their work, they were for many years in a considerable degree isolated from each other. So, for example, the Lutherans were and are very strong in the north around Moshi and Arusha, which was not an early area of Anglican work. In the northern coastal area there was some overlap, but the Lutherans were generally more concentrated in the Usambara Mountains around Lushoto, the Anglicans in the plains near the coast, with Magila as an early headquarters. In the southwest Lutheran work spread from Bulongwa which was totally untouched by Anglicans. This led eventually to the Lutheran Diocese of South Central with its headquarters at Makete. On the other hand, Lutherans were totally absent from such Anglican strongholds as Masasi and the eastern shore of Lake Nyasa.

This meant that, to a large extent, the two churches lived side by side in peace, but it was the peace of having very little to do with each other. And sometimes when their work began to overlap there was conflict. This can be illustrated by the village of Yakobi, a few miles south of Njombe. From Bulongwa Lutheran work spread to the area where the Wabena lived, largely in the plateau behind the Livingstone Mountains. From the shores of Lake Nyasa, Anglican work spread into the hills and valleys behind the Lake, an area occupied by the neighbours of the Wabena, the Wapangwa. To this day, although the area covered by the Anglican Diocese of South West Tanganyika encompasses some six tribes, at least seventy per cent of the membership comes from two tribes, the Wamanda on the lakeside and the Wapangwa. But Anglican work did move a little beyond the Wapangwa area among the Wabena, and the two churches met in the village of Yakobi, and in Yakobi there was considerable ill feeling, even struggle between the two churches. One of our key families in the area, the Mung'ong'o family, are natives of Yakobi, and the grandfather of the present senior members of the family wrote a little history of the conflict (in Kiswahili), told, it must be said, from a rather partisan Anglican point of view. Today there are both Anglican and Lutheran churches in the village.

There was one other place in that area where Anglicans and Lutherans came into contact, but this was a case of one succeeding the other. The Lutherans had built an important mission station at Milo in the hills (even giving it its name from a town in Germany). In World War One they were forced to leave this and the centre with its excellent buildings was handed to the Anglicans. To this day there is a hospital and a Christian training centre there. The hospital was rebuilt with help from Christian Aid some twenty years ago. The training centre still uses the original buildings inherited from the Lutherans and dating from the beginning of the twentieth century. When I arrived in the diocese, these buildings were falling into disrepair. (Guy Smith [ALS treasurer – ed]will remember a decidedly damp evening in the mission house under a leaky roof.) The present pastor of Milo in Germany gave us some assistance in the major task of restoring the old dormitory building which had become unsafe to use. Since Guy's damp evening we have been able to put a new roof on the old mission house.

So we have a picture of the two churches living a largely separate existence and coming into occasional conflict in areas where their work overlapped. The big change in the last 40 or 50 years is that the areas of overlap between the two churches have increased considerably. The main reason for this has been the growth of towns in which there are workers from other areas who retain their denominational loyalty in their new place of work. So, for example, an Anglican Diocese of Mount Kilimanjaro was formed in the early 1980s with its headquarters in Arusha. Arusha grew rapidly after independence, becoming an important regional centre with a considerable number of people from other parts of the country and indeed from other countries. From Arusha work has spread to other local towns and into the surrounding villages. The second less significant reason for the two churches spreading into areas where they had previously lacked a presence has been people in rural communities who have sought land to cultivate in new areas.

I can again illustrate this kind of increased overlap in more detail from the area covered by the Diocese of South West Tanganyika. From Bulongwa and Makete, the present headquarters of the Lutheran Diocese of South-Central, and an area inhabited by the Wakinga, Lutheran work spread to the Wabena in Njombe and Makambako, to the Wahehe around Mafinga and Mgololo and to a mixture of peoples around Mlimba. Anglicans had no work in Bulongwa or in any of these other places. The only exception was at Mufindi, a tea growing area not far from Mafinga. Here a church was built for expatriates working on the tea gardens. In fact, it is a very different church from others in the area and more closely resembles a peaceful English village church.

