A strong whiff of hypocrisy in the Central African Province? We are of sound faith! A riposte from the General Secretary of the M.C.U.

ANGLICAN-INFORMATION: We have quite often needed to point out that the reason given for the failure of a Court of Confirmation, held in November 2005, to confirm the Rev’d Dr. Nicholas Henderson, a onetime General Secretary of a theological society known as the Modern Churchpeople’s Union, as the duly elected Bishop of Lake Malawi, was that he was by virtue of that position of ‘unsound faith’.

The Rev'd Jonathan Clatworthy

This accusation, made under the chairmanship of the then Archbishop of Central Africa Bernard Malango and backed enthusiastically by Nolbert Kunonga and Elson Jakezi the now excommunicated former bishops of Harare and Manicaland has subsequently brought into the picture Bishop James Tengatenga of South Malawi and Bishop Trevor Mwamba of Botswana.

Tengatenga is one of the International editorial team of the MCU journal ‘Modern Believing’
* and Trevor Mwamba was a principal speaker at the M.C.U. 2008 pre Lambeth Conference held in Hertfordshire, U.K. In July last year.**

*A copy of the latest Modern Believing showing Tengatenga’s name is available on our website:

** For details of this see http://www.modchurchunion.org/Events/Conference/2008/Conference2008.htm

Readers will be able to observe the hypocrisy of the bishops of the Central African Province in allowing this deceit to go on. Now we discover that whilst he was Principal of the Bishop Gaul Theological College in Harare the newly consecrated Bishop of Harare accepted the then Journal of the Modern Churchpeople’s Union as recommended reading.

Despite this the bishops have continued to brand Dr. Henderson as being of ‘unsound faith’, resisted all calls by the people of Lake Malawi to have the Court of Confirmation independently examined by a Provincial Court and now are trying to force an election for a new bishop who by definition cannot have a mandate when the existing bishop-elect’s case is still extant.

We have been requested to publish the letter below from the present General Secretary of the Modern Churchpeople’s Union who has written to defend the Union against the unwarranted accusations levelled at what is the Anglican Communion’s oldest theological society and one of its most prestigious.

From: The Rev’d Jonathan Clatworthy
General Secretary
Modern Churchpeople’s Union

I am writing on behalf of the Modern Churchpeople’s Union, which is often mentioned in your most informative emails because of the rather absurd claim by former Archbishop Bernard Malango, Nolbert Kunonga and some others that the Rev Dr. Nicholas Henderson was ‘of unsound faith’ because of his work with us.

The Modern Churchpeople’s Union was founded in 1898 to support what was then considered the ‘liberal’ cause, defending the traditional openness of the Anglican tradition against the fundamentalist tide of the time. The two main issues were the relationship of religion to science (especially the theory of evolution) and the implications for Christian doctrine of new research into the Bible. Typical questions were the reliability of the histories in the Bible (the dates don’t always add up), the differing accounts of Jesus in the four gospels, and how to explain the miracles.

By the end of the 1920s we were generally seen to have won the arguments. More recently, however, there has been a revival of fundamentalism, heavily supported by large amounts of money from the USA. It is motivated by a Calvinist view of the Church. Calvin taught that the Bible as a whole was God’s supreme revelation to all people, written in such a way that anyone with true Christian faith would be able to understand the meaning of every text. This belief never worked well in practice because honest Christians have always disagreed about the meanings of texts; even Calvin had to modify his view. Nevertheless many Calvinist churches have taken the view that all true Christians should be in agreement on all matters of doctrine; and this conviction has generated countless splits, as differences of opinion have resulted in mutual denunciation. Anglicans who inherit this tradition today usually call themselves ‘conservative evangelicals’.

The Modern Churchpeople’s Union appeals to the very different character of the Church of England in the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, when there was a greater emphasis on reason in the interpretation of Scripture and tradition. To reaffirm reason is to recognise that we can learn from each other, so it is better for all Christians to belong to the same church and express our disagreements within it, recognising that none of us are infallible.

What has this got to do with homosexuality? It seems that the Calvinist lobby was hoping to take over the leadership of Anglicanism, especially in North America. Because they usually disagree with each other, homosexuality provided an issue which, they thought, would unite all evangelicals behind them. In Europe and North America, attitudes to homosexuality have become more tolerant over the last generation, and this seemed their opportunity to defend ‘biblical morality’. Unfortunately for them, the authors of the Bible were no more interested in homosexuality than most people today are. There are very few biblical texts which even mention it. On the other hand the Bible contains many hundreds of commands to which nobody today pays any attention; conservative evangelicals in Europe and North America would be horrified if, for example, there was any serious attempt to enforce the many biblical texts forbidding lending money at interest, or mandating capital punishment for people who worship any god other than the God of Israel.

It seems to us that the sectarian ‘conservative’ lobby misuses the Bible by reading its own obsessions into it. They have also misused African Anglicans in a similar way: knowing that Africans are generally hostile to homosexuality they want their support but have no desire to pay any attention to what Africans believe on any other matter. At the same time this lobby has become increasingly schismatic and has sought to drag African provinces out of communion with Canterbury.

So the Modern Churchpeople’s Union, on behalf of good, well-informed theology, seeks to respect what the Bible says, through learning what the authors intended to convey, rather than just looking for texts to support what we wanted to believe on other grounds. When it comes to moral issues like homosexuality, we believe they should be debated on their own merits, not used as opportunities to divide Christians and break up the Anglican Communion. We thank God for giving us a living tradition with new insights and challenges, and intelligent minds capable of reflecting on the questions of the day in the light of Scripture and learning from each other.

Jonathan Clatworthy
General Secretary
Modern Churchpeople's Union
9 Westward View
Liverpool L17 7EE, UK
0151 727 6291/0845 345 1908

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