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."
But only two of the nine Rwandan bishops in office at the time of Murphy's consecration remain.
Rwandan bishops began asking questions about American money designated for their country and sought detailed financial statements from the AMIA.
Under the AMIA's "10/10/10" approach to congregational finances, members tithe 10 percent, the church gives 10 percent to the AMIA, and AMIA sends 10 percent to Rwanda, Brust said. However, AMIA actually gave 12 percent of funds to Rwanda over a seven-year period, she said.
"This is the most baffling issue raised to me," said Brust, claiming that AMIA flew a financial official to Rwanda to present its bank records but that the bishops refused to hear him.
Another dispute arose when Murphy asked the Rwandan leaders to approve new American bishops and they declined, Conger said. In a June meeting, Murphy used the term "reverse colonialism" in complaining about the Rwandan bishops' treatment of AMIA.
Brust said AMIA has every intention of remaining a part of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The association will seek a group of retired archbishops to serve as a college of consultors and connect to an undetermined Anglican province.
"It's just a difference of opinion in the way Rwanda wanted to move forward and what the Anglican Mission felt like God was leading us to do," Brust said.
As Conger sees it, AMIA has broken not just from the Rwandan church but also from the Anglican Communion.
"Everybody I've talked to is really sad," Conger said. "There's nobody going hip, hip, hurrah about this. A lot of people are just hoping against hope that some people" will let cooler heads prevail.
"The liberals in the Episcopal Church are having a field day," he added. "They're saying, 'They split once, and now they've split again. It must go to show that they are rebels at heart and not really motivated by any gospel imperative."
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