But over the last forty years small Anglican communities have grown up in these areas. Near Bulongwa, Makete became a district capital. Makambako became a major station on the Tazara Railway, the railway built by the Chinese after Rhodesian DDI, which runs from Dar es Salaam to Kapiri Mposhi in Zambia. It is also a common overnight stop for lorries on the main road from Dar es Salaam to Zambia and Malawi, so that many small hotels have grown up. Mafinga became the district capital of Mufindi district and Mgololo became the site for an enormous paper factory. (It made disastrous losses and the government finally managed to sell it in 2006.) There is also a Tazara railway station at Mlimba and a few miles away there is an enormous hydroelectric plant.

In each case workers arrived from outside, some of whom were Anglicans. Of the five towns all except Makambako and Mgololo have had a resident Anglican priest for less than five years. And work has spread from the towns into the villages. At Makambako and Makete there were considerable numbers not yet evangelised. Outside Mafinga and Mlimba there are people who have moved in search of land, who were originally Anglican and, although for years they lacked any ministry provided by the Anglicans, they have remained strongly attached to their identity.

Similarly, the Lutherans had no work among the Wamanda and Wapangwa or (outside the area covered by the Diocese of South West Tanganyika) in Masasi.1n all these areas with the growth of towns and workers arriving from outside Lutheran communities have sprung up. In the case of Ludewa which became a district capital some twenty years ago for the Wapangwa and Wamanda areas, their work has moved outside the town. At Figanga, a few miles out of Ludewa, they have even built a dispensary. They also have churches at important villages such as Mlangali and Manda.

I think it is true that this growing alongside each other has been almost entirely friendly and free of conflict. I would often find the local Lutheran pastor present when I went for Confirmation services, especially in areas where the Anglicans were the newcomers. (I have to say that the pastor at Yakobi was never present. I could not say if this was due to past history.) There has been a sense of a common mission to reach those as yet untouched by the Gospel and sometimes of a common mission to those who have totally lapsed without really worrying about who had done the original evangelising and who was doing the recalling. In this respect the relationship has been very different from that between the mainline churches and the Pentecostal groups. These tend to arrive in new areas and deliberately try to draw away those belonging to the mainline churches, whether Lutheran, Anglican or Roman Catholic.

Of course this friendly cooperation does not entirely exclude rivalry. One example of this is over the question of denominational universities. After independence schools were nationalised. At that time the only institution of tertiary education in the country was the University College of Dar es Salaam, at that time still affiliated to London University. Within a few years this was raised to university status, but voluntary bodies were not allowed to run schools or colleges (except for the training of their own clergy). By the late 1980s it was abundantly clear, especially with the population rapidly increasing, that the government lacked the resources to provide education by itself. Voluntary agencies, including churches and even associations of parents, were encouraged to found both primary and secondary schools, and in the 1990s major bodies, such as churches, were allowed to run their own universities.

The Roman Catholic Church now has two universities. The Lutheran Church also has a university with some excellent faculties. These universities have been formed by incorporating existing institutions on different campuses, such as the theological college at Makumira, near Arusha, and raising them to university status. By the early years of the new century, the Anglicans lacked a university and the then Archbishop, Donald Mtetemela, made the founding of an Anglican university a high priority. Some funding was obtained from abroad. Individual dioceses were given impossible targets of money to raise. The government agreed to return a secondary school in Dodoma which had been nationalised to serve as the headquarters and in 2007 the first students entered St John's Anglican University. One of the priests from the Diocese of South West Tanganyika is there now. It is true that more university places are needed. But I rather suspect that the enormous effort to open a new university in a very short period of time owed something to denominational rivalry, as well as a commendable desire to provide needed opportunities for higher education.

Nevertheless, in spite of examples like this, today we have a picture of peaceful coexistence and this is both expressed in and cemented by membership of the Christian Council of Tanzania (CCT). Its chairman has usually been the Lutheran Presiding Bishop or the Anglican Archbishop and many of its staff members have been drawn from the two churches (as well as from other member churches of CCT). Yet in spite of all this harmony and cooperation there is virtually no sign of a movement towards any form of closer union. Why is this?

