Before he left General Convention on Sunday, Dr. Masiiwa Ragies Gunda, an Old Testament scholar from Zimbabwe, sat down for an interview with Rachel Harrison of Deputy News. In 2015, through Resolution A051, General Convention commissioned “a listing of information and resources developed by African Anglican leaders and organizations working to curb anti-gay and anti-transgender violence, discrimination, and marginalization.” In 2017, the presiding officers commissioned Gunda to complete the report.
Gunda, who attended the convention as one of the Anglican Communion guests invited by the presiding bishop, the president of the House of Deputies, and the executive officer of General Convention, fulfilled that duty by submitting “Information and Resources Developed by African Anglican Christians for Curbing Anti-Gay and Anti-Transgender Violence, Discrimination and Marginalization.” Gunda, who has a PhD from Bayreuth University in Germany, spoke to the House of Deputies on Thursday to share his findings.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Rachel Harrison: What would you like the attendees to take away from your research?
Masiiwa Ragies Gunda: For the House of Deputies to understand that [there is a perception] particularly in relation to the Episcopal Church as a part of the worldwide Anglican Communion, that the Episcopal Church is going it alone. For some people in the Episcopal Church, this is reason enough to stop, particularly when it comes to developments around the humanity and rights of sexual minorities. In response to a resolution passed by General Convention in 2015, I did a study for the Episcopal Church to try and demonstrate that, actually, the idea that all Africans are against the humanity of sexual minorities was a lie. There were a number of African Anglican leaders and scholars who operate positively and have tried tirelessly to have sexual minorities integrated in the Anglican Communion within the African context.
So that was the gist of my presentation to the House of Deputies, to try and make them realize that members of the Anglican Communion are not at the same stage when it comes to accepting the humanity of sexual minorities, and that Africa is not stagnant. There are movements that are happening which may not be too visible for outsiders, but they are visible to us who are working within the Anglican Communion in the African continent.
RH: How do you feel then about the vote, just hours ago for prayer book revision? Do you worry that the vote could move the Episcopal Church further away from the greater Anglican Communion?
MRG: Generally institutions are too slow to react to their circumstances. They think as institutions, but in reality, we should actually be responding to the reality of our times. There were people that sat down a long time ago and, responding to their contexts, came up with this prayer book. The prayer book is not a timeless document; it is a document that came out of a particular situation and a particular context. When a situation so demands, we begin to rework the prayer book. What is happening, I think, is possibly a reclaiming in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion as a whole of moving from being an institution to being a movement. You must always be reacting and responding to circumstances of the time.
RH: So you see it as positive.
MRG: It is! My hope is that, instead of reacting in a defensive way, a fighting way, that we understand that what we are doing is confronting today issues that have not been dealt with in the old prayer book. So that the new prayer book becomes a contextually relevant document.
RH: For you then, prayer book revision is a return to our roots as Anglicans.
MRG: Church politics is not too far removed from international secular politics, and particularly from developments in American politics. The way that Donald Trump is viewed generally also impacts the way that the Episcopal Church is viewed by fellow Anglican Communion members. So it is to be expected that some groups may feel that, because you have started [reforms], that you must be doing something wrong. But that’s something that you would expect. I think that even when it came to the abolition of slavery there were some that felt that the move towards abolition was not the right one, but today nobody questions that. So, with time, good decisions will stand the test of time.
RH: So you see now as being a good time for change.
MRG: It is; it is. I think that, generally, the nations of the Earth are crying for good leadership. This is the time for the movement to provide that leadership and you can’t provide that leadership unless you have renewed yourself, unless you have understood the context under which you are operating. Leadership can only be provided by a movement that has acknowledged the context within which it is operating.
RH: What would you say is the leadership that the Anglican Communion needs right now?
MRG: What we need is to accept that, inasmuch as the Jesus Movement stood for justice, empathy, and fairness, this world is lacking in all of those things. The lack of justice manifests itself in so many ways: communities where food is being thrown away, but I also know communities where people are going hungry. And in this world, you know of a community in which the humanity of a person is not highly regarded, but you also know of communities where the humanity of individuals is valued. It takes somebody to try and steer the universe towards realizing that justice in the United States should be justice in some far flung underdeveloped community, because even those people out there are still human beings in the image of God. Therefore, this is a time for the Episcopal Church and for the wider Anglican Communion to seriously introspect and to rededicate themselves to rediscovering the values of the Jesus Movement. As a church, we have become more like secular politicians, which is why we can’t provide moral leadership in our societies. What is happening is an attempt by some to claim that moral high ground, so that we can provide leadership.
RH: You think that the Communion is in a place to provide leadership; so long as we get ourselves together?
MRG: The world is crying for leadership and it is time for us to provide that leadership. But we can only do that if we have understood the context in which we are operating. We do not want the provision of leadership to be only on Presiding Bishop Curry or the Archbishop of Canterbury; we want the entire Communion and the entire leadership and the general Episcopalians and Anglicans to be in a position to provide leadership. For us to do that, we need the kind of resources that people can make use of. Which is why the question of the prayer book and resources we use as Anglicans and Episcopalians come into play. So we need to update them so that they reflect and respond to the realities of our time.
Rachel Harrison is a rising senior at Seminary of the Southwest and a candidate for Holy Orders from the Diocese of Ohio.