An 11-year-old denomination that has prided itself on its submission to majority-world leadership broke away from that leadership Monday. Amid a dispute over authority, bishops in the Anglican Mission in the Americas (AMIA) resigned from their positions in the Anglican Church of Rwanda.
More than a decade ago, the association of churches launched as an alternative to the Episcopal Church. In 2000, Emmanuel Kolini, the archbishop of Rwanda, and Moses Tay, the archbishop of Singapore, ordained two Americans—Charles Murphy and John Rodgers Jr.—as missionary bishops to the United States. The maverick bishops' assignment: to promote orthodox teaching and practice in the wake of infighting among American church members over sexual ethics.
Under the oversight of the Church of Rwanda, the South Carolina-based AMIA has grown to more than 150 congregations in the United States and Canada, with 100-plus additional church plants and mission endeavors in the works, AMIA spokeswoman Cynthia Brust said.
But the 2010 retirement of Kolini—who had a strong connection with Murphy, AMIA's chairman—has precipitated a nasty turn in the relationship between the American association and Rwanda's bishops, said George Conger, a Florida-based correspondent for The Church of England Newspaper in London.
"It's just a sad, sad case all around," Conger said. "There are no doctrinal or theological issues. It's not about women priests or homosexuality or race. It's entirely about egos."
Months of Rwandan concerns and accusations over AMIA's oversight, finances and long-term direction reached the boiling point with a letter last week (Nov. 30) from Rwandan Archbishop Onesphore Rwaje to Murphy.
"You have constantly disregarded the decision and counsels of the House of Bishops," Rwaje wrote to Murphy, giving him a week to submit to the Rwandan bishops' authority. "You have misused the authority given to you. … You have insulted our house using abusive language (knucklehead, reversed colonialism, lawlessness, etc.). You have dogged [sic] questions of financial transparency."
This week (Dec. 5), Murphy responded by resigning his leadership position in the Province of Rwanda. In his resignation letter, he said AMIA's relationship with the African church was a "voluntary submission" that would not be renewed at the association's upcoming winter conference.
"In not renewing our voluntary submission to the Canons and Constitution of Rwanda, we recognize that we remain bishops of the Christ's One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church in good standing," Murphy wrote in a letter that listed eight other AMIA bishops —all but two—as endorsing his statements and similarly resigning their membership in Rwanda's House of Bishops.
"We in the Anglican Mission will be ever grateful for the ministry and blessing we have received from the Province of Rwanda and we look forward to further warm relations in our next missionary journey," he concluded.
Before the skirmish, Murphy had contended that AMIA was "embedded" in the constitution and canons of Rwanda, Conger said. When AMIA stepped back from its links with the Anglican Church in North America, a larger Episcopal breakaway group that formed in 2009, Murphy and the Rwandan House of Bishops said that AMIA could not be both American and Rwandan at the same time under the Rwandan church laws.
"It's a dispute of personalities," Conger said of the recent turmoil. "Archbishop Kolini had a very strong, good relationship with Bishop Murphy and essentially let Bishop Murphy do what he wanted to do."