I do not think that theological differences are preventing a closer union. If one looks at what is actually preached and taught, it would be hard to detect a difference. In Njombe I imported a priest from Masasi to take charge of the Cathedral. He was in constant demand at the Lutheran Cathedral just down the road, not just as a visiting preacher, but to give series of talks and seminars. One of the more able Anglican theological teachers, who at one time was the principal of one of the two provincial theological colleges, actually became a Lutheran pastor (after failing to secure election as a bishop). And again if you look at what is actually believed and taught, in most congregations in both churches there are renewal movements, fellowships, which are virtually identical.

It is certainly not liturgical incompatibility which prevents a closer union. In the Anglican dioceses there is already an enormous difference between the Anglo-Catholic traditions inherited from the UMCA and the evangelical tradition of the CMS. In dress for a Communion service in the UMCA dioceses the celebrant wears eucharistic vestments, in the CMS dioceses a surplice and black scarf. In the UMCA dioceses the celebrant faces east or west; in the CMS dioceses he celebrates at the north end of the altar table. There are even different hymn books for the two traditions. I do not know so much about liturgical variety in the Lutheran churches, but I suspect that there was considerable difference between the traditions inherited from Scandinavia and North America. It is certainly the case that Lutheran bishops, like Anglican bishops of the UMCA tradition, are happy to wear cope and mitre, whereas Anglican bishops of the CMS tradition virtually never do so.

Given the variety which exists in the two churches and the similarities between them, I think it is abundantly clear that there is no overwhelming liturgical reason which holds the two churches back from closer unity. Again if one looks at the united churches, one can see that they are able to tolerate a considerable degree of liturgical variety. It is true that the united Churches of North India and South India both have their own liturgies. But, to take just one example, there is an enormous difference between the liturgy you would find in St George's Cathedral in Chennai (Madras), which is in the Anglican tradition, and the liturgy you would find in Home Church in Nagercoil (in the same state), where evangelism was undertaken by the London Missionary Society.

It is true that some Anglicans of the high church tradition have been more interested in closer relations with the Roman Catholic Church than with the Lutheran Church or indeed with any other church. In the late 1940s several of the UMCA missionaries became Roman Catholics, including one missionary doctor who settled in Tanzania, married a Tanzanian and became minister of health in Julius Nyerere's first government. The last expatriate Bishop of Masasi, who died in retirement in Tanzania only a few weeks ago, used to speak of his desire to negotiate some kind of uniat status with the Roman Catholic Church. Another Anglican missionary in Tanzania converted to Roman Catholicism in 1993 and is now a White Father in Tabora. However, this attraction to the Roman Catholic Church was almost entirely confined to the missionaries. A local leader as totally steeped in the Anglo-Catholic tradition as the former Archbishop John Ramadhani was not in the least attracted in that direction.

So what has prevented a closer cooperation, perhaps even an organic union, which would appear in many ways very attractive? The respective areas of strength of the two churches, if brought together, would result in a church with a very substantial presence in virtually every part of the country. I would suggest two reasons - and I hope that they do not sound too cynical.

The first is that churches which are relatively strong do not feel an urgent impetus towards unity. It is no accident that, on the Anglican side, the Indian sub-continent has been the only area in which schemes for reunion have come to fruition. The separated churches were so tiny, especially in the heartlands of North India, in relation to a vast population that separate existence did appear to be nonsense. They were also very weak in relation to government. This could seen in the way in which most church leaders (there were a few honourable exceptions) actually congratulated Mrs Gandhi on the declaration of the state of emergency in 1975. It could also be seen in the anti-propagation law enacted by the Janata government which came to power in 1977 and which (without mentioning them) was aimed at Christians.

In much of Africa, and certainly in Tanzania, the situation is vastly different. Over ten per cent of the total population belongs to the Lutheran Church and a little under ten per cent to the Anglican Church. The leaders are very conscious of being in charge of powerful and growing institutions. The Presiding Bishop of the Lutheran Church and the Archbishop of the Anglican Church have direct access to the President. It is not unusual for the President to be present at the consecration of new bishops. As we have seen in the banking crisis here, it is the weaker institutions which can be desperate for a merger. I believe that the sense of confidence as churches grow is one reason which detracts from any sense of urgency about closer union.

The second reason - and I hesitate to mention it - has to do with ambition. In both churches, and in most other churches in Tanzania, there is considerable enthusiasm for and competition for election to the episcopate. In the Anglican church this has been one of the reasons for the rapid division of dioceses, sometimes leading to new dioceses which are financially extremely weak.

Now picture the situation if the two churches were united. The total number of dioceses in the two churches together at present is over forty. A united church would not have more than about thirty dioceses, at least at the time of union. Simple arithmetic indicates that election to the episcopate would become considerably more difficult.

So, in brief, we see two churches which live in harmony, which cooperate both locally and through the Christian Council of Tanzania, which are not separated by any unbridgeable chasms in terms of theology or liturgy or church polity, which in plain geographical terms complement each other to a considerable degree, but which manifest no sense of urgency for a closer union.

I have been asked to say a little about the problems now facing the Anglican Communion. I will not attempt deal with the issue of homosexuality as such, nor will I try to explain exactly what the situation is at present, still less to predict the future. I will simply try to explain how the situation looks from a Tanzanian perspective, although I will not be able to hide the fact that I have little sympathy for the hardliners on either side.

Disagreement over the issue of homosexuality is, of course, widespread in many churches. Even in the Roman Catholic Church, writers such as James Alison have pleaded for a more generous attitude towards it. I think it has become such a fraught issue in the Anglican Communion, because of the nature of Anglican polity. If there were a more authoritarian structure where policy could be dictated or if there were only a loose federation of churches in which very considerable differences could be tolerated, the issue would not have been so damaging. So how does it actually look?

In the United States, of course, homosexuality has become a very widely although not universally tolerated part of culture. Liberals in the Episcopal Church see acceptance of this part of contemporary culture as fundamental. We had an Episcopal priest of such views staying with us a few months ago, and she simply could not accept that any other point of view was tolerable.

So much do the liberals see their point of view as the only possible one that they have frequently not been able to extend the same generosity to conservatives who disagree with them as they have to homosexuals. And liberal bishops have even resorted to legal means to ensure that their preferred policy is adopted in all the parishes of their diocese.

Again, a cardinal virtue for many of the liberals is inclusivism, an attitude which believes that the Gospel compels us to be inclusive towards minority groups and attitudes. The insistence on inclusivism can become so powerful that, in my judgement, it can actually make dispassionate discussion of ethical issues quite difficult.

Another factor in the American Church which has contributed to the present situation is isolationism. Although there are exceptions, many in the Episcopal Church do not have a strong sense of belonging to a worldwide communion of churches. Many of them have almost no idea of how their decisions will impact on their fellow Christians in other parts of the world and perhaps do not care very much.

Again, at least from the point of view of many Africans, many Americans are so convinced that their way of interpreting the Bible and understanding the faith is right that they look down on others. This became very obvious in the Lambeth Conference of 1998 when Bishop John Spong of New ark made disparaging comments about African attempts to understand the Bible.

Turning to the African point of view (although I should mention that the situation in South Africa is considerably different), the first thing to say is that nearly everyone shares an instinctive aversion to homosexuality. This is true whether the person is more or less thoughtful and more or less judgemental. I remember Walter Brueggemann in his Theology of the Old Testament suggests that this instinctive aversion reflects not so much a rational ethical decision as a deep-seated feeling that a fundamental purity code is at stake.

Side by side with this is the situation of living alongside large Muslim communities. In Tanzania where the Christian and Muslim communities are of roughly the same size, the situation has not been as difficult as in places where Christians are a minority. Even so when Punitha, my wife, was in Dar es Salaam to process the import of a vehicle at the end of 2003 (shortly after the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson), the Muslim lady in one of the government offices on seeing the name' Anglican Church' on one of the forms said, 'Oh, the homosexual church.'

On the interpretation of the Bible there is a feeling that the west tries to have it both ways. Many do not distinguish between the westerners who first brought the Bible and the westerners who interpret it to day. So they note that, when the question at issue was polygamy and Africans insisted it was part of their culture, they were told that the Bible is absolutely clear on the matter, but when the issue is homosexuality and they are trying to insist that the Bible is clear, they are told, 'Ah, but it all depends on how you interpret it. '

There is also a sense that for years they have been manipulated by those who controlled the purse strings and those who understood procedure at meetings. There have been cases where possible withholding of funds has been used as a threat and where expertise in procedure has been used to produce a resolution which many Africans thought they had the numbers to defeat. Here the Africans are very aware of the enormous number of bishops the Episcopal Church fields at Lambeth Conferences, especially considering its comparatively small membership.

And here we can see that homosexuality has become the issue over which the churches in the global south, especially in Africa, have been able to assert their new sense of power and confidence. This was very clear when in October 2004 at Lagos, Nigeria, the first African Anglican Bishops' Conference was held. The theme of the Conference was 'The African Church comes of age.' There were unmistakeable echoes of the Lambeth Conference, even down to the daily newspaper which was produced. Financially, the Nigerian Church has considerable funds of its own now. And financial dependence on western liberals has been lessened by some wealthy conservatives in the USA who have offered resources.

So to a considerable extent homosexuality just happens to have been the issue around which African church leaders have asserted their new confidence. I say church leaders, because at least in Tanzania the issue is not discussed at the grassroots. I have said that there is an instinctive aversion, but in my own diocese, the clergy were only vaguely aware that there was an issue here: most of them had far more pressing concerns. And the ordinary folk in the villages were totally unaware that there was an issue at all.

I do have to say that there has been a degree of hypocrisy. While taking a very firm line on the issue of homosexuality, some leaders of have been much more tolerant of moral lapses, such as theft or adultery, when they manifest themselves nearer to home. This is the situation which has confronted Archbishop Rowan Williams. At the time of his appointment liberals believed that he would wholeheartedly support them. Conservatives were worried. He wrote a letter to all the primates (the heads of provinces) in which he distinguished between his freedom as a private theologian to explore and his duty as a bishop to guard the faith as the common mind of the church has received and interpreted it. He was unlucky enough to be confronted with difficult problems very soon after his enthronement, including the appointment of Jeffrey John as Bishop of Reading. It appears to be the case that he sent out rather confused signals about his likely reaction to this. Since then some liberals have accused him of abandoning his own personal convictions for the sake of peace in the church, and some conservatives of not being firm enough on the issue of homosexuality because of his personal convictions.

In fact, he has laboured very hard to give both conservatives and liberals space to listen to each other. Nothing illustrates this more clearly than one of his presidential addresses to last year's Lambeth Conference in which by a piece of what his biographer calls theological ventriloquism he demonstrated his ability to put himself in the shoes of both conservative and liberal.

Here he is expressing the mind of a conservative: "What we seek to do in our context is faithfully to pass on what you have passed on to us - Holy Scripture, apostolic ministry, sacramental discipline. But what are we to think when all these things seem to be questioned and even overturned? We want to be pastorally caring to all, to be 'inclusive', as you might say. We want to welcome everyone. Yet the gospel and the faith you passed on to us tell us that some kinds of behaviour are nor blessed by God. Our love and our welcome are not real if we don't truthfully let others know what has shaped and directed our lives - so along with welcome, we must still challenge people to change their ways."

And here he is putting on the shoes of the liberal: "We are often hurt, angry and bewildered at the way many others in the Communion see us and treat us these days ¸as if we were spiritual lepers or traitors to every aspect of Christian belief. We know that no one is the best judge in their own case, but we see in our church life at least some marks of the Spirit's gifts. And part of that is acknowledging the gifts we've seen in gay and lesbian believers. They will certainly be likely to feel that the restraint you ask for is betrayal. Please try to see why this is such a dilemma for many of us. You may not see it, but gay people are still at risk in our society, still vulnerable to murderous violence."

While the process of trying to find a way to live together continues, especially the proposal for a covenant between the autonomous provinces, one can only hope and pray that that this generous readiness to hear and understand each other will grow.